Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson is a novella set between Oathbringer, the third book of The Stormlight Archive, and the fourth, Rhythm of War. If you have not read Oathbringer, there will be spoilers for the previous books. You could read this on its own if you’re the type of intuitive reader to use context clues to figure out what’s going on, as it’s not that complicated, but it contains concepts and jargon that might take a new reader out of the flow.
If you’re only vaguely familiar with the series, it’s still an entertaining story. Dawnshard is a side quest. The main quest, The Stormlight Archive, is what brought us here, but a side quest like this novella is where we get the juicy tidbits of lore in a new location we wouldn’t usually see. The side quest expands on side characters we’ve seen briefly before, like Rysn, Lopen, and Cord.
Rysn is a merchant on her first real voyage, commissioned by Queen Navani on the ship Wandersail with a crew that is unsure about her and a small contingent of Knights Radiant. She is also a character with a disability. It doesn’t inform who she is, but the story does not ignore its impact on her life or how society treats her. She is not helpless. She is not to be hidden away nor ignored. Sanderson sums it pretty well with Rysn’s inner monologue early in the novella when people give Rysn confused faces as to why she’d want to be on the deck when she could be below deck where it’s safe: “Why, why, why? Why do you want to live, Rysn? Why do you want to better your situation?” Before now, Rysn appeared in interludes of the main Stormlight Archive books and, to be honest, never stood out much as a character. However, as I have learned from reading Rhythm of War, I can trust Brandon Sanderson to trick me into liking a character I previously didn’t. It seems to me that all it takes is time for Sanderson to find their voice, as he does with Rysn here. Her character is integral because, without Rysn, her mission, the crew’s survival, and the Knights Radiant’s mission does not succeed.
Rysn’s story has a well-written arc in Dawnshard, but Cord, daughter of Rock from the main series, was the breakout character I wanted to know more about when Dawnshard was over. Before this, we knew next to nothing about her character. Rock does not divulge much about his past, his culture, or his homeland. Cord, though there is a language barrier, is not so tight-lipped. Through her, we learn more about the Horneater mountains and the culture of the people who live there. She does not reveal all, and it only makes me want to know more about her culture.
Lopen, who usually serves as comic relief in the main series, becomes a multi-dimensional character here. Though he is often unconventional, his perspective shows the empathy he has for people, what leads to the decisions he makes to help people, and why he was chosen as a Knight Radiant at all. Like Cord, we learn more about Lopen’s family, his personality, and his motives, which are more thoughtful than our perception of Lopen as an oddball in the main series would have us believe. Though much smaller a role, Lopen leaves Dawnshard learning a lesson about his cheeky antics and does a bit of growing up.
One of the downsides of worldbuilding in fantasy is that you can create a vastly complex world that has places and people you may hear but never get to visit. This is where a novella like Dawnshard, and generally short stories set in the same world of a larger narrative, shines. Characters who don’t get enough time to find their voice do so, and places that only exist between pages of a larger story get to be the primary setting. For those who have followed Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, Dawnshard has significant implications that may not be necessary for the main plot. Still, it could have a lasting impact on the larger narrative of his interconnected universe of novels. However, for Rysn, Lopen, and Cord’s journey alone, this novella was worth reading.