|Brandon Sanderson himself describes this series as “a love letter to fantasy”, and in many ways it certainly feels like it. It’s both epic fantasy novel, artbook, and short story collection. But describing it just as a love letter to epic fantasy of the past neglects what is possible the greatest strength of the novel, the extremely unique worldbuilding.
There is no Britian-inspired nation of white warriors fighting an “exotic” nation; there are Korean-inspired pseudo-Spaniards with epicanthic folds fighting suprasegmental-singing non-humans living on an arid shattered canyon landscape.
There is no mysterious elemental magic, there is detailed manipulation of gravity. The world is wracked by extremely frequent hurricanes, and plants and animals have adapted to this to such a degree that they look barely anything like any Earth equivalent. This is certainly not a book borrowing heavily from Tolkien or the like in terms of setting.
In terms of story however, yes, the book is a lot more typical fantasy than some of Brandon’s more subversive works like Mistborn or Warbreaker. The character arcs are done well (particularly Kaladin’s, with the intercutting present/flashback structure actually giving him two compelling arcs in one novel), but they’re not as inventive or connected to the world as in some of Brandon’s other books.
The structure of the book is really interesting. To avoid the typical sprawl of epic fantasy, where the number of POVs keep increasing, slowing down the individual pacing of the novels (as well as their date of release), Brandon seems to have strictly limited himself to a small number of major POVs, and using an “interlude” section to write short stories from the perspective of different characters. He works his worldbuilding muscles here, without sacrificing the pacing or focus of the novel’s actual story.
The art is also fantastic. The book is filled with it. I wish more novels had this amount of art (or more!), it really adds to the experience.
The novel is definitely overlong, but I was always enjoying myself as I read it. A very promising start to a new series.
I give it four spheres, and a fabrial.