The Stormlight Archives, by Brandon Sanderson, is a series that inspires me and depresses me at the same time. As a reader, it inspires me and moves me in ways few stories do. As a writer, it depresses me, because if something this awesome exists, why should I bother?
Sanderson doesn’t need me to sing his praises. He’s a best-selling author many times over. If you enjoy fantasy and haven’t read his books, then what is wrong with you? Get to a library or Barnes & Noble right now!
Seriously. His writing is fantastic, and The Stormlight Archives are the best of the best. So far, there are two books (out of planned ten) in the series available, and the third one comes out in November. I’ve just finished re-reading the first two, to refresh my memory and whet my appetite for book three.
The first thing that awes me in these books is the worldbuilding. Many fantasy writers think they’re very clever when they devise a unique magic system, or do something unusual with language or flora & fauna. Some like to create a massive history of their world, in detail, going back thousands of years. Or maybe craft a fairly original mythology for their people, complete with ideas about religion or fantastical beings. Sanderson is not satisfied with doing one or two of those things; he does them ALL. He brings in the magic, the history, the peoples, the creatures, the mythology, the legends… and all of it connects. None of it is just thrown in for fun. There’s a logic to every element that makes it fit with all of the other elements. I am absolutely amazed at how much detail is packed into the world of Roshar. Just the ecosystem alone is incredible!
And if that weren’t enough, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The world of Roshar is linked in with many of Sanderson’s other books in one grand mythology (cosmere). It’s practically overwhelming. If you’re not interested in that, it doesn’t interfere with the main story at all, but it’s an interesting aside. Fantheories go nuts over this, by the way.
Second, Sanderson awes me with his characters. There are times that I’ve seen magnificent worldbuilding, but the writer is horrible at portraying true-to-life people. Not so here. Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar, Szeth… all of them are fascinating people with complete personalities. Kaladin, especially, is a protagonist to rival any in fantasy fiction.
Third, Sanderson knows the art of the surprise. More than that, he’s brilliant at hiding a surprise in plain sight! I absolutely adore it when something is revealed, usually at a crucial moment in the climax, and it’s something absolutely stunning that should have been obvious. (See the Mistborn books…)
Speaking of the climax of the story… that’s where Sanderson is unbelievable. As a reader, I can’t wait to get to the conclusion of a Sanderson book, because I know it’s going to blow me away. Even when I already know what’s going to happen, I’m excited. While re-reading Words of Radiance, I was on the edge of my seat, so anxious to get to the climax… and I already knew what was going to happen! It’s not just action-packed; it matches up with the character arcs in beautiful ways.
I find very little to complain about in Brandon Sanderson’s writing. Even though his books are very long, the pacing is usually spot on. In The Way of Kings, I’ll admit that I felt like it took a little too long to get to Kaladin’s story arc climax, but only just a little.
The Stormlight Archives are planned as a ten-volume series. I’m hoping for great things, but I’ll admit to a little nervousness about whether he can maintain the greatness for that long. The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan, was the picture of an epic series that lasted way too long for me. I felt like five or six books could have been left out and it would have been a better story. I sincerely hope I don’t feel that way when Stormlight ends.
As a writer, I can’t help but feel intimidated by Brandon Sanderson. It feels natural to ask, “If something this awesome is being published right now, why should I even bother? I can’t match this quality.” Logically, I know this is a fallacy. I know it makes no sense. Convincing my emotions is another thing.
The stories I write are not the same as the stories Brandon Sanderson writes. I think they’re not as good. But that shouldn’t change anything. They’re my stories. I’m the one telling them. Even if no one else ever enjoys them the way I do, that’s okay. But maybe someone will. Maybe a lot of people will. I won’t know until I try, and try again.