The Epic Goes On: Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer

By now my faithful readers know the reason why I’m always so late to read Sanderson’s latest instalment in The Stormlight Archive. It’s not because I’m not super excited and want to dive back into the world of Roshar. It’s because Graphic Audio take their time to produce a quality audiobook with full cast, music, background noises and so on – and I love listening to this story that way, sometimes reading along in the book, looking at the illustrations. But the time has come, I have caught up, and I can say Oathbringer continues the epic epicness of the two predecessors. SPOILERS for The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance below!!!

OATHBRINGER
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2017
Audiobook: 41 hours
Hardcover: 1248 pages
Series: The Stormlight Archive #3
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Eshonai had always told her sister that she was certain something wonderful lay over the next hill.

In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.
Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.
Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together–and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past–even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.

The Stormlight Archive, as vast and daunting as its world may seem, follows a pretty clear structure. The first book focused on Kaladin (still my favorite character, just sayin’), the second was all about Shallan and her past, and this one is Dalinar’s. We know already from the first two books who Dalinar is and we also know his reputation as the Blackthorn, a powerful war lord who has won every battle his king sent him out to fight. But there are holes in Dalinar’s memory. Oathbringer fills in those holes and lets us see not only why Dalinar is the man he is today but who he used to be and what made him become “our” Dalinar. That alone was worth 1200 pages if you ask me.

But there also happens to be a few new threats on the horizon (one of them literally). The Everstorm is here, the Voidbringers are back, Roshar is in turmoil, the Knights Radiant are coming back… there is a lot to do if these characters want to bring some sort of peace to the world. And as you may guess from the massive amount of pages in this book, a lot happens. Dalinar is desperately trying to unite the kingdoms by inviting all the kings and queens to talk, a task that proves more difficult than expected, but vital if humanity is to survive long-term.

Kaladin visits his old home and learns some interesting things about the parshmen, things that already have an impact in this book but will probably become even more important later on. Shallan continues training her abilities by slipping into her various personas. This led to some truly exciting and hard-to-read character development on her part. I didn’t expect to care so much about her because, again, this is clearly Dalinar’s book, but Shallan’s story was just as intriguing. Especially the ending of her storyline felt mostly satisfying. Mostly because – as much as I dislike forced love triangles – I was rather a fan of this particular triangle. Shallan engaged to Adolin, but clearly interested in Kaladin, who in turn is drawn to her. I’m not saying the triangle is officially completely resolved by the end of the book but I’m pretty sure things are set now.

A Stormlight Archive book wouldn’t be complete without epic battles, and boy do they get epic! I thought the battle on the Shattered Plains from the first book couldn’t be topped, both in scope and in emotional impact. But hey, Sanderson did it. There are several fights in this book and what I liked was that they aren’t won by numbers or superpowers, but rather by key decisions made by certain characters. Describing a battle must be incredibly difficult, describing reading about a battle would simply be boring, so I’ll just leave you with my assurance that the epic battles are truly epic.

Another thing I adored and hope to get more of in future books is Shadesmar. We first enter this other realm with Jasnah Kholin in Words of Radiance and ever since then, it has been my own personal nightmare fuel. But of course, with a Sanderson book, even nightmare places adhere to certain rules and as such aren’t that scary. You just have to know how to navigate them. Shadesmar comes into play again in Oathbringer and while it doesn’t take up much of the novel, I was so excited to learn more about this place. I have more questions now than I did before but I’ve come to trust Brandon Sanderson to answer them when the time is ready.

As for world-building, need I really tell you again how great it is? I am still fascinated that every book opens the world up a bit more, makes me question new things that happen and want to understand the bigger picture. I believe this could be quite frustrating for many readers and if I didn’t know Sanderson’s works, I might be frustrated too. One question gets answered (sort of) and a hundred new ones appear. One mystical creature becomes a little clearer – spren, for example – and he introduces new ones that make absolutely no sense. Yet.

I did think this book wasn’t as good structurally as its two predecessors. That may be because by now, too many characters are protagonists and Sanderson tried to give each of them enough time and space. In certain scenes, the jumps between characters were decidedly too fast and too frequent for my taste and I get why it was done that way – to convey how stressful and fast the situation is moving forward – but I don’t like being ripped out of a POV every single page (or every minute in the audiobook). I also thought certain plot strings, like Shallan’s involvement with the Ghostbloods, were mentioned only to keep them alive long enough to become important again. Which may only happen in book seven, for all I know.

I realize now that I’ve written quite a bit about this book without really saying much, but that’s the thing. I don’t want to spoil anything, not the quieter character moments that make the series so special, no details about the battles, because I want you all to experience the book the way I did. With no pre-formed ideas about the plot, simply with the knowledge that it’s a journey worth taking and that none of these 1200 pages is wasted.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance

There’s a reason Sanderson’s books are sold as Epic Fantasy because when he wants to go epic, he goes EPIC. This is the second book in the Stormlight Archive so if you haven’t read the first, steer far away from anything below this introduction. There will, by necessity, be spoilers galore for the first book and even then it’s going to be hard talking about this series spoiler-free.

WORDS OF RADIANCE
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2014
Hardcover: 1087 pages
Graphic Audio: ~ 37 hours
Series: The Stormlight Archive #2
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Jasnah Kholin pretended to enjoy the party, giving no indication that she intended to have one of the guests killed.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.
The Assassin, Szeth, is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.
Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.
Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

First of all: I have no idea how to review this book. There is so much going on, the universe expands, the characters grow into their powers, new storylines are introduced, and it’s all just SO MUCH. Which, I guess, is why this beast of a book is over 1000 pages long. But I’ll do my best in what will probably be an extremely vague review. Most importatly, I loved reading it and these 1000 pages felt like a mere 200.

If The Way of Kings was Kaladin’s book, this is clearly Shallan’s. The story continues seamlessly from where the first book left off, continues and (finally!) intertwines Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar’s tales, and answers some burning questions, while throwing up a whole bunch of new ones. Oh, and did I mention the epic battles, powerful magic, lovely bickering, and world-building? Well, you’ll get all of that too for the price of one book.

Having fallen in love with Graphic Audio a few years ago, I almost don’t want to consume Sanderson through any other medium anymore. I did buy a hardback of Words of Radiance (and  my copy of Oathbringer is pre-ordered of course), but the whopping 37 hours of Graphic Audio, what with all the voices I’ve gotten used to, the theme music and the sound spren make, I absolutely prefer having read this gigantic book to me. I can only continue to recommend these audiobooks!

But on to the actual story. It opens with a big smack in the face with a Jasnah flashback that (literally) opens whole new worlds for us readers to think about and consider. In the present, Shallan is trying to make it to the Shattered Plains, Kaladin is coming to terms with his powers and his new position under Dalinar, and Dalinar is still seeking to save the world somehow. From whatever it is that threatens it. From these starting points, so many things happen, I couldn’t possible sum them up but, to me, the magic system and the world building became much more clear in this book than in The Way of Kings. What at first appeared to be random or existed by evolution turns out to have more complex backgrounds and it was so much fun discovering how new information made events from the first book appear in a different light. We learn a lot about spren, about what is probably the Big Bad for our heroes to fight, about history and culture in Roshar… oh man, there is seriously so much to discover. I especially liked the interludes which usually have nothing to do with the main story but are put in as an added world-building bonus, if you like.

Without giving too much away, there are a few things I want to talk about. For me, even in the first book, when they hadn’t met yet, it was clear that Shallan and Kaladin would make a kick-ass couple. Having them finally meet and turn out to be MY FAVORITE  THING IN THE WORLD OF FICTION – a bickering couple that slowly builds respect for each other – was the best part of this book for me. Also, the fact that they both have powers that they are hiding from others makes for some hilarious scenes. In case it’s not obvious, I’m shipping these two hard! But it’s not only Shallan and Kaladin who grow as people and who show different facets of their characters. Adolin, whom I liked in the first book, but thought of as slightly childish, feels like a more rounded character, more grown-up, more focused on what’s important, and I have grown even fonder of Renarin, who is kind of the underdog of the Kholin family but who shows that he is just as important and strong (in his own way) as his brother.

Politically speaking, a lot of stuff happens in this book. Action-wise, a lot of stuff happens in this book. I couldn’t possibly go into detail about all of it, but let me say that Sanderson knows how to write battles! Whether it’s two Shardbearers going at each other, or entire armies clashing on the Shattered Plains, do not expect to remember to eat or go to the bathroom while you’re reading this book. Much like in the Mistborn series, the magic also feels very naturally a part of the fighting. When Sanderson writes about lashings or someone sucking in Stormlight, there is no need for long explanations on what that means, it’s just like someone saying “He picked up his sword”. The magic is an organic part of this fictional world and it just works. I still have a billion questions, especially considering the Cosmere, but man, that was an awesome book!

As I said, this was Shallan’s book, and just like we got Kaladin flashbacks in The Way of Kings, we get Shallan flashbacks in this one, fleshing out her past, her reasons for hunting down Jasnah Kholin, and more information about Shallan’s family. Some of these were not surprising, but there were a few revelations that I found quite chilling. And knowing what Shallan has gone through makes her character all the more impressive. The way Kaladin deals with grief (and he’s had his share of that!) is very different from how Shallan deals with hers, but I liked both of them better for it.

Now, after a bit of a book hangover, I am just super excited to see who the next book will focus on (I think it’s Dalinar) and how the new – huge – discoveries of this one will shape the world of Roshar. I could honestly just drown myself in this world and never come up for air. If you have a bit of time on your hands and want to truly immerse yourself in an epic fantasy world, trust the legions of Sanderson fans and give this series a try. The page count may seem daunting at first, but I’ll bet you’ll wish for even more pages as soon as you start reading. I certainly am.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – EPIC!

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Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings

This is a seriously big book! I mean really, really big. It’s a good 1000 pages long, it features one of the best character arcs I could have wanted and begins a huge, epic tale of war, finding truth, rediscovering history and, you guessed it because it’s Sanderson, intricate magic systems. While I started reading the hardback book, which also has beautiful illustrations by the way, I did end up buying the Graphic Audio audiobooks again. More on that after my thoughts about the story itself (but spoiler: it was totally worth it again).

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THE WAY OF KINGS
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2010
Hardcover: 1007 pages
Graphic Audio: 37 hours
Series: The Stormlight Archive #1
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast.

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.

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This is a very difficult book to review because there is so much going on, although the time covered in-world isn’t even that great. Since we’re following three protagonists, I’ll break this up into three parts, starting with my favorite. Because I can.

Kaladin Stormblessed stole my readerly heart immediately. He is a slave who was once a soldier and he’s basically given up on life. We meet him as he is transported and then sold to a Highlord waging war on the Shattered Planes. The Shattered Plains by themselves made me go Woah! because it is such a cool world-building idea. The illustrations in the novel show a place that looks like wet earth left to dry in the scorching sun broke into lots of little pieces, almost a mosaic of ground with chasms between the single plateaus. It’s not just a piece of world-building for easthetics’ sake, but the premise for Kaladin’s entire existence in this book.

Twenty years ago, the king was murdered. An assassination ordered by the Parshendi, a race of human-like people who had just made peace shortly before apparently changing their minds and killing the king. So now there’s a sort of revenge-war going on that has warped into something quite different. With the use of bridges, the High Lords cover the Shattered Plains to meet the Parshendi and fight them. But on some of the plateaus, there are gemhearts – a sought-after type of riches and glory and whatnot. It’s way too much to explain here (which is why Sanderson wrote 1000 pages, duh). The important thing is that Kaladin becomes a bridgeman, a person who – along with other slaves – carries a bridge at a run, puts it down for the army to cross, crosses himself, then picks it up again and repeats until the assult is done. And then do the whole thing on the way back again. It’s absolutely gruelling but also has some of the best descriptions in the book. The utter hopelessness that takes hold of Kaladin permeated his early chapters and gave the novel some serious atmosphere.

Through the course of the book, Kaladin changes, grows, learns things about himself and faces his past. That’s all I’m willing to say, spoiler-free, but his character development was simply stunning and I looked forward to his chapters the most. He also becomes friends with a spren, a sort of Sanderson-esque Tinker Bell. She’s awesome!

Next there is Dalinar, a High Lord on the Shattered Plains, showing the war from another perspective. He’s got his own problems, apart from running assaults and fighting a war he no longer believes in. During Highstorms (oh boy, another bit of world-building too intricate to describe. It’s just a really big storm, you guys) he is haunted by visions. It’s the Stormlight Archive version of VR where Dalinar sees stuff and can interact with the people he is shown. Sometimes he “wakes up” in somebody else’s body. I won’t say I understood all of it – which was definitely on purpose on the author’s part – but it was damn thrilling to read. I liked Dalinar a lot, not just because he is basically a lonely Stark in a Lannister world, but also because his story line creates such a nice balance to Kaladin’s. Where we follow the lowliest of slaves, doing the hardest and most dangerous job during the war, Dalinar shows what it’s like on top of the food chain, being the man who commands slaves to run into their death. Except, Dalinar being a Stark, he doesn’t waste bridge crews the way his rival Sadeas does.

Dalinar’s story served pretty much to make sense of the societal norms. We learn things like reading and writing being a woman’s job. Men need glorified secretaries if they want stuff written down or written stuff read to them. I found this incredibly silly, but then again, so is the idea that people are “sorted” into castes based on their eye color. Lighteyes are aristocracy, darkeyes are on the bottom. I suppose it’s not much sillier than dividing people by their skin color, but picking eye color made it all the more obvious how arbitrary and stupid it really is – picking people’s station by physical differences. Dalinar’s story is the one that delivers the most exciting battle scenes and offers a seriously AMAZEBALLS epic ending. All balanced with a nice dose of world-building. Well done indeed.

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My least favorite story, I’m sad to say, is Shallan’s. The only female protagonist got the worst deal, if you ask me. She is far from the Shattered Plains, and she has a plan of her own. Shallan arrives in Kharbranth, a city hewn into stone, to become the apprentice of the notorious Jasnah Kholin (who’s related to the current king, who is thus related to the guys fighting on the Shattered Plains). Jasnah is a scholar, so much time in Shallan’s storyline is spent with books, in dusty rooms, establishing more of the world, this time from a woman’s perspective. Another silly bit of world-building is that women (at least aristocracy) have a “safe pouch” in which they keep one of their hands hidden. Showing that hand is equivalent to me letting a boob hang out in public, so one hand is always sewn inside whichever garment Shallan wears. I hope there’ll be some cool explanation for that because it seems incredibly stupid and hindering in daily life. Seriously, I need to use both hands all the time.

Shallan’s story takes a LONG time to pick up pace, but when it does, it is both weird and creepy, and wonderfully exciting. She is the one who discovers this book’s big plot twist at the end, and it wasn’t even a cheap one. I really liked how it changed my world view (for the world in the novel, that is) completely and puts things into a different light. Shallan’s story isn’t bad, but it felt to me like much less care was put into it compared to Kaladin. I fully believe Kaladin was Brandon Sanderson’s favorite bit to write and that shows.

Lastly, there is another character who shows up much less frequently, but who is another constant. Szeth the assassin probably has the worst job you can imagine. He’s an assassin who has to kill whomever he is commanded by his current master. The only person he can’t kill is himself. And he yearns to die! We know very little about Szeth, except that he’s got some seriously cool tricks up his sleeve but, boy, do I want to know more about him.

All things considered – also the ones I didn’t even mention here, like Shardblades and spren, stormlight-infused gems and Parshendi armour – this is one hell of a book. It has epic battles, great character development, the right amoung of flashbacks, plus interludes following completely different characters in different places. As a series starter, the book did a lot of groundwork for the world-building, and there is no shortage of that, but it kept a nice balance between plot and exposition. We are thrown just enough hints to get us intrigued but Sanderson skilfully leaves many questions open for later.   It is a long book, yes, and it’s only the first part of ten (!) but I honestly can’t wait to read on and find out more about this world, follow these characters and see how everything is connected.

About the Graphic Audio edition:

Graphic Audio is usually unabridged recordings with a full cast, great sound effects and background music. This time, I noticed that some bits were abridged, although nothing important. It’s clear that “Kaladin said” and “Shallan thought” were left out, because we hear their actual voices saying or thinking stuff (thoughts have a sort of echo to distinguish from regular speech), but sometimes when I read along in the book, I noticed that a sentence or two of description was dropped. Again, nothing vital, and I can’t fault Graphic Audio the cuts in such a long story. I did follow along in the book quite a bit, if only for the illustrations and chapter headings. I also recognised some actor voices from the Mistborn series, and I must commend them on the excellent job they did – although all I have to go on is their voice, they truly sounded like completely different people.
Now I’m facing the difficult decision of whether to wait for the next book to come out as a Graphic Audio or to start reading my hardback copy. We’ll see how long I can wait…

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Seriously excellent!

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