Review: “The Stormlight Archive Books 1-3” by Brandon Sanderson

Hi all, I’m making my way through Brandon Sanderson‘s the Stormlight Archive series since book four came out this fall. These epic fantasy tomes take place in Sanderson’s cosmere (his fictional universe within which a number of his novels take place) and follow the events of Roshar, wherein storms rage, battles with the Parshendi are a constant, and political maneuvering is expected. A forgotten world of Radiants, shards, and spren begin a gradual return, anticipating the return of the Voidbringers and the foretold devastation they bring.

Sanderson is master story craftsman, widely praised for his world building and magic systems. This series is exemplary and highly recommended. Below are summaries and thoughts for the first three books, in anticipation of the fourth.

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1)

By Brandon Sanderson
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings, book one of The Stormlight Archive begins an incredible new saga of epic proportion.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of over ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of the Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

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.

From Goodreads

Review

I’ll be honest on first read I struggled with this one. I haven’t read many epic fantasies of this scale, so the number of character threads to keep track of was overwhelming and easily became tangled (truthfully I’m not great at names anyways!). I made it through the first time, but then took a break for a few months before deciding whether to give it another shot. At that point I ended up re-reading it to see if having the remnants of plot and character from the first time might help. And I enjoyed it MUCH more. I had to re-read to fully appreciate the complexity woven into this story.

Dalinar and Sadeas are great foils for each other, Jasnah was initially harsh but grew on me, and Shallan, the studious ward with ulterior motives, was intriguing. Although we cycle through their stories Kalandin’s journey seemed more heavily focused in this book. His battle of will and courage in Bridge Four is the highlight. Of course these are just a small sampling of the characters, but each of them are deep and complex. Their historic struggle in the Shattered Plains against the Parshendi set the stage for an epic clash of wills against not only their enemy but amongst themselves.

If you enjoy fantasy and considered jumping on the Stormlight Archive bandwagon I’d highly recommend picking this up, but be generous with yourself if this is a foray into large epic fantasy series.

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2)

By Brandon Sanderson
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

Words of Radiance, Book Two of the Stormlight Archive, continues the immersive fantasy epic that The Way of Kings began.

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.

From Goodreads

Review

Reflecting on this book, the primary thing I remember is how heartbreaking Shallan’s struggle is. As the shroud is slowly peeled away revealing her past I feel so much empathy for her journey and how far she’d come. Although I’d started loving her in the first book for her enthusiasm in books and learning, it was cemented much deeper in this book. I also loved learning more about the Parshendi and parshmen in this story, getting some of their perspective and hearing about their rich culture. To me these components made this book yet another standout.

The plot continues to thicken amongst the Brightlords and Bridge Four as well. Adolin steps forward to become more of a central figure, obedient and true but distrustful of his father’s faith in Kaladin. But to face the threat of the Assassin in White they must all band together despite the secrets some of them hold.

This was another great read in the series culminating in yet another big ending.

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3)

By Brandon Sanderson
Find it on: Goodreads

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Synopsis

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.

From Goodreads

Review

And finally book three. This one was seriously stunning. By this point you’re pretty invested in the world Sanderson has built to have made it through the first two books, and the payoff in this one is well worth it. In this one we learn much more about the Urithiru tower as well as the magic system and tiers of those who use it – including the Knights Radiant, Heralds, the Fused and the three Gods. Shallan and Dalinar struggle to embrace their past and find a way for themselves in the future of this world. Dalinar and Navini’s relationship evolves into something warm and beautiful, and Shallan’s heart finally appears to decide what she wants. Dalinar shines brightly in this book, though Shallan will always be a soft spot for me.

And the last two hundred or so pages are epic. I know the first two books also had big endings, but this one overshadows them by a mile.

With an ending this grand I’m excited to continue on with book four just released this fall and see how the stories continue to develop!

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