Robyn Reviews: Artifact Space

‘Artifact Space’ is an action packed space opera with a multitude of subplots. The author’s debut science fiction novel, it has a confidence and scope that make it feel like it belongs to a master of the genre. With the constant action and sheer number of characters and threads, it can feel very confusing, and there are times when the flow is lost entirely due to the novel’s breakneck pace, but overall it’s an enjoyable addition to the space adventure genre.

Marca Nbaro has always dreamed of escaping the orphanage she grew up in and venturing into space – but thanks to her whistleblowing and a minor scandal, she’s barred from serving. Undeterred, she pools her entire life savings into simulators, hackers, and forgeries, bluffing her way into a position as a Midder on the Greatship Athens. However, leaving behind her old life isn’t so easy – and between the ever-present threat of blackmail, acting like she has a clue what she’s doing, navigating the microcosm and culture of Greatship life, and an unexpected threat to the Athens, Marca starts to realise she might have traded her dangerous life for one even more perilous. As the Athens sets off on a two-year round trip to make humanity’s most important trade – obtaining xenoglas from the only other sentient alien species they’ve ever made contact with – Marca is trapped to deal with whatever the universe decides to throw at her next.

Marca Nbaro makes a brilliant protagonist. Unusually for a novel of this length, she’s the single point-of-view character, but her perspective is an engaging one. With a horrible, traumatic background, she definitely has elements of PTSD – but she also has incredible grit and determination and a tendency to react to danger by throwing herself headlong into it. She trusts no-one, reacting warily to simple things like touch, and her lack of willingness to ever admit to weakness constantly gets her into trouble – but she’s intelligent and gutsy and easy to root for. It’s also wonderful seeing how, as the novel goes on, she starts to come out of her shell – never fully, but a huge step from where she starts. Her growing friendship with her roommate, Thea, is lovely, as is the way her respect of her colleagues starts to resemble friendship too. There’s a romance, but it’s very slow and subtle – in keeping with Marca’s triggers and defensiveness – and feels beautifully organic.

The side characters are numerous – so numerous it takes a significant amount of time to figure out who everyone is, and sometimes names are thrown in and it’s a challenge to remember who they are – but there are some real gems. Mpono is one of the highlights – an androgyne, which appears to be a third gender marker somewhat equivalent to the non-binary spectrum, Mpono is confident, talented, and takes absolutely no nonsense. They’re tough, but as Marca starts to get to know them, it also becomes clear that they also have a wicked sense of humour and really care about their friends.

The plot is constantly moving, never given a moment of rest. The overarching plot revolves around a threat to the Greatships of mysterious origin, but there are numerous subplots – Marca’s lies to get on the ship in the first place, the politics of life on the Athens, and a secret to do with the aliens they’re travelling to meet. The subplots are less woven in and more thrown into a soup, with events constantly occurring that may or may not affect the overall story. This makes the story chaotic, but somehow works – everything becomes quite unpredictable, and whilst it can be hard to keep track of everything there’s still a compulsive readability to the story.

The world-building happens organically throughout. The reader is thrown in the deep end, picking up tidbits as they go along – sometimes from Marca learning about them, and sometimes inferring from context. It’s a novel that best suits a reader familiar with the science fiction genre, as many of the basics are genre staples that would be harder for a new reader to infer. It’s essentially set in a version of the future where Earth, or Old Terra, has been mostly destroyed, but humanity has instead expanded throughout the universe thanks to technological advancement and a form of faster-than-light travel known as Insertion. There are several different factions, each based on Earth’s geography – an African faction, a US faction, a Chinese faction – each of which has home planets and their own space force for war and trade. The factions are allied, but not entirely – the friction between them is a major subplot. The use of familiar names works well, and it’s nice to read a space opera that doesn’t assume the entire Earth allied as one organisation when it conquered space.

Overall, ‘Artifact Space’ is an exceptionally fast-paced and creative novel, highly readable with an excellent cast of characters. Its scope is huge, and the sheer amount happening is regularly confusing, but despite this its easy to enjoy. Recommended for fans of space adventures and novels with non-stop action.

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

Published by Gollancz
Paperback: 24th June 2021

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: 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

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Way of Kings

‘The Way of Kings’ is the first book in ‘The Stormlight Archive’, an intended fantasy epic which will undoubtedly be Brandon Sanderson’s Magnum Opus. Even for Sanderson, it’s audacious in scope and reach, bringing in a huge variety of characters and side plots alongside the overarching story.

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

The Stormlight Archive takes place on Roshar. For the past six years, since the assassination of their king by a mysterious Assassin in White, the Alethi people have been at war with the Parshendi. The war has dragged out into a prolonged siege on the Shattered Plains, with ten separate Alethi armies from its ten High Kingdoms battling less to kill Parshendi and more to obtain gemhearts, valuable sources of wealth and resources to feed their armies. Amidst this war, a lowly slave fights for survival, an army commander grapples with his own conscience and sanity, and a woman from a kingdom across the ocean enacts a plot to save her family – and in doing so, finds herself involved in something bigger than she could ever have conceived of.

Each book in ‘The Stormlight Archive’ primarily focuses on one character, with a number of secondary characters also getting regular point-of-view chapters. ‘The Way of Kings’ focuses on Kaladin, a slave who has ended up a soldier in Amaram’s army. Kaladin struggles with where his life has ended up and the horrific life of a bridgecrewman – the most junior soldier in any army – but is determined to improve things for both himself and his crew, Bridge Four. Over the course of the novel, Kaladin works to gain the trust and respect of his crew, save as many of them as possible – and in the process, potentially save himself.

Kaladin has depression, alongside post-traumatic stress disorder, and the depiction of his depression is one of the best I’ve seen in fiction, let alone in epic fantasy. Sanderson never shies away from the severity of the illness, or its fluctuating nature, and the impact that it can have both on Kaladin and on those around him.

The main secondary characters are Dalinar Kholin, Shallan, and Szeth. Dalinar is the famed Blackthorn, a feared nobleman and soldier and the brother of the previous King. However, since his brother’s assassination, he’s developed more of a conscience, switching his focus from battlefield brutality to politics. He’s determined for the High Princes to stop fighting each other and instead cooperate, using the teachings of an old book called ‘The Way of Kings’ (as an aside, I love it when book titles are explicitly referenced within the book). However, Dalinar is naive in the art of politics, and his case isn’t helped by his perceived instability and sudden refusal to kill on the battlefield. He was my least favourite major character in this book, but his story develops much further in later ones.

“Sometimes the prize is not worth the costs. The means by which we achieve victory are as important as the victory itself.”

Shallan comes from a complicated – and awful – family. To avoid ruin, she finds herself posing as a scholar to become the ward of Dalinar’s sister Jasnah Kholin so that she can steal Jasnah’s soulcaster, a mysterious device that allows her to turn one material into another. However, Shallan finds herself loving her studies under Jasnah, and trapped between loyalty to Jasnah and her family. Shallan is an incredibly complex character – many people find her unlikeable, but I love her. She’s had to cope with more in her short life than most will in a very long one, and the effect this has on her personality and psyche is explored in incredible detail.

‘The Way of Kings’ is military fantasy, but also has a strong focus on family loyalty and politics. The worldbuilding is exceptional, with a variety of cultures, classes, lifestyles, and beliefs all covered. The one thing left unclear is the magic system – unlike in most Cosmere books, where the rules and limitations are immediately apparent, ‘The Way of Kings’ is set in a world where much of the magic has been forgotten, and characters are just starting to rediscover it. The hidden magic becomes unveiled to the characters as it’s unveiled to the reader, a beautiful symmetry that really creates a connection.

The ending is a cliffhanger, but the sort of cliffhanger that creates anticipation, not the sort that feels too abrupt and like a cheat out of properly ending the book. It’s the perfect end to the slow increase in tension and tempo and sets up the sequel, ‘Words of Radiance’ admirably.

“We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. Our callused feet, our backs strong from carrying the weight of our travels, our eyes open with the fresh delight of experiences lived.”

Overall, ‘The Way of Kings’ is an incredibly solid start to what will clearly become Sanderson’s strongest series. A must read for all epic fantasy fans, and highly recommended to all fans of complex characters, excellent portrayals of mental health, family dynamics, and political and cultural tension.

Published by Gollancz
Paperback: December 30th 2010 (Published in two separate volumes)

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Warbreaker

‘Warbreaker’ was written as a fun fantasy standalone, although there is currently a sequel in the works. It once again demonstrates Sanderson’s ability to create incredible new fantasy worlds and magic systems populated by brilliant, memorable characters. It’s also sprinkled with dry, sarcastic humour, setting it apart from many of the more serious Cosmere books.

Sanderson’s debut novel, Elantris, is set in a city of the Gods – except that the Gods fell ten years ago, taking their civilisation with them. ‘Warbreaker’ goes in the opposite direction – here, the Gods are very much alive, living in a Pantheon in the city of Hallandren. Vivenna has been raised her entire life to fulfill a treaty between Idris and Hallandren by marrying the God King – but when she turns of age, her father instead sends her little sister, Siri, in her place. Now Siri must navigate a city and culture she’s been raised her whole life to distrust. Vivenna, feeling robbed of her purpose, chooses to secretly follow her sister, becoming embroiled in Hallandren’s underground rebellion. Meanwhile, Lightsong, God of Heroes, grapples with being a God in a religion he doesn’t even believe in, and Vasher, a mysterious man with an even more mysterious sword, returns to Hallandren after a long absence with unknown motives.

Siri is a great character – always the rebel of the family, she’s completely out of her depth in Hallandren with no idea how to act or where to turn for help. She’s both feisty and naive, likeable but with a quick temper and a mouth that gets her into trouble. On the surface, her and Vivenna are complete opposites – Vivenna is calm, collected, and poised, with thorough training in diplomacy – but Vivenna never prepared for a rebellion, and in a pinch her and her sister are just alike. Vivenna initially comes across as aloof and cold, but as the story goes on it becomes apparent she’s just as fiery as her sister.

However, the true highlight of the story is Lightsong. A God who doesn’t believe in his own religion, Lightsong is lazy, sarcastic, and sharp – but his quick wit and deprecating humour hide a man who’s thoughtful and courageous and, at the end of the day, will always do the right thing. Lightsong’s chapters make you laugh, but they also make you think, and they turn ‘Warbreaker’ from a conventional epic fantasy into a masterpiece.

The magic system in Warbreaker, known as BioChromatic Breath, is essentially the magic of colours. Every person has one Breath, which allows them to see colours. They can give their Breaths away, becoming drabs – colourless – or collect the Breaths of others, enhancing the colours they can see and the sounds they can hear. With enough Breaths, they can start to pass them to inanimate objects, bringing them to life to fulfill a specific task. It’s a simple yet clever system – a hallmark of all Sanderson’s magic systems – and one that informs every aspect of society, culture, and religion. There are also hints of other magics – Vasher’s sword, Nightblood, being the main example – which will likely be expounded upon in the eventual sequel.

Whilst ‘Warbreaker’ works well as a standalone, the ending is more of a cliffhanger than many of Sanderson’s books and leaves the door wide open for a sequel. It’s definitely a world that deserves further exploration.

Overall, this is a typically brilliant book, but also – despite the topics of war and rebellion – lighter and funnier thanks to the inclusion of Lightsong. An ideal holiday read, and a great introduction to the genius of Sanderson’s writing and magic systems. Recommended to all epic fantasy fans, along with fans of complex sibling dynamics, comedic fantasy, and a more cynical take on religion.

Originally published in the US June 9th 2009
UK Publication February 14th 2012

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Bands of Mourning

‘The Bands of Mourning’ was, somewhat unusually, written before Sanderson had finished its predecessor, ‘Shadows of Self’. While both are excellent novels, ‘The Bands of Mourning’ is much larger in scope, with far more significance for the wider Cosmere. It’s definitely the strongest Mistborn Era 2 novel released so far.

Wax, still struggling with the events of ‘Shadows of Self’, is finally marrying Steris – or at least, he attempts to, only for the wedding to be interrupted and Wax whisked off on an adventure to help the kandra, and possibly find his kidnapped sister at the same time. The kandra are searching for the titular Bands of Mourning – bracers worn by the Lord Ruler in The Final Empire. These bracers may have more power than anyone knew, and being beaten to the chase could have implications not just for Elendel, but possibly the entire Cosmere.

Wax’s character development in ‘Shadows of Self’ was excellent, but it also left him with deep internal scars. Sanderson excels at writing characters with mental health disorders, especially depression and PSTD, and he never shies away from the true mental impact of trauma. Here, the impact on Wax’s psyche is evident, along with how it effects his relationships with those around him. Steris plays a far greater role in ‘The Bands of Mourning’ than in previous books, and her interactions with Wax are brilliantly written. This book also highlights the full extent of Wax and Wayne’s friendship and loyalty in a way that’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

The kandra once again play a significant role, especially MeLaan – a fantastic character introduced briefly in ‘The Hero of Ages’ who then featured prominently in ‘Shadows of Self’. MeLaan is free spirited and fun, very different to most kandra, but still has a very different outlook on life to most humans.

Where this book really elevates itself from its Era 2 predecessors is the plot. All Sanderson books are cleverly plotted, but this one has higher stakes, more twists and turns, even more emotional resonance, and an ending that beautifully sets up the final book. This is still very much a fantasy Western, but it also feels more true to Sanderson’s epic fantasy roots.

Overall, ‘The Bands of Mourning’ is an excellent novel that perfectly balances the more comedic tone of Mistborn Era 2 with the depth and ingenuity that makes the Cosmere so great. Highly recommended to all fantasy fans or just fans of strong, entertaining books.

Published by Gollancz

Hardback: January 27th 2016
Paperback: January 5th 2017

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: Shadows of Self

‘Shadows of Self’ is the second book in Mistborn Era 2, after The Alloy of Law, and the fifth Mistborn story overall. It continues the fast-paced fantasy Western feel, but things take a darker turn and the ending is ingenious yet heartbreaking with classic Sanderson brilliance.

Wax has returned to being Lord of Ladrian, trading in his bounty hunter ways for a life in law enforcement. He’s busy planning his wedding to Steris – but unrest is building in Elendel, and Wax and Wayne – ably assisted by the brilliant Marasi – may be the only people who can prevent an escalation to outright civil war.

One of the best parts of this book is Wax’s development as a character. In ‘The Alloy of Law’, he’s kept somewhat mysterious – the hereditary Lord who secretly moonlights as a bounty hunter, one half of the dynamic power duo of Wax and Wayne (all puns undoubtedly intended). Here, more is revealed about his past – how he started as a bounty hunter and what shaped him and Wayne into the people they are today. By the end of the book, it’s impossible not to feel heartbroken for Wax and the decisions he has to make to keep both himself and the city safe.

‘Shadows of Self’ also sees the return of the kandra, a race of creatures introduced in the original Mistborn trilogy. The interaction of familiar faces with new players is nostalgic, and seeing some of Vin’s fears from The Final Empire finally come true on page feels like coming full circle.

The books in Mistborn Era 2 are far shorter and pacier than in Era 1, with more abrupt twists. The first twist in ‘Shadows of Self’ is predictable, producing a brief sense of disappointment – but it’s immediately followed by a second, far cleverer twist which entirely removes all disappointment. The ending leaves you immediately needing to know what happens next.

Overall, this is another excellent addition to the Cosmere which takes Mistborn Era 2 in a slightly darker and more substantial direction. Recommended for fans of fantasy Westerns and thrillers, fast-paced adventures, and intriguing fantasy creatures.

Published by Gollancz

Hardback: October 8th 2015
Paperback: October 4th 2016

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas: The Alloy of Law

‘The Alloy of Law’ is the fourth book in the Mistborn series but the first in Mistborn Era 2 – a separate series set 341 years after the original trilogy. It’s completely different in tone, with far more humour, and a brilliantly fun and engaging read. Era 2 can be read completely separately from Era 1, but the events of Era 1 have formed the current myths, legends, and religions, and its easier to understand the magic systems of Allomancy and Feruchemy with the base knowledge gained from Era 1. (If you haven’t seen my previous reviews, more information on Era 1 can be found here.)

Mistborn Era 2 is a series of fantasy Westerns. Waxillium Ladrian – known as Wax – has lived all his life as a lawman, but now his uncle has passed away and he’s been forced to assume leadership of his house. He tries to settle into his new, more sedate, lifestyle – even entering into a marriage contract – but when his friend Wayne shows up with a job proposition, Wax finds himself being pulled back into his old life. There are kidnappings, murder plots, robberies, family secrets, and above all carnage. Wax and Wayne – aided by Wax’s fiance, Steris, and Steris’ cousin Marasi – must find out what’s really going on before it’s too late.

Fantasy Western isn’t a genre I read very much, and I wasn’t convinced when I heard about the intended direction of Era 2. Fortunately, Sanderson proved me completely wrong. ‘The Alloy of Law’ is much lighter in tone but still packed with engaging content and loveable characters. It’s impossible not to love Wax, and the banter he has with Wayne is exquisite. Marasi, too, is a brilliant character – strong, fierce, and determined to defy convention in a society even more repressive for women than Mistborn Era 1.

One of the most interesting things about this book is how the events of Era 1 are interpreted in hindsight. Sanderson has taken the original trilogy and created several new religions, an accepted history which is similar to – but not the same as – what actually happened, and several different cultural viewpoints and perspectives on the events. It’s cleverly done, creating nostalgia for the first trilogy but also showing how the facts of history are warped depending on who tells them and how they’re passed down.

The other fascinating part is the technological advances, and how these have been shaped by increasing knowledge of Feruchemy and Allomancy. Most of the technology is recognisable from the Victorian Era or American Western novels, but with subtle alterations to allow from a society where some people have enhanced abilities. Feruchemy and Allomancy have also been hugely advanced from Era 1 – they’re now subjects of study, and the way Wax and Wayne use their powers is incredibly different to how Vin, Kelsier, and the rest approached theirs in Era 1.

Overall, this is nothing like the other series’ is the Cosmere, but it’s still fun, brilliantly written, and packed with wit. Recommended for fans of lighter fantasy, witty banter, and intricate explorations of technology and magic.

Published by Gollancz
Published November 10th 2011