The Broken Crown: A slow, sprawling fantasy epic

The Broken Crown by Michelle West science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Broken Crown by Michelle West science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Broken Crown by Michelle West

I listened to 19 hours (60%) of the new audio version of Michelle West’s The Broken Crown before giving up. The Broken Crown (1997) is the first novel in West’s SUN SWORD series which contains six books that add up to a whopping 4,803 pages. After getting through 458 of these pages and feeling absolutely nothing, I was dreading the remaining 4,345. I decided to quit.

Many readers love long, slow, drawn-out fantasy epics. I used to, but the older I get, the less patience I have for them. I’ll enjoy them if the plot moves at a decent clip, if there are characters that I like and care about, if the world and magic system are fascinating, and if the writing style is appealing.

Unfortunately, The Broken Crown didn’t check any of these boxes for me. It was dark, slow, heavy, and ponderous. There are way too many characters (more than 80), it’s hard to keep them separate in my mind, and I couldn’t find even one that I cared about. The writing is dense — just as heavy and ponderous as the plot. To put it bluntly, it’s a slog.

This is a shame because there are some things I liked about the story such as the elaborate world and the strong female characters who have agency even though they’re often in traditional female roles in a society that doesn’t value them.

Readers who enjoy sprawling epic fantasies with lot of political intrigue and strong female characters may want to give The Broken Crown a try. It wasn’t for me, but please let me know if you liked it, and why.

If you choose to read The Broken Crown, I recommend the new audio version that was recently published by Tantor Audio. It’s nicely narrated by Eva Wilhelm and it’s 31.5 hours long!

Published in 1997. Audio version published in 2019. Tor Leonne – the heart of the Dominion of Annagar, where the games of state are about to become a matter of life and death – and where those who seek to seize the crown will be forced to league with a treacherously cunning ally… Tor Leonne, ancestral seat of power, where Serra Diora Maria di’Marano – the most sought-after beauty in the land, a woman betrayed by all she holds dear – may strike the first blow to change the future of the Dominion and Empire alike… Averalaan Aramarelas – that most ancient of civilized cities, the home of the Essalieyan Imperial court – has long been a center of magics both dark and bright. And though the Empire won its last war with the Dominion, and survived a devastating, magic-fueled battle with a far deadlier foe, both those victories were not without their cost… But now, the realm is on the brink of a far greater confrontation, faced with an unholy alliance that could spell the end of freedom for all mortal-kind..

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. You rarely have a DNF, Kat.

  2. I have never read this, but I wonder whether such books are actually far better in physical than audio versions. I can skim-read through “dense” books reasonably happily, but I have never got the hang of ‘skim-listening’ and just end up tuning out completely and giving up.

    • Stuart, I do have a method for skimming audiobooks — I just increase the playback rate. But I figure that if I have to skim a book, it’s not good enough.

  3. Kathryn Azevedo /

    I’m reading this series right now. I can’t imagine being able to get through it on audio. Yes it’s dense and keeping track of characters,without a character list, would be difficult. I am loving it. It requires strong focus and there is not constant action, but the sense of dread and hope builds many times to a head within each book. The women are strong, competent and powerful, even when subjugated. It’s a great read.

    • Hi Kathryn, I got a character list out of the print book (could see it in the Kindle version online) and that helped a lot, but the story was too slow for me.

      I’m glad you like it. I agree about the strong women.

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