Review: The Stormlight Archive, Book Three: Oathbringer

The friend who was lending me Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books switched to ebooks, but thanks to my local library, I’ve pressed ahead with the series.

Cover art for The Stormlight Archive, book three: Oathbringer by Brandon SandersonThe previous two books in this series suffered from painfully slow pacing, but made up for it with spectacular endings. Oathbringer breaks that pattern, which is both a blessing and a curse.

The upshot is the pacing is a lot more even throughout. The pace is still a little on the slower side, but not unpleasantly so, and he doesn’t seem to spend so much time getting bogged down in irrelevant details. Things move forward at a slow but steady pace, and Oathbringer is a lot more approachable and readable than its predecessors.

The only place it does drag a bit is Dalinar’s story. His story in the present day isn’t exactly thrilling, but what’s really tedious is the flashbacks that are peppered throughout the book. They keep teasing a big reveal but it takes so… long… to get to it. I actually skipped ahead — something I never do when reading — and read all the flashbacks up to the reveal in one go because I was tired of being strung along.

That doesn’t do much to make the book as a whole less enjoyable. It’s still a great read… right up until the end.

The previous two Stormlight books have justified themselves with intense, kickass endings full of exciting action and big reveals. Oathbringer tries to double down on that, but there can be too much of a good thing.

The ending to Oathbringer tries so hard to be an epic, fantastical thrill ride that it crosses over into the realm of the ridiculous. And this is coming from a Warcraft fan, so that has to say something. I accepted Richard A. Knaak and Rhonin’s psychic dinosaur army (albeit grudgingly), and even I think this is too much.

We’re only three books in, and already the power levels of the heroes have gotten so absurdly high that it’s nigh-impossible to inject any drama into the story. The Radiants are all invincible gods at this point. The middle of a good fantasy epic should leave you struggling to imagine how the heroes could possibly triumph, but at this point I struggle to imagine how they could possibly fail.

I’ve heard it said that Brandon Sanderson is planning this to be a ten book series, but I don’t know how he’s going to pull it off. He’s already answered almost all the big questions, and already the power levels of heroes and villains alike are so high it threatens to break the story. How in the world is he going to wring another seven books out of this? To me it feels like there’s one book worth of story left at most.

Based on this series, Sanderson is great at world-building and creating memorable characters, but he really needs to work on his plotting.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

Review: Echoes of the Fall, book one: The Tiger and the Wolf

Nestled within the pages of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Tales of Apt short stories collection was a bit of a bombshell: It revealed that his other fantasy series, Echoes of the Fall, also takes place within the same world as Shadows of the Apt, merely on a different continent.

Cover art for Echoes of the Fall, book one: The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian TchaikovskyI’d ignored Echoes of the Fall until now, as it sounded a bit cliche, but now that I know it’s part of the Apt universe, the completionist in me compels me to check it out.

Book one, The Tiger and the Wolf, is a decidedly mixed experience. There is a lot I like about it, but also a lot that really bothers me.

The Tiger and the Wolf is mainly the story of Maniye Many Tracks, the miserable and abused daughter of the chief of the Winter Runner Wolf tribe. Maniye’s mother was the queen of the Tiger tribe, and her father hopes to use her to bring the Tiger under his control. Maniye herself bucks under his authority and finds herself torn between her twin heritages, the Tiger and the Wolf.

I’m willing to bet any long time fantasy reader involuntarily rolled their eyes a bit reading that. Yes, it as exactly as cliched as it sounds.

To be clear, Maniye is by a comfortable margin the worst thing about this book. She is a deeply uninspiring protagonist for reasons even beyond how unoriginal her story is.

My biggest issue with Maniye is that she is entirely reactive. She has no plan, no ambition beyond escaping her father. She spends the entire book reacting to the actions of other characters, usually by running away. She has no true agency; she does not drive the plot in any way.

Her meek attitude is perhaps best encapsulated by the subplot dealing with her twin souls. As a daughter of two tribes, Maniye has two souls — Tiger and Wolf — and they are at war within her. Eventually the conflict between them will drive her mad, so she has to choose one or the other, but she doesn’t want to.

And that’s it. She just doesn’t want to. It’s made clear that while half-breeds like Maniye are rare, they are hardly unheard of, and it is standard practice for such people to choose one soul or the other once they come of age. It’s a difficult and painful choice, but entirely doable. Maniye simply refuses to make the choice.

I get that both souls are crucial to her identity, and for her to find the choice painful makes sense, but when you try to wring a few hundred pages of drama out of the protagonist simply refusing to make a decision, you start wondering why you should even care.

If Maniye were the only character, this would not be a book worth reading. The good news is the rest of the cast is a lot stronger. Maniye recruits a number of allies along her journey, and they are all likable and interesting characters in their own right. It’s worth it for them.

One in particular is a standout. Unfortunately I can’t say much without spoiling things, but their story is both a genuinely surprising twist and one of the richest pieces of characterization I’ve seen in a long time. Not everyone in this book is who they seem to be at first glance.

The setting of The Tiger and the Wolf, like the cast, is a mixed bag.

As always, Adrian Tchaikovsky puts tremendous effort into his world-building. If I hadn’t already known this series shared a universe with Shadows of the Apt, I’d probably have guessed. The idea of the separate cultures based on totem animals is pretty much the same in both. The only difference is now it’s vertebrates instead of insects, and now instead of Ancestor Art each tribe can shapeshift into their totem animal.

Even if it feels a bit samey relative to Shadows of the Apt, it’s still a cool idea, and I like seeing how each tribe’s culture is influenced by the temperament of their totem, from the majestic cruelty of the Tiger tribe to the patience of the Crocodile Nation.

However, I do have one big problem with the cultures in this book: They’re all terrible. With only one apparent exception (the Horse Society), every single tribe and nation in this book seems to be built on human sacrifice, rape, cannibalism, slavery, and any other kind of brutality you care to name.

Given this setting is so obviously inspired by native American cultures, the fact that they’re all savages — there’s just no other word for them — feels more than a little problematic to me. Very surprising given what a progressive person I know Adrian Tchaikovsky to be.

Tales of the Apt raised the grim spectre of colonization by the insect-kinden, which seemed deeply chilling at the time, but honestly, after reading this book, I’m not sure I care. Tthere’s nothing the kinden could do to these people that would be any worse than what they do to themselves.

I will probably read the rest of this series, but it’s definitely a very inconsistent experience. It’s frustrating because with a few changes — a better protagonist, a few tribes that aren’t just brutal thugs — it could have been something truly special. As it is, it’s just okay.

Overall rating: 6.9/10