For fans of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, November provided a bit of a relief from the awfulness of 2020, with the release of not one, but two new entries. Dawnshard was originally planned as a novella but expanded to novel-length during the writing process. Rhythm of War is a 1200 page tome that continues the main SA storyline. These two stories will have to tide fans over until the release of the next book, which Sanderson recently announced that he expects to come in 2023.
My discussion of both books will include spoilers, so it may be best to skip this blog entry if you haven’t read them yet.
Dawnshard focuses on Rysn and Lopen as its main POV characters. They, along with a few others, have been sent on an expedition to the mysterious island of Aimia in search of the Oathgate and other artifacts rumored to be there. As SA readers may remember, Rysn was paralyzed from the waist down when she fell from one of the Reshi greatshells in Words of Radiance. Much of the book deals with Rysn’s efforts to adapt to her disability. Sanderson had expressed a desire to handle this topic in a sensitive and accurate way, and to this end consulted with a paraplegic acquaintance while writing. The general opinion of the fandom seems to be that he handled this successfully.
We also get to see a lot of Rysn’s skill as a negotiator in Dawnshard. While there is a battle scene, the true resolution of the book’s main conflict comes through her hammering out an agreement with the enigmatic Sleepless. This makes it different from most mainstream fantasy novels (and even from most of the other SA books), and it was a refreshing read.
Lopen also experiences substantial character growth in this story. In the main SA books, he’s often been a comic relief character, but Sanderson gives him more depth here. From his empathizing with Rysn regarding the way abled characters treat her as an object of pity, to the nature and circumstances of his achieving the Third Ideal, we see another side of The Lopen here.
There are also secondary characters aplenty. Sanderson made me really like Rushu and Cord, and one of my small disappointments with Rhythm of War is that we didn’t get to see more of them in that book.
Like the much shorter Dawnshard, RoW is a character-driven novel. Kaladin struggles with his depression and tries to figure out what role he wants to play in the Knights Radiant going forward. Navani finds herself embroiled in a psychological rivalry with one of the Fused. Venli reckons with her actions and seeks a new path. All of these character arcs are compelling. I especially loved the interactions between Navani and Raboniel. Kaladin essentially inventing the concept of therapy was also wonderful.
I did find that the middle part of the book dragged a bit. But when the “Sanderlanche” came, it was something to behold. There were moments both heartwrenching and heartwarming, with a truly jaw-dropping event at the end of the book. And of course, Sanderson has raised a lot of new questions to keep fans speculating and theorizing until the release of Book 5. I was initially a little skeptical about the idea that there are only ten days in-world until the climactic duel between Dalinar and Odium’s champions. It doesn’t seem like enough time to tie up the loose plot threads and further develop the major characters, but I trust that Sanderson will pull it off in a satisfying way.
And finally, storm Moash.