DAWNSHARD by Brandon Sanderson
Titan Books, hardback, £9.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
The Stormlight Archive, of which Dawnshard is a small part, is a section of a massive enterprise that Sanderson calls the Cosmere that links all his adult novels. Stormlight is the energy that can be captured and stored in gemstones. They have many uses, including lighting, and are recharged by leaving them out in the violent storms that sweep around the planet.
Dawnshard is the story of Rysn Ftori. She is a merchant trader and owner of the newly built ship Wandersail. She has had a good tutor and is intelligent and good at negotiating deals. Against her is the fact that due to an accident a few years before, she is now disabled. She relies on Nikli to carry her around and has a rare pet larkin called Chiri-Chiri, a creature with an articulated carapace and large membranous wings. About the size of a cat, the larkin is normally boisterous and feeds on stormlight. Recently, though, she has been subdued, off colour and not feeding. Rysn is worried and must take Chiri-Chiri to her home island of Akinah. Unfortunately, this island is hidden and protected by storms and jagged reefs. It would be a dangerous voyage with success not guaranteed. She is encouraged in her attempt to reach the island by Navani Kholin, queen of Urithiru. She commissions Rysn to undertake the voyage, sending with her two Windrunners – people who can use stormlight to counteract gravity and effectively fly – as well as a scribe who has expertise with fabrials (a kind of technology that uses stormlight-infused gems to work) and can keep the ship in contact with Navani over a distance.
As might be expected, the voyage encounters many obstacles, some of which need Rysn’s skills to overcome, especially when the superstitious crew is spooked by some events.
Rysn is a strong character who is not bowed by her disability. It is a delight to see such a character taking the lead in the novel. As far as I can tell, from the perspective of an able-bodied person, Sanderson has done a good job of anticipating and solving the issues Rysn encounters with mobility. Any prejudice about her situation and competence is dissipated by her approach to life. There are too few disabled characters at the forefront of fantasy books, so not only is it good to see one, but this sets a template for what can be achieved.
The biggest issue some readers may have with this book is that since it comes chronologically between the novels Oathbringer and Rhythm of War, there are many terms, characters and paraphernalia that are familiar to those who have read other books but which will probably confuse readers who are coming to this fresh.
Two points of interest – this book has been produced as a result of a Kickstarter campaign, and the interior illustration by Ben McSweeney is superb and an excellent complement to the text.