What a wonderful book. I don’t know why I’m still surprised at this point at how good a book in this series turned out to be. I love all of these books, but there was something extra-wrenching about this one, as we really start to dig into not only the escalating mythology but the characters’ heads and hearts in ways that are only really possible because Sanderson has spent 3,500 pages before this providing the world’s most epic foundation. This is why I love epic fantasy so much. Only in this genre can you can experience such a heady combination of large scope for the story and world at the same time you can be so intimately in the characters heads as they grapple with change in a way that is extremely visceral. Fantasy and sf can make literal things that other genres only have the ability to express using metaphor and simile, which turns right around and becomes metaphorical again. There’s just something exhilarating about getting to have it both ways, as you do here and in all the best fantasies.
I’m not going to talk about any of the goings on here, though what happens is intense, and in several points game-changing. Either you haven’t started the series or read this book yet, in which case anything I could possibly say would spoil the hell out of you, or you’ve already read it and then I don’t need to tell you anyway. What I’m really interested in talking about here, in a mostly non-spoiler way, is what Sanderson does with his main characters: with the severely depressed Kaladin, with the fracturing Shallan, with Adolin (who is the loveliest!), and with Navani. Fitting for a penultimate book, this is a story where all its parts in some way are concerned with change: accepting it, making it, trying new things, and learning and growing.
*The first five books will act as part one of the Stormlight Archive, a story in and of itself, so this *is* a penultimate book, despite there being five more books coming down the road.
There’s a moment a quarter of the way through where Kaladin helps some mentally ill people being kept in conditions that are making their mental health worse (i.e. people with severe depression being kept alone in the dark and quiet, because they erroneously believe exposure to other ill people will make them worse), and instead of accepting things the way they are, he brings the people out into the light, refusing to allow the way things have always been done to dictate how they will be done in the future. He has experience and insight that might help people, and he decides to use it (the focus on mental health in this series is yet another reason it resonates so much). The quote leading this review is from that moment, a moment which really just represents the essence of this book for me. There’s a constant sense of fear mingled with defiance running throughout this book, and over and over characters have to choose between remaining in old patterns and dangerous ruts, and overcoming their fear enough to try something new.
If I have one complaint with this book (aside from how it was so heavy while reading it that it physically hurt me) it’s that the Venli stuff just didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to. I’m not sure there’s any particular reason for that, it was just the least interesting part of the book for me, and I didn’t even notice there weren’t any flashbacks in the first half of the book until the first one popped up. I also thought the Eshonai parts of the flashbacks didn’t really work as well as I would have expected. It was nice seeing her story, but as SPOILERS she’s dead END SPOILERS it’s hard to get super invested. Especially when I could be in Shadesmar with Shallan, Adolin and Maya (<3) or in the tower with Kaladin or Navani.
Those small complaints aside, this book was immensely satisfying, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in book five.