Fantasy, High Fantasy
The Stormlight Archive, Book # 1
August 31st 2010
I long for the days before the Last Desolation.
The age before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. A time when there was still magic in the world and honor in the hearts of men.
The world became ours, and yet we lost it. Victory proved to be the greatest test of all. Or was that victory illusory? Did our enemies come to recognize that the harder they fought, the fiercer our resistance? Fire and hammer will forge steel into a weapon, but if you abandon your sword, it eventually rusts away.
There are four whom we watch. The first is the surgeon, forced to forsake healing to fight in the most brutal war of our time. The second is the assassin, a murderer who weeps as he kills. The third is the liar, a young woman who wears a scholar's mantle over the heart of a thief. The last is the prince, a warlord whose eyes have opened to the ancient past as his thirst for battle wanes.
The world can change. Surgebinding and Shardwielding can return; the magics of ancient days become ours again. These four people are key.
One of them may redeem us. And one of them will destroy us.
From Brandon Sanderson-who completed Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time-comes The Stormlight Archive, an ambitious new fantasy epic in a unique, richly imagined setting. Roshar is a world relentlessly blasted by awesome tempests, where emotions take on physical form, and terrible secrets hide deep beneath the rocky landscape.
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!
About the book
It is a little difficult for me to summarise this monumental book. Partly because I didn’t like it as I thought (but I will explain why later) and partly because it’s long and remembering everything is impossible and it would be an understatement anyway.
The book is the first in a series of 10 books called The Stormlight Archive and is divided into parts, like all Sanderson’s books apparently and each part it is divided into chapters narrated more or less by a single character. The main characters are essentially 3 or 4 and we follow their story independently of the others or while it is intertwined with the others.
We have Shallan who has an independent story but who intertwines with Jasnah who is the King ‘s sister Elhokar. We have the king’s uncle, Dalinar Kholin and his son Adolin, we have Kaladin to whom a big portion of the book is dedicated and a murderer, Szeth, with whom the book begins, but apart from a few scenes he doesn’t have much space in the story.
We are in a fantasy world called Roshar which includes different “nations” and different races. Sanderson explains in detail the difference between the races, explains their religion and culture and he is very good about that (especially how does he remember everything?). This continent is targeted by “highstorms”, a weather system that travel the entire continent from east to west, starting at the Origin. Storms that don’t leave many alive if they aren’t sheltered and responsible for the “Stormlight”, the power system in this series.
The book begins with an event of many years before in which the story called the Last Desolation is narrated. In this “story” humans are attacked by the Voidbringers and helped by the Knights Radiant, people with extraordinary powers, but who at the moment of the story can’t take it anymore and abandon humanity. It often refer to this fact, the abandonment by the Knights Radiant, during the narration and therefore we understand that it is a fundamental step. Furthermore, there is another fact that triggers the whole war: King Gavilar’s murder, Jasnah and Elhokar’s father. From here a war breaks out between the inhabitants of Alethkar and the Parshendi, a race that lives in the Shattered Plains, broken plains that can be crossed only with bridges that are moved by men (the bridgemen) who are worth nothing and therefore even if they die, nobody cares. This is the big picture, but as mentioned, explaining the plot in a few words would be an understatement.
What I think
I read this book because I liked the previous saga, Mistborn a lot (even if I haven’t finished it while I write this, I will have once this is published) and therefore I thought I would find something similar. Instead I found everything different. I can’t say that I didn’t like it, in fact, especially towards the end, I couldn’t stay away, but I thought I would find the “magic” a little earlier. For this reason alone I gave 4 stars and not 5. For the rest I have nothing negative to say, only positive things, maybe only that it started a bit slow (and in fact I started it and then left for a few weeks, then resumed only because Kindle Unlimited was expiring and I had to finish it or I would have missed the opportunity). But I have high hopes for the second book.
The “magic” behind this book, although not present much in the first part, is very interesting, just as it was in Mistborn, I am intrigued by the fact that it attracts power from induced spheres of light.
Sanderson, at first takes many things for granted, he starts immediately with technical terms such as Stormlight, Spren, Shardbearer that obviously the reader does not know and in fact at the beginning I asked myself for a long time, “but what are you talking about?” (and it is also for this reason that at the beginning I didn’t want to continue). Then little by little we understand the most part, it is as if he slowly teaches us without explaining things and we find ourselves knowing them and understanding them without “studying”.
An important thing is that here there is a distinction between dark eyes and light eyes. The “Lighteyes”written like that, are the nobility, the once who rules, the highprinces and the royalty family are lighteyes. the “Darkeyes” are the common people. Only winning a Shardbearer a darkeyes can become a lighteyes.
The characters are many, but as mentioned there are some that are more main than others. The one who stands out the most is Kaladin to whom most of the book is dedicated. Kaladin is a “surgeon” or rather his father, a surgeon, taught him many things about medicine while he was growing up, but then for various reasons that are explained in the book as we go on with the story, he enters the army that must fight with local enemies, while the real army is fighting the main war on the Shattered Plains. Kaladin was a soldier, was a slave and now is a bridgeman. Except that thanks to him, his team manages to do things that the other bridge teams fail. At first I didn’t like his story, because usually I don’t like reading about people who are always treated badly and who don’t react, but then I loved him after reading the whole story. His points of view, what he does, how he does it, the magic he discovers he has. I loved everything about him.
Then there is Shallan who doesn’t have many dedicated chapters but who has a particular story and we come to know her powers while she discovers them. Shallan was sent to Jasnah to steal something, disguised as a pupil because her desire for knowledge is immense and therefore disguised as a scholar, she introduces herself into the life of the king’s sister for a specific purpose, but then everything changes and oh boy! how I liked this twist!
Then there is Dalinar with his son Adolin who are of highprinces and Shardbearers. First of all, they must protect the king, but they must also command their army against the Parshendi, the race which is responsible for the death of Elhokar’s father, and Dalinar’s brother. Dalinar will also have his own path and between betrayals and visions he will understand many things about himself.
The last character is Szeth. But not much is known, except for: he killed King Gavilar, he’s still killing the highprinces and he has powers but no else is known. He will certainly be fundamental in the other books. So I can’t say more, I just like him as a character or at least I liked what I’ve seen so far.
Discussion and Conclusion
One thing I like is that women are the ones who can read and write, they are the ones who study culture. Which is seen as a minor and degrading thing in the book but which is positive for our society.
Another positive aspect or rather something that I like, is the fact that there are spren, seen a bit like fairies only there are thousands, if not millions of spren. Those for pain, those for rain, those for rotting bodies. Everything can have a spren, every sensation, every feeling. Kaladin also has a spren (a windspren, will learn more about it in the second book) that keeps him company and these spren can only appear to whom they want to appear and in certain forms they want to be seen in. Kaladin’s spren is phenomenal. It seems a bit like his conscience that speaks to him.
Another thing a little different from the usual, or better that I have never found in any other books, is that women cover their left hand which is considered the Safehand, the one that must be protected. I wonder if there are left-handed people in this world. Surely not. This particular struck me and from this particular fact, one can see the “nobility” of a woman. The more noble one is, the more the hand is covered (from just a glove by poor women to beautiful pouches).
I must say that the world is so complex that sometimes I didn’t understand how it was made. Luckily in the book there are draws that explain certain things, draws designed by Shallan herself because she is very good with charcoal and in fact her character is represented with an album and charcoal in her hand. But even this is sometimes not enough to understand, for example how the Shattered Plains are made, but if you search online there are fantastic designs that make you understand.
There are many themes in this book, the first of all is the division between the races and and between the same race (lighteyes and darkeyes). Furthermore, there is talk of depression (and also of suicide), of insecurity, honour, betrayal and justice. And a sentence that I find wonderful:
A story doesn’t live until it is imagined in someone’s mind.