The Stormlight Archive: Oathbringer
The voidbringers have returned and Roshar is facing the returning desolation. In response, Dalinar Kholin has refounded the Knights Radiant with our cast of heroes including Kaladin Stormblessed and Shallan Davar. In this third volume of the 10-book epic, Dalinar will have to face his past, Kaladin will have to seek out his family, and Shallan will have to investigate the mysteries of the former stronghold of the Knights Radiant before time runs out.
After three years of waiting, Brandon Sanderson gives us the third installment of his popular Stormlight Archive series, Oathbringer. Sanderson is most well-well known for strong and creative magic systems, such as what we see in his Mistborn trilogy, along with his interesting and complex characters. In my review of the first two books, The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, I was very upfront that these books were incredible and only got better as you progressed through the story. With such success, my expectations (like many who anticipated this book) were quite high. Did the book live up to the success and continue a strong story? Let’s dive in and find out!
Violence: As with the other books in the series, standard fantasy violence ensues, such as 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: Sanderson is known for being a “clean” author regarding sexual content, with no descriptions of sex, but the characters seemed to ogle each other a little more than the previous two books and make comments more than before. There is one minor homosexual character present in the story. Also, some of the images in the hardcover book can be suggestive.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Many of the characters drink wine. One character is depicted as having an alcohol abuse problem.
Spiritual Content: Oathbringer continues with its trend of having several different made up religions that resemble, in some form or another, a religion we may see in reality. The main one that the book focuses on is Vorinism, which is the closest to resembling a Judeo-Christian religion. Several characters question the religious institutions in place and their religious beliefs. However, these same characters still hold on to the idea that there may still be a God out there, but the current religions may have it wrong.
Language/Crude Humor: Very little, but there are some swear words, such as d*** and h***. However, most of the swear words in the story are reinvented curses like, “Storms!” or “You stormin’ fool!”
Other Negative Content: Oathbringer still follows some of the themes of ancient medieval society, where there is a caste system. Oathbringer does take a step forward in the story where the division between “light eyes” and “dark eyes” is not as much of a relevant issue for the story, but it still crops its head up in a few instances.
We also see how Dalinar Kholin helps his brother unite Alethkar and in the process we see how brutal war can be. We see how it can drive men to do some very terrible things and that loss from the war drives Dalinar to substance abuse and depression.
Positive themes: Just like the other books in the Stormlight Archive, we see our characters face their inner struggles and challenges from their pasts. One character has to constantly work through his past failures to come to terms with those struggles. We also see two characters become good friends who once thought little of each other. Characters also make sacrificial decisions for the greater good of all.
(This review will contain plot spoilers to the first two books in the The Stormlight Archive, The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. I highly recommend reading those two books before venturing further into this review. The GuG reviews for book one can be found here and book two here.)
Oathbringer was a complicated book for me. All in all, I greatly enjoyed it and I thought it was an incredible 1,000+ page read! Its greatest flaw is that it was just a half-step back from the first two books in the series, which oddly still makes it one of my all-time favorite reads! This serves as a compliment to the series as a whole if its weakest book is still among my favorite books. So while I think it wasn’t quite as good as the first two, I think it is still excellent on so many different levels!
Before I speak to where I felt the story fell a little short from the previous two, I’ll talk about where I think this book has its strengths — and that falls right into character development. I’ve raved about the series’ characters in previous reviews, but in this book, we get to see the characters interact with each other on a more personal level than before. I think that is because of where our story starts off. The Order of the Knights Radiant has been re-established with our main cast of characters, such as Dalinar, Kaladin, and Shallan, and they now have to work together to stop the coming desolation from the tower in the old headquarters of the Knights Radiant, Urithiru. While it is still a work in progress, they are now more of a team with Dalinar at the head on an equal playing field, putting aside social barriers and allowing the characters to more freely interact with each other.
Two character plot elements that I found particularly impressive were the flashbacks of Dalinar Kholin and the love triangle that develops between Kaladin, Adolin, and Shallan…
I’ll start with Dalinar’s flashbacks. As you may have become accustomed to with the series, each of the books focus on a different character and the reader gets to see what brought them to this point in the series. Dalinar is known as the “Blackthorn” in the series and we finally get to see why he earned that intimidating titleLet me just say, he earned it in every way possible. He devastates his enemies in ways that incite fear into any that oppose him. We also finally get to see his history with his wife, the mother of Adolin and Renarin. I won’t spoil any details, but their marriage is far from perfect. It was slightly personal for me because Dalinar struggles with his own ambitions and giving time to his family and as a husband, I have to think about that constantly, balancing my own career goals and making sure I give enough time and attention to my wife. I’ll leave it at that because Dalinar’s story is an incredible one to be read, not told.
The other relationship dynamic I enjoyed was the love triangle between Kaladin, Shallan, and Adolin. Let me first say, I have little patience for love triangles. Some people love them and that is great, it’s a common storytelling element, but in general, I have no patience for them. This triangle felt different, because it was the struggle between three people that all cared deeply for each other, but all had bonded and had to navigate the feelings they had developed for each other. They do it in a mature way, and instead of it being the girl going back and forth between the guys, they all take their time with it, process it, and do not act irrationally out of respect for each other. Both Kaladin and Adolin care deeply for Shallan, but know that acting out will not help the situation. What was even more interesting is that each had to face their own history through the process and in the end, discover a little more about themselves and who they are to be in this conflict. It was a subtle approach to a love triangle and I think Sanderson did it well.
Sanderson’s plot, objectively, and apart from the series as a whole was very enjoyable. I was sucked in the entire time, but when linked with the previous two books, it fell just a hair short. Now, does Sanderson still continue to build on his impressive world and make it seem even bigger and more grand as before? Yes, he brings in the other countries of Roshar in big ways and explains how they function as compared to what the reader is used to in Althekar. As someone who loved taking political science courses, I enjoyed how he wove other cultures into his story and how their government systems play into that. It was well executed!
Where I think the plot fell a hair short is the pacing. The flashbacks of Dalinar were all relatively strong with good dialogue and great action sequences, but the main story line was a lot of sitting and talking. I love moments when my characters can sit and talk, but it felt like that was all it was for hundreds of pages. Sanderson did a great job of making those slower moments build up to two huge moments and he made the character interaction interesting, but it was just too much sitting and talking. The first book was slow, but the reader had the fun of learning about a new world and story, and the second book had excellent pacing throughout. A little more activity during these moments would have helped make this book the best of three.
I will say one final thing about the action scenes in the book. The big moments I briefly mentioned above were some of the best of the series and they were page turners in every way! I was sitting on the beach as I was reading them, flying through these epic scenes and getting a sunburn in the process. I was thoroughly satisfied at the end of it all.
I would love to say more. I think the book did some great things with how it handled the religious systems in the book, how it managed some of the other relationships, and how it handled the enemy of our characters, but I think those are best left explored by the reader because they contain great plot twists and are fun to explore.
All in all, if you are reading this book, then you are probably sold on the series as a whole and the very slight step back from the previous two will not deter you from reading further. You are probably sitting back, not focusing on any negatives, and anxiously awaiting Sanderson to write the next book of the incredible Stormlight Archive.
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+Rich setting and world
+Deep magic system
+Strong character development
+Strong action sequences
-A lot of sitting and talking