Prelude to The Stormlight Archive
It seems pretty bold to start off such a massive series with such a simple prelude, especially given that there are ten books planned for the future. It’s sort of a long-term commitment for such a cornerstone. What if he wrote himself into that corner?
Maybe that’s why it is rather short and simple, but that just makes me ask, what’s the point of it at all? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at it. I do like it as a short story entry into this world. It just seems like it doesn’t serve much of a real purpose. The story elements included probably could have been introduced in other ways later in the story. Of course, I will probably eat my words later. From what I’ve read of Sanderson’s work, he has a tendency to surprise you by bringing significance to seemingly insignificant things and making me feel dumb for missing it the first time around.
The opening of the prelude has a nice synergy with the title of the series with the introduction of a beast called the thunderclast. We don’t learn much about what this monster is, but it sets an immediate tone and theme of storms and violence for this world.
Sanderson also uses his typical style of carrot-on-a-stick mystery to bring the reader into the world. There are a lot of small and mysterious details that give me just enough to keep me wanting more. The entire post-battle setting for this scene offers a convenient package for these intriguing details. This battle was something called a Desolation in which godlike beings (wielding magical weapons), magical beasts (and people?), knights, and foot soldiers all participated. We get a good sense for the wonders this world can contain and the violence that it thrusts upon them.
I was particularly drawn to, and disturbed by, Kalak’s thoughts about returning to this hellish place after each Desolation. What pact is forcing this to happen? Why is the place they return to so violent? It sounds as though they are basically just tortured until it’s time for another Desolation.
We at least learn that there are ten of these immortal beings, called Heralds, who submit themselves to this torture because of something called the Oathpact. When discussing how the Heralds are viewed as divinities, Jezrien mentions another group of beings called the Radiants, perhaps a lesser form of these Heralds.
So in the end, the Heralds decide to skip this whole torture business and let the pact lapse, hoping to get off on a technicality by throwing one of their brothers under the torture hell bus.
I am really left with two big questions at the end. First, Jezrien says that if they abandon this guy, it may be enough to fulfill the Oathpact, but also end the cycle of Desolations. I don’t know what the Desolations are, but why would this end it?
My other question is, if one of these Heralds dies in some other way, will they end up back in the torture hell?
And I feel like this whole an entire group of immortals bound to an oath abandons their friend to suffer for possibly eternity thing might have some consequences later on.
The prologue did a bit of a better job of orienting us to this world as we’ll experience it, discussing various races, social classes, cultures, and some politics. The exciting thing (obviously) was the introduction to one of the magic systems of this world.
Sanderson is famous for his intricate systems of magic, and for a good reason. For me, it’s not that his magic has a set of laws and rules to an almost scientific level, but rather how having such rules allows him to integrate the systems into his action sequences. This man can write an action sequence, and when he introduces magic into the mix, I can feel it. There’s a sense of weight and momentum to what he describes, a sort of loose control over the laws of physics that grounds the use of the magic in familiar sensations of movement and speed. The fight sequence here was a great example of implementing that and also shows how seamlessly he can introduce a magic system through action rather than info dumps.
The plot in this section seems pretty straight-forward. The Alethi king was assassinated. I’m sure we will spend time in this book learning about the events that led to this and the consequences.
One thing that seems significant is that we learn that the Heralds from the prelude have since become religious symbols. The names have changed some, though not beyond recognition. But when we see the ten statues, one is missing. The book itself even asks, “Why had Shalash’s statue been removed?” I bet this will be significant somehow.
I was a bit disoriented jumping forward in time so much (again in the next chapter as well), but it sounds like the passage of time has allowed the fallout from the prologue’s assassination to come into effect. We don’t see it directly, but it is referenced during this battle scene when it’s mentioned that skilled soldiers are sent to fight the Parshendi.
We get a good introduction to what seems to be one of our main characters, Kaladin. He reminds me a bit of Kelsier from Mistborn, at least at this point. He’s able, charismatic, and a natural leader. The battle scene reveals to us that he has an emotional attachment to young men sent to battle too soon and tries his best to protect them, that he is skilled with medicine and first aid, battle tactics and strategy, and combat. He seems to move through the battlefield and kill people with ease, perhaps because of a magical ability witnessed by Cenn. And he seems to have something against the “lighteyes,” at least one particular lighteyes that he’d like very much to kill.
My biggest question is about the ending of the chapter. They all seemed to think that this battle was a minor border dispute. Dallet insisted that Shardbearers were too valuable to be involved in a battle like this. And yet a Shardbearer brings an end to the chapter and the battle it seems, possibly killing most of the characters we became familiar with in this chapter.
Here we get some internal perspective from Kaladin after his failure on the battlefield from the last chapter. Eight months as a slave, multiple failed attempts at escape, we seem to come back into the timeline at a point when Kaladin has resigned himself to the life of a slave. We get some insight into the geography and local wildlife of this world, with imaginative descriptions of timid grass that disappears, large crustacean-like beasts of burden, and spren.
The best I can tell is that spren are just sort of like spirits. I have a feeling that they will play a significant role in determining the metaphysics of this world and the nature of the magic that exists. We get some insight into Kaladin’s medical abilities, which he seemed to get from his father. We see that he feels as though he is cursed, with everyone he tries to protect getting killed. This is driven home when his slave master kills the man he tried to save by bringing his illness to the master’s attention.
I think the biggest plot point and mystery of this chapter is the windspren that seems to have sentience and intelligence far beyond what Kaladin thought was possible, and it seems to be attached to him for some reason.
One minor point of interest I noticed was a reference to Taln’s Scar, a red constellation in the night sky. In the prelude, Taln was the Herald left to suffer while the others abandoned the pact.
Themes and thoughts
The biggest theme I’ve felt up to this point is the tension between success and failure. In the prelude, they were victorious in the battle and most of the Heralds succeeded in surviving. Yet they failed at remaining strong enough to keep their Oathpact and abandoned a partner to an eternal life of misery. In chapter 1, Kaladin’s crew showed success in their little realm on the battlefield, and Kaladin himself succeeded at saving his new young recruit and killing his marked target, but failed gloriously thanks to underestimating the enemy. Then in chapter 2, he’s haunted by his failures, teased with potential success of saving his fellow slave, only to have failure thrust upon him again when the man he wished to save is killed.
I suppose in any story and conflict, the tension between failure and success are just implied themes; it’s really what makes a story interesting and dynamic. But there really seems to be a focus on how the characters in these chapters reflect on this dynamic. In the prelude, Kalak ponders the difficulty that the success of surviving brings him. In Kaladin’s chapters, failure is the constant shadow in his own life. Even in his success during the initial battle, he was attempting to make up for a vague previous failure earlier in his life.
So far, the pace is quick and I’m feeling engaged by the story and setting. I suspect that the learning curve will be steep, but I’m willing to stick around to figure out more about the teases we’ve been given so far.