I’ve always been a sucker for an enfant terrible. The Peter Pans and Pippi Longstockings of the literary world would be hugely annoying if they actually showed up in the real world, of course, but in fiction it’s a fun archetype. Brandon Sanderson‘s Edgedancer (2017) is all about such a character, and so consequently I had a great deal of fun with it. Readers with a lower tolerance for goofball ragamuffins might have a different experience (as per his usual, Sanderson is not content to merely toy with a trope, but totally commits), but I think that for most, this will be a charming read.
Edgedancer is a sidestory in the broader STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE series, basically book 2.5, and follows a couple days in the life of minor STORMLIGHT character Lift, a Knight Radiant in training. A street urchin and petty thief turned superhuman, Lift quickly makes an enemy of a man she calls Darkness, a black-clad lawman hell-bent on hunting down and exterminating people with abilities (like Lift herself). Darkness is frighteningly powerful and efficient, but Lift — in her own bumbling, chaotic way — might just be a match for him.
Sanderson’s plots are always solid, but he does particularly good work here. The condensed format of the novella seems to suit his style, and he delivers a taut, snappy adventure mostly trimmed of fat. Events are well-paced, conversations clip right along, and overall Edgedancer is a sharp, engaging read. Imagery and tone are typical of Sanderson’s work, which is to say that he keeps things light and doesn’t spend much time on elaborate descriptions, but there are a few scenes — notably one in which Lift encounters a new kind of being — that become surprisingly serious and detailed, though never at the expense of the pacing. Honestly, this is just a taut, fun little book so far as construction goes, with a few more intense scenes as the whipped cream on top.
The novella will live or die with Lift, however. This is really her story, not merely one where she happens to star, and a lot of the reader’s enjoyment will depend on how much s/he likes Lift and tolerates her antics. Personally, I quite liked the “whimsical trickster” schtick. Of all Sanderson’s characters (and I’ve read most of them by this point), Lift is the “comedic” character whose jokes most consistently land with me. That’s not to say that Sanderson doesn’t go too far sometimes. Lift occasionally gets close to the line separating zany from plain old obnoxious — dances the edge, one might say — but for the most part she’s a fun character for whom her author clearly has mountains of enthusiasm. I will say that Sanderson could perhaps have eased off on Lift’s use of slang, which has a disconcerting habit of dropping in and out from scene to scene. This is possibly meant to be an expression of Lift’s personality (she pretends to be less canny than she is), but if so feels unsubtle. That is, however, a fairly minor quibble.
Overall, Edgedancer is a well-crafted novella featuring a fun character and a fast-paced, interesting plot. Recommended.
As a final note, while the little adventure is more or less standalone (and Sanderson does include some material previously published in book 2, just to set up the character for new readers), the novella will probably be most enjoyable to readers who have already read The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. That’s not to say that a new reader couldn’t pick up the novella and have fun, but some of the world-building and references may be confusing without a grounding in the main series.