In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.
Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.
Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together–and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past–even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.
Oathbringer is the third installment of The Stormlight Archive, Brandon Sanderson’s highly-acclaimed series set in the Cosmere. The story has major middle-book vibes, which makes sense considering this is a 5-book series. While it may not have the panache of the first two books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed Oathbringer. READER BE WARNED, SPOILERS FOR THE WAY OF KINGS AND WORDS OF RADIANCE ARE BELOW. If you have not read my reviews for the first two books, I recommend doing that first as there are continuing themes. You can do that here: The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance.
When I say “panache” I mean that books 1 and 2 of the series came through like a highstorm, with so much power as to be destructive and restorative at the same time. They were wall-to-wall action, almost never allowing the reader to come up for air, finishing in fabulous style with the way everything culminated at the end of Words of Radiance. And to that I say: take my breath away. I do not need it, for the stormlight will sustain me. Oathbringer, by contrast, is a very typical middle book (if anything Sanderson writes can be called “typical”), more gambit than check chase.
With the coming of the Everstorm and many secrets unlocked, Dalinar, Kaladin, et al are resetting and learning a new way of life. The main protagonists have all evolved and are occupying the ancient city of Urithiru, and the Parshmen have been freed. All of the players are moving pieces around the board, searching for an opportunity to put their opponent into zugzswang. This is a long series, and as a reader I enjoyed the break from the constant war, death, and destruction of the first two installments. The way Oathbringer is written, it gives the reader many opportunities to survey the scene, learn more about Roshar, its people and history. One way Sanderson accomplishes this is with flashback narratives, which is an underrated aspect of this series.
I do not believe I mentioned this in my previous reviews, so this is a great time to do so. From a writing perspective, flashbacks are hard. If they are going to take my interest away from the main storyline, they should not overwhelm, but at the same time need to be relevant and interesting. This type of narrative can be a detriment to a book if not done well, but when an author finds a balance it can be a boon. That is exactly what Sanderson has accomplished with this seres, as the flashbacks were phenomenal in providing supplementary information, focusing on first on Kaladin and Shallan in the first two books and now Dalinar and the Parshmen in Oathbringer. To me, this provides even more depth to a series that is already overflowing with it. I think that is a good thing, as a story can never be too deep (watch Sanderson take that comment and run with it – not that the encouragement is all that necessary).
Another great aspect of Oathbringer is that it really ups the ante for the rest of the series. In the first two books there is a lot of standard warfare, introducing the reader to many of the players and how their powers work. It was a really exciting start, but Oathbringer has a different feeling. The Big Bang at the end of Words of Radiance put the pieces in place to rebuild sections of the story. It is much slower than the first two books, working to a longer crescendo. At the same time, the world is entirely different now. Because the it has changed so much, and because everything is going through a bit of reset, the reader is able to learn so much about this new-age right along with the characters. And that really is the brilliance of Sanderson’s writing overall (as I have come to find), which is that is feels so interactive as the reader is able to experience every event right along with the characters. That feeling of immersion has often been what has made this series so unputdownable, and Oathbringer taking a different narrative path than the first two books in the series is helped by this immersive atmosphere.
Here is the thing about the ending: I cannot talk about it. In typical Sanderson style that crescendo that has been building culminates in an unbelievable way. It is easily the best ending of the first three books, and that saying something because I felt that way about each subsequent book in the series. The fact that Sanderson continues to up the ante is impressive, and I left this book with my jaw dropped.
While Oathbringer is incredibly well-done, there was one detraction I want to mention. Certain events (small[ish] ones, none of the big reveals) felt rushed to me. There is a scene at the beginning of the book that felt that way to me (if you read it you will know what I am talking about), and a few others like it along the way. I know it is hard to say in a 1,000+-page book, but I would have preferred to ruminate on certain events for a bit. It is a bit of a weird thought because Sanderson at times can be the King of Rumination, so take those words with a grain of salt.
The Stormlight Archive continues to be absolutely fabulous. Oathbringer is another phenomenal entry into the series, and yet again gets my highest recommendation. It has set things up for what I expect to be an amazing second half to the series, and I am very much looking forward to Rhythm of War.