(2017) Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz, £25, hrdbk, 1243pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09333-1
Sword and sorcery fantasy from the author who has sold over 10 million books.
To borrow a quote from Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and misuse it: “God’s dead, meet the monster who killed him, and those trying to kill the monster”.
Gulp, I thought, struggling to pull Oathbringer out of the padded envelope when it arrived, but fortunately I had my porridge that morning and managed to heft this meaty tome in my hands, placing it quickly down before I dropped it, especially on my toes, because, yes, it really is 1,243 pages long, which seems an eternity of reading for a reluctant reader like me. I could be dead before I finished it, but worry not, I’m still here, which owes less to my general health and potential longevity and more to Sanderson’s writing skills.
This is book three of 'The Stormlight Archive', and given that book one – The Way of Kings came out in two parts, as did book two, Words of Radiance, this could easily have been published in two parts as well, so it is a brave move by Sanderson and his publisher because Sanderson fans would have bought the first part now and the next part in 2019, although given that four years have passed since the last book in the series perhaps the fans and readers were due this treat. He certainly has many, many loyal fans as he was a guest of honour at Fantasycon a few years back and his signing session was queued around the block with people carrying boxes of books they wanted signed.
But what does a book that is 1,243 pages look like? Well, we get a cover by Sam Green that is in keeping with the current editions of Sanderson’s books and then we have a four page preface and acknowledgments section, followed by a contents page that lists the many parts and interludes that form the text as well as the prologue and epilogue and a list of illustrations. There are 22 in all, and many of them maps, and there is also a spoiler alert that some of these illustrations may give away what follows. Before the start we have a Map of Roshar then a prologue called ‘To Weep’, set six years ago. The text that follows is split into 5 parts and 4 interludes then an epilogue and an endnote before a final section detailing some useful information about the world within these pages under the heading ‘Ars Arcanum’ which might be useful to read first to re-familiarise yourself with some of the background. Given there are 122 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, and all those breaks between parts and interludes and illustrations, you could say that the average chapter length is under 10 pages, which is more my sort of reading territory, but of course, as things reach a climax, the chapter lengths are much, much longer.
Oathbringer is the third of a 10 book series, appearing four years after the last book, although Sanderson has not been slacking, and been busy elsewhere with some of his other series. This is also the middle book of a five-book cycle as Sanderson intends to write the series in two halves – can he maintain the pace, and keep up the interest?
There are 25 point-of-view (POV) characters ranging from the major ones to the minor ones, so it is quite a feat that Sanderson has carried off, although at times the reader might find it hard to follow who is who. Also, as you would expect, there is absolutely no point in dipping into the Archive here, go back a mere 2,400 pages and start at book one.
As for the plot, well, Desolation time is almost upon the people of Roshar, a time which has come before and will come again, but now that it is here it will last centuries, already the Voidbringers have returned alongside Odium, who is hate incarnate. Standing against them are forces led by Highprince Dalinar Kholin the brother of the late King Gavilar who was assassinated. Dalinar has led what remains of his people to the city of Urithiru after the invaders took his homeland, although it is far from a safe haven with murder and intrigue occurring within the city walls. Here, Dalinar is attempting to form an alliance against the forces of Odium, and trying to open the Oathgates which can transport people from place to place. Sanderson has hinted of a dark past as far as Dalinar is concerned and now in a series of flashbacks we see how dark that past was, and what a nasty piece of work he was in his warlord guise, so is it any wonder that his neighbours don’t trust him? Especially if he can master the use of the Oathgates and be able to transfer his forces anywhere, even behind their defences.
Apart from Dalinar, former slave, Kaladin, otherwise known as Stormblessed returns and is on a quest to find his family. Shallan Davar, a young Lighteyes woman and scholar, who is also a Knight Radiant and a Lightweaver is about to find out how difficult it is to master her abilities and retain in touch with her true self. Dalinar’s son, Adolin, fiancé of Shallan, and also a Shardbearer like his father (in fact Oathbringer is the name of the shardblade that belongs to his father) has committed a terrible crime which might be revealed, no spoilers here…
In a book as lengthy as this you can expect a whole simmering stew of revelations, trials, tribulations, quests, discoveries, triumphs and disasters - we are a long way off a happy ending for some of these characters.
Equally as strong as the characters is the world that Sanderson has created, not just the amazing and exotic physical environment, but all the paraphernalia that he has created for the characters to use in key points of the story.
Perhaps, because of its size and multiple POVs, the plot starts slowly but builds to a climax, particularly for a final battle which unites many of the characters, but given that we are only at the end of book three, how is Sanderson ever going to top this? Watch this space – eventually - but I suppose he has three or four years to sort it out.
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