In this epic fantasy series for fans of George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb, Jewel Markess must contend with deadly court politics, and visions of looming magical threats.
Beneath the streets of Averalaan, capital city of the Essalieyan Empire, lie the three Princes of the firstborn, doomed to sleep until the end of days. When gods walked the world, they feared the Sleepers—and the Sleepers are waking.
House Terafin has already felt the consequences of their stirring.
To save the city and the House over which she rules, Jewel Markess ATerafin must face the Oracle. She leaves a divided House and a city haunted by demons in human guise. At no time in Terafin’s history has it faced the dangers it now faces, and it will face them bereft of its leader.
But the path of the Oracle was old when the gods ceased to walk the world. Ancient creatures stalk winter skies at the behest of the demons, who mean to ensure that she will never reach the Oracle’s side.
Secrets, long hidden from all but the firstborn, will finally be brought to light. Choices will be made, and paths chosen, from which there will be no return....
About the Author
Michelle West is the author of three interconnected series: The Sacred Hunt duology, the six-volume Sun Sword series, and The House War novels. She has published numerous short stories and fantasy novels under her maiden name, Michelle Sagara. She was a two-time nominee for the Campbell Award. She works part-time at BAKKA Books, one of Toronto’s larger bookstores, and writes a column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She can be contacted via her website, michellesagara.com or on Twitter at @msagara.
Read an Excerpt
26th of Fabril, 428 A.A.
Terafin Manse, Averalaan Aramarelas
SILVER, GOLD, DIAMOND.
Three trees, in a silent dawn forest.
Shadows cut falling light; the movement of branches in brisk, morning breeze softened the edges of their darkness on the ground. Nothing softened the edges of the woman who stepped across them. Only the chime of metallic leaves broke the silence.
“I saw it firsssssssst.” That, and the voice of bored cats. In this particular case, it was Night, but Snow’s hissing growl of a rejoinder was almost instantaneous.
“It’s not my fault you are so slow.”
There were no servants in the forest; there was no furniture, no carpets that would be instantly rent when the claws came out; there were no statues, no standing vases, no carefully displayed suits of centuries-old armor. Jewel therefore let them fight. Their squabbling was almost a comfort, she heard it so often.
It was one of the few things she would take with her when she left. She looked up; the manse in the distance could not be seen beyond the trunks of the many, many trees. She had said her good-byes. Her den, in kind, had said theirs. It had been beyond awkward; only Jester had dared to whisper, “Find him. Find him. Bring him home.”
She had been surprised; had pulled back from a very, very rare hug to catch his expression. What she saw in it burned; she looked away—but not before Jester did. Jester of the many masks. Jester, master of hiding in plain sight.
She had no answer. He expected none. Jewel did not make promises she couldn’t keep. She made wishes—they all did that. But she didn’t know where she was going; didn’t know what was expected of her when she arrived there, if she ever did. She knew that Carver was no part of the Oracle’s test.
No. That wasn’t true.
She prayed that he was no part of that test.
• • •
If she could not take her den with her—and for the sake of the House, she could take only one, and even so she was willing to do so because he would not be left behind—she sought to carry things that would remind her of home, and so, she had come to the forest that stood on the edge of the hidden and wild world. Here, silver, gold, and diamond grew as if each were a living thing. The trees themselves shed no leaves.
She gathered the leaves of the Ellariannatte first, because they did fall. They were the bridge between her life in the hundred holdings and her life as The Terafin. Even her Oma had approved of the ancient trees that girded the Common, and Jewel had gathered those leaves, as if they were flowers, to lay in the old woman’s lap.
She took three; each perfect, each larger than her hand, each edged in ivory.
She rose slowly and made her way to the trees of silver; she was not surprised when a low branch descended until she could comfortably touch it. Three leaves fell into her hands before that branch rose; they were far heavier than they looked. And smooth. And cold.
Gold was no different, except in weight. The tree offered her three leaves, and she took them, and she found them as heavy, as cold to the touch, although the color was warmer to the eye.
Diamond was different. Harder and sharper, it seemed untouched by something as trivial as morning cold. It was not untouched by sunlight, and when she lifted one leaf to catch the rays of a spoke of light, she winced at the brilliance it produced.
“I told you not to stand behind me,” she said, without much sympathy. She lowered the leaf and set it beside the others in a large leather pouch that hung at her waist. That pouch had been a gift from Haval in her early years, and it showed its age.
“We’re bored. Are we leaving yet?”
“Soon,” Jewel replied.
“That’s what you said hours ago.”
“It was less than fifteen minutes ago, Shadow.”
Cats—at least these ones—weren’t particularly fussy about the accuracy of their grievances. Jewel left the great gray one to mutter as she approached what she thought of as the heart of her forest: the tree of fire. It burned, of course. Since it had grown, its flames had never guttered. It was, in all ways, an impossible creation: a tree that was not consumed by the flames it generated. Warmth emanated from fire, as it did in the world Jewel thought of as real. She stood beneath its boughs, lifting her face as heat banished the morning chill.
And when this tree lowered a branch, she raised a hand far more hesitantly. She had not intended to take its leaves; she had some experience with fire and its aftermath. Instinct argued with experience, and because Jewel was seer-born, instinct won. She accepted the leaves that fell into her upturned palm.
They were warm. The fire that lapped at their edges burned nothing, and as Jewel watched, the flames died; the leaves they had fringed—just as ivory fringed the green of the Ellariannatte—were a deep, bright red. The color of new blood.
The cats were not fond of this tree, and only Shadow approached it. “Are you finished?” he asked, still aggrieved.
“Adam is waiting.”
“Yes. Yes, I’m finished.” She slid these leaves into her pouch, praying that they did not consume anything else she carried within it.
Jewel had never been a gardener. She couldn’t name any tree but the Ellariannatte. It was ironic, then, that these were the contents of her satchel: three leaves from each of her trees. And a lone leaf, something that looked like it should have grown on a tree of iron—and felt it, too. One vial of fountain water. One dagger, as old as the satchel itself, and just as significant. One small, unadorned wooden box.
In that box lay the hope of a race.
And in that box, beside the lone surviving sapling upon which Summer in the ancient, wild world depended, was a large, fragile book which contained the hope of Jewel’s den.
“Yes,” she said again, when Shadow nudged her with the top of his head. “Let’s go meet Adam.”
• • •
The Terafin was unapologetically dressed for the road, not the court. So, too, her companions. Angel and Adam wore Terafin colors—shades of blue, light and dark—in layers; the jackets favored by the patriciate were absent; the heavier coats and sweaters favored by laborers were not. The boots, as well, had been made to endure mud and snow, even if Averalaan saw snow seldom. They shouldered packs, Adam’s lighter than Angel’s by necessity; Adam was slender and slight of build.
Terrick carried twice the weight Adam did. He had come in his own clothing, and seemed prepared for Rendish winter. He also wore an ax that the Kings’ Swords were only barely willing to let him keep.
Kallandras’ weapons were daggers—but as a Master Bard of Senniel College, he was considered almost above suspicion. Had the bard carried the ax, there would have been less difficulty.
Avandar was recognized as The Terafin’s domicis. He carried no weapons; he shouldered a pack that was equal in weight and bulk to Terrick’s. His silence, while cold, was almost deferential, and the Swords were accustomed to making no obvious public note of servants.
Inspections were cursory. The Kings’ Swords, while tense, had clearly been given specific instructions. Jewel was surprised—and pleased—to see the way they reacted to her great, winged cats: they acknowledged them as members of the Terafin party. That meant any destructive or unfortunate behavior would be laid at the feet of Terafin, of course. The cats knew it. Jewel knew it. They managed to behave.
They didn’t manage to do it silently, but if there were to be miracles today, Jewel didn’t want to waste them on the cats.
• • •
Only when inspections were complete did the Seneschal appear to guide them to their destination. The halls that the Seneschal led them through were less familiar—and far less grand—than the halls to which Jewel had become accustomed in her tenure in Terafin, but this was not, in the end, a public, a political meeting.
Even the pages, so ubiquitous in the palace, were notable by their absence. Were it not for the cats, the procession would have been funereal in its silence, but as it approached the stairs that led into the basement, Jewel saw two men, surrounded by the Exalted.
As she approached them, she stumbled. Avandar caught her before the stumble became anything as awkward as a fall. The slight smile King Cormalyn offered made it clear that he understood what had caused it: he—and King Reymalyn—were not dressed as monarchs. They were, of course, well dressed—but no more so than the average successful merchant of Jewel’s acquaintance.
But their eyes were golden. “You yourself are not attired for royalty,” the King said. He offered her his arm, and she almost stumbled again—but that would have been too much embarrassment, even for Jewel. She took the arm, and only realized after how very awkward it would be to offer the Exalted the full obeisance she normally offered them.
She wondered if that was the reason the arm had been extended, and performed the half-bow that her current position allowed with as much grace as she could muster.
• • •
The stairs were now well-lit; magestones adorned brass holders meant, at one point, for more economical torches. The arch that led to the basement rooms was likewise well-lit; it looked far more majestic—and forbidding—when seen so clearly. At the base of those stairs was another surprise: Sigurne Mellifas. Sigurne offered Jewel the bow that Jewel had been unable to fully offer the Exalted, which furthered her discomfort.
“So,” the mage said as she rose. “You are here.”
Jewel nodded. Her mouth was unexpectedly dry; the informality of the meeting somehow made it seem more—and not less—profound. It was a gesture of trust, an exposure of—of humanity. The Kings had never seemed so normal, so human, before. They were an office. They were a law.
And so, she thought, was she. Yet she was here, and the House over which she had claimed rulership was not. She had stripped herself of almost all of the things that defined her as Terafin.
She struggled to find words to express herself, and failed.
“Will you enter, Terafin?” Sigurne said. If the Kings had chosen informality, the mage had not; she wore lined robes, and the medallion of the guildmaster was on full display. She stood between two arches, neither of which contained a door.
“There are two rooms,” Jewel said softly.
“Yes. You have seen only one. Did you wish to see the other?”
“I cannot answer that. You are seer-born.” At Jewel’s slight wince, she added, “I have seen the room. It is not architecturally as impressive as the one you have already visited.”
“Does it also contain statues?”
“No. Your statuary looks, to the untrained eye, like the work of an Artisan at the peak of his powers. Sadly,” she continued, although her lips creased in a wry smile, “it also looks that way to the trained eye. Master Gilafas was slightly put out when we could not answer his many, many questions.”
“Did he examine the other room?”
“What did he say of it?”
“Almost nothing, Terafin. We are not certain if the unanswered questions posed in the first room displaced Guildmaster Gilafas’ careful consideration of the second; the opinions of the Exalted and the Kings vary.”
“The room is not, in any way the magi could discern, magical in nature. It is, however, obviously magical in nature, given its interior dimensions and the exterior dimensions of the room which houses it,” she added. “It appears to be a seamless, round room, but there are one or two deviations from that description within the interior.” She hesitated again.
The Mother’s Daughter was watching in a neutral silence. “Terafin?”
“Yes,” she finally said, wondering, as she did, if her desire to remain in the city that had been her home for all of her life was now guiding her decision; she could delay her departure by a few minutes. “If the Stone Deepings disgorged the statuary, and the statuary is significant, the other room must be significant as well.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Battle:
"This is the reason I fell in love with the books set in the Essalieyan universe." —Dear Author
"Richly and superbly detailed. Her characters live and sing." —Examiner
Praise for Skirmish:
"West is able to develop in the reader a true sense of emotional connection to the characters. These are people who've been in my life since the late '90s and, like George R.R. Martin's characters, they feel like family. I'm much closer to Sagara's characters, but that's not surprising since that emotional attachment and the growth and development of the characters is central to the story of struggle.... I loved this book, as I've loved all of her books. If you're new to this kind of writing and have read George R.R. Martin's series and enjoyed it, I highly recommend these books." —Chaotic Compendium
Praise for House Name:
"Lush, richly intricate, heartbreaking.... West has a brilliant hand in detail, in weaving in background to fuel the story without being clunky and boring, and in creating a luxuriously textured world that is at once familiar and strange. Some say Michelle West has been propelled into the ranks of George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb—I say that she's been there all along and it's about time she was noticed as such." —Night Owl Reviews
Praise for City of Night:
"[City of Night] is a super action-oriented, investigative fantasy in an incredible world as Michelle West makes her empire and capital seem as if it comes from ancient history books rather than her imagination." —Alternative Worlds
Praise for The Hidden City:
"This is a compelling story with riveting and finely wrought characters that will keep you up well into the night. This story will go down as one of the best novels in its genre, propelling West into the ranks of Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin. It's simply a great read; don't miss it." —The Maine Edge
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A must-read for Jewel fans!!
Ms. West has outdone herself here. Oracle is easily the most engrossing of the 6 novels so far in the House Wars series. To be truthful, I was pleasantly surprised, I was expecting a typical "quest" type novel. I should have had more faith. Ms. West skillfully shifts from truly surprising events in Averlaan and what is happening with Jewel & Co. in their journey to the Oracle so that Jewel can be trained to better control her visions. As in the last two installments, Skirmish and Battle, Jewel's powers are still increasing with the usual unpredictable but deliciously surprising results. Several of my favorite characters, notably Kallandras and Illaraphaniel are featured prominently, one old character, Jester, a minor character in the previously 5 novels, comes into his own an a new character, Brigid, introduced in Battle also has a much more important role. So lots of new surprising twists, beloved characters playing bigger roles and new characters with interesting powers. All expertly woven together. What more could you ask for? Completely engrossing.
I truly enjoy Michelle Sagara West's series. They are a azingly real. I hate ending one novel, only to have to wait for the next. I just finished 'Oracle', and am waiting impatiently for 'War'.
Love these books but was bit disappointed in this one. Not sure why exactly, it just didn't feel as compelling or complete as the ones which came before. All the same, I will eagerly await the next installment.