Rhythm of War is hands down my favorite book of the year, and I’ve read some truly incredible books over the course of 2020. At the moment, it’s also my favorite fantasy book I’ve ever read. That title has been held by The Name of the Wind for over a decade, but in Rhythm of War Sanderson has usurped it.
Humans are a poem. A song.
For ones so soft, they are somehow strong.
For ones so varied, they are somehow intense.
For ones so lost, they are somehow determined.
For ones so confused, they are somehow brilliant.
For ones so tarnished, they are somehow bright.
The thing that sets Sanderson apart from other fantasy authors in my mind is his phenomenal world building. There is no other author who can evoke such vibrant and absorbing images in my mind as I read. When I pick up a Sanderson book, I feel like it completely transports me, and like the real world doesn’t exist while I’m nestled between the pages. His worlds are so tangible and easy to visualize, and no world exemplifies this better than Roshar. Sanderson is also exceptional at crafting magic systems. Every single magic system in his Cosmere is captivating and cinematic, which is doubly true for the Stormlight Archive seeing as the magic system varies so vastly from person to person. There’s a science and a method to each system that makes them believable. Even with the magic system of Roshar, which seems almost religious in nature, there are rules that make sense.
“We need to remember the past.. We need to remember what we passed through to get here.”
Character development is yet another area in which Sanderson truly excels. So much of the plot in this installment revolved around divided minds. Whether that divide is between light and dark, or intellect and emotion, or the division involves hiding from the truth or the past behind a self-created fiction, almost every perspective character is dealing with an internal division of some sort. Some of these struggles are more evident and dramatic than others, for sure, but a giant part of the development for any of these characters is learning to forgive themselves and accept themselves.
“Some people charged toward the goal, running for all they had. Others stumbled. But it wasn’t the speed that mattered.
It was the direction they were going.”
I love what Sanderson conveys through his characters about the differences between empathy and sympathy. Even when we can’t understand what someone we love is going through, such as clinical depression or another mental struggle, we can still have empathy. We can still care deeply and be there for them without being able to grasp what they’re feeling. He also reminds us of the importance of having that kind of empathy for ourselves. We’re always our own worst critics, and the characters in this series exemplify that.
“Had she done harm without realizing it? Possibly. Had she made mistakes? Certainly. But she’d been trying to help. That was her journey.”
Rhythm of War also deftly addresses inclusion and prejudice. Whatever our differences physiologically, ideologically, or psychologically, we should still be able to respect one another and treat one another with dignity. Common ground is great when it can be found, and I think it should carry far more weight than our divisions. But common ground shouldn’t be necessary for us to treat other people like, well, people. That comes into play a good deal in this story.
“No one ever accomplished anything by being content with who they were… We accomplish great things by reaching toward who we could become.”
Honestly, there is an astonishing amount of philosophy woven into this entire series, and that makes the entirety of it more meaningful to me. The blending of philosophy, religion, and science in this particular installment is absolutely fascinating. The character development is second to none, the world building is insane, the pacing is solid and the action sequences are captivating. These are all building blocks of a great fantasy series. But that extra deep dive into the crossroads of science and religion? The graceful handling of mental illness and societal failings in a way that never weighs down the story itself? Those elements are what lift Stormlight Archive from great into the realm of near perfection, in my eyes.
“Never underestimate the strength of a soldier trained to stand fast.”
“Never underestimate the simple intimidating force of a man who won’t back down.”
“Never underestimate the worth of being willing to hold. Your. GROUND.”
Music is and has always been my thing. I’m insanely bookwormy, but if I had to define myself to quickly to others, I would call myself a musician first and a reader second. Melody and lyrics are the ways in which I most capably express myself. Because of this, I should have been more excited than I was about Rhythm of War based on the title alone. But I thought I knew what that title referenced and, while ecstatic to revisit the world and characters I have come to love with my entire heart, there was something about that title that dampened my enthusiasm just the tiniest bit. I should have known better. Sanderson completely surprised me in the best way when it became time to reveal the source of the title. That particular element of the plot is in large part why this is now my favorite Stormlight novel. I can’t say anything more about it without spoiling what I view as an incredibly important plot point. What I will say is, if you’re someone whose life has been defined by music, there’s going to be some special resonance here for you.
“What is a secret but a surprise to be discovered?”
Sanderson fans have coined the term “Sanderlanche” to describe the insane epicness of how he brings all of his plot points together. There were multiple little Sanderlanches mixed into this book, and each and every one of them was incredible. Every single one packed a huge emotional punch that I found very, very satisfying. Then there was the giant Sanderlanche. I lost so much sleep, y’all. I read the last 300 or so pages in one sitting because I was physically incapable of putting it down. It was almost infuriatingly good. I’m constantly blown away by Sanderson’s imagination, work ethic, and craftsmanship.
“Our weakness doesn’t make us weak. Our weakness makes us strong. For we had to carry it all these years.”
If you’re invested (ha) in the Cosmere, this book is going to bring you a little something extra. In the pages of Rhythm of War, various stands of the Cosmere start tying together. I found this almost as exciting as the plot and character development. However, if you’re not caught up on the Cosmere and have only read the Stormlight Archive, you’re still going to be able to enjoy this without feeling lost. But if you’re a lover of Easter egg hunting in your media consumption, you’re in for some serious fun.
“Honor is not dead so long as he lives in the hearts of men!”
In my opinion, there has never been a better time in the history of publishing to be a fantasy fan. And for me personally, that is in large part due to Brandon Sanderson. His work captivates and inspires me so much, and I can’t wait to see where he takes his readership next. Is it too soon to start counting down the days until Book 5? But in the meantime, I’ll be reading whatever he puts out and rereading what he’s already given us. If you’re looking to escape from reality for a while, and would prefer to do so in a way that will lift you up emotionally and feed your soul, there’s no author I’d rather recommend.
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