A review by chalkletters
The Broken Crown, by Michelle West

challenging emotional mysterious reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


The Broken Crown is dense and rich, there are layers upon layers of meaning and scheming and character relation: many of them going on under the surface. My praise of it and my criticism of it very much come from the same place. Because there’s so much going on, I constantly felt like I was missing something. I could see that there were things going unsaid, things left to the reader to infer, but I struggled to catch hold of them. Reading The Broken Crown was equally rewarding and frustrating. 

The cast of characters is, appropriately for the epic scale of the book, pretty daunting. Though there’s a cast list at the front, it’s organised in a way that makes no sense for the beginning of the book, which is a shame. Even after reading the book and listening to the audiobook, there are characters living in the north that I still don’t understand. In many cases, characters are introduced before they become important. While I can see the benefit of this in giving more context and not dropping significant figures in only at suspiciously convenient moments, it did leave me scratching my head as to why certain perspectives had been chosen.

That said, all the characters feel very natural to the world Michelle West has built. It’s fascinating to see female characters who are very much bound by a sexist society and yet find their own ways to life and love and gather power to themselves. I particularly enjoyed Serra Alina — as I did all of the Lambarto characters — and Ruatha. 

Michelle West’s world building was compelling, especially the idea of the division between night and day and how that reflects public and private. It felt like even the narrative followed this cultural rule in implying certain things that it didn’t say outright. The prose is lovely, there are some really beautiful descriptions of mental states and emotions. Though there isn’t a huge amount of description of the landscape, I still came away with a solid impression of the Tor Leone. 

It’s tricky to rate The Broken Crown because, no matter how much I wanted to understand it and like it, a lot of my actual experience was frustration. But perhaps it speaks highly of Michelle West that, despite that, I do want to go back to it and try again.

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