Book Review: The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Graphic by Hemakshi Vaswani

The Stormlight Archive is a series of high fantasy fiction novels written by New York Times bestselling author, Brandon Sanderson. The series, published by Tor Books, consists of four novels and two novellas with plans for 6 sequels in the future. This epic fantasy, with each novel crossing the 1000 page threshold, is not an easy weekend read, it requires a serious commitment of not just time, because the series is unfinished, but also complete dedication to Sanderson’s universe, known as the Cosmere, where most of his stories are based. 

Sanderson, who is known for finishing Robert Jordan’s fantasy series ‘The Wheel of Time’, is a master worldbuilder; the Cosmere is his brainchild where he lets loose his creative genius and breathes life into his characters, their worlds, cultures and plots while maintaining a sense of cohesion with the help of concepts and figures that are consistent throughout different novel series. Sanderson is the creator of Sanderson’s Laws of Magic and popularised the terms hard and soft magic systems in fiction.

The events of the Stormlight Archive take place on the planet of Roshar, a culturally rich supercontinent inhabited by a variety of peoples, possessing unique physical features and Spren (spirits that embody human emotions). The plot of the novel is deeply complex and rooted in fictional history, long lost secrets, ancient organizations and primordial god-like entities. Like all planets in the Cosmere, Roshar’s magic system is governed by two distinct God-like entities known as Cultivation and Honor. Roshar is also plagued with violent storms known as ‘Highstorms’ that affect not only its flora and fauna but also influence its economy and location of settlements. The series follows the lives of a number of minor and main characters, with each novel focusing on the past of a singular character. The first novel ‘The Way of Kings’ introduces Kaladin, a doctor turned soldier-slave, Shallan, a noblewoman and scholar with a sketchy past and Dalinar, a warmonger trying to avenge the murder of his brother. The novel follows a split narrative and while these characters’ lives may seem unconnected at first, their strings of fate are tied as they must come together to defeat a sinister God, uncover the secrets of the past and re-establish an ancient order of warriors with mystical powers.

Life on Roshar is not perfect, which is a reflection of the non-fictional world. Roshar suffers from problems like strict religious beliefs, class divide, slavery, meaningless warfare, absolute dictatorships and more. These issues are neither exaggerated nor sugarcoated but they are presented in a manner that makes them seem authentic and non-derivative, without being obscene, gory or inappropriate. Another thing to note is Sanderson’s treatment of the women on Roshar. Though their life is limited by the strict religious dogma they must adhere to, they are not reduced to a secondary role. On Roshar, women are scholars, scientists, educators, inventors and keepers of knowledge. They play an essential role in the functioning of not just Rosharan society but also the plot of the series. 

However, despite being a masterpiece, this series is not without flaws. For the average reader, it may seem overwhelming and at times, even not interesting enough to read due to its overly detailed descriptions or lack of action. The series also tends to be extremely vague at points; between parts, there are interludes from the perspective of minor characters that seem irrelevant to the plotline, until they make sense much later. There are also certain elements from other novels in the Cosmere which may not make sense to those who haven’t read them. 

The Stormlight Archive firmly cements Sanderson’s position among fantasy greats like Robin Hobb, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan and more. It reaffirms that Sanderson’s Cosmere is a behemoth to behold; it sweeps you off your feet with its rich, vivid and creative worldbuilding, morally complex, multidimensional and thoughtfully developed characters and a deeply complicated yet intriguing plotline, which makes this series live up to all expectations and beyond. 

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