Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.
and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.
Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.
In one such war on ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by ancient text The Way of Kings, troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.
Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
Brandon Sanderson. Wow. I… wow. 2015 appears to be the year of Polina Refuses to Shut Up About Brandon Sanderson.
(I talk about the second book as well as the first here, but there are no spoilers!)
Part of me wonders if it’s pointless to write this review, since I’ll basically be reiterating what I said in my review of the Mistborn trilogy. Worldbuilding? Complex, original, and fascinating, with a lot of room left for questions to be answered in future books. The action? As usual, Brandon Sanderson is the only author to write action sequences I care about. The characters? All real and well developed. This is definitely Brandon Sanderson’s most character driven work, and (with the possible exception of Mistborn) the one where I connected with the characters most strongly. Each book in the series focuses on a different character’s backstory, and the two we’ve had so far have made me very emotional.
But as mindblowingly awesome as everything else I’ve read from Sanderson has been so far, the Stormlight Archive is on another level. I don’t know how much of it I can explain, and how much it was just a case of The Right Book at the Right Time, but I clicked with the story much more intensely than I’d expected.
My biggest complaint about Mistborn was how few female characters there were aside from Vin, and I just love how much more of a female presence there is in Brandon Sanderson’s later series, including this one. (There are still more male prominent characters than female, so I don’t want to give him too much credit, but he’s still grown a lot in that regard since his earlier books). The characters we spend the most time with have a really interesting gender role system where the male domain is essentially fighting and leadership, and the female domain is scholarship. While the system has its own problems, it’s so different from what I would usually expect in high fantasy that I really enjoyed it.
Some things to note: the books are LONG. There is a lot going on, and a lot of characters, and a lot of questions left to explore, which is just how I like it. This is the series with the most connections back to the other Cosmere books, and characters from other worlds sometimes show up.
I just can’t wait to see what Brandon Sanderson does with the series. Even with his usual fast writing, I’ll probably be in my thirties by the time it’s over, which means I’ll always have something to look forward to.
It took a while for me to get into the story. I’ve said of other really long Sanderson books that they didn’t feel as long as they were. This one did, which makes sense, because it’s really, really long. There might be some places in the beginning where you get stuck, but I highly recommend that you keep reading.
I actually had trouble with Shallan’s characterization at first. I remember thinking, “For someone who’s afraid of confrontation, she sure confronts people a lot!” But this isn’t really a complaint, because as the story continued and Shallan was explored further, her characterization came together for me, and now she’s one of my favorites.
…does “I have to wait until 2017 for the third book to come out” count?
The characters are my faaavorites. Especially Kaladin (who has had pretty much the worst life ever but keeps fighting against all odds and tries to protect everyone ever) and Shallan (who is an endless fountain of sass and an awesome complex character who so much more than her first appearance would lead us to believe). We get Kaladin’s backstory in the first book and Shallan’s in the second and they both made me cry a lot. And then we have Dalinar and his sons, Adolin and Renarin, who grew on me so much over just two books, and Jasnah Kholin, the queen of my heart, and we get a little more information about that one character who’s appeared in every Cosmere novel so far.
Kaladin canonically has depression, and I just love the way that’s handled. First of all, he’s had depressive episodes even as a child before all the traumatic stuff happened to him, which I have never seen portrayed, especially in a fantasy novel. I’ve read a lot of books that portray dealing with depression as “point-A-to-point-B”, and it’s not like that with Kaladin; even after he’s through the worst of it, it’s still something he has to manage and fight on a fairly regular basis. He actively works to keep himself from falling into despair. I connected to that part of his character a lot, and it was nice to see something like that be a part of the story where so many other things where going on.
I definitely did not expect a thousand-page epic fantasy book to be as much fun as this one was! In between all the bleeding and fighting, the book is full of hilarious moments. Shallan and Kaladin’s first two meetings have to be seen to be believed. And then we would go to another incredibly heartbreaking flashback…or a fascinating bit of backstory on the world…or a fight scene that inevitably had me sitting in bed at 2 AM yelling at the book and hoping none of my neighbors complained about me. Thanks for that, Sanderson.
If you’re new to Sanderson, I would suggest reading Mistborn or Elantris or Warbreaker first, and I would especially suggest reading Warbreaker before Words of Radiance. Other than that? Definitely read this.