Series Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

14 04 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 45 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 48 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Big sweeping epic fantasies and I don’t always mesh well together for many reasons. First, magic tends to annoy me. I think it can be all kinds of cool when some crazy old sorcerer unleashed hellfire and damnation down upon the wicked, but when every problem is solved by a twinkle of the nose or some demon released from the nether regions, and magic becomes more important than characters, I lose interest. And while I love characters, after the 300th one appears in their cardboard cutter glory, and they are all named, Taragon, Sharagon, Sh’othan, Larry of the Sharaghon Forrest, Troctadon, Bill, Z’Atmothathalogabn, and… I WANT THEM ALL TO DIE. Also elves. OK, in the right context, elves can be sort of fun, but when they show up in their Tolkenesque glory in the first five friggin’ minutes of a book, I tend to want to scream GO BACK TO MIDDLE EARTH YOU POINTY EAR BASTARD! Maybe I’m speciest, I just don’t trust them. Yet, when I do fall for an Epic Fantasy, I fall hard. I fall like a YA protagonist after just meeting her first Vampire. I lie awake wondering if the book will call me the next day. I wonder if I read the book too much it will think I’m creepy, but still go back to it over and over again. I have spent months, reading and rereading Fantasy series. I have spent hours refreshing author’s websites when they are supposed to announce when the next book is coming out. This is why I am often hesitant to jump into a big fantasy novel. It becomes either my bane or my existence. Luckily, this is why god created other awesome people to motivate you into important life decisions like dedicating 100 hours of your life to listening to the AWESOMEST SERIES EVER. So, yeah, thanks. You know who you are.

So, what is The Stormlight Archives series by Brandon Sanderson about. Well, I’m not going to even try. If I could do justice to a summary that would truly give you an idea of the nature of this book, I would be a much better writer than I am and probably should concentrating on trying to fuck with people’s brains they way Sanderson did with mine. I think often, especially with hard core readers, there is a sense when reading where you think… “You know what… I could do this.” With Sanderson my reaction was “How in god’s name did some human being imagine this with his brain thing than manage to transport it from the twisted regions of his mind to words on a page. WHAT FOUL MAGIC IS THIS?” Truly, Sanderson has created a world that is truly breathtaking. From the otherworldly creatures that react to the emotions of the people, to a shattered land serving as the field for a massive battle. It’s full of dark beauty, fascinating magic, deep secrets and something tickling along the edges of the narrative letting you know there is even more than you can possibly imagine. Yet, the true beauty of this novel is the characters. Sanderson tells the traditional fantasy origin story in an entirely unique way. He creates a character, strips them down to their core, then builds them back up piece by piece. Along the way, they become real to you. Not just some powerful mage, or savvy political leader, but a real broken person, with flaws who manages to pull you entirely into their world. Sanderson surrounds his key players with an assorted menagerie of colorful characters, allowing you to see the growth of his protagonists through how they affect those around them. Bridge 4, a collection of slaves forced to carry bridges in suicidal battle runs, is one of the most wonderful group of characters I have read in a while. Their transformation from beaten down slaves, to an effective unit is so brilliant, it makes you almost want to to start running these death marches yourself.

Then there is the action. Holy shit, the action. There were moments where I just had to stop where I was and absorb some scene of pure baddassery. I became so mesmerized, I ignored those around me for the much more interesting people performing crazy ass action in my brain hole. I’m lucky I was never in the middle of traffic when these scenes came, because it’s hard to finish listening to a book after a F150 runs you down. The Stormlight Archives is the rare fantasy novel that is about war, but never glorifies it. Sanderson allows us to accompany his characters into the battles, giving as an intimate look at chaos, letting us see the full horrors of these event. Yet, there is some level of hope at play within the context of the team, and the players assembled. These are characters that make each other better, that build each other up, become a true family of choice, setting the basis to allow the events to build. The individual fight scenes rivaled the visual splendor and choreography of the best superhero films. These fights go beyond the “so and so punched so and so in the face” battles, but took place in multiple dimensions that break the laws of physics, yet never become muddled or obfuscated. Sanderson creates a vivid conflict in your head, and leaves you breathless as you follow each movement, each action and each new mind bending discovery.

Another fascinating element that Sanderson sneaks into the plot is the self defeating nature of isms. His society is built on highly structured class-ism based on the arbitrary physical attribute of eye color. The division between the Noble Bright Eye class, and the peasant dark eyes, creates levels of conflict that plays out in multiple ways throughout the tale. Sanderson shows how such and arbitrary class structure creates self defeating scenarios and ingrained suspicions among people who are essentially good and should be allies. It adds a level to the tale, that while on surface seems almost cliché, yet Sanderson subverts the clique effectively making it unique in his hands. Also, I found the division of labor between the sexes to be quite interesting. Men have deemed reading, writing and scholarly pursuits to be feminine qualities, when they focus on the more physical. So, while women are viewed as subservient, they control the knowledge, and well, we know what that means.

This is my problem with reviewing something like the Stormlight Archive. I just want to scream, AWESOME! READ THIS NOW. There is so much here that I simply loved about this book, that I can’t even scratch the surface. I want to yell “Dalinar is such a badass” and you just understand what I mean. Or, THANK GOD SHE ASKED HIM ABOUT POOP and you just shake your head knowingly. Because, there is so much here. So many aspects that I want to frantically point out to you like a frat boy looking at Christmas lights while tripping on LSD. And what’s the hardest thing to reconcile, is I may never have read it. So, if you even think you might possible like Epic Fantasy, read this.

If you can listen to two people read a book for almost 100 hours and not once want to stab yourself in the ear with a rusty fork, then those narrators are doing something right. At no point did either Micheal Kramer or Kate Reading make me want to stab myself in the ear with a rusty fork, in fact, their reading made me want to protect myself from any sort of rusty fork in the ear related injury. These two talented narrators brought this story alive in a brilliantly vivid way. I love how you could hear the character development in their voices, with Shallan going from a seemingly flighty naïve girlchild, to, perhaps, the pivotal character of Words of Radiance and Kalidan developing from a man with nothing to live for to a leader of men. Kramer does a wonderful job guiding us through this brokenness and rehabilitation of Kalidan as well as showing us the turmoil of Dalinar’s struggles with his own sanity. Plus, his Bridge 4 character never failed to put a smile on my face. One thing I especially liked about Kramer is he gives his characters a wide range of exotic sounding accents, without falling back onto the annoying Elizabethan feel that many people seemed to think fantasy novels require. One of the problems you face with two different narrators is the dissonance of shared characters. This isn’t too much of an issue here. Sure, Kramer’s Shallan sounds a bit more imperious than Readings, and Reading’s Kalidan a bit younger than Kramer’s, the two POV’s don’t really come together to late in the series and by that time the narrators have had such a strong grasp on the material, you are fully engaged in the story. So, yes, The Stormlight Archive is now my newest Fantasy obsession, so please forgive my creepy book stalking during the wait for the next book in the series.

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2 responses

14 04 2014
Guy BIgnell

Great review Bob, gave up on Fire and Ice (exhausting and prefer the show) Wheel of time series scared the cr@p out of me. If it is that good i will be happy just reading Joe Ledger folllowed by a Stormlight Archive for the next few years (or rest of my life!)

27 04 2014
Tabitha (Pabkins)

I agree the world is breathtaking…the depth he goes into is actually why I had to stop listening to this audio book and pick up the print version i stead. I do plan to keep the audio for “rereads” but I think with this particular series I will absorb it better in reading instead of listening format.

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