Again, this is a pretty chunky book which means a serious investment of time. Chances are, if you are going to read this, you have already read The Final Empire and are used to making the investment. If you haven’t read The Final Empire, then go back and read that first. This is not the kind of trilogy where the books can work as standalone in my opinion. Sanderson works hard to make his characters nuanced, much of the groundwork of which takes place in the first book.
On the whole, Sanderson avoids that horror of the follow up: failing to balance the recapping and explanation. There were one or two moments when I thought it seemed a bit forced and clunky, but I wonder if that was because I read this so shortly after the first one. This only happened a handful of times though, which given the scope of the first book, is a pretty good average.
One of my favourite features of this particular book was the way Sanderson explored the growth of several supporting characters. Epic fantasy tends to have a wealth of cast to choose from, and in my opinion, Sanderson picked the best ones to take a deep dive on. Without spoilers, I have to say that Sazed was the character I enjoyed the most in this book. His personal growth, background and abilities were all moved forwards without seeming forced or detrimental to the plot in a way that made him completely relatable.
The plot itself was carefully constructed, but not in an obtrusive kind of way. Anyone who knows about Sanderson will also know that the writing craft is important to him. He does not believe that great books just happen. It takes hard work, it is a skill and he prides himself in making that happen. He is also very generous in sharing his knowledge and experience. So, reading this, I was aware of his general thought processes and approach, and was conscious of it on some level. For those who are not interested in the writing craft, I don’t think it will feel overly structured or forced.
The key test for the middle book in a trilogy is if it makes you want to read the next one, or if it kills the story arc too early. I’m not sure I enjoyed the book as a whole as much as the first, but the build up to the ending gained sufficient momentum to not only be satisfying in itself, but also propel me forwards enough to want to read the third installment.
Luckily, my sister (huge Sanderson fan) is bound to have a copy. Now, if I can just persuade her to hand it over…