After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.
Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength.
At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure.
Rhythm of War is book #4 in The Stormlight Archive series, and, in my opinion, the most balanced of the series so far. The first two books (The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, respectively) are action-packed, while Oathbringer (book #3) is much slower-paced and more about character development, world building, political intrigue, and moving pieces around the board. Rhythm of War contains both elements equally – half action and half slower-paced intrigue – and is another great entry into a series I consider to be a modern classic.
You can read my reviews of the first three books in the series here: The Way of Kings; Words of Radiance; Oathbringer.
I have really struggled writing this review, because there is not much more to say about this book than I have the previous three. A cast of deeply-flawed characters that are easy to root for? Check. Amazing world building with a deep history? Check. An engaging, tension-filled plot packed with emotion and wonder? Check. Multiple storylines with many twists, turns, and reveals? Double check. An ending leaving the reader both satisfied and intrigued for the next book? Triple check. So, yeah, I loved it just as much of the rest of the series. I did mention I think this book is the most balanced, ramping up from Oathbringer‘s chess match and getting back into the action. This is fine by me, as I think Sanderson’s ability to be successful in both types of writing is nearly unmatched.
Character-wise, for the most part they have all kind of continued on their individual journeys as planned. All except for Shallan. To me, Shallan’s story is the real crux of Rhythm of War. I was actually really worried about where her narrative was going. As usual, I am careful not to get into too many details so as to not spoil the book for anyone, but there were many directions the author could have gone with Shallan and her affliction. In the end, I was really happy with where she ended up and how she impacted the overall story arc. Her story is quite moving, and after three books I really have come to care for her (just as I have the other characters), and as such I get worried about her fate. It is quite the emotion-envoking journey, and I was satisfied with where Shallan landed, ultimately.
The other thing aspect of the story I wanted to address are the themes, and I am surprised I have not done so by now because this series really shoves them down your throat (in a good way). The overall theme is Power, and that is really addressed in all of its forms. There is Imperialism as it manifests with one people conquering (or attempting to conquer) other peoples. This theme is also addressed as Power Structures within the different warring armies and societal structures, and it is not the same everywhere. I thought that was really interesting, because it would have been easy for Sanderson to present these Power Structures as the same for all peoples, but the author chose a more difficult route when detailing this theme within the humans, Parshmen, singers, Fused, etc. It gets really complicated, there is a ton of nuance there, and I was happy with the amount of thought that was put into it. The biggest impact of Power on the story, though, is in how the Knights Radiant evolve. Say the words. AmIRite? Every time this came up, I pictured a Saiyan breaking the barrier and getting ready to go Super (we all remember the first time we saw that, right?). It is an intense scene, and there is so much emotion because, as I understand it, the beings that grant these powers want to make sure the beneficiary is going to use the power for good. But also it seems as though they want to make sure this person has also gone through enough tribulations to be worthy. That is one of the biggest tension-building aspects of the work is waiting for that upgrade, waiting for the words to said, wondering when it is going to happen. The other themes that are present in the story are love, family, team work, persistence, and other related qualifiers. That sounds cheesy, but it is just another nod to Sanderson’s writing that it does not come out that way. The author effortlessly blends these themes into the story and dialogue without pause.
Overall, I am ecstatic I have read this series. While we are only 4 books in, for me The Stormlight Archive is genre defining. And, yes, I know the fantasy genre has existed for quite a long time, but this series elevates it to a new level with new rules. Brandon Sanderson has raised the bar with with this series and has created something that all other fantasy writers should aspire to. The author tackles every aspect of story-writing with a deftness that is difficult to emulate. From the phenomenal world building to the incredible characters and stories filled with emotion and tension, I cannot find the words to explain how amazing it is. The Stormlight Archive has easily become one of my favorite series of all time, and there is still one book to go. Rhythm of War is the perfect penultimate installment, but I am already anxious thinking about how long the wait is going to be until the finale. I am going to have to find some other books to fill that space in the meantime. Until then, I cannot recommend Rhythm of War, and the Stormlight Archive, enough.