Readers of the second book of "The Sun Sword," The Uncrowned King, need to be determined. It's a very different book from The Broken Crown (the first book in the series), almost to the point of off-putting. This story takes place completely in the Essalieyan Empire, whereas the first book split setting between Dominion and Empire, with the main focus on Dominion. The two kingdoms are different enough to confuse a reader into thinking they may have missed Book Two and started reading Book Three. Persevere! The Uncrowned King is worth the extra effort involved in settling into the story. Some of the characters less important in The Broken Crown find major roles here, and their development is deftly continued; some secrets still remain.
The Uncrowned King revolves around the central character of Valedan kai di'Leonne, the mere bastard son of the Tyr'agar of Dominion and an unfavored concubine, sent to the Empire as a privileged hostage. Raised in the Empire, far from the Dominion's dynastic power structures and strict codes of behavior, Valedan becomes heir after the reigning Tyr'agar, along with his entire clan, is slain. The traitor who would rule Dominion demands the death of the boy who stands between him and the keys to the kingdom. He makes unholy alliances to that end, alliances whose ultimate fruit might be the total annihilation of both of the kingdoms standing poised on the knife edge of war.
Assassination attempts have been made on Valedan, but despite the risks he enters the King's Challenge -- a warrior's contest in the Empire whose laurels have been taken by a champion from Dominion fewer than a handful of times in its centuries-long history. Determined to prove himself more than a pawn in the games of power swirling around him, Valedan earns a berth in the Challenge. He takes for his Witness a scrawny white-haired boy from a family fallen into hard times and poverty, a boy who loves sword play more than anything, a boy whose presence may be the only thing that can hold the demonic Lord of Night from claiming the Western Kingdoms for his own. Valedan must hold his own against the prize students of the only man from Dominion ever to have won the Challenge wreath twice: Anton di'Guivera, a master swordsman who has sworn vengeance on the Clan Leonne for the death of his wife and son, a man who intends for his students to do more than merely win the Challenge Crown. He intends to be the hand guiding death to the last living Leonne.
The best thing about "The Sun Sword" as a whole is the texture author Michelle West has achieved in creating the complex social and power strata of the disparate Western Kingdoms. Empire and Dominion, so different in their ruling philosophies, are fundamentally connected in a united struggle against the hungry demon hordes of the Lord of Night. The constant vigilance of a gifted, fated few is enough to keep ill-thought treachery from freeing the Lord of Night to reign over the mortal world for now, but for how long? Despite interruptions in the flow of the story from Book One to Book Two, "The Sun Sword" is in all a fascinatingly complex and engrossing series.