|The Knights Radiant have returned, the war has ramped up, and the stakes are ever higher. Brandon Sanderson's acclaimed series takes a bigger and bolder direction as this beloved series expands in scope and size.
|November 17, 2020
After another three years of waiting, the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson’s extremely popular series, The Stormlight Archive has finally arrived. Rhythm of War (RoW) may be one of the most highly anticipated fantasy novels I have ever witnessed. The anticipation from fans was unbelievable, and I was surprised to see some non-fantasy readers excited for this novel as well. This speaks to the quality of the series because it has not yet been adapted into a TV series or movie to garner excitement. The series speaks for itself! The question is: Does Book Four live up to the hype and excitement? Let’s jump in and find out!
Violence: A moderate amount of violence. As with other books in the series, standard fantasy violence ensues: sword fighting, magic use on enemies, and large-scale battles. The violence isn’t too descriptive unless it serves a point for the plot.
Sexual Content: Very little. Sanderson continues his streak of keeping the story clean on this front, but there are a few innuendos. It is clear that several characters are sexually active, but nothing is described. There are no “sex scenes.”
Drug/alcohol use: Very little. Some characters drink wine.
Spiritual Content: Extensive spiritual content. In previous books, there was a lot of talk about the Vorin Church, which resembled a mishmash version of several true world religions. However, RoW notches it up; spirituality is ever present in the story. Almost all major characters struggle with faith and their personal beliefs, asking big questions about god and the spiritual forces that control Roshar. *SPOILER TO PREVIOUS ENTRIES* Our main cast is fighting a war against Odium, a god, although with limited powers. There are also two other gods who are discussed extensively throughout the narrative.*END SPOILERS*
Language: Very little, but there are some swear words, such as d*** and h***. However, most of the swear words in the story are reinvented curse words like, “Storms!” or “You stormin’ fool!”
Other Negative Content: While society still has a caste system to a degree, it is less present in this book. There is quite a bit more emotional trauma that is woven into the narrative, and characters sometimes respond in a negative way. We see the brutality of war and what it can do to the mind of an individual. There is also marital conflict embedded within the story. Nothing physically abusive, but certainly emotional abuse.
Positive Content: On the flip side to that negative content, there are some incredible moments where characters overcome trauma and choose heroism over succumbing to despair. The book handles trauma very carefully, and it is extremely well done. We see countless acts of sacrifice and heroism throughout the narrative. There are also some very cool moments where people put aside prejudice and choose to care for each other regardless of where they came from.
(This review will contain plot spoilers to the first three books in the The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and Oathbringer. I highly recommend reading those three books before venturing further into this review. The GuG reviews for Book One can be found here, Book Two here, and book three here.)
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I would be picking up Brandon Sanderson’s RoW. The Stormlight Archive is wildly popular, and it has become the favorite series of many, despite being incomplete. I think many fans, such as myself, who didn’t grow up with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books or wade into the complicated waters of Stephen Erikson’s Malazan: Book of the Fallen, are enjoying the experience of reading an ongoing mega-series. Fans are having fun speculating about where the series is going, coming up with their own theories and ideas for future books.
One of the common questions an author has to answer when tackling a mega-series is: How do I (the author) keep these books interesting, focused, and fresh all at once? One common issue is that a series can have a strong start, but the author never evolves the plot beyond what was said in the first two or three books, thus not keeping the story interesting or fresh. I believe, based on RoW, that was what Sanderson was trying avoid. He was evolving the scope and feel of his story. To put it simply, RoW just FELT different from the first three books and I think this was a good thing. I had some minor qualms, but overall, this work was impressive. I had a ton of fun jumping back into The Stormlight Archive.
Rhythm of War is big in scope,…
Ask anyone who has read RoW and they will say that we are definitely not in the Shattered Plains anymore… meaning, the scope of the story has expanded significantly from the first three books. To the credit of the third book, Oathbringer, we see the start of this expansion. In RoW, though, we are in a continent-wide war led by Dalinar and the re-established Knights Radiant.
This was one of my favorite parts of the book. While I loved the small, intimate setting of the Shattered Plains in Books One and Two or the calm of Urithiru in Book Three, the continent spanning war was exhilarating. I enjoyed being in other parts of Roshar, granted it wasn’t everywhere on the continent. Still, the FEEL was big, and the war was involving thousands and millions of people.
As any Stormlight Archive fan will know, each book features a set of flashback chapters centered around a particular character, or characters in the case of RoW. We have a flashbacks centered around Venli and Eshonai, our favorite and well-known Parshendi, or Listeners, as they are properly called. I didn’t think I would like these flashbacks as much as the previous books. Sanderson is now deviating from the main cast of characters, but I discovered that I really enjoyed the deep dive into the culture of the Parshendi and how it evolved. We knew some things about their culture from previous books, but never to this extent. I was surprised at how much I appreciated them. As for Venli and Eshonai themselves, well that is the perfect segue!
I really enjoyed the deep dive into Venli and Eshonai as characters. While they weren’t the most exciting chapters, they were fascinating. Mainly because we follow Venli so much throughout the main narrative. The flashbacks enhanced your understanding of Venli’s motives and thinking, particularly her guilt, which was important to what drove her character. This is the biggest credit I have to give to Sanderson, the actions and decisions of his characters ALWAYS make sense because he does an exceptional job of building them up. When they act out of character, he gives you a good reason to believe that deviation. For Venli, that backstory built upon on her decisions and actions in the main narrative. It was truly well done.
Now, as for the other characters, this was tough. First, I will say what I think worked extremely well and save the more divisive content for down below. Sanderson juggles and expands upon a much larger cast of characters. We dive into the perspective of Navani and Venli, plus others we know like Kaladin and Shallan. This is not all; we learn more about numerous other characters, as well. I think this parallels the book’s scope. Just like the setting is bigger, so is the cast of characters. If the war spans a continent, Sanderson cannot do this story justice focusing on just the original cast. This is not to say the Big Three (Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar) are not the central crew, but this tale deserves greater representation among its cast.
Kaladin continued to prove why he is my favorite character in The Stormlight Archive and possibly all of fiction. His POV moments were some of the most tense, emotional, and action-packed sequences in the book. Kaladin’s personality is consistent but not static. He is always evolving with new situations.
I will make one final comment and say, Sanderson balances all of these expanded characters beautifully. While I certainly have those I enjoy more, I still had a great time with all of the other people. Sanderson even made me like ones that I was more “meh” about, like Venli. Well done as always, Mr. Sanderson.
What I enjoyed the most in RoW, more than any other book in the series, is that the author tackled the emotional trauma these characters have been through, particularly the younger ones like Kaladin and Shallan. They had been through a lot before the books even started, and the events since have been equally traumatizing. These characters bear those scars. Kaladin bears the brunt of his “battle shock” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and Shallan battles her guilt, which led her to develop multiple personalities to protect herself. These are not spoilers; we knew the characters were starting to deal with these issues before RoW. Now, these issues have come to a head, and our characters have to deal with them.
It was a reminder to me that the Church is full of people who have had serious tragedy and emotional trauma. As a body of believers, we have to come together and bear the burdens of our fellow brothers and sisters-in-Christ. We cannot ignore these struggles. As someone who has had to seek counseling in my own life, I know personally the power the Church has in healing one of trauma. Sanderson boldly brought these issues to light in a piece of fiction and did it masterfully.
…but does it work all the time?
So, is RoW perfect? I would say no, but it was still an incredible book, as expected. The major drawbacks I found were mainly in the length and pacing. While the story was never boring, it had some sloggish moments, particularly the chapters devoted to Navani’s research. Some readers may find that content interesting… I did not; I skimmed those sections. Don’t let that deter you. The story remains interesting throughout, but you may have to muscle through sections that appeal to you less. I would also say the length was maybe a little too… long. I think Sanderson could have cut a few hundred pages and not lost much, which is why the pacing got sluggish at times.
My only other issue is that I missed my time with the core characters. Sanderson did the newer POVs wonderfully as I said, but I came to care a lot about Dalinar, Shallan, and Kaladin. While Kaladin got a lot of time, Shallan and particularly Dalinar did not get the time that I am used to. We know why the writer made this choice, but I think fans of the Big Three will feel they didn’t get enough page time.
Do I plan to read more books in The Stormlight Archive?
Oh yes, absolutely! This series is truly fantastic. The story is deep, fun, and epic. The action and tension are some of the best I’ve ever read. Sanderson consistently builds up his plot to epic moments that are true page-turners. I think this series will be one that sits alongside Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time as one of the greatest epic compilations of all time.
+ Larger scope
+ Deeply emotional
+ Expanded cast of characters
+ Incredible action and tension
+ Rich world and setting
+ Strong character development
+ Kaladin's growth
- Inconsistent pacing
- Some very slow moments
- Possibly too long
- Big Three (Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar) get inconsistent page time
The Bottom Line
Rhythm of War continues the strength of Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive. While it has some inconsistent pacing, Book Four is still an extremely enjoyable read.