Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson


"What I do is me: for that I came."
Feb 14, 2020
Dawnshard is a companion novella to Sanderson's Stormlight Archive, taking place between the events of Oathbringer and Rhythm of War. It is mainly the story of Rysn, a peripheral character who featured in a series of interludes woven throughout the main books, as she travels to uncover the mystery of the long-abandoned (and possibly cursed) land of Aimia. Among those accompanying her on this journey is the Lopen, a Knight Radiant who was one of the original members of Bridge Four.

Dawnshard is slightly difficult to review, as it relies heavily upon the reader being caught up on the history and events of previous Stormlight books (in contrast, I thought the previous Stormlight novella, Edgedancer, could be enjoyed with relatively little prior knowledge of the ongoing series). Unlike Edgedancer, Dawnshard wastes no time explaining things such as weather patterns, recent history, or underlying world hierarchies, taking it for granted that the reader already knows these things and focuses instead on shedding light on previously less-explored worldbuilding elements. This makes sense if you know that the novella was written as a stretch goal for a Kickstarter for The Way of Kings leather bound edition, as most (if not all) contributors to that Kickstarter can be expected to have a foundational knowledge of the world of Roshar.

The novella itself is split between two viewpoints: Rysn and Lopen. Although the viewpoints are split, the story is almost entirely Rysn's, and Lopen serves mainly to support her arc while giving the reader a viewpoint to certain events. Rysn is journeying to Aimia under the orders of the new Knights Radiant, but she also hopes to discover a cure for her pet larkin, Chiri-Chiri, who has acted lethargic in recent months. Rysn's story is also about her continuing to deal with a disability: she lost the use of her legs after an accident during a previous adventure. Much of the journey to Aimia explores Rysn's feelings about her lack of freedom and her attempts to find new methods of transporting herself without aid.

Rysn's emotional journey is the main selling point of the novella, and Sanderson does a good job with it. Rysn's voice is at times too perfunctory about her emotions as she will often just say how she feels, and this occasionally creates a small barrier that prevents the reader from being fully immersed in her struggles. Overall, Rysn is a worthy protagonist and her unique outlook gives the novella a sense of freshness that it otherwise lacks.

On the other hand, Lopen's viewpoint does little with his character. Lopen is a fan favorite among readers of the Stormlight Archive, and the chance to see things from his perspective is at first exciting, as we are inside the head of one of Roshar's more unique characters. However, each subsequent Lopen scene carries with it a sense of sameness as no new insights are gained; in addition, Lopen has no real character arc until the very end of the novella. The last two chapters told from Lopen's perspective deliver an in-world advancement for his character, but previous sections had not even hinted that this was something he was actively pursuing or was lacking.

The story itself is well told (albeit a tad formulaic), although some plot developments are solved with a succession of hand waves--such as Rysn's convenient knowledge of a nearby tribe of people who trade for a very specific thing that would have otherwise been an insurmountable obstacle (these solutions eventually serve as pieces of Rysn's overarching character journey, but they stretch belief by themselves). Obvious early beats pay off in obvious ways in the later parts of the novella. The antagonists, though they possess interesting powers and a strange anatomy, ultimately come off as disappointing, with simplistic motivations and a flat "representative" character.

If you are up to date on the Stormlight Archive, Dawnshard is a competently crafted novella that will reward your knowledge by giving you a better understanding of some side characters as well as hints about the deeper lore of both Roshar and the Cosmere. It is not a starting place for someone who wants to see if they'll like the series before committing to the mammoth The Way of Kings (for that, I would recommend Edgedancer, the first Stormlight novella, as it tells an engaging, self-contained story while giving readers a light crash course in the world of Roshar). I would recommend Dawnshard only if you are an avid fan of the Stormlight Archive who wants something to tide yourself over with until the fifth book comes out; in my opinion, it can be easily skipped if you are not deeply invested in the series, as you are unlikely to miss out on anything that will be important in future novels.
I had no idea this even existed! Appreciate your insightful but not-too-spoilery review. I'm enough of a world-building nerd to buy this just to get a look at Aimia at last, even if this isn't some of his best work.

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