Are you a fantasy fan? Does your heart skip a beat at the sight of a nice, solid door-stopper? Then you NEED to be reading “The Stormlight Archive”!
I first came across Brandon Sanderson, fantasy author extraordinaire, when I selected a book at random from the shelf at Barnes & Noble. (These were the days before eBooks for me. They existed, for sure, but I didn’t have a reader and was happy in the supposed certainty that I could NEVER give up the aroma of the printed page. Boy was I fooling myself…)
Anyway, I grabbed this book from the Sci Fi/Fantasy section in a carefree bid in the lottery of great reads and came up a winner.
The book I’d ended up with was Sanderson’s Mistborn and it started me on a long-term love affair with the genius behind the man I am now convinced is the Fantasy genre’s greatest living author. For all that I couldn’t get enough of his work, when it came to one series of his that he was calling his magnum opus I hesitated. The Way of Kings, the first novel in “The Stormlight Archive,” is a certifiable BRICK of a book! It took me a little while, but I finally pulled up my big-girl pants and sat down to see what could be better than Vin and Kelsier or Vasher and Vivenna…
ERR. MA. GERRRRRD!!! Just, wow!
So, are you still with me enough to consider some reasons to take the plunge for yourself?
The Quick List:
- Strong Female Characters
- A Logical Magic System
- Subverted Racial Paradigms
- Great Dialogue
- A Piece of the Whole
1. Sanderson Knows How to Write Women
Not many male authors (of fantasy or otherwise) can manage it and not come off as either flagrant misogynists or that they’ve never actually met an actual woman before. Sanderson is one of the few who has figured out how to be a man writing in a woman’s voice. I found that out when reading Mistborn, the main character of which is female. In “The Stormlight Archive,” he continues to produce and develop female characters with strong, realistic voices. And there’s no shortage of them! One of the three main characters (if we can actually narrow it down to three, Brandon, dear) is a young, inexperienced woman who, nonetheless, defines herself for us through intelligence, earnestness, and passion. She possesses great agency that she uses throughout the story to achieve her goals, help her friends, and subvert the preconceptions of those around her. Sanderson has written her to be a beacon of feminine power despite the fact that she lives in a patriarchal society. His treatment of her (of all the women in his cast of characters) is honest and sometimes raw, though always respectful of the pathos she brings to the world he’s created.
On this note, I highly recommend this and all of Sanderson’s works to anyone who wanted to love “The Wheel of Time,” but couldn’t stand the nasty, ingenuine witches-with-a-capital-B all of Robert Jordan’s female characters proved themselves to be.
2. The Way the Magic Works Makes Sense
As we’ll get to in a minute, there’s a prevailing sense of connectivity present in all of Sanderson’s works. In particular, his mechanics for building magic into his stories share a common theme. He capitalizes on the concept of “investiture,” a system that (roughly outlined) has people and items imbued with power by means of an active transition of magical energy. In “The Stormlight Archive,” we see this happening with Shardbearers. When an individual wins or is given the gift of a Shardblade (think shiny magic swords that glow … and are REALLY big), the weapon must bond with them, formally actualizing the transference of power from the previous owner to the new. It’s a very simple equation, but Sanderson proves that simplicity works! He doesn’t force his readers to think too hard about it, allowing him to build greater complexity around this foundational piece of lore.
Oh, and spren! If you’re a realllly special kind of Shardbearer, one of the Knights Radiant, you get a magical side-kick to offer guidance, words of wisdom, and snark!
3. Subtle, but Powerful
We’re all used to the traditional fantasy set-up of the generally caucasian majority occasionally peppered with a minor element of groups vaguely (or not-so-vaguely) reminiscent of real-world African, Asian, or Middle Eastern cultures. The rants about this traditional paradigm and the lack of diversity that bogs fantasy down can be found all over review sites. Well, ladies and gents, if he hasn’t heard the outcry personally, Sanderson at least agrees! Roshar is a melting pot of races that, if you read very closely, are largely inspired by a range of real-world ethnicities as the norm, rather than the exception. Even the main characters — I’m pointing at Kaladin here, especially — feature a variety of skin and hair colors that upset the trend within the genre. Yet, Sanderson doesn’t make a big deal of it! Instead of blatantly waving his metaphoric arms in the air at his readers to point out the fact that his characters overcome the tricky racial issue, he just lets it be. It’s there. It doesn’t NEED to be a big deal. And that’s that … mic drop.
4. Never Underestimate the Power of a Snappy One-Liner
A master of the very challenging art of dialogue that is almost a genre separate from any and all genres in the world of literature, Sanderson has given this series the VIP treatment. He swings from light and humorous to deep and meaningful with ease — often within the course of a conversation. As a proven word-smith, Sanderson brings impressive credentials to the writing of these, the books that mean the most to him as an author. It is what characters have to say for themselves that make us love or hate them, and I am head-over-heels for the ones we have here.
To give you a taste…
“Sometimes the prize is not worth the costs. The means by which we achieve victory are as important as the victory itself.”
“Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her?”
“Beauty was out there, all around. To create art was not to capture it, but to participate in it.”
“The world isn’t fair? What a huge revelation! Some people in power abuse those they have power over? Amazing! When did this start happening?”
“I’m sorry that your mystical, godlike powers do not instantly work as you would like them to.”
“Onward, then! To glory and some such nonsense.”
5. Theirs is Just One Story Amidst Many
The Cosmere. It’s a universe much like ours, made up of many worlds and on those worlds, many stories act out the unending drama of life. On Roshar, we learn of Dalinar, Kaladin, and Shallan as they face the coming of the Everstorm. However, their tale does not exist in isolation. If you read Sanderson’s work extensively enough and pay close attention you will see familiar faces crop up in stories … that they don’t belong in.
Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up…
So, it’s like this. Almost all of Sanderson’s books take place within the same universe — the Cosmere. The “Mistborn” trilogy takes place on a world called Scadrial, while the novella, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, is set on Threnody. “The Stormlight Archive” finds a home on the planet Roshar. The different stories don’t all take place simultaneously in all cases (there are some exceptions), but they tie together in ways that are slowly becoming apparent as Sanderson publishes more of his work. In Words of Radiance, a very memorable character from another Cosmere book (unscramble this if you want to know which book: arbrawerrk) steps into the action. Like the racial paradigm subversion, Sanderson doesn’t make a big deal out of this appearance. While there’s clearly purpose beyond the main plot to this character’s presence outside of his own story, we don’t get any answers beyond the fact that the author is building up to something big. When will we get the pay-off? According to Sanderson, it’s going to be years. Fair warning that if you want to devote yourself to this author and his body of work, you will be investing not only the time it takes to catch up with what he’s already put on the shelves, but the next decade or more of release dates. This may be a dealbreaker for some, and that’s okay. Honestly, any of Sanderson’s books may be read without ever picking up any of the others. (Well, unless you’re starting with Book 3 of a trilogy. Then you’re just being silly.)
The true brilliance of Brandon Sanderson is that while he has a clear agenda that he’s slowly mapping out for us, his priority is and always has been presenting stories for his readers to enjoy. So, go pick one up and do as the man asks!
**The quotes included above are drawn from The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, both of which are the work of Brandon Sanderson and are included here solely for reference.**
© 2018 Sarah Easley – All Rights Reserved.