It goes without saying that Brandon Sanderson is one of the best fantasy writers of our time. Oathbringer highlights why. I could write about how perfect the worldbuilding is, or how well-fleshed out the characters are, but many others have done so, and probably much better than me.
What I want to focus on are the themes in this story. The redemption arc is wide and sweeping, yet within this arc are nestled themes of racial justice, equality, identity, just wars, friendship, and finding meaning in suffering.
The parshman are awakened, and nothing will stop them from overthrowing their unjust oppressors - humanity. And as the story progresses, it becomes more and more clear: the parshman are not the invaders of this world. People are. Much like the white man’s invasion of Native American land, the parshman were forced into slavery thousands of years ago, their land stolen, their identity stolen. Who truly are the Voidbringers? Certainly not the parshendi. Dalinar and Kaladin in particular are struck by this truth, and must face their own identity crisis’ as the truth of the situation starts to smack them in the face. Is their war just? And if it’s not, what are they fighting for? While their struggle is both internal and external, both are forced to reckon with the reality humanity has wrought upon the so called Voidbringers.
Shallan’s story arc remains one of my favorites. Her theme of wrestling with her identity is brilliant. She splits off into three different personalities: Veil, a roughened spy who crushes on Kaladin, and gives Shallan courage to face certain situations, particularly with the secret society she infiltrates. Then there is Radiant, the firm, in control version of Shallan who is cool and serene no matter the situation. Then, of course, there is Shallan herself. She wrestles with who she really is, and these different versions of herself. Who is the real Shallan? What makes her unique? Can she live with the past part of her that she so desperately wants to get rid of? As she grows in her powers as a Knight Radiant, she hides this part of herself from those around her, struggling to rectify who she wants to be with who she really is. Don’t we all struggle with similar ideals? Don’t we all struggle with who we want to be with who we are? Her story touches on the commonality each of us face. Will we step into the role we know we are made for, or will we shirk back when all is said and done?
Oathbringer raises many moral questions, and doesn’t necessarily answer all of them. Dalinar in particular is forced to face the truth of what the world has become, what it was, and what it’s future will be. The Alethi are no heroes. What does that make him? Conqueror? King? Invader? Defender? Could it be all of the above?
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the phenomenal voice acting of Kate Reading and Michael Kramer. Miss Reading's fantastic depictions of Shallan in particular, and Pattern's unique style, was perfection. Mr. Kramer's deep baritone didn't stop him from changing it up so we knew who exactly was talking when. So well done.
5/5 stars for this phenomenal story. I can’t wait to get started on Rhythm of War.
How many other authors set out to write a novella and accidentally write a novel? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know of many. I do know a former professor of mine who once received a master’s degree he didn’t know he was working toward if that counts, but I don’t think it does. In any case, this was the case with Brandon Sanderson’s Dawnshard, the second Stormlight Archive “novella.” Written as part of BranSan’s kickstarter for the leatherbound Way of Kings, Dawnshard was originally supposed to be about the same length as Edgedancer but ended up over 56,000 words (double what it was intended to be). While this is short for a SFF novel, it is technically long enough to be considered a novel.
Shadows of Self is the second book in Sanderson’s Mistborn Series Two, which picks up several hundred years after the original Mistborn trilogy. The characters from that original trilogy have become mythical figures, incorporated into the world’s historical, social, and spiritual beliefs. Book One in this second series (The Alloy of Law) was essentially ‘magic meets cowboys in a fantasy wild west.’ I loved this premise. It was especially cool to take Sanderson’s innovative allomancy magic system – where people gain different powers from burning metals within them – and then transpose this into a kind of 1850s American Wild West aesthetic, where you had these magicians, doing train robberies and flying around proto-skyscrapers in the city. And with Shadows of Self – a detective thriller about magicians racing to stop a shape-shifting assassin – he improved on The Alloy of Law in every way.