I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this read, as I make something of a point not to read too many reviews before I start a new book so as to not bias myself one way or another from what other people thought. Whatever it was I expected, I found something very different. After I finished it, I did see a review that aligned this book with something like The Iliad, which I think might be the most apt comparison of which I can think. This has a very mythical feel: all of the characters are larger-than-life, both they and their enemies are exaggerated in their powers and personalities, and character arcs are largely absent...
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.
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.
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.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I try very hard to read broadly. For the most part, I enjoy the books that I read, even the ones that are outside what I'll call my core genres. This especially true of much of the nonfiction and biographic texts that I consume, all of which come with the added benefit of improving my knowledge just a little bit more. Then there are the times that I return to the core fantasy genre, and I remember why fantasy and science fiction are my true favorite genres. Wintersteel was just the kind of reminder for which I was looking.
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.
For a publishing site, there aren't really a whole lot of published works here on IGC. We have The Grounds Warden, which is just a stand-alone short story, and we have Zombies in a similar vein. Of course, we also have half a season of Blood Magic, with new episodes coming out at the end of each month. It's this last that I want to address, because I alternate between being excited about how well our library of Blood Magic stories is developing, and worried about how working on Blood Magic stories has led to drastically less work on my other projects.
About a year and a half ago, I had an idea for a magic system, inspired by how a relatively primitive culture might perceive the four fundamental forces of nature. Just to explore the magic system, I decided to write an expository scene. When I finished, the scene was almost twenty pages long, involved the main character climbing a really, really long staircase, and I realized it was chapter 1, and that I had a chapter 2 to write. About seven months later, I finished the rough draft of what I realized would become the first novel of an epic fantasy series.
Speculative fiction, broadly, includes the stories that are typically classified as science fiction and fantasy, but if you've written in the genre realm for long, you may have noticed that the terminology employed by libraries and other sources to classify genre fiction is somewhat limited. Maybe we genre writers aren't as "serious" as the "real" authors, but that hasn't stopped us from developing our own terminology to help describe our works. Since I think that many of these terms would be useful for both readers and writers to know, I've sought to describe some of them below.