OATHBRINGER by Brandon Sanderson
Gollancz, 1235 page HC, £25.00
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
There are words that the modern (mis)usage has distorted, devaluing the impact of them. Epic is one such. Yet to ascribe ‘epic’ to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive would be totally appropriate. Not only does this volume, Oathbringer, run to more than 1200 pages, but the previous two in the sequence, The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, are also massive books. Epic doesn’t just describe the size of the volumes but the scope of the contents. This is a fantasy series that has more originality that any that has been seen in the field for a very long time. For the jaded fantasy reader this is a breath of fresh air.
A small part of the continent of Roshar was introduced in The Way of Kings. The Shattered Plain is an area of deep chasms where the highprinces compete for the gemhearts of chasm fiends. The only way across the deep rifts is by wooden bridges carried by teams of men. One of the bridgemen is Kaladin who has had a chequered career as a soldier and a slave. Original touches in this world are the spren. They are ephemeral entities drawn to emotions. At intervals, the continent is swept by Highstorms. These contain very high winds so being outside in them is a bad idea but they are necessary for recharging spheres which hold the power needed to operate the equivalent of technology. In this first volume, Kaladin attracts the attention of a windspren who is sentient and calls herself Syl. He finds he is able to use the stormlight stored in the spheres to do things that seem to be supernatural such as climbing vertical walls. This first volume introduces the world, its idiosyncrasies and principal characters.
As in all good novels, the events chronicled are at a turning point I history and the second novel, Words of Radiance accelerates the rate of change. Radiants, knights who have bonded with spren and who exhibit unusual powers, have not been seen in Roshar for more than four thousand years. The humans have also regarded the species known as parshmen as inferior and use them as slaves. This too is changing.
Oathbringer begins with Dalinar, the uncle of the king of Alethkar beginning to explore the tower of Urithiru, the centre of a network of Oathgates that can only be operated by Radiants. The upper reaches are beyond the height of the Highstorms, and the new phenomenon, the Everstorm. This ferocious weather pattern blows in the opposite direction to the Highstorms and has introduced the Voidbringers to the mix. The parshmen have awoken and the expectation is that they will wipe humans from the continent, especially as they are guided by the dark equivalents of the Radiants and have similar powers. Dalinar believes that the only hope is to unite the countries of Roshar and help each other to fight back against the menace. The other rulers, however, are suspicious of him, thinking this is a ploy to conquer their lands.
To unite the countries Dalinar needs to bring the Oathgates on line to move troops quickly to where they are needed. Kholinar, the Alethkar is in danger of being overrun by the Voidbringers. To secure the Oathgate and the city, and rescue the queen and her son. He sends Kaladin, his son Adolin, the lightweaver Shallan with the king and a handful of fighters to attempt the tasks. Not everything goes to plan and Kaladin, Adolin and Shallan become stranded in a dimension where what land in their world is a sea of small spheres representing the souls of objects in their world and the spren are strange creatures. This is perhaps the least successful section of the book as, although it helps place this world in the greater Cosmere that Sanderson has envisaged as a link between all his series of novels, it does little to enhance the plot other than taking some of the main characters out of the action for a period of time.
The whole concept of this sequence of novels is bold and original. It is fantasy without the inevitable dragons. The magic is inherent and unusual. It is a fabulous and coherent creation designed to revive the jaded palate of the fantasy reader. An added delight is the illustrations that pepper the volume and add an extra dimension to the text. It would be wise for a newcomer to begin with the first volume in this series. It might sound daunting to commit to so many words but the epic journey is well worth the time and if HBO is looking for the next blockbuster now Game of Thrones is over, this is a serious contender.