After enjoying Brandon Sanderson’s standalone novel Elantris and consistently hearing great things about his longer works, I finally started into his epic fantasy series The Stormlight Archive. The first volume, The Way of Kings, follows several characters in a world that’s heading toward some sort of apocalyptic event. Kaladin was once a respected squad leader in Alethkar’s army but has now been condemned to life as a slave. Dalinar, uncle to the king of Alethkar, has been experiencing disturbing visions during the storms that periodically sweep the continent. Shallan has concocted a daring plan to save her family from ruin but soon finds herself entangled in even larger events.
In some ways, The Stormlight Archive bears similarities to other epic fantasy series. There’s magic, mystical creatures and phenomena, prophecies, and a setting with monarchial governments and a medieval level of technology. But Sanderson finds ways to make his world stand apart from others. One difference I greatly appreciated is that the world of Roshar changes. Many stories feature worlds where technology has stagnated: people are using the same technologies to raise buildings, procure food, and fight their enemies that their ancestors of five generations ago used. Within just the first Stormlight book, we see people making incremental progress in attempting to recreate the rare and ancient Shardblades, while a pair of scientists make a new discovery about the fairylike spren. The people of Roshar are actively investigating the natural laws that underpin their world and discovering new things.
Among fantasy fans, Sanderson is known for creating well-thought-out magic systems. The magic in TWOK is described in concrete, logical terms, so it feels like a natural part of the world, just as chemistry and electromagnetism are. Of course, there are exceptions, but the characters react to these in a logical way: they remark on these phenomena being unusual. This gives the reader confidence that these discrepancies are meaningful and makes you look forward to finding out what’s going on.
Sanderson also has a talent for creating engaging characters. Dalinar could easily come off as stuffy or self-righteous, but his genuine love for his family and country makes his quest to reform the Alethi army sympathetic. Kaladin’s growing ties to the other members of Bridge Four and the small victories he wins on their behalf get the reader to root for him. Shallan’s cunning and her determination to save her family similarly get the reader behind her.
Sanderson’s fans refer to the rapid-fire sequence of revelations that tends to come at the end of his novels as the “Sanderlanche.” The Sanderlanche at the end of TWOK hits a perfect balance between answering questions the reader’s been asking throughout the book and presenting new ones. It encourages the reader to put the pieces together and theorize about what’s going to happen next. My own theories for the second book, Words of Radiance, are below. (Obviously, these include spoilers for TWOK.) I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how accurate (or not!) they turn out to be.
- The Knights Radiant forsook their charge to protect humanity because they learned about the enslavement of the parshmen and refused to countenance it.
- The spirits that Shallan sees are truthspren.
- Renarin was even sicklier as an infant, to the point where he wasn’t expected to live long. Dalinar sought out the Old Magic to save him.
- Dalinar will save Elhokar from Szeth’s assassination attempt by speaking one of the ideals of the Knights Radiant, which will give him a power-up the way it did for Kaladin.