REVIEW: DAWNSHARD (THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE # 3.5)

Those who do not sleep...


After being absolutely blown away by OATHBRINGER, I had no choice but to dive right into the follow up novella, DAWNSHARD. The fact that it happened to be included with Audible Premium's rotating list of freebies made this an even more perfect way to kickstart my reading month. 

HOW I RATED IT 
3/5 Although this novel-length "novella" has some high points, I ultimately found it to be the weakest entry into THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE, mainly due to the lack of "star power" in the cast and a general sense of disconnect from the mainline plot of the series. 

Please note: As this novella takes place fairly deep into THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE, I will be mentioning people, places, and events which would likely be considered spoilers for past books in the series, but will aim to avoid major spoilers for the DAWNSHARD novella. 

CHARACTERS
Even though Sanderson is largely famous for his ability to plot out intricate narrative threads that all weave together into his trademark "Sanderlanche" finales, I would argue that THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE has always leaned a bit more heavily into the characters. This is, unfortunately, the area in which I felt that this novella was the most lacking. Similar to EDGEDANCER, this story doesn't really focus on any of the primary personas from the series. Instead, it grants the spotlight to someone who's previously only appeared in Interlude chapters. Whereas EDGEDANCER followed Lift, the rowdy Radiant with a penchant for stealing people's lunches, DAWNSHARD places Rysn in the lead role. Whenever I have complained in the past that the Interlude chapters are not needed and that they could really be cut in order to shorten the massive length of the mainline novels, Rysn's chapters are frankly the ones that typically sit at the top of my mind. She's not as grating as Lift, but I just haven't ever found her story to be particularly interesting. Some things that work in her favor is that Rysn is someone who's been part of the series since THE WAY OF KINGS and she's a likeable enough character despite how her segments have acted as a sort of weird accessory to the actual plot. After suffering an injury in a previous book, she also brings some diversity to the cast in that she represents someone who is disabled or alternately-abled. For what it's worth, she moves into the lead role competently and I did find myself rooting for her success though I was markedly less invested in her goals than I am for other characters in the series. There are some quick cameos from familiar faces, but I think this cast needed some heavier hitters to be more involved. Instead, Rysn is joined by the weirdest member of Bridge Four, Lopen, A.K.A. "The Lopen." While I like him more than Lift and appreciated his character growth over the course of the story as well as his relationship with his cousin, Punio, I feel like he is at his best when he's on the page in small doses. Having him as a member of the secondary cast was ultimately just a bit much. Some newly introduced characters all held their own well enough, but only one of them really stood out as being particularly compelling (for spoiler reasons, I'll refrain from saying more about that individual). All in all, this just felt like a story that was following the C-listers of the series' roster and while that might be a rather cruel take, it's just how I felt about it. Yes, Sanderson made Rysn important to this world and yes, Lopen had some legitimately funny and heartwarming moments, but these characters didn't really hold a candle to the ones we've been mainly following. 

PLOT/TONE
So far, I've been in kind of a weird place with these novellas that bridge the gaps between mainline STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE books. While I enjoyed EDGEDANCER more than most, I was a bit underwhelmed by how much the events of that story actually played into OATHBRINGER. I think it is partly for this reason that I have been a bit harsher on DAWNSHARD. The events of this novella mostly tie into Interlude chapters from the main novels as well as the EDGEDANCER novella. Sanderson is the master plotter, so it is very possible that the fifth book (or even RHYTHEM OF WAR) will end up tying everything together in a way that makes my mind implode on itself, but as of now, it all feels like a really strange side-show. I will say, that one strength of this particular story is that it does appear to have some more direct ties to The Cosmere as a whole, which is something I was not expecting. I was also glad that we got a deeper dive into the mysterious group of people known as "The Sleepless." They are a fascinating and horrifying race that EDGEDANCER introduced to us, but remained largely absent from any noteworthy events of OATHBRINGER. Getting to know them better here is easily the highlight of this adventure even if it's not clear what role they will have to play in the main conflict of the series. In terms of story beats, the plot isn't anything particularly special. We have some basic set up of some the series' main characters commissioning Rysn and her crew for a nautical expedition to a mysterious island, some hijinks during the voyage, and then a whole bunch of twists, turns, and action scenes once the gang arrives at their destination. The real treasure is ultimately the new bits of information and lore that we learned along the way. I just hope that there will eventually be some real payoff for it all since I am still a bit salty about how inconsequential EDGDANCER ended up being. As a side rant, I find it silly that this book is considered to be a "novella." In terms of page/audio length it seemed like it was well within the scope of what a normal novel should be and when I looked up the word count, I found that it was well above the 50K mark which is generally what people use to decide when something is a novel vs. a novella. Did that impact my enjoyment of the story? No, not really, but I do think it highlights how this series can be a little bit of an embarrassment of riches and it's worth noting that this book is only short within the context of Sanderson's typical book lengths. 

SETTING/WORLD
Thalenar was explored a bit more during the events of OATHBRINGER and I found myself captivated by how their culture is different from the Alethi. Rysn being Thalen brought this culture a little more to the forefront and I think I appreciated that aspect of what she brought to the table. After a brief introduction to her life in her home country after the events of her segment in the prior novel and a quick trip to Urithiru, the story largely takes place upon the boat which Rysn owns. It is worth noting that the owner of a boat and the captain are two separate things in this case. This made the dynamics of the ship itself rather interesting as there is almost a little microcosmic political intrigue as Rysn navigates how to earn the respect that she wants and works to understand the hostility some of the crew holds towards her. As certain "omens" pop up along the case of the journey, it was fascinating to see how Rysn worked to maintain order on the ship. Because the ship doesn't really take port anywhere along the way, the confines of this vessel serve as "the world" for much of this story right up until they finally reach their intended destination. Said destination is pretty cool, but maybe not the most original or distinct setting we've seen so far. It's really all about the secrets that are hiding within the ruins of this lost place that make it worthwhile. There are also a lot of off hand mentions about the grander Cosmere. While not a whole lot is actually divulged, I expect that this series will be diving much deeper into that territory very soon. 

THE AUDIOBOOK
Kramer and Reading are again our narrators for this entry into the series and they do a predictably great job with it. If you're in the camp of feeling like this pair are the voices of the Cosmere, then you're going to have a great time. If you're not a fan of their work, then I'd suggest reading this one visually, if you can. One particular standout for me with this one was the consistency with which Reading handled Rysn's Thalen accent. 

CONCLUSION
While I wasn't as impressed with this book as I have been with the rest of the series, there are still some things to like about it. If I had read it while waiting for book four, my perspective may have been a bit different, but even as it stands, I still think this was a good story and I hope that these ancillary narratives will converge into the series' core plot by the time everything is said and done. 

(+) I think I might be a fan of nautical fantasy adventures
(+) Rysn and Lopen have character arcs that are satisfying in their own way
(+) There is one new character who really stole the show for me
(+) Interesting lore drops for both Roshar and The Cosmere as a whole
(-) The cast could have used some more compelling characters from the mainline novels rather than forcing less engaging characters into positions of importance. 
(-) The events of this story seem to be following a thread that runs in parallels to the more engrossing conflicts in the series' main plot
(-) The story relied too heavily on lore drops to drive my investment rather than having the events themselves be all that interesting outside the context of what was learned

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