REVIEW: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Please note: I don’t believe my review includes any spoilers for Rhythm of War, but to be safe: minor spoilers may follow.

Rhythm of War picks up events approximately a year after the finale of Oathbringer. The Knights Radiant have continued their war against Odium’s Fused and Singer armies though neither side has gained much headway. Many new Radiants are becoming familiar with their spren bond and powers. The former Parshmen, once slaves to humanity and now under the guidance of the immortal Fused, are still angry and bitter at their former captors. There have been scientific advancements on both sides as the next stage of the confrontation begins. This is where we rejoin the point of view perspectives of characters such as Kaladin, Shallan, Adolin, and Navani.

Rhythm of WarWe find out promptly what the main characters have been up to over the last year, what their current objectives are, and the effects that the warfare has had on their wellbeing. People suffering from and coping with mental illness is an important part of Rhythm of War with many struggling in the war-torn society. These include main characters such as Kaladin who is trying to cope with his battle shock and post-traumatic stress disorder, and Shallan with her multiple personalities. I’m no expert when it comes to such conditions but believe that Sanderson presents them in his narrative tactfully. It is intriguing to read about characters who are heroic, world-renowned and have legendary powers, and see how this pressure and responsibility can take a toll on them. This presents these characters as more human, relatable and creates deep empathy when reading.

A complaint that some readers had with Oathbringer was that it dragged in sections. Rhythm of War begins with some incredible, heated and action-packed set pieces. Some of these opening sections introduce key Fused figures, their powers, and objectives. These early moments also showcase some of the technological advancements for the Radiants which approach Steampunk territory. After the breathtaking start, I am afraid that certain sections of Rhythm of War drag in a similar fashion to Oathbringer. Most notably are some of Navani’s scholarly research segments. They are important and the payoff from them is completely worthwhile but those moments did negatively impact my overall enjoyment of this novel. I had to overly concentrate and read slowly to make sure I understood which was reminiscent of studying a science textbook.

Rhythm of WarComparable to the other entries in The Stormlight Archive, we are presented with flashback episodes again. This time it is that of Venli and Eshonai. These sections are the first flashback moments from a Parshendi perspective, excluding the prologue from Oathbringer. They are interesting and informative, filling in gaps to the narrative we already know but this time from the “enemy” perspective. The Venli in the flashback moments is presented as what seems like a completely different character to the present day version so it is intriguing to see how and why she changed so much. Knowing what happened to Eshonai at the finale of Words of Radiance, it was enjoyable to see how she got to that point. Her final moments and exchanges are really fitting and rewarding to read about. These flashback sections were fine, although I didn’t enjoy them as much as Kaladin’s in The Way of Kings and Shallan’s in Words of Radiance. I’d say they are on par with Dalinar’s in Oathbringer and are just as crucial to the overall narrative arc.

There are many, many elements and moments that I loved in Rhythm of War. I always adore reading about Bridge Four and this time we get to know more about members such as Dabbid and Rlain which was excellent. Travelling to Shadesmar again was great too, as Adolin and Shallan venture to the honorspren capital of Lasting Integrity. (I don’t consider this to be a spoiler as it is mentioned on the book’s summary section on Goodreads.) Also, finding out more about Adolin’s “sword” was one of my favourite parts. This time, we are given further insight into some of the main Fused players such as Raboniel, the Pursuer, and Leshwi which added to the story greatly. There are some brilliant set-pieces, dream segments, witty conversations, and duels and confrontations. One section, in particular, could be referred to as a fantasy version of Die Hard. The last twenty percent of Rhythm of War features, by far, some of my favourite moments from the entire series. The finale is outstanding and by the time I got to Wit’s epilogue I was completely out of breath and my emotions had been utterly bombarded. I cried quite a few times towards the end and there are a number of tragic moments that upset me to my core.

So, after about a month of only reading The Stormlight Archive novels, I have finally completed Rhythm of War. I really lost myself in Sanderson’s Roshar and this novel is another incredible entry in a stunning fantasy series. Some moments that happen throughout these pages will have the SFF scene discussing and debating them for months. Although The Stormlight Archive is due to be a ten novel series, I believe the next book will be the last of this era, making Rhythm of War the penultimate entry. Events are poised expertly at the end of this narrative for the next novel to be beyond exceptional. I’m sure this time in three years I’ll be re-reading this series again before the next book and I cannot wait. The Stormlight Archive is epic fantasy at a level that is rarely equalled.

I think we’re losing, Syl said. To a guy wielding something he found in Adolin’s sock drawer.

I received an uncorrected proof copy of Rhythm of War in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Brandon Sanderson, TOR Books and Gollancz.

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James Tivendale

James reviews fantasy books, is a pretty good pool player and likes the musical Hamilton.