Tress would be content to stay at home on her tiny island forever. It’s safe from the deadly spore sea and her life is hard but fulfilling. Plus, no one is allowed to leave, so what would be the point of imagining life off the Rock? Only now, Tress has a reason. Her truest friend is gone, kidnapped by an evil sorcerous, and no one cares enough to rescue him except her. All she has to do is illegally escape the island, sail through deadly seas to even deadlier seas, and then defeat the most powerful woman in the world. Simple, right?
This is the first of the four secret novels Brandon Sanderson announced last March. It’s set in the Cosmere, on a planet that previously had no stories attached to it, containing a spore-based magic system that has been tangentially referred to in a very, very vague way. I don’t know that this novel will be particularly relevant to the whole of the Cosmere, but it was definitely worth reading. Will it be a favorite? No. Did I enjoy it? Mostly.
The part I didn’t enjoy is easy to sum up. There’s a character in the Cosmere named Hoid who hops around to different worlds and shows up in every single book. He’s got a larger part in the Stormlight books, and will eventually share his own story, which will be very important. However, I find Hoid extremely tedious as a character, if I’m honest. He’s got a forced whimsical kind of personality, overly crass and immature, like dealing with a middle-school boy except that this particular middle-school boy is millennia old and incredibly wise if and when he choses to drop the whimsical act. Normally, I don’t mind him so much while reading through a book because he only shows up in small doses. Unfortunately, he’s the narrator of this book. There are times when the narration gets caught up and almost feels like normal, third-person POV, but then it careens suddenly back to first person as Hoid brings in jokes, unimportant observances, and whatever other whimsy he chooses. It drove me crazy.
Other than Hoid, though, I loved the book. Sanderson does so well with personal transformation stories, and found families, and the development of magical systems. The spores were sooooo fascinating here and I do hope we get to learn more about them. Tress herself undergoes so much change, from content and unquestioning into a powerful and commanding figure no longer willing to just accept things as they are. Her search for her friend really becomes a search inside herself, told parallel, crashing together into potential conflict throughout the book. It was wonderful.
Oddly for Sanderson, I wasn’t taken by surprise this time around. I had very early suspicions about what was going to happen in Tress’ journey, and they seemed so obvious that I thought there was no way I could be right. Sanderson never takes the obvious route! And yet, either he tricked us all by doing the obvious thing, or I’ve just gotten wiser to his ploys. I’m guessing it’s the first one, because I’m still sure I’ll get smacked upside the head multiple times in future books, heh.
Performance: This book is read by Michael Kramer like many of Sanderson’s books. Funny thing – I could always tell when the narration was about to veer back into Hoid’s whimsy by the changes in Kramer’s vocal inflections as he read. Ha!