Pros: The writing, characters, world-building, complexity
Cons: Phrasing is not in elite class; very long book
This book is book one, in a new series, The Stormlight Archives, by Brandon Sanderson (author of Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy, Warbreaker, The Alloy of Law). The Stormlight Archive is scheduled to run ten books. If all of the books are as long as this one (1258 pages), the series is a massive undertaking for the author and for the readers.
The setting for the book is the fictional world of Roshar, that has but one continent and is frequently plagued by tremendous storms from the east. Everything in this world is shaped by the existence of the storms, including the architecture of buildings and cities, the culture, and the animals and the plants.
The book starts with an unusual scene: A group of warriors, the Knights Radiant, mood is side to give up on their long-standing battle to fight the enemies of their world (Roshar). The reasons for this decision are not clear. The next chapter jumps to 4500 years later. It describes the actions of a strange assassin with supernatural abilities. He assassinates a king who is about to enter into a peace treaty with a strange group of people called the Parshendi. These Parshendi appear to be closely related to a subservient and almost sub-human species called the parshmen. Why did he kill the king? For whom was he working? And for what reason?
The rest of the book tells the gradually inter-weaving stories of four people: Szell, the incredibly dangerous assassin who is trapped in his role and hates himself; Shallan, a would-be scholar who is also a reluctant thief; Dalinar, a powerful prince and warrior who has begun to doubt his cause and look for alternatives; Kaladin, an apprentice surgeon who ends up being a soldier, then a slave, then a reluctant leader, then a soldier again, and all along possibly a person of tremendous power. As the back of the book cover says, one of these four might save their world while another one might destroy it. But, which is which?
This is the fifth book by Brandon Sanderson that I have read, following his brilliant debut novel (Elantris), the masterful Mistborn trilogy, and the Mistborn follow-up novel, The Alloy of Law. As with all books by Mr. Sanderson, nothing is simple and nothing is poorly done. The world-building aspect of this book is incredible. As mentioned above, the storms that plague this world have caused everything in it to adapt in order to survive. We even get sketches, drawn by one of the characters showing us the different flora and fauna of Roshar. The cultures of the different peoples and nations are described in detail and are totally credible. The author is wonderful at creating imagery of this very different and alien world and its people. The characters are well-defined and develop across the long story. The vocabulary and word usage are excellent.
The only area of writing where I think Mr. Sanderson could develop more is in phrasing. He is not quite on a par with the veteran author Gene Wolfe (Home Fires, 2011) or the tremendous new author D. Barkley Briggs (The Book of Names). And when I say, "not quite," Mr. Sanderson is very close. And, I am not sure it is fair to compare anyone with Gene Wolfe, who is eighty-one years old and has been publishing for forty-two years.
There is one thing I like about this book that I have not mentioned and one thing I do not like. I like that, of the four main characters, I ended up wanting to root for all of them. What I do not like is that the next book is not due out until late 2013. Of course, that would give me enough time to re- read this humongous tome!
This review was dictated using Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking.