The Broken Crown
Michelle West
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Get Michelle West's *The Broken Crown* delivered to your door! The Broken Crown
(The Sun Sword: Book One)
Michelle West
Daw Books
July 1997
764 pages
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

Michelle West, author of perennial favorites Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death, embarks on a new story -- "The Sun Sword" -- with The Broken Crown. This novel cannot be accused of being too action-packed. Its strength lies in its taking a deep, sharply focused look at a patriarchal society and at the power that the women in such a society unobtrusively take and make for themselves. The Broken Crown makes clear that no matter how seemingly helpless, members of any oppressed social stratum will exact whatever vengeance they might twist out of apparent powerlessness.

When Serra Alora en'Marano died, both Sendari par Marano -- the second eldest son of his clan -- and his unmarried sister Serra Teresa di'Marano lost the one person in the world most precious to them. That loss and the love at its root have driven an unbudging wedge between the two, but another love keeps them warily together within the same household: Alora's daughter, Diora. Sendari's affection for the living reminder of his dead wife is frowned upon by most in the Dominion of Annagar, but he finds it impossible to keep the distance and nonchalance propriety demands. But when Sendari breaks a promise made to Alora before she died, he sets his foot upon a path that may drive his beloved daughter forever from his side.

Teresa di'Marano remains unmarried long past the age for such a status to be seemly. But despite her widely-praised beauty and perfect bearing, her father, and later her brothers, refuse to allow her to be betrothed. The forbidden secret that the clan Marano keeps is that the heralded Serra Teresa di'Marano is blessed and cursed with the Voice, an innate talent for hearing the truth behind spoken words matched with the capability to compel with her own speech. Punishable by death in the Dominion of Annagar, Teresa's secret has damned her to a life without her own harem, sister-wives or children. Alora's daughter Diora is as close to a true daughter Teresa will ever have in more than one way. Unknown even to Sendari, Diora Maria di'Marano too was born to the Voice.

The clan Leonne has ruled the Dominion for hundreds of years since Leonne the Founder proved himself most worthy among men in war against the Essalieyan Empire. Gifted the Sun Sword by the Lord of Day, the clan Leonne has been the first of the clans ever since. But Leonne blood seems to be running thinner now than at the time of its ascendancy. The current Tyr'agar is weak; under his leadership, important battles are being lost. Although the Dominion still holds together, the lesser Tyrs, even some of the Tyr'agars generals, are grumbling and taking tentative steps toward a plot that will remove the Leonne clan from the seat of power and replace it with a new dynasty led by a man of proven leadership and ambition. But while clan Leonne is in power, it must not be denied. When the Tyr'agar's eldest son desires the blossoming Flower of the Dominion, Diora di'Marano, Sendari must relent. His daughter, denied many other powerful men, will wed the heir to the Dominion's throne.

Diora's new husband is arrogant, even cruel, but she discovers in herself a fierce loyalty to the other young women in the Kai di'Leonne's harem. A love easily as strong as that shared by her aunt and her mother develops between the most sought-after female in the land and her sister-wives. Their children are her children in her heart; there too her husband's wives are her sisters, her wives. No perfect love lasts forever, and a horrifying betrayal by one she had always believed she could trust shatters Diora's happiness in one nightmarish evening filled with screams and blood. As the Essalieyan Empire gathers itself and its magical traditions for war with the demonic Shining Court, a war whose last battle was won by the Empire (but not by much), Diora too prepares to exact payment for her devastating loss. The conspirators against clan Leonne need only to remove the remaining Leonne heir, hostage of the Empire, to gain full control of Dominion's throne. Partnered with the demons of the Lord of Night in the Shining Court, the usurpers will find a beloved daughter can be a far more dangerous ally.

Michelle West succeeds in bringing an old, old cliche to paraphrased life in The Broken Crown. Hell truly hath no fury greater than a woman betrayed in the case of Diora Maria di'Marano. Trapped in a society utterly dominated by men, one young woman brings all her subtlety to bear so that she might begin to bring down the men whose betrayal cost her the love she held more precious than her own life. Most of this novel's time is spent in the patriarchal Dominion. Readers should be unified in hoping that the enlightenment of the Empire will wash the chauvinist trash off the streets of the site of Diora's greatest loss.

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