I'm glad that Stormlight books don't come out too often. For one thing, I want to savor the experience and thrill of new books in this amazing series. For another, I would be much less productive at any task besides reading them. Rhythm of War, the newest installment in the series, was full of just as much emotional poignancy and compelling storytelling as the previous books in the Stormlight Archive. It broadened the scope of the world and the conflict in entirely new directions, it was full of twists (a few of which even I didn't predict), and just as it went about answering key questions about the plot and the world, it raised even more.
I've been seeing that Sanderson was working on this novella from his website's status bar for quite some time now, but I hadn't been sure what it was (though I could have figured out without too much more research, I know). However, I was not expecting it to come out so close to when the fourth Stormlight novel finally came out, and was very excited to find that, in November, I had not one, but two new pieces of Stormlight literature to enjoy.
If you’ve been following along over the past few reviews, you probably won’t be surprised by another rave review for a Stormlight book. To be honest, I probably have a somewhat unhealthy obsessions with these books. There are plenty of books that I enjoy, and stories that I will happily reread and have a new experience with each time, but my experience with this series is on a different level. Maybe it’s the philosophical questions it confronts, or maybe it’s the incredibly imaginative and vividly detailed world, or maybe it’s the compellingly flawed, fascinating, and terribly relatable characters. Whatever the case, Oathbringer continues to be, to my mind, the gold standard for what epic fantasy ought to be.
If you've been following along for the past few weeks, you know that I've been rereading the existing books in the Stormlight Archive before I read the newly released Rhythm of War, which I've been eagerly anticipating since I finished Oathbringer for the first time back when it came out. When I finished Words of Radiance, I realized that I should probably also read Edgedancer, which is a Stormlight novella, and part of Arcanum Unbounded. Since I haven't posted reviews for any of these stories before, it seemed worthwhile to also post about them here on the site.
So yes, I've gone on a bit of a Sanderson kick recently, with the excuse of wanting to derive maximum enjoyment and satisfaction from my first (and likely subsequent second) read of Rhythm of War. I would have left Warbreaker out of that, and settled for just the other three books in the Stormlight Archive, plus Arcanum Unbound, except that I am fairly certain that the peculiar black sword that appears in Oathbringer is tied to a certain sword in Warbreaker. Plus, it has been quite awhile since I've read this novel, and it's worth rereading every now and then.
We may have talked about "second book syndrome" before on the site. If you've read, or even watched, many series, you've probably noticed it: the first installment comes out strong, and then the second falters a little before things improve again in the third. By no means is this universal, but it is common enough to be remarkable, which is why we're remarking on it. Whether it's the result of the author trying too hard to replicate the success of the first book, or the fact that the pacing of a second book can feel a little like the pacing of the middle of a novel, which is always the hardest to keep interesting, second books often falter. Not Words of Radiance, which takes what made The Way of Kings fantastic, and built upon it to create a sequel worthy of the Stormlight Archive.
Technically, this is not a new book to me. In fact, this is at least my fifth time reading The Way of Kings. It is one of my go-to books when life looks particularly bleak, or when I need to remind myself of what epic fantasy should be. This time, my excuse for rereading was the release of the newest installment in this series, Rhythm of War. I don't do that for all series, especially not ones with which I am already as familiar as I am with Stormlight Archive, but these books are simply so good that it makes a great excuse. Since I have not yet reviewed the books here on the site, I decided it was also an appropriate time to rectify that gross negligence.
Where do I even start with a Shannara review? Shannara is epic fantasy in the very literal sense of the word, spanning hundreds of years of in-world history across myriad series and trilogies and stand-alone novels. Perhaps Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere may eventually be larger in literary scope, but even that will likely not sprawl so much as Shannara. Where a series like Wheel of Time covers a single story arc, Shannara has era, ages, and dozens of independent arcs. Sometimes, one has to wonder if Terry Brooks can bring himself to write anything that isn't Shannara: supposedly his Knight of the Word trilogy began as something new, and morphed into a prelude to Shannara.
As much as I intend this site to be a publishing apparatus, a means by which to present my own works, and eventually those of others, to a broader audience, this site is also about the writing itself, what goes into writing stories and making characters come alive for a reader. By no means can I, or do I, claim to be any manner of expert in how these things are done, and certainly I cannot assert how they ought to be done. There is a void, though, at least to my mind, and it is a void which I believe that perhaps in some small way I can help to fill. You see, there are so many books out there, and so many people who would love to be able to tell stories like that, and yet the process by which authors arrive at their magnum opuses is shrouded in mystery.
I don’t remember if this was a comparison I developed, or if I read it somewhere and expanded upon it, but I’ve taken to using windows to explain different styles of writing to others. What I do remember is that it's based on Brandon Sanderson describing his prose as "transparent." This made perfect sense to me, but when I mentioned it to others, they were confused by the idea, and ever since I've been trying to come up with a better way of explaining this metaphor. In other words, I hope that this post is going to make sense to you.