I had to kind of slug it out with this book, because, after a good beginning, it turned into a big slog in the middle. Sanderson loves him some magical systems. A lot. That’s really his thing: creating a system and logical framework for how magic might work in a fantasy world. In this case, it’s a world with these occasional magical storms called ‘Highstorms’ and energy from them is held in gems and a very few number of people can draw on that energy and there are also magical devices called fabrials that can turn gemstones into food or other forms and transmutations and there ancient swords called shardblades and ancient plate armor called shardplate that give super strength and agility. And the ecosystem is deeply affected by the fact of the earlier mentioned Highstorms, because plants have hard shells or else sink into the ground and cities are built among protective rock formations.
See how complicated that was? It’s too much. And it’s too much to ask of the reader, to both see the characters and situations as real and adapt to a radically different environment, magic, etc. Gandalf wielding his staff and fighting dragons is magic I understand instinctively because it’s ingrained in our culture. Sanderson don’t do that. Which is fine, I guess, but it makes for a lengthy adjustment process on the reader.
Also, one of the main characters (there are too many, but not George R.R. Martin nor Robert Jordan levels of too many) is named Kaladin. Too close to ‘paladin,’ especially with the way that character is developing. But he’s a decent character, which is more than I can say for an assassin character, who starts out cool and awesome in a well done set piece near the book’s beginning, but eventually becomes kind of whiny. The other characters are cool: a lord/knight type of fellow named Dalinar and a sneaky scholar named Shallan are fun to follow. There were also a couple of red herrings (at least in this book; I assume they become important threads in future novels) characters with chapters focused on them. The organization is like what George R.R. Martin uses: sections written in third person limited, focusing on a particular character.
But, the book, god bless it, picks up steam.
It’s got some nice action set pieces and things do pick up and get significantly better. Of course, this the first of a bloated, projected ten volume series called The Stormlight Archive, so I assume things will get very bad, very quickly for everyone soon.
In the meantime, I was hooked. Hooked enough to immediately go looking for the second book in the series, Words of Radiance. But not enough to buy it in hardback. I’ll wait for the paperback.