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Sea of Sorrows    by Michelle West order for
Sea of Sorrows
by Michelle West
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2001 (2001)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sea of Sorrows is the fourth book in West's Sun Sword epic, which is expanding to rival Jordan's Wheel of Time in both scope and quality. The first two novels developed the saga's major characters. The Broken Crown covered the overthrow of the Clan Leonne in the Southern Dominion of Annagar (a patriarchal society with the feel of Imperial Japan and Shogun). It set the young Flower of the Dominion, Serra Diora, on a course of vengeance against powerful men who slaughtered her sister wives. In the Dominion women exercise power by subtle means and Diora, under the tutelage of her aunt Teresa, is a skilled practitioner.

Book two, The Uncrowned King, dealt with the last surviving member of the Leonne's, young Valedan, hostage with fellow Southerners in the Northern capital of Averalaan. They were at risk of retaliation when the Dominion broke truce, and also in danger of assassination by its demonic allies. Valedan came of age, showed his mettle, and won the allegiance of his fellows. This tale also introduced the Black Ospreys, a wild and irregular band of renegades sworn to House Kalakar, and their latest recruit Kiriel (who just happens to be the daughter of a god, raised by a demon and a mortal woman). It also featured seer Jewel a'Terafin and her den of street children.

The third story The Shining Court took Jewel and the action back to the Dominion and focussed on the matriarchal Voyani, tribes of travelling people with ancient secrets. This tale revealed more of Serra Diora and of the alliance between the new rulers of the Clans and the demons of the Shining court. Michelle West also wrote two earlier books, Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death, in the same world, though I did not find them as good as this Sun Sword series.

As the fourth in a complex epic, Sea of Sorrows is not a book that stands alone. It builds on the characters and plots developed in the first three novels and moves the story ahead on all fronts. Most of the action takes place in the desert (the Sea of Sorrows) amongst the Arkosa Voyani who are accompanied by Jewel, Avandar, Kallandras, Diora and Teresa. Margret, the quick tempered new Arkosa Matriarch is furious that her dead mother entrusted the Heart of Arkosa to Serra Diora, whom she both envies and despises. They travel together into the desert and face natural dangers as well as attack by demons. When asked what they desire, Diora picks strength to do her duty and Margret truth. The truth she relives is hard to bear, and Margret's quest ends in a surprising climax and new life for the desert and her people.

I was enthralled by the first two books in this series and found the third a little disappointing. West's fourth Sun Sword story has all the intrigue, action and magic of the earlier volumes. Her world hosts a marvellous range of sophisticated cultures at odds with each other, with spotlights on unusual characters who develop through the tales. If you enjoy the depth of Jordan's Wheel of Time, then start at the beginning of this series with The Broken Crown. It looks like it will be around for quite a few more volumes.

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