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“Oathbringer” by Brandon Sanderson

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The third book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive was one of the best books I read in 2019, and at about 1240 pages, certainly the longest. As the conflict between humans and Voidbringers heats up, Dalinar has to grapple with his past while trying to forge a coalition of nations to face the threat.

As usual, Sanderson does an excellent job of balancing character development with cool magic and epic battles. Dalinar and Shallan receive the lion’s share of introspection and character growth in this book. While their stories are very different, they both revolve around the theme of a person choosing who they want to be. And in both cases, their journeys in Oathbringer culminate in awesome displays of power during a climactic battle.

With all the interludes, flashbacks, and chapter epigraphs, not to mention its length, Oathbringer could easily have ended up feeling unfocused. The paralleling of character arcs is one of the tools Sanderson uses to hold it together and make it feel like a coherent story. In addition to Dalinar and Shallan, we see another pair of characters whose arcs share a common theme but are a study in contrast. (For spoilery reasons, I’m going to be vague about the identity of said characters.) Both have to face up to unsavory things they’ve done in the past, and Odium urges both of them to give their pain and remorse to him. “It wasn’t your fault,” he tells them. These two characters end up in very different places as a result of their response, and there’s ample buildup to show the trajectories they’re on.

My record with Stormlight Archives theories has been pretty terrible, and indeed, one of the ideas I came up with way back when I was reading The Way of Kings was very solidly disproven in this book. However, a theory that developed in my mind while I was reading turned out to be 100% correct, and I was very gratified by that.

Brandon Sanderson has announced that the fourth book of the Stormlight Archive, tentatively titled Rhythms of War, will be released in November of this year. I’m eagerly looking forward to it. I hope we learn more about the Radiant orders that haven’t been focused on so far, as well as seeing more people joining the ranks of the existing orders. (In particular, I think it would be great to see Fen become Radiant, though I’m not sure which order would suit her best. Truthwatcher, perhaps, since she tends to be fairly blunt and unafraid to speak her mind?) And more Rysn, Rock, and Lift, please!

“Edgedancer” by Brandon Sanderson

I enjoyed the character of Lift in Words of Radiance, so I was advised to read the novella Edgedancer before diving into Oathbringer. The story follows Lift as she finds herself once again pursued by a rogue Herald while visiting the city of Yeddaw. But the Herald has another target, and to top it all off, the Everstorm is approaching.

Most of the action of the first two books takes place in Vorin societies. Edgedancer takes us further afield, giving us a glimpse of another society and culture. Sanderson is known for his worldbuilding, and that talent is on full display here, despite the shortness of the work. The people of Yeddaw have distinct foods, architecture, clothing styles, and religious beliefs from the other places we’ve seen on Roshar, adding to the reader’s sense of a large and varied world.

We also get a closer look at the Edgedancer Order of Knights Radiant. Lift further develops her powers here, and we also see more of what it is that makes someone eligible to be an Edgedancer. Just as Kaladin couldn’t give up on Bridge Four, she finds herself unable to just abandon the unknown Radiant Nale’s hunting. Despite her flightiness, her aversion to authority figures, and her propensity to steal any food item that isn’t nailed down, Lift has a good store of both courage and compassion. She’s an easy character to sympathize with and root for, and she’s also a lot of fun to read about.

Since I’m currently about three-quarters of the way through Oathbringer, I can say that the climactic events of Edgedancer are important to one of the plot threads in the later book. So far, the second fledgling Radiant has only been very briefly mentioned, but I hope they show up at some point, since I’d like to see how their character has developed as a result of Edgedancer’s events. The novella is a worthy addition to the Stormlight Archive, and it whetted my appetite for Book 3.

“Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson

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The second book of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series continues the adventures of Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar as they seek to re-establish the Knights Radiant and prevent the return of the Voidbringers. Sanderson expertly balances character development, plot movement, and worldbuilding in a way that makes WoR just as satisfying as The Way of Kings.

Throughout TWOK, we saw the Parshendi only as enemies of the Alethi. Because the primary viewpoint characters were Alethi, the Parshendi were shown as a mysterious “other” who had broken a treaty and assassinated a king for no known reason. In WoR, we learn a great deal more about the Parshendi—not only their importance to the plot, but their culture and society. Seeing the war of the Vengeance Pact from the other side enriches the story and also emphasizes that most conflicts between mortals aren’t simple matters of good vs. evil.

Speaking of which, another major thread in WoR concerns a plot to assassinate Elhokar, the ineffectual king of Alethkar. Upon learning of the plot, Kaladin is torn about whether to let it go forward or not, and Sanderson makes the reader feel that this is a legitimate dilemma. While Elhokar is merely incompetent rather than truly evil, his actions are costing lives, and Alethkar has no mechanism for peacefully removing a bad ruler. Is the aspiring assassin no better than the man who killed the previous (good) king, or is he more like Jaime Lannister? Kaladin may have the patronage of a powerful lord and the personal power of a Knight Radiant, but that doesn’t mean his life is always going to be easy. Sometimes those difficulties will come from obstacles placed in the way of his goal, but sometimes they arise from trying to figure out what his goal should be.

For all its virtues, the book isn’t completely flawless. At the end of TWOK, Dalinar received a revelation about the source of his visions that has important implications for the Vorin faith and maybe even Roshar’s cosmology in general. Dalinar didn’t spend much time grappling with that, and that didn’t feel realistic to me. Also, I would have liked to see the Bridge Four members’ reaction to Kaladin’s imprisonment as it happened, rather than just hearing about it afterward.

Readers of my review of TWOK may remember that I listed several theories. None of them were definitively confirmed. One was half-right, and one was…sort of connected to the truth, I guess? I developed one new theory during the course of the book, but it was disproven in the last chapter.

One side character I particularly enjoyed was Lift, so I was happy to hear that she features in the novella Edgedancer. I’ve been told that it doesn’t spoil anything for the third book in the series, Oathbringer, and that in fact many fans read it first, so that is what I will probably do as well.

“The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson

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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.

 

 

  1. The Knights Radiant forsook their charge to protect humanity because they learned about the enslavement of the parshmen and refused to countenance it.
  2. The spirits that Shallan sees are truthspren.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.