Genre fiction lover: Romance, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
This book has very much the feel of a first book in a series. A lot of characters are introduced, the basics of the world is being built and the conflict is set up. And while a lot of stuff happens, contradictorily, not a lot of stuff really happens.
But I did not mind. This book was over 1000 pages and it felt like I whipped right through it. Not once did I feel like I was being bogged down in words just for words' sake. I felt like I was being pulled inexorably along by the events while becoming incredibly absorbed in the lives of some of the key characters. I have read 20k word novellas that have felt more of a slog than this book.
This isn't my first Sanderson book. One of the things that I learned from one of the first books of his that I read, Elantris - Brandon Sanderson, is that he excels in creating a central character who has charisma to burn. Kaladin is that guy in this book.
He is one of those people who attracts other people -- both those who want to follow him because he has a special something and those who want to destroy him for the same reason.
As the book hits the meat of the story, Kaladin is at his lowest ebb. His nation is in the midst of a six-years long war with a formidable foe. He is enslaved and made part of a squad in the army that exists just to be human fodder for the other side. He is a man who has known command as is a master of soldiering skills and yet here is, the lowest of the low given absolutely no value or worth. But Kaladin, like most good characters, is not content with his state of affairs.
One of my favorite tropes is the one where you have a single person, who by sheer force of their will and personality, can foment change. They come in with all kinds of odds stacked against them. They often have very few tangible resources. And yet, by the time the book is over, they have created a revolution. Sanderson has gone to that well before with great result, so maybe that is why I tend to gravitate toward his work. Kaladin, of course, is that guy. He is a man with a destiny and part of the enjoyment of this book is watching him as his feet find the path to that destiny.
I also am partial to a good military fantasy novel. Not one that just numbly details endless war, but one that uses the conventions of an institution like an army to show how a community is built. One that shows how relationships and trust is are developed among a group of people who will have each others' lives their hands. One that uses that highly stressful condition to highlight different personalities and uses comedy and tragedy equally to deomonstrate the human condition. Although Kaladin is the rock star in his chapters, there are so many other fascinating characters as well who feel almost as alive.
In addition to Kaladin there is Dolinar the King's uncle who is trying desperately to unify his country and who has just the type of unswerving honor that Kaladin believes no longer exists. For the lions' share of the book I waited for these two to finally meet up (as I knew they must). When that happened, in the climactic chapters toward the end -- it did not disappoint. In a sense, that meeting is what this installment was leading up to.
Shallan, the main female character also has a destiny. I did not find her chapters as interesting as Kaladin's, unfortunately, and was always impatient to get back to Kaladin. But my suspicion is that just as I was anticipating Kaladin and Dolinar finally meeting up, I am being deftly manipulated into anticipating Shallan and Kaladin's meeting as well.
I also appreciated that one of the major antagonists of the book was as well drawn as the protagonists. So much so that I teetered on the edge between wondering if he is justified in his actions, unpalatable as they are, or if he was just a really well crafted villain. He does something really heinous at one point in the book and still, I wonder if he is really evil or just .... ruthless while still trying to serve the greater good? I am not sure and I love it.
Yeah, there were some draggy parts. Too many characters sometimes. There is a deep, deep history and a wide world scope that is sometimes a little dense to work through. But still I enjoyed the heck out of this and am glad I got the second book ready to go.