(This is a repost of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)
Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
Magnificent and magnormous! I know, that word isn’t real, but then neither is this book. It is full of make believe. Crammed to the hilt, really. That is both good and bad.
I love epic fantasy. I truly do. The Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire are fantastic pieces. In my youth: the Belgariad, Mallorean, Riftwar Saga, The Foundation series and more were massive staples of literary enjoyment. The larger the series (and of course the books) the better. Brandon Sanderson’s new series: The Stormlight Archive promises to be HUGE. I’ve seen Sanderson grow in his writing and it certainly shows in this new piece of work. It does have its share of problems though.
First off, it’s 1008 pages long! That’s a lot to bite off in a first book, and worrisome for how long it may take to get through, but it read quickly (relative to its size) and I enjoyed almost all of it (except for the resulting neck pain from lugging it around each and every workday).
It starts with a view of the far past, where some truly epic foundation stones are set for a fascinating story in this alternate universe. Then you are pulled along on a grand journey that delivers.
Humanity lives in the strange world of Roshar where highstorms literally scour the landscape on a frequent basis, creating plant and animal life that is almost too hard to believe. Much of mankind is also strange: a myriad of races with a rainbow of skin, eye and hair colors. The distinct races and their different kingdoms are in fact too much. There is so much variety and such a large swathe of detail that the things that are most important occasionally get lost.
In this world, Stormlight is both an energy source for magically powered machines and a source of magic to be drawn upon. One of its most compelling uses is to power the Plate of powerful knights capable of astounding feats of strength and destruction. Despite the varied uses it is clear that few survive in this era that are true masters of the energies of Stormlight and there is more to come as Sanderson doles out the details of his magical creation.
Character is a strong point in this book, with some truly strong scenes of emotion and incredible trials. Like most epic fantasy, there’s a lot of them and three in particular: the thief, the lord and the surgeon-turned-soldier. Their conflicts are real, and they are complicated. Rarely do they make a decision that doesn’t have some sort of ramification. This gives great depth to the story and life. The world of Roshar has its problems and each of these characters are doing their part to try and make it a better place, each in their own ways. Each of them succeed as they fail, pushing themselves to their limit, ready to quit but persevering anyway.
One complaint, is an important reveal towards the end of the book. It is neither well set up or convincing in its reveal. I won’t say what it was only that it was irritating reading it. It is just one of those things that the writer forces upon the reader without ample reason and has the feel of a “darling” that needed to die (Writing Excuses reference). The perpetrator of this fallacy is both far too learned, and wise to make such a callous assumption. I can only hope there is a better reason in the next installment. But this is just one moment of annoyance amongst many of enjoyment. Many reveals in the book will have you reading with a jaw dropped halfway to the floor.
All in all, a worthy read for epic fantasy lovers that love expansive stories and huge books. There are moments of heart-wrenching emotion and edge-of-your-seat thrills. 4 stars!
I might, however, advise petitioning Tor for a wheeled version to make toting it around easier, or you can always get the e-book version, I suppose...
What did you think?