I like me some epic fantasy to go with my sci-fi, speculative fiction tastes. Since i’m approaching the end of the second book of a great new epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archive, i thought i’d take a minute to give it a little shout out.
There are only two books so far in what is promised to be a 10 book series, made up of two 5 books arcs. I read the first one a few months ago, The Way Of Kings, paused for a spell since i find that going straight on to the next book in a series never works out for me, and then have been ripping through the follow up, Words Of Radiance.
I should start by simply saying that if you like fantasy you should definitely be all over this, and indeed, i imagine you already are. It mercifully avoids any Tolkeinish character tropes, no dwarves or orcs or other overworn D&D mythos. While it stays within and even embraces the heroic fantasy genre, it is creative, playful and quite fresh with it.
World building is where it soars. There’s a lot of extremely interesting and engaging ideas and details thrown about and jugglef. The world building is unquestionably where the books have hit heights of greatness. There’s a rich, rich history of a long defunct knightly order The Knights Radiant, which is carefully dished out in painfully small little doses that never the less do add up. There’s a number of interesting cultures on the scene, and while so far the two at war are the most focused on, we get some nice glimpses into a few others. There are enormous storms which define the world, and little fairy.energy creature/things called spren which are at the center of the supernatural element that helps define this particular world and which was utilized by the long gone Knights Radiant.
There are also some long gone things are horrible terribleness called the Voidbringers, which this being an epic fantasy novel, are probably hankering on making a comeback. They appear in some kind of cycle and bring about a Desolation. The Desolations are repeated examples of Planetary/Societal Collapse and borderline Planetary/Species Extinction. The normal casualty figures are around 90% of the human race, and it’s apparently a toss-up as to whether humanity can struggle back up to Bronze Age tech or Iron Age tech by the time the next Desolation comes along. The current Desolation has been delayed far longer than most, giving humanity time to get much further up the tech tree than normal.
The books open with an assassin, perhaps left over from the last Desolation who has a very cool ability to “lash” himself to different gravitational directions. If he lashes himself to the ceiling, the ceiling becomes his floor and gravity works for him accordingly. So he can run at you on the ceiling, but in mid run, jump, lash himself to the left wall, which becomes his new down, then lash himself to the wall far behind you and “drop” right towards your doomed ass falling through a hallway as if falling down a long drop, before lashing himself into a new direction. It’s cool as hell and is used to great effect.
If i had to criticize one facet, it would be the author’s habit of pedaling in circles in the middle of these very long books. The second book improves in every way upon the first book, and especially in this regard. During the first book, there is a long time in the middle where you feel like you’re reading the same chapters over and over again. We know the point is to show the slow character change and really hammer in the hardships they are under, but damn if there’s aren’t some times you want to shout at the book “OKAY. WE GET IT. MOVE THE SHOW ALONG.”
This is typical flaw in epic fantasy, and certainly i’ve shouted the same at George RR Martin’s books, so i wouldn’t let this derail you because the payoffs are worth it and the world is a blast to spend time in. The point of the series isn’t to reinvent the wheel, it’s not A China Mieville Bas Lag type of game changer. It’s everything good about an epic fantasy yarn done right. It leaves tropes which are tired and ready to quit aside, world builds with the best of them and even when embracing tried, true and to be fair, satisfying paths of the hero’s tale genre, manages to feel pretty new and original.
Oh, p.s. i hate the art. The book art IS over worn fantasy tropes. It just looks and feels cheesy to me. I got The Way Of Kings because a good buddy who i trust implicitly recommended it, but waited to get to it because the cover art totally turned me off. So, yeah, there’s that.