Robyn Reviews: The Ravens

‘The Ravens’ is a cute, simple YA fantasy about a US college sorority which also happens to be one of the US’s largest covens of witches. The plot isn’t the most original, but the brilliant magic system and likeable characters make it a fast-paced and enjoyable read.

Vivienne Devereaux – known as Vivi – has always been the new girl. Her mother will suddenly pack up and move every year or two, claiming to have seen an omen in the tarot and tea leaves she reads for a living. Vivi couldn’t be more excited to finally be escaping her mother for the normal life of college – but when she arrives, she finds out her mothers witchcraft may not be as fake as it seemed. Witches are real – and Vivi’s one of them.

Scarlett Winter has a lot to live up to. She’s from a family of powerful witches going back generations. Both her mother and sister were sorority coven president, and becoming president herself is the minimum she can do to meet their expectations. However, she’s hiding a secret which could torpedo her dreams once and for all. When strange things start to happen, Scarlett must choose – what’s more important, her sorority sisters or her family’s ambition?

In all honesty, Vivi is a bit like the trope of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’. She’s always been an outsider, yet suddenly at college she’s popular and – to top it all off – secretly a powerful witch. However, she’s also a profoundly likeable character. She’s kind-hearted and studious and desperate to fit in. She’s not perfect – years of being the outsider have left her self-conscious and sometimes she lets her temper get the better of her – but she’s difficult not to like. In contrast, Scarlett initially comes off abrasive – but her character development throughout is excellent, and by the end she’s by far the more interesting and engaging character.

The magic system is the most creative part of the book. It’s based on tarot, something I’m not particularly familiar with, along with simple elemental magic. There are clear limitations, and without control and intent its impossible to use, so new witches don’t get instant access to major power – something I appreciate. It’s always too easy when new characters become all powerful in books. The magic use is often frivolous, but this helps to give the book a light-hearted feel, even with some of the darker content.

The plot has a few twists and turns, but can mostly be predicted by familiarity with YA fiction. I actually think this works well – the writing is engaging but basic, and the simple plot fits the overall style of the book. Reading this gives the best of two worlds – the familiarly of sliding into well-trodden YA fantasy but with the excitement of new characters and a new world. There are a few tropes I’m not fond of, such as hints of a love triangle, but they’re just about kept out of cringe-worthy territory.

Overall, this is a solid YA fantasy with a brilliant magic system that’s very easy to read. It’s not groundbreaking or experimental, but for those who just want something fun and well-written it makes an excellent addition to the YA fantasy genre.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 5th January 2021

Robyn Reviews: Nophek Gloss

‘Nophek Gloss’ is a brilliantly creative science-fiction book packed with futuristic technology, incredible theories about multiple universes, and fascinating alien races. However, it’s also an example of how an unlikeable protagonist can let an otherwise fantastic book down. I imagine fans of plot-driven complex science fiction will adore this, but fans of more character-centred books like me may struggle with certain aspects.

Caiden’s life is simple. Aged ten, his aptitude test deemed him to be the perfect mechanic, so ever since he’s worked with his dad to fix things. He’s tired of his dad refusing to answer questions or telling him he’s too young, but that’s OK – he’s fourteen, almost an adult, and he’s sure he’ll get the answers soon. Instead, his entire planet is destroyed by their overseers, Caiden only escaping by finding a mysterious ship – and with the aid of a mysterious crew of Passagers. Wracked by guilt and anger, Caiden dreams only of revenge – but the multiverse is a large and complicated place, and if Caiden is to survive it he’ll have to take drastic measures.

Caiden is a fourteen year old boy who goes through a hugely traumatic event. In a single day he witnesses unimaginable horrors and finds out that his entire life is a carefully constructed lie. Understandably, this takes a huge toll. Caiden suffers recurrent nightmares and bursts of uncontrollable anger. He makes rash decisions and lets his emotions take over. None of these things are his fault, and the’re common results of severe trauma – but they do make him a very difficult single POV character. His head is an unpleasant place to be, and – coupled with actions which are reckless at best – it makes him difficult to engage with. He also instantly seems to win over several of his new companions – part of this is explained later, but it felt far too unrealistic for a damaged and unpleasant child to so quickly make such close friends, even if they understood his trauma. He does improve a bit as the book goes on, but he’s never as compelling as I want him to be.

It’s a shame that Caiden is such a difficult character because everyone else on the ship is fascinating. They’re a variety of species, all with complicated – and equally horrible – pasts, and seeing into their heads and perspectives would provide an excellent counterpoint. I especially like the ship’s cook and medic – they’re initially very cold to Caiden, but they have an amazing animal companion and a heart of gold, and by the end it’s clear they’re secretly a massive softie. The ship itself is also, to an extent, alive – a popular science fiction trope that isn’t utilised that much here but has clear potential for the sequels.

The worldbuilding is the strongest part. Hansen paints a picture of an exceptionally complex world with layered politics, incredible xenobiology, fascinating future technology, and above all a feeling of complete uniqueness. There are familiar elements and tropes, but the overall creation is entirely unique. It’s a world that would be fascinating on the big screen, and spending time in it – even if that time involves dealing with Caiden – is a joy. The story is wide in scope, with a great deal of travelling between places, but each new place – be that a spaceship, a space station, a city, or an entire new planet – is developed with impeccable attention to detail. It’s a true triumph and a testament to Hansen’s strength as a creator.

Revenge plots are a stalwart of science fiction, but again Hansen spices it up and throws in some surprises. Some of the twists are predictable, but there’s enough there to keep it engaging and fast-paced. There are also no unnecessary distractions – no romantic sub-plots or other diversions – which I really appreciate. Caiden is a traumatised teenager out to avenge the death of his entire world – this isn’t the time for romance. The plot is dark at times – this isn’t a book to go into for those with any triggers surrounding death, including animal death – but the ending is hopeful, and there’s an undercurrent throughout that things will get better.

Overall, this is a book that some will adore for its beautifully complex worldbuilding and fast-paced, brutal plot, but others will struggle with because of the unlikeable protagonist and elements of implausibility. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter camp, but I can still appreciate Hansen’s strength as a writer. I don’t know whether or not I’ll seek out the sequel, but I’ll certainly be following Hansen’s career with interest. Recommended to fans of harder science fiction and intricate worldbuilding.

Published by Orbit
Paperback: 17th November 2020

Robyn Reviews: Uprooted

‘Uprooted’ is heavily inspired by Central European fairytales and could loosely be classified as a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ retelling. It’s a slow burner, but gradually weaves a captivating and beautiful story.

Agnieszka loves the quiet Polish village she’s grown up in – but all the villagers live in fear of the neighbouring Dark Wood and the malevolent powers within. Their only defence from the wood is the Dragon – a cold, mysterious wizard who lives in a nearby tower. For his protection, the Dragon demands a price – every ten years, he selects a young woman from the village to spend the next decade serving him. He always chooses the most beautiful villager. Agniezska was born in a tribute year, but she’s sure her best friend Kezia – beautiful, polite, perfect – will be the one chosen. However, to everyone’s surprise, the Dragon selects Agnieszka instead – and now Agnieszka faces ten years with the Dragon, a fate considered worse than being abandoned to the Dark Wood itself.

Agnieszka is exactly the sort of heroine you want to root for. She resents her circumstances and is far from the polished lady of the tower – she’s clumsy, with no eye for fashion or beauty – but she’s loyal to a fault, filled with determination and sure of herself. Everything about her is highly relatable, and she manages to be strong without seeming two-dimensional. In contrast, the Dragon remains mysterious throughout – little tidbits of his past and character are revealed in places, but he’s very much kept shrouded, with Agnieszka the focus of the story. His interpretation is left to the reader’s discretion – a bold move, but one which works well here without seeming like a cop-out.

One of the biggest strengths of ‘Uprooted’ is the magic system. It takes some time for this to be revealed, but the novel becomes far more engaging and enjoyable once its role begins. It’s a simple system, but it fits the fairytale theme and its fun to learn about it at the same time as the protagonist. I do wish that the magical philosophies were explored in greater detail – as a standalone, there’s less room for in-depth examinations of magical lore, and that’s one of my favourite parts of fantasy novels – but what’s revealed works well.

The other major strength is Naomi Novik’s writing – she absolutely nails the fairytale style and gorgeously paints a picture of the Dark Wood and the mysterious Dragon in his tower.

There are minor flaws – the initial pacing is slow and almost drags, and Kesia, Agnieszka’s best friend, is left as a two-dimensional character when she could have been so much more – but, while these detract a little, they still leave a vastly enjoyable novel packed with many positives.

Overall, ‘Uprooted’ is an excellent addition to the fairytale genre, set in a part of the world less often seen in Western fantasy novels. Recommended to fans of fairytales, strong heroines, and beautiful prose.

Published by Pan Macmillan
Hardback: May 21st 2015

Robyn Reviews: The Witchling’s Girl

‘The Witchling’s Girl’ is a quiet young adult fantasy that burrows under your skin and refuses to let you go. The magical elements are intriguing, but the real heart of the story is in its emotions – sadness and longing and heartbreak and love. This is not a happy story, but it’s a profoundly impactful one that lingers long beyond the last page.

The story follows Haley – a perfectly normal child until, aged seven, she accidentally resurrects the family cat. The only people with the ability to resurrect the dead are the Witchling’s – healers and herbalists, but also those with death magic, who can resurrect the dead or take them to the afterlife for judgement. As she knows she must, Haley’s mother takes her to the current Witchling – Marion – and abandons her, leaving the Witchling to train Haley to be her successor. At first, Haley fights her fate – but every town needs a Witchling, and the costs of Haley not becoming the Witchling are worse than those she faces becoming one.

It’s impossible not to become attached to Haley. She’s introduced as a terrified seven year old, not understanding why her mother has left her behind in a strange place. She hates the Witchling and longs so badly for a freedom she will never achieve. As time passes, she grows and matures – but some of that defiant seven year old always remains, and it’s a flaw that’s eminently relatable. Haley is, at heart, a nice person – she cares about people, and wants to do the right thing – but she often cares too much and that starts to become her downfall.

The world Helena Coggan crafts is exquisite in its simplicity. In many respects it feels like Medieval Britain – small towns run by rival Lords, each with their own healer-herbalist who works to balance the humours – but Coggan has taken this framework and built a fantasy world out of it. In her version, there is death-magic – a way of healing severe wounds by giving some of your energy to another, and a way to resurrect the dead – but only once, and at the cost of that person never going to the afterlife. It’s a familiar feeling magic system, but one which works perfectly with the setting and is beautifully described.

The plot is nothing like what I expected when I picked this up. It’s cleverly crafted, with little hints dropped throughout, but still manages to catch you by surprise. The first few chapters are reminiscent of novels like ‘The Sin Eater‘ – historical fiction about a child outcast – but this goes in an entirely different direction, weaving in political upheaval and supernatural entities and, above all, a child forbidden from connecting with others trying – but failing – to follow that vow. Haley doesn’t make good, or logical, decisions, but each one is completely understandable, and the story doesn’t shy away from the consequences. This is magical realism, but the fact that the protagonist is allowed to make these childish decisions makes it feel more real than many similar novels that follow stricter historical fiction.

The writing is one of the best parts. It doesn’t try to be flowery or lyrical; doesn’t craft elaborate descriptions – it just tells the story, but it does it in such a way that every emotion is a stab through the heart. There are a few moments where the flow isn’t perfect, but beyond those this is a masterclass in the effectiveness of simplicity.

Overall, this is a story that’s far more than the sum of its parts. If you’re looking for fantasy filled with action and bold characters this isn’t the book for you – but if you want to read something quieter, something that focuses on character and connection, something that crafts a little bubble of a world and explores the delicate dynamics within that, then this is a recommended read.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 7th January 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Stone Knife

‘The Stone Knife’ is the first book in the intended ‘Songs of the Drowned’ trilogy, a new gritty epic fantasy series by Anna Stephens. The writing is raw and visceral, the world-building broad in scope, and the characters varied and intriguing. It’s a book that demands attention – it took me almost a month to read, because I regularly didn’t have the concentration and energy it required – but when given its due, this is a worthwhile read.

Over decades, the tribes of Ixachipan have fallen one by one to the Empire of Songs. Now just two tribes – the Tokob and Yalot – remain, determined to hold onto their freedom. Tayan, a shaman of the Tokob, communes with his goddess and determines to seek peace with the Empire – but his husband Lilla is preparing for war, and their friend Xessa is struggling to keep the Tokob safe from the threat of the Drowned, crocodile-like beasts which guard the tribe’s only water source. Meanwhile, Enet – first courtesan of the Singer, the ruler of the Empire of Songs – is trying to hold onto her tenuous position in his court, and Pilos, High Feather of the Empire’s armies, is trying to assure the Empire’s dominance over Ixachipan whilst dealing with Enet’s meddling closer to home. Epic fantasies which show all sides of the story are fantastic, showing that no force is precisely right or wrong, and Stephens doesn’t shy away from showing the atrocities committed by all sides in war.

The difficulty with large numbers of perspectives is it takes some time to adjust to and care about them all, and the story definitely starts slowly. The reader is introduced to the Tokob and their way of life – their shamanic rituals to their goddess Malel, their fight against the Drowned just to obtain water, the way each citizen swears their life to a certain path (e.g. the jaguar path for warriors or the snake path for those who face the Drowned). Once this is established, the counter perspectives – those living ‘under the song’ in the Empire – are gradually introduced. It takes a good 40% of the novel before everything settles and the story can start to gather pace. It also leads to some characters – especially Tayan and Xessa – being easier to care about than others. Xessa especially is a fascinating character – it’s unusual to see a Deaf character in fantasy, and the way this is both an asset and hindrance depending on the circumstance is well written. She’s also feisty, strong-willed, and has an unbelievably sweet romantic arc as well as the most loyal canine companion of all time.

The setting, Ixachipan, is inspired by central American civilisations. It’s a forest environment, with seasons of rain and drought playing a huge part in shaping society. While the central American influence is clear, the direction Stephens has taken it feels fresh and unique, and the additional fantasy elements are worked in seamlessly. An industrial colonising empire vs those with a more traditional way of life has been written many times before in many iterations, but Stephens blends in new ideas to keep this from feeling stale.

The diversity is also excellent. Gender – and attraction to genders – is mostly irrelevant in both Pechaqueh and Tokob society, with a central relationship between two male characters (Lilla and Tayan), and as many female warriors as male. Xessa is Deaf, and whilst there’s mention that this would likely lead to her death if she was born into the Empire, it’s seen as an asset to the Tokob.

There are minor issues with ‘The Stone Knife’. All epic fantasies start slowly – it takes time to understand the world and differentiate and care about the wide range of characters – but the pacing throughout feels a tad erratic, with some sections veering away from action to several paragraphs of explanation or time-skipping. Certain characters are also particularly irritating – there was one in particular who almost made me want to skip sections – and whilst I respect the author for writing difficult characters, it detracted from my enjoyment. However, it’s a solid novel and builds plenty of intrigue for what happens next.

This reads more like a Part One than a complete novel, with plenty of cliffhangers awaiting resolution in Book Two. I’ll definitely be picking up the second to find out what happens next.

Overall, this is a highly intriguing first book that creates an excellent – if dark – world with plenty of potential, populated by a diverse group of fascinating characters. Recommended for all fans of darker, grittier epic fantasy and diverse worlds.

Published by HarperVoyager
Hardback: 26th November 2020

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperVoyager for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of my review

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Rhythm of War

‘Rhythm of War’ is the fourth book in The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson has stated he intends the series to be two sets of five books, so this is the penultimate in the first section and neatly sets up a finale. The ending is far more of a cliffhanger than previous books, setting up a huge amount of anticipation and suspense for how things might turn out. As a work of literature, this is arguably the worst in the series so far, but for sheer enjoyment it’s a brilliant installment that keeps the reader engaged throughout.

A year has passed since the events of Oathbringer. Dalinar has succeeded in forming a coalition of Knights Radiant – but the enemy Parshendi, or singers, have awoken their own powers too, leading to a brutal war of attrition with neither side obviously on top. In a bid to change the tide, the singers use a dangerous new technology to take a gamble – one that, if it succeeds, could change the entire course of the war and finally destroy the Knights Radiant. Meanwhile, Adolin and Shallan journey to the home of the honorspren to beg for reinforcements for the Radiants, and Kaladin battles the one foe he’s never been able to defeat – his own mind.

“The heart might provide the purpose, but the head provides the method, the path. Passion is nothing without a plan. Wanting something doesn’t make it happen.”

‘Rhythm of War’ is advertised as Venli’s book, and in some ways it is – but it’s also Navani’s. Navani, now Dalinar’s wife, goes on the biggest journey of any character and is by far the most interesting. A woman derided by most of the Alethi for her inability to choose between two men – Dalinar, and his brother Gavilar, the assassinated King of Alethkar – Navani finally gets a chance to show her true colours and passions. She’s a vibrant character – strong, driven, and exceptionally clever, even when she’s being outwitted. ‘The Way of Kings‘ and ‘Words of Radiance‘ showed her to be smart politically; ‘Rhythm of War’ proves that she’s just as brilliant as her daughter, if in a different way. It also shows her to be honourable and loyal – something you’d expect from the wife of Dalinar, but not something evident from her reputation in previous books. Navani is a woman of fierce integrity and finally reading about her from her own perspective is a delight.

Venli goes on her own journey, and her character growth is excellent, but it’s overshadowed by how much better Navani’s is. Unusually, Venli’s flashback chapters don’t start until Part Three, but once they do they give fascinating insight into her past – and especially her relationship with her sister Eshonai. It also becomes apparent just how different singer culture was before the war with the Alethi. Personally, I think starting the flashback chapters earlier and showing more of this pre-war culture would make the impact stronger, but I can see why – in an already very long novel – Sanderson decided this wasn’t necessary.

Kaladin is the other major character. Every book so far has showed Kaladin’s battle with depression and PTSD, but here it really comes to a head, forcing him to face his demons in a way he’s so far avoided. At times, it’s very difficult to read about, but it’s exceptionally well-written. It’s impossible not to like Kaladin, and the emotional impact of his scenes just shows how well-crafted his character is. ‘Rhythm of War’ also reunites Kaladin with his family, exploring his relationship with his parents now that he’s a Knight Radiant – again, something which can be a challenging read, but that is all the more impactful for that struggle.

“This is life, and I will not lie by saying every day will be sunshine. But there will be sunshine again, and that is a very different thing to say. That is truth.”

Shallan and Adolin spend most of the novel separate to the others on a quest to the home of the honorspren. Like Kaladin, Shallan’s battles are mostly internal. She struggles with a form of dissociative identity disorder – although, given the presence of a form of magic, this isn’t an entirely accurate depiction – and it finally comes to a head. Shallan is always fascinating to read about, and seeing how she evolves throughout the book is simultaneously horrifying and enthralling. Adolin, as ever, is the nicest character on the planet, and seeing him stand by Shallan – even when she doesn’t trust herself – is beautiful. He’s such a likeable character it’s hard to remember how irritating he seemed through Kaladin’s eyes back in ‘The Way of Kings’.

The only criticism that ‘Rhythm of War’ can be given is it’s organisation. The pacing overall is fine – the first hundred pages are fast-paced, then the story slows to a more familiar gentle pace for the majority of the book before ramping up at the end – but the individual plotlines within the story are oddly spaced, leading to odd pacing between them. Long gaps are left between sections involving Shallan and Adolin or Dalinar and Jasnah, and Venli is only introduced properly a significant way in. Each plotline is excellent and worthy of inclusion, but the flow isn’t always there. Nonetheless, this is a very minor point and doesn’t affect overall enjoyment. The stories are still gripping and the ending blows any doubts right out of the order.

There is a scene in every book which stands out. In ‘The Way of Kings’ and ‘Words of Radiance’ these both belong to Kaladin; in ‘Oathbringer’ the scene is Dalinar’s. The ending of ‘Rhythm of War’ is so uniformly excellent across the last 150 pages that isolating one scene is a challenge. There are some utterly unpredictable twists, and the final chapter creates such a brilliant cliffhanger I want to simultaneously applaud Sanderson and curse him for making us all wait several years to find out what happens next. I will say that, to fully appreciate the ending, familiarity with ‘Warbreaker‘ – a novel in the Cosmere but not The Stormlight Archive – would be useful (this should be best read before ‘Oathbringer’, where crossover starts, but here it’s almost required).

Overall, this is simultaneously one of the weakest and strongest entries in the series so far. For literary flow and pacing it’s the worst, but for enjoyment – and the strength of the ending – it’s up there with the best. It’s undoubtedly an excellent entry to the series and continues to paint The Stormlight Archive as Sanderson’s masterwork, and Sanderson as a giant of the fantasy genre. Highly recommended.

Published by Gollancz
Hardback: November 17th 2020

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Dawnshard

‘Dawnshard’ is a Stormlight Archive novella set between ‘Oathbringer‘ and ‘Rhythm of War’. Like ‘Edgedancer‘, the novella between ‘Words of Radiance‘ and ‘Oathbringer’, it focuses on minor characters from the main series – in this case Rysn, a Thaylen merchant briefly introduced in ‘The Way of Kings‘, and Lopen, a member of Bridge Four. It tells an intriguing story with great potential implications for the overall series and wider Cosmere, but unlike Edgedancer it doesn’t stand up quite as strongly on its own.

An accident in ‘The Way of Kings’ left Rysn a paraplegic, but also gained her an animal companion, Chiri-Chiri. Chiri-Chiri is a larkin -a species that survives by ingesting stormlight and was once thought to be extinct. However, Chiri-Chiri has fallen ill, and her only hope for survival is to visit the ancestral home of the larkin – Akinah, a mysterious island half-thought to be a myth. None have ever visited Akinah and ever come back alive. When Navani Kholin announces her intention to send a crew to Akinah, Rysn doesn’t hesitate to volunteer herself and her ship. Aided by Windrunner Lopen, his cousin Huio, and the Horneater Cord, Rysn sets out on a quest that may spell her doom – but is the only chance of saving Chiri-Chiri.

My main issue with this book is probably Rysn. Rysn is a smart, capable tradeswoman with a great deal of loyalty to her crew and Chiri-Chiri. She resents her disability for how it restricts her freedom, but she doesn’t let this rule her and is always striving to try new things. However, for me her character just falls a bit flat. She solves problems too easily, often off-page, and she doesn’t feel quite distinct and three-dimensional enough. Most characters in the Stormlight Archive are unique, with a great deal of depth and their own voices – Rysn’s never quite shines through.

Everything else about ‘Dawnshard’ is excellent. Lopen – known as the Lopen; he’d consider the title important – is a silly, light-hearted character, but also one with a huge amount of optimism and compassion that’s needed amongst the struggles of Bridge Four. His sections are fun, but also have a great deal of depth. Lopen is silly but he knows he’s being silly – he just wants to make others happy, and isn’t afraid to come across like an idiot to do so. For a short novella he undergoes a lot of character development, and his interactions with Huio and Cord are sweet.

Cord is one of my favourite characters from the novella and I hope she’s granted some point-of-view chapters at some point in the series. One of Rock’s children, she gives a fascinating insight into Horneater beliefs and culture – along with some other well-kept secrets – but she also proves herself to be a fierce, determined woman in her own right who both loves and resents her father. Her and Rysn strike up a lovely friendship, and there’s definitely potential for her to play a larger role at some point in the future.

The plot is simple, with most of the novella taking place on a ship. The superstitions and beliefs of sailors are explored in intriguing detail, along with the complexities of ship politics. Certain twists are a little too obvious, and the ending could be more satisfying, but overall the story is solidly worked and fits the broader ethos of the series.

‘Dawnshard’ is a great novella with large potential implications for the series as a whole, but it’s probably the weakest entry so far. Given that ‘The Stormlight Archive’ is such a brilliant series that still makes it a strong story, but it’s one that lacks a little extra polish.

Published by Dragonsteel Entertainment
eBook: 10th November 2020 (due for paperback publication in 2021)

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Oathbringer

‘Oathbringer’ is the third book in ‘The Stormlight Archive’ series and takes the series in some fascinating new directions. The stakes have been raised, secrets have been revealed, and the fate of Roshar is balanced on the tip of a Shardblade. The story starts slowly, but it’s worth it for the stunning imagery and breathtaking finale.

“Sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more than a man in the process of changing.”

The power of the Radiants has returned to Roshar – but so have the powers of their enemies. The Everstorm has arrived, bringing with it the power to destroy everything that man holds dear. Amidst the chaos of the unstoppable storm, a once-slave searches for his family, a spy of many faces seeks the truth, and the King-in-all-but-name tries one last time to unite the Alethi, knowing that failure will spell doom.

The Way of Kings‘ was Kaladin’s book and ‘Words of Radiance‘ Shallan’s. ‘Oathbringer’ is Dalinar’s, but with this come far more prominent roles for Adolin and, later in the book, Szeth. It also steps away a little from focusing on Kaladin, gifting what would previously have been his scenes to other members of Bridge Four – especially Moash. Juggling so many characters is no easy task, but Sanderson does very well weaving all their narratives without things becoming confusing.

Previously a more predictable character, Dalinar – uncle to the king of Alethkar – did something entirely unexpected at the end of ‘Words of Radiance’ which makes his focus here much more interesting. His chapters also give new insight into the history and politics of Alethkar – not essential to the plot, but fascinating for learning about the world Sanderson has created. He also makes his son Adolin far more appealing to the reader – in ‘The Way of Kings’ Adolin was relatively uninteresting, and whilst ‘Words of Radiance’ rounded him out into a nicer character he still didn’t particularly pique my interest. ‘Oathbringer’ finally gives essential background to explain some of his actions – and it also gives him more time to interact with Shallan and Kaladin. His interactions with Kaladin are priceless and add much-needed light and humour to a book of more series themes.

“I will take responsibility for what I have done,” Dalinar whispered. “If I must fall, I will rise each time a better man.”

Kaladin – the once slave of Bridge Four, now a prominent member of Alethi society – gets less page time than in previous books, but continues to be one of the most heartwarming characters with some beautiful emotional scenes. After having the single best scene in the book in ‘Words of Radiance’, it was only fair that he stepped back to give the other characters a chance here.

Shallan – a scholar and Adolin’s fiance – is one of the most complicated characters and is developed in even bolder and more intriguing ways. Sanderson takes big risks in writing her and her plotlines could easily become too confusing, but he just about keeps her on the right side of the line.

“I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.”

Discussing Szeth would be a spoiler. His character was left on a huge cliffhanger at the end of ‘Words of Radiance’ and he doesn’t appear again until the latter half of this book, but his chapters are worth it, and also start to bring in elements of the Cosmere only previously seen in books outside of ‘The Stormlight Archive’. These would definitely be enjoyable to someone not familiar with the other books, but I’d say ‘Oathbringer’ is where reading the others starts to enhance the experience and understanding.

Overall, ‘Oathbringer’ is another brilliant book and exceptional addition to the series. It doesn’t quite surpass ‘Words of Radiance’, but it manages to be equally as good which in itself is an enormous feat. Recommended for all epic fantasy fans.

Published by Gollancz
Hardback: November 14th 2017

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Edgedancer

‘Edgedancer’ is a novella set between ‘Words of Radiance‘ and ‘Oathbringer’, the second and third books in the Stormlight Archive. It’s not required reading, but it explains certain aspects of world-building and character development. Beyond that, it’s great fun, focusing on one of the most intriguing and unique characters in the series, Lift.

Following the events of ‘Words of Radiance’, Lift runs away from the palace – where she feels suffocated – instead heading to the city of Yeddaw. Here, Lift returns to her life as a street urchin, using her ‘awesomeness’ to sneak around – but there may be more to Lift’s decision to choose Yeddaw than meets the eye. For Yeddaw now plays host to the man she knows as the Darkness, determined to seek out those who are ‘awesome’ like her – and Lift is equally determined to stop him.

The story within ‘Edgedancer’ is as cleverly crafted and twisty as any Sanderson novel, but what really makes it brilliant is Lift. Aged ten, Lift made a bargain to never get older, and she’s made it her mission to never change since. Lift is sarcastic, irreverent, and entirely ruled by her stomach. She staunchly refuses to learn anything new – including people’s names – and clings to her childhood in a way which can be frustrating, but deep down is almost heartbreaking. At first glance she can seem abrasive and selfish, but this hides a personality that is deeply caring and clinging to any aspects of her life which she can control.

Aside from Lift, the other major character is her spren, Wyndle (who Lift stubbornly refers to as ‘Voidbringer’). For those unfamiliar with the books, spren are creatures in The Stormlight Archive which appear when things happen – for example, fearspren appear when someone is scared – and, in rare cases, spren can appear to certain humans and form a bond with them. (To say more would constitue a spoiler – the best way to find out exactly what they are and do is to read the books!) Wyndle is entirely unlike Lift – very proper, a worrier, and much more fond of plans than recklessly rushing in and making things up on the fly – but the combination works well, and it’s heartwarming seeing their relationship develop as the novella progresses.

‘Edgedancer’ is named for Lift’s order within the knights radiant – which Lift, in classic Lift style, terms ‘awesomeness’ – and this is intriguingly explored. The main books in ‘The Stormlight Archive’ tend to focus on certain orders and locations, so the accompanying novellas provide intriguing tidbits of information about the true capabilities of the others. Lift isn’t the sort to believe she has limitations, so those she has quickly come apparent as she tries to do too much.

Overall, ‘Edgedancer’ is an enjoyable, entertaining novella about one of the more intriguing characters, allowing her the development she hasn’t yet had on-page in the main books. It’s not Sanderson’s strongest work, but it’s an enjoyable read and recommended between ‘Words of Radiance’ and ‘Oathbringer’ to explain why certain characters are who they are.

Published by Gollancz
Hardback: October 31st 2018 (previously published in 2016 in the Cosmere anthology ‘Arcanum Unbounded’)

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Words of Radiance

‘Words of Radiance is the second book in ‘The Stormlight Archive’ after ‘The Way of Kings’. While ‘The Way of Kings’ is undeniably excellent, ‘Words of Radiance’ is in a class all on its own. In my opinion, it’s one of the single best fantasy novels of all time, packed with political intrigue, incredibly complex characters, a fascinating magic system, and above all brilliant, gripping writing which pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

“As I fear not a child with a weapon he cannot lift, I will never fear the mind of a man who does not think.”

The ancient oaths have been spoken, and a magic system not seen in Roshar for thousands of years – since the Knights Radiant betrayed their people and fled – has finally returned. However, with the resurgence of magic comes the resurgence of danger, and the new radiants must learn to trust their abilities – and each other – to survive the oncoming storm. Meanwhile, the war between the Alethi and the Parshendi rages, and another old foe – the famed Assassin in White – reemerges after six years to finish the job he started.

Following the format of each book having a primary focus on one character, ‘Words of Radiance’ is Shallan’s book. In ‘The Way of Kings’, Shallan was a bright but tormented woman, leaning on sarcasm and wit to disguise her internal turmoil. Her way with words and passion for art made her likeable, but she could also be a frustrating and difficult character. In ‘Words of Radiance’, her backstory and character finally become clear, and she’s transformed into a complex, incredible woman with a mind like no-one else’s. Her individual growth and development is extraordinary, but more than that, the way Sanderson frames her to the reader is exceptionally done. There’s some overlap with dissociative identity disorder – a highly complex and poorly understood condition previously known as multiple personality disorder – and whilst Sanderson has stated he never intended Shallan to be a fully accurate portrayal, she’s certainly a brilliantly unique and daring character.

While Shallan was mostly separate to the other characters in ‘The Way of Kings’, in ‘Words of Radiance’ she travels to the Shattered Plains to research the Desolation – and also as Adolin’s fiance. Her interactions with the other characters, especially Adolin and Kaladin, are spectacular. Kaladin especially is a serious, uptight man entirely unequipped for Shallan’s brand of wit and sarcasm and the results are brilliant to read.

Kaladin has come a long way from his slave origins in ‘The Way of Kings’, and while he takes a back seat to Shallan in this novel he still plays a prominent role and has some of the best scenes in the book. He continues to hold a grudge against Amaram, the Brightlord responsible for his initial slavery – and whilst that grudge did him no harm as a slave, it now starts to get him into all sorts of trouble.

“All stories told have been told before. We tell them to ourselves, as did all men who ever were. And all men who ever will be. The only things new are the names.”

Dalinar plays a remarkably small role in ‘Words of Radiance’, relinquishing his chapters to his son Adolin. A good, loyal soldier but somewhat rash – and terrible with women – he handles some of the politics his father is so terribly naive at. Here, he’s most interesting when interacting with either Kaladin or Shallan, but the foundations are laid for a greater role for both Adolin and Dalinar in the third book.

‘Words of Radiance’ also introduces two major new players – Eshonai and Lift. Eshonai is one of the leading members of the warring Parshendi, whereas Lift is a childish enigma. Both play relatively small roles, but their introduction sets into motion essential aspects of the overall series arc.

The magic system of the radiants is possibly one of the best Sanderson has created yet. Elaborating would be a spoiler, but I love how cleverly the reader and characters discover new aspects together, and how Sanderson doesn’t gloss over the difficulty of mastering new skills. There are many mistakes, with repercussions of varying severity, and these add depth and complexity to an already intricate story.

Overall, it’s difficult to sum up what makes ‘Words of Radiance’ one of the best books of all time because there isn’t one standout aspect – instead, many separate exceptional things come together to make something even better. All fantasy fans should read this series, and even for those who weren’t certain about ‘The Way of Kings’ should give this a go – it’s with this book that the series truly reaches it’s full potential. Highly recommended.

Published by Gollancz
Hardback: March 6th 2014