Select one of the keywords
The Hidden City: A Novel of The House War    by Michelle West order for
Hidden City
by Michelle West
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Devoted fans of Michelle West's Sacred Hunt and Sun Sword series will drop everything - as I just did - to read Hidden City, first in The House War. Set in the slums of Averalaan, the capital of the Northern Empire, it reveals to us the early life of one of the brightest stars in the previous series, Jewel 'Jay' Markess who grew up to become Jewel a'Terafin. Michelle West grounds all her stories in a sophisticated world, in which god-born and demons walk alongside humans from well conceived societies, whose underlying codes of conduct are often in conflict.

Jewel, one of the rare seer-born, has periodic - and often painful - visions of the future. She spent her early life in a poor but loving family and was strongly influenced by her southern Oma (grandmother). After their deaths, she was left to fend for herself. She catches the attention of Ararath (who started life as an aristocratic scion of House Handernesse but resented what he perceived as his sister Amarais' betrayal in joining House Terafin) after she steals a satchel from him and he glimpses 'things that hinted at conscience' in her eyes. A master of disguise, Rath makes his living in the Common, by selling artefacts recovered from old tunnels beneath the city. He moves 'frequently to avoid the lingering resentment of some of his clientele'.

Rath, 'whose past was a bitter terrain', likes his privacy but is intrigued by the ten-year-old, who's smart, has a fierce pride (her Oma taught her that 'we don't leave our debts unpaid'), and is in so many ways different from the other street children. Curious, he seeks her out, takes her home with him and nurses her through a fever, intending to do no more. But after Jewel's vision saves Rath's life, he takes her with him to a new refuge, teaches her, and shows her the Old Weston undercity. There she awakens a statue which tells Rath that by mentoring Jay he will 'define, unknowing, the fate of the greatest of The Ten Houses upon the Isle in your new Empire.' It also gives him a warning for his protegée.

Michelle West unfolds her fascinating story by showing how Jewel gathers to herself - driven by visions and over Rath's strong objections - other waifs to join her den. First she rescues Arann and Lefty. Along with Carver, they help her save Finch. All of them, as well as Rath and tough hired men, set out to rescue Duster from a brothel - and face much more than they bargained for, when Jay has her first encounter with demons. The last to be rescued is quiet Teller. Duster, who's shifted close to the dark side, seeks revenge. Jay acts as bait, suffering the consequences but pulling Duster back from the edge - at least for now. Observing Jay's need to help others in action makes Rath understand Amarais' life choices and he comes to terms with his own past. He dedicates his life to protecting Jewel and fighting the city's demons.

A myriad of Sun Sword fans have been waiting for years for the story of Jewel a'Terafin's early life and, in The Hidden City, Michelle West has met our expectations and given us much more - in a brilliant fantasy, filled with conflict and action, magic and mysteries, and lit by the shining heart of a small, appropriately named girl child.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Fantasy books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews