Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Disclaimer: I was a kickstarter on the campaign that provided an early copy of this novella a reward
This was a great book. It is also fascinating in the sense that, as I was reading it I kept thinking that you could about 80% read this book without having read the preceeding 3 books (and 1 novella) in The Stormlight Archive. You wouldn’t understand ANY of the implications of the final chapter or epilogue, but I think you probably could have enjoyed the story anyway.
And what was the story? In The Stormlight Archive Brandon Sanderson has a series of interludes that break up the greater story. These interludes mostly serve to provide a way for Sanderson to fill in backstory to the Planet Roshare, The Greater Cosmere, or would otherwise break the flow of the main novel. We had been previously introduced to Rysn, an apprentice trader. Through her interludes we gained a greater understanding of various cultures on Roshar. During one of her interludes she ended up losing the function of her legs. So, a great part of Rysn’s personal growth during this novella involves both seeing herself as not broken and gaining the confidence to ensure she is treated the way she wishes to be treated. In the introduction Sanderson mentions speaking with folks in the parapalegic community to make sure Rysn was written well. Her thoughts align with some training I’ve had at work about things that people who have full function of their appendages do (sometimes out of trying to be kind) that ends up making things worse for those riding wheelchairs or other conveyences. She is also dealing with imposter syndrome around the gift her master (in the sense of master/apprentice) gives her in the main books. So her character is on a great personal journey while on an actual journey to an island that has importance in the main books.
Then we have Lopen, a supporting character in the main series. Via the magic systems in The Stormlight Archive, he’s able to fly as well as having X-Men Wolverine’s healing factor powers, so he’s on the mission as protection. He’s a self-deprecating who spent a large chunk of the main series missing one arm. (I don’t remember if he was born that way or had lost it later in life) He’s mostly comic relief, although he does provide some contrasts to Rsyn. Before being healed, he also had to deal with some hardships due to only having one arm. So he’s able to bond with Rysn as well as being a bridge with some of the others.
Finally, a character we meet for like 5 seconds in the main series, Cord. She’s the daughter of a secondary character who comes from a civilization with a very rigid set of norms based on birth order. It’s fascinating and has lots of implications in the main series for her father. However, the best thing she provides in this book is a character who can see impending colonization and is trying to head it off. Her civilization guards a very important Cosmere-Level resource that “no one” on Roshar knows about. It appears knowledge has mostly been lost other than whoever first set her civilization to guard it. She fears that as other, more powerful countries find out about it, they may end up obliterating her culture. So many resonances with issues of historical colonialism and modern neo-colonialism.
This is all on top of an actual, physical journey the characters are on. The reward for the journey (on top of all those characters above growing) is a whole bunch of series-level and Cosmere-level knowledge, the implications of we don’t even truly yet know. (view spoiler)[Especially the end when Rysn seems to have Nalthis powers like those with many, many breaths (hide spoiler)]
I loved this novella and stayed up long into the night just to finish it. Chances are huge that if you are considering this book, you’re deep into the Cosmere. If you are, it’s a no-brainer. If not, this isn’t the *best* novella to jump into. You’re probably better off with the short stories that take place in the Cosmere – they’re collected in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, but you can also get them individually here an there. I recommend those as a way of seeing if you like Sanderson and the planet-based magics of The Cosmere. Many of them (except Edgedancer which is also a Stormlight novella) stand alone perfectly without any other knowledge of The Cosmere to enjoy. If you want to read a book in the Cosmere I can very strongly recommend Warbreaker, which got me addicted to Sanderson’s writing and The Cosmere. It’s very standalone and some of its events are important later in Stormlight Archive books. Or, one that lots love although it’s *slightly* a bit more YA in tone The Final Empire.
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