‘Stormlight Archive’ series continues with gripping third book

  • Kirkus Reviews
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 Insight and Books
“Oathbringer,” Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s “Oathbringer” is an epic fantasy about the return of an ancient, world-destroying evil.

God is dead. And Odium, the god who killed the Almighty, is unleashing terrible monsters to destroy humankind. Dalinar Kholin has bonded with the powerful spren known as the Stormfather and led his people to the lost city of Urithiru, but his work is just beginning. Now he has to unite the nations of the world to fight the Voidbringers and prepare for “a millennia-old conflict of ancient creatures with inscrutable motivations and unknown powers.” Danger is everywhere, even in his own stronghold, where the highprince Sadeas has been murdered — unbeknownst to Dalinar, by his own son, Adolin Kholin — and in Dalinar’s own mind, where certain memories are missing. Meanwhile, Kaladin is looking for his family, and Shallan is struggling to live with what happened to hers. In this third book in the “Stormlight Archive” series, it feels like the plot is driving the characters rather than the other way around, but those characters are still rich and vivid, and the plot is still gripping and building toward another dramatic climax. Sanderson (“Edgedancer,” 2017) manages to tell a compelling story while raising questions about what it means to be a moral actor in a complicated world.

Fans of the “Stormlight Archive” series will enjoy this book, which brings back favorite characters and deepens a well-drawn fantasy world.

The disconnect of 9/11

“The American Quarter” by Jabbour Douaihy is a cross-section of life in one Tripoli neighborhood, from a wealthy resident to a housecleaner to a terrorist.

This brisk and affecting novel by veteran Lebanese writer Douaihy (“June Rain,” 2015) is set during the early stages of the Iraq War and follows three archetypal characters. Intisar is a housecleaner with four children and a listless, abusive husband who clings to memories of old rebellions. She meticulously cares for the home of Abdelkarim, the scion of a wealthy family who has recently returned home from France in a melancholy funk, initially for unclear reasons. But Intisar is more concerned about her son Ismail, who has recently disappeared and who she fears has joined with insurgent terrorists. It’s no spoiler to say that Intisar’s suspicions are correct: Douaihy tracks how Ismail “seeped out” of mainstream society, slowly transforming from petty criminal to member of a hyperconservative mosque to would-be suicide bomber. In the meantime, Abdelkarim reveals an early adulthood of struggles to toe the family line, ending an arranged marriage before heading for France, where he fell for a ballerina; and Intisar’s own complex relationship with Abdelkarim’s family (not to mention her husband and busybody neighbors) comes into sharper relief. As American intelligence operatives more aggressively monitor the neighborhood following Saddam Hussein’s capture, Douaihy suggests that outsiders might understand the area in broad strokes but miss plenty of important nuances, which has agonizingly divisive consequences. The novel is rooted in war and terrorism, but its overall tone is composed, at times even romantic and comic, more concerned with themes of disconnection than violence. Abdelkarim, he writes, “develop(ed) the feeling that the world was somewhere he was not.” It’s a common affliction for nearly everybody in this story.

This book is a brief but rich story of lives intersecting because and in spite of post–9/11 violence.

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