The Stormlight Archive: An Outstanding Model of Good Series Writing

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Once upon a time, I heard of an author named Brandon Sanderson. I picked up one of his books, Warbreaker, and enjoyed it. Then completely forgot about it…until one day I came upon a bargain box set of three books, the first in the Stormlight Archive (SA). I snatched it up. I had no idea what I was getting into.

This is the result.

Why Critique Books?

My purpose in critiquing books is not to say that the book or its author is awful. I’m not trying to say that I know everything there is to know about writing a book, or that I’m even right in my assessments/opinions. My motives are twofold: 

  1. To break apart stories so we can learn what makes them successful or unsuccessful and apply those elements to our own stories or know what to avoid
  2. To dispel the myths that popular books are “perfect” and that writing a book as “good” as a well-known author is an unattainable goal

It’s comforting to know that a good story is a good story. No one has any secret special knowledge that makes their story better. As long as you take the time to learn and practise the art of writing, you have the same potential as a famous author to write something that people will remember for years to come – perhaps even more potential!

The Good Stuff

Incredible Cast of Characters

I love series that start out with a few main characters and slowly accumulate more. Very few series can handle a cast as large as SA, but Sanderson does it with near perfection.

There’s someone for everyone to relate to. There are so many different personalities that they alone would make the book colourful even if there was no plot. There are main characters that clash and others that mesh perfectly. There are all kinds of different relationships: awkward romances, fast friendships, “frenemies,” betrayed friendships, teacher and pupil “friendships…”

Essentially, it’s one of the best and most diverse casts I’ve ever seen, and it’s the main reason that the series is so successful. Literally anything could be happening in the background and you’d still be reading just because the characters are so interesting.

It just goes to show you: if you have good characters, it’s almost guaranteed that the whole book is great.

Detailed World Building Done Right

Before reading Brandon Sanderson, I always said that I didn’t like reading high fantasy except for Lord of the Rings. Now I realise that what I meant was I didn’t like bad high fantasy.

SA showed me that it’s possible to build an immense, detailed story world without making the book dry and boring. It did take me a little while to get used to the story world, which is why I wasn’t truly hooked until halfway through The Way of Kings (book one). But after that, there was hardly a dull moment.

Sanderson gradually feeds you information about the story world while at the same time slowly unveiling knowledge about the history of the world that the characters are discovering with you – making you feel more in tune with the world because you’re not trying to catch up with the characters. You’re learning as they are!

SA is truly its own world that feels utterly real without bogging you down with information.

Individual Book vs. The Series

As I talked about in my review of Cinder, it’s very easy to overlook the completeness of an individual book in favour of just having it play its part in the whole series. Luckily, there’s not a trace of that in SA! Each book stands perfectly on its own but also plays an important role in the overall narrative. It’s a difficult balance executed perfectly.

A Relevant Magic System

One of my favourite things about SA is that the magic system is actually relevant to the world and the plot, not just a random addition that makes the characters cool. The entire history of the story world is wrapped up in this magic system that the characters still don’t fully understand, once again allowing you, as the reader, to learn along with them.

Everything in this series has a purpose; nothing is just filler.

The Not So Good Stuff

Inevitable Low Point

It seems inevitable that every series will have a stagnant point, and for me in SA, that was Rhythm of War (book four, the most recent). After three books of constant action, the immediate slowing down in this book was a shock. I’ll even admit to skimming sometimes.

Though SA thrives on having multiple POVs all going through different scenarios, Rhythm of War (RoW) heavily focused on a specific static situation with just a few different POVs. Though other characters were doing things, their stories were mostly skimmed over. This especially seemed odd when one character in particular (a main main character who’s been around since book one) was going through a really difficult crisis and the development and resolution were just vaguely filled in.

This is rather different from the other three books where each character’s story was fully fleshed out. I think the issue here is a combination of two things. Firstly, the series might be getting to the point where there are too many main characters. RoW was obviously meant to focus on characters that were more in the background in the past three books, which was great, but it left the development of the favourite main characters lacking.

Another problem was that several main characters reached really low points in this book. One page you’re reading about someone with severe PTSD and depression, the next you’re with a person who’s having an insane existential crisis (and also has PTSD), and then you’re on to a character who’s feeling the heavy burden of guilt from their past…

While I liked the character arcs individually, having them all happen at the same time bogged down the book. I would have liked to see some characters with high points to add some variety.

So, it seems that even SA isn’t immune to the common book series disease where one book – or part of a book – drags a bit. (Though to be fair, there were still lots of awesome parts in RoW and I overall liked the book!)

A Shining Example

As I’m sure you can guess from my praise, SA is one of the best book series I’ve ever read. It’s a shining example of 1) a good series, 2) good high fantasy, and 3) just good books. It may not be 100% perfect, but what book is?

So whether you’re looking for some awesome entertainment or something to model your own book after, you can’t find much better than the Stormlight Archive. It’s quality storytelling through and through.

Happy reading!

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.


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