My next reading adventure starts me off in another epic fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson. Published in 2010, this is the first book in what is currently planned to be a ten book series that explores a different planet within the author’s Cosmere.
Coming in at roughly 1,000 pages, there is a whole lot of world-building and introductory information provided in this novel. The story takes place on a planet called Roshar, which is populated by various human (and a few not quite so human) races advanced to roughly the medieval era on Earth. Severe weather phenomena called highstorms regularly rage across the planet, resulting in some interesting adaptations in the indigenous plant-life and allowing crustaceans to flourish in niches we might otherwise expect to see mammals. Also in abundance in this world are a vast array of fairy-like creatures called spren that seem to be semi-physical manifestations of emotions and elements. Highly varied in shape, size, and ability to interact with humans, these creatures appear and disappear according to their surroundings and are suggested to be not entirely a part of our plane of existence.
The main system of magic is centered around using gems to collect energy (referred to as Stormlight) released by highstorms. Once infused these gems are used to power a variety of objects, the most common of which are devices called fabrials. Depending upon the type of device and skill of the user, fabrials provide a variety of functions ranging from simple heaters and light sources to allowing for long-range communication and the transformation of matter from one state to another. Stormlight charged gems are also used as to power the formidable shardplate armor and shardblade swords held by the planet’s elite. Prized relics of legendary figures from Roshar’s distant past, these weapons were originally wielded against evil creatures called voidbringers during a series of devastating upheavals, but now only serve to grant their bearers an immense advantage in more mundane conflicts. Also connected to these legends are Surgebinders, people able to physically draw Stormlight into their bodies and from it obtain greatly enhanced skills and abilities. Supposedly a lost ability, we nonetheless meet at least one such individual in the story.
The story is told by following the paths of four primary characters. The first of these is Szeth-son-son-Vallano, a man largely responsible for setting off the central conflict in the novel. Outcast by his people for an as yet unspecified heresy, Szeth is referred to as Truthless; a status that binds him as an absolute slave to whomever holds his Oathstone. Despite a deep-seated personal aversion to violence Szeth is a highly skilled assassin and Surgebinder, two talents he is often forced to make use of at great cost to himself. We first meet him at a feast held in honor of a truce between the powerful Alethi and Parshendi kingdoms where he succeeds in dramatic fashion at recreating hostilities between the two powers.
Cut to six years later and the two sides are still at war. Despite their numerical advantage, the Alethi highprinces overseeing the war effort are unwilling to unite their forces and have instead made sport of the conflict, competing amongst themselves for the right to battle the Parshendi over harvesting gems from the cocoons of rare creatures that live on the battlefields. It is here that we meet our next two characters, Dalinar Kholin and Kaladin Stormblessed. Dalinar is a high-ranking Alethi noble and a trusted advisor to his nephew, and current king, Elhokar Kholin. An honorable man and legendary warrior, he is dismayed by the lackluster war effort and is pushing for a resolution to the seemingly endless conflict. His fellow lords, however, view his skepticism as cowardice and there are whispers questioning his sanity and competence as rumors regarding the visions he sees during highstorms start to spread.
Kaladin, on the other hand, is a former spearman. Nicknamed Stormblessed in better times for an uncanny ability to stay alive, he has been betrayed by the minor lord he was serving and sold into slavery. To his surprise, he eventually finds himself sold into the army of highprince Sadeas, a brutal and callous man who also happens to be the chief rival of Dalinar Kholin, and given the role of bridgeman; the lowest and most expendable position in the army. Depressed and defeated, Kaladin is on the verge of giving up until he is coaxed back from the edge by an unusual spren named Syl. With newfound determination he begins to organize his fellow bridgemen and seeks a way to become the man he once was.
The final main character is Shallan Davar. Though she is currently somewhat on the periphery of the main conflicts, her character looks to be very important going forward. The only daughter in a collapsing noble family, she is desperately seeking to apprentice herself to Jasnah Kholin, esteemed scholar and sister of King Elhokar. Her real goal however, is to steal a powerful fabrial from Jasnah, a device she and her brothers hope can transform worthless tracts of their family’s land into valuable mines. It’ not long, however, before Shallan’s natural curiosity and scholastic ambition take over and she begins to doubt her resolve, especially as she comes to value her new experiences and discovers some hidden abilities of her own.
Reading on a Kindle, I didn’t realize at first just how long this book was and continued on in awe as the story just kept coming. Fortunately, I found it to all really fascinating and absolutely loved the world and it’s characters. Everything in the book felt necessary towards building the story, even the smattering of one-off chapters featuring people and places seemingly far removed from the main plot. However random some of them may seem at present, these characters all felt like they had important perspectives to offer and presented tantalizing glimpses of the world beyond the gaze of the main characters.
On that last note, there were definitely a few places where I caught references to the larger world Sanderson is creating. In this regard, I am particularly happy to have read Mistborn: Secret History before this book, as having knowledge of some of the people and places encountered therein really enhanced my appreciation of this story. I was really excited when I caught a passing reference to Ruin at one point and have since learned that there izs considerable fan speculation that one of Roshar’s constellations is seen briefly in Bands of Mourning. Since I don’t presume to know much of this larger universe yet, and I’m sure there was even more stuff that I missed.
What I can say is that all this left me very eager to jump right into the second book, Words of Radiance. I have so many questions and can’t wait to get answers!