This review is also available on my Booktube channel
Cover art illustrated by: Michael Whelan
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Stormlight Archive (Book #4 of 10)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 1232 pages (Hardcover)
Published: 17th November 2020 by Tor Books (US) and Gollancz (UK)
Brandon Sanderson is a storming genius. Rhythm of War is another scintillating masterpiece in The Stormlight Archive series—one of my top favorite series of all time, and easily the best ongoing series right now.
“Words on the page define men to future generations.”
I truly believe that the words contained in The Stormlight Archive will continue to establish the series as one of the most important series for epic fantasy. It’s been three years since Oathbringer was released, and there’s no sign of Sanderson’s name and fame disappearing into oblivion. It’s the other way around; Sanderson has gotten more and more popular within the past three years even though no Cosmere novels were being published within this period. And here we are once again, Knight Radiants. Rhythm of War, the fourth book in The Stormlight Archive, is here. At roughly 458k words, this penultimate volume to the first out of two sequences of the series is also the second biggest novel—the first being the 471k words of The Stand: Complete & Uncut Edition by Stephen King—I’ve ever read so far. However, one of the most important questions to ask about this book isn’t the exact word count of the novel, but whether it lived up to the ginormous expectations or not; to that, I’ll say it doesn’t, it surpassed it. The Stormlight Archive is a special series for me and many fantasy readers. Being in the fandom, waiting for each book’s release, seeing everyone being happy over its new release, and having each book exceeding everyone’s high expectations felt elating. Three of my co-bloggers called Rhythm of War their number one best book of all time, not just their favorite book in the series, but their number one favorite book. And although I disagree with this because I personally think Words of Radiance is superior and I’m just incapable of choosing ONE book as my top favorite of all time, but in my opinion, Rhythm of War definitely deserves a 6/5 stars rating despite some of its issues; who knows, maybe on future reread, this just might end up becoming my utmost favorite book in the series. Alright, let’s begin with the review. There’s a lot to unpack here. This review is spoiler-free, and it’s the longest review (3,700 words long; I have to cut 1,500 words off my review on Goodreads because it exceeded the allowed word count!) I ever wrote, but do note that I will mention the name of the main characters—I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention character names for this series—on this review.
“No army, no matter how clean its reputation, walked away from war untainted. And no leader, no matter how noble, could help but sink into the crem when he stepped into the game of conquest.”
For the first time ever in the series, instead of continuing seamlessly from where the previous installment left off, Rhythm of War continues a year after the end of Oathbringer. But first, in a similar fashion to the previous three books, Rhythm of War starts with a prologue that shows the Assassination of King Gavilar; this time we get to witness the event from the POV of Navani’s. It’s so impressive; I’ve seen this event happened four times now, Gavilar is on its way to becoming Uncle Ben and Bruce Wayne’s parents at this point, and yet every retelling of this specific incident from a different point of view managed to bring forth a different and crucial piece of information. There are also a few changes in storytelling structure being done here; each book in The Stormlight Archive usually begins a slow-burn that leads to an explosive middle and final section; Sanderson launched Rhythm of War with an early Sanderlanche that lasted for about 100 pages long, and this successfully created the best Part I of the series so far. Just within the first 20% of the book, Sanderson has started moving the many pieces of his stories incredibly well; heartbreaking scenes have occurred, the development in the power of the Radiants was demonstrated, and I was already emotional. I am that attached with the series, and the strongly evident themes of the series—family, conviction, friendship, honor, loyalty, cooperation—that returned once again successfully pierced my feelings throughout the entire tome.
“Without you, I’d be as dumb as a rock. And without me you’d fly like one. I think we’re better off not worrying about what we could without the other.”
But before I get to the core of why Rhythm of War, or The Stormlight Archive really, is so special, I would like to get my small grievances with the book out of the way first. I think the sooner you know about this, the better your reading experience will be. As you can probably predict, I genuinely loved Rhythm of War, but was it a perfect book? I will have to say no. Part III of Rhythm of War was the first time in the series that I actually felt that the book should’ve been shortened. I found several scenes in Part III to be a slog to get through. True, important events and development did transpire in this section, but the way the story is being written here felt repetitive, and frankly, too long for its own good. Plus, Venli & Eshonai’s flashback chapters, which started at Part III and lasted throughout the whole book, were just far inferior compared to the flashback chapters of the previous three books. To be fair, it is tough to write flashback chapters that rivaled Kaladin’s or Dalinar’s, and I’m going to be lenient about this.
“In a perfect world, no one would have to train for battle. We don’t live in a perfect world.”
Fortunately, these are small parts of the tome; the awesomeness of Part I, II, IV, and V remarkably overshadowed my issue with Part III. I’m not kidding; Sanderson showcases why he’s one of the most highly-praised storytellers in the genre right now. The answers he gave and the questions he repeatedly provided actually blew my mind non-stop. This ridiculously high level of plotting—especially if you’re caught with all Cosmere novels, but more on this later—can only be fully realized by the greatest of authors who actually know what they’re doing with their story, characters, and worlds with utmost confidence. The burst of mind-blowing revelations he forwarded to his readers in Part IV and V, and the rewarding feelings bestowed for our investment in everything about his books, are simply unforgettable. And THIS exhilarating consistency of high-quality storytelling that Sanderson constantly achieved has once again been proved with temerity here. How? His extremely well-written characters and world-building.
“You’re one of the best soldiers I’ve ever had the privilege of leading. You fight with passion and dedication. You single-handedly built up what has become the most important wing of my military—and did all this while living through the worst nightmare I could imagine. You are an inspiration to everyone who meets you.”
That quote above speaks volume. The characters here are inspiring to me. The Stormlight Archive is one of the biggest epic fantasy series of all time, both in actual size, and also the details and complexity of the world-building. Considering that each book gradually gets bigger and more complex, I believe that the series will end up becoming the most massive series of all time as time goes by. However, at its core, what drives the series up to the top of many reader’s fanaticism lists are the immensely relatable—and flawed—characters. Ever since I finished Words of Radiance, Kaladin Stormblessed has become one of my favorite protagonists of all time. This isn’t exclusive to fantasy novels, but out of all mediums of speculative fiction that I’ve experienced so far. And Rhythm of War somehow strengthened this notion further.
“Strength before weakness. He was coming to understand that part of his first oath. He had discovered weakness in himself, but that wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Because of that weakness, he could help in ways nobody else could.”
For the last decade, we’ve known that Kaladin is afflicted with heavy depression and PTSD, and despite them he fought and fought. But the amount and intensity of the mental torture he has to endure within this book were lunatic. And yet he continues to fight and help people the best way he can despite his weaknesses, and I am simply amazed by his journey. His feelings and pain felt raw and real to me, and from my perspective, he has become a real friend and leader that I understand. Also, on the topic of Kaladin, I would like to encourage people to be more compassionate. Depression is more pervasive in our society lately; for the past few years, I’ve seen several readers calling Kaladin being depressed and struggling through his depression as pathetic, and I must say that’s really too harsh. I’m not saying that you have to like his character, reading will always be a subjective experience after all, but if you already know he has depression and yet still call him pathetic for his struggle, I sincerely hope you don’t ever treat real individuals with depression that way. Additionally, if you want to read about main characters who are fearless and good at everything, you’re not getting one from The Stormlight Archive. I hope Kaladin’s story and the relationship he has nurtured with Syl and the crew of Bridge Four—which deserve their own book, by the way—throughout the series so far will inspire all of us to be more empathetic.
“For the men chatting together softly, the change was in being shown sunlight again. In being reminded that the darkness did pass. But perhaps most important, the change was in not merely knowing that you weren’t alone—but in feeling it. Realizing that no matter how isolated you thought you were, no matter how often your brain told you terrible things, there were others who understood.
It wouldn’t fix everything. But it was a start.”
This display of magnificent characterizations and development aren’t solely applicable to Kaladin, Syl, and the crew of Bridge Four. The biggest surprise for me was how much I grew to love both Shallan and Adolin’s story here. For those of you who know me, I think you know that I have mixed feelings regarding Shallan’s character development; to put it simply, I didn’t like how rude she was towards Kaladin in Oathbringer. But I might have underestimated Shallan’s difficulty in overcoming her past trauma, and now I have to admit that I’m thoroughly impressed and hooked by her story. This is hugely pleasant to me; I never want to dislike her character, and in this book, I actually wanted more of her and Adolin’s story. Her story was captivating, and the character development unveiled through her abilities were stunningly good. Then there’s also Adolin’s oozing positivity, optimism, and kindness which is purely precious, and this doesn’t mean that he’s not afraid to do the hard choice if it’s the right course of action. I absolutely loved their storyline; there’s no dull moment in Shallan and Adolin’s story, not even for one page. ‘Trial by Witness’ is one of my favorite chapters in the book, and their story arc contains some of the most wonderful and tension-packed scenes of the entire novel. And I’m so grateful that the almost-love-triangle subplot initiated in Oathbringer has been completely thrown away.
“No one ever accomplished anything by being content with who they were, Shallan,” Adolin said. “We accomplish great things by reaching toward who we could become.”
“As long as it’s what you want to become. Not what someone else thinks you should become.”
Then there’s also Navani’s impressive character development; I feel like this is more of her book rather than Eshonai/Venli’s, and I honestly wouldn’t mind having more of her being in the spotlight. It was super intriguing seeing her inspects and do research on fabrials, sprens, and most importantly, her interaction with Raboniel was one of the key strengths of Rhythm of War. I’m not kidding; Raboniel is not only Sanderson’s most well-written antagonist so far but also one of the best antagonists I’ve ever read. The dynamic and chemistry of their interaction with each other in the pursuit of science, truth, and knowledge were magically compelling, complex, humane, and fascinating to me.
“Anything you could measure was useful to science. But for these few blessed days, it seemed like time was not properly measurable—for hours passed like minutes. And Navani, despite the circumstances, found herself loving the experience.”
I could talk and discuss these characters longer if I wanted to, but this review has been long enough already, and I still have a few more things to talk about. My investment and enjoyment of reading the characters keep on growing as the series progressed; we’re in the fourth volume now, and there’s no sign whatsoever of the characters behaving out of characters. Even the smallest of interactions between each other sparked huge emotions in me. Only a year and a half have passed in the present timeframe since The Way of Kings started, but the development of the myriad of characters of the series have been immeasurable. The main characters are all flawed individuals doing their best to survive and save the people they loved, and the poignant impact exhibited in the final Sanderlanche—you know this is coming—of Rhythm of War was nothing short of meteoric. I won’t be elaborating further on the climax sequence; you have to experience it yourself. But know this, every time I finished a book in The Stormlight Archive series, I always feel like the cloud of darkness in my heart has been replaced with a clear azure sky of hope. After all, if these broken and damaged characters were able to stand up and fight in circumstances much worse than me, then I should be able to do the same thing in this relatively easier world. It’s easier said than done, no doubt about that, but it’s always possible, and it’s invigorating to be reminded of that.
“The best and truest duty of a person is to add to the world. To create, and not destroy.”
Sanderson creates stories and worlds for us to dive into, and I loved what Sanderson has done with the world-building expansion in Rhythm of War. Roshar, the Radiants, the Heralds, the Fused, Shadesmar, Surgebinding, fabrial, sprens, and so many more; a staggering amount of revelations were embedded into this gigantic book. We’re also immersed in the breathtaking setting of Shadesmar. This was so intriguing to me; in the previous book, Shadesmar felt like a gloomy and dark place. Not saying that it isn’t, but Rhythm of War showed that it is also a majestically beautiful place of wonder and magic; the scene depicted in the US edition cover art was utterly gorgeous. What I do appreciate most from the world-building, though, would have to be the increasing blend of fantasy and technology. I’ve heard from several fantasy readers who are fixed on the idea that fantasy should have as minimum technology—or maybe none—as possible in the world, and magic should have no rules at all; I disagree with this. There’s, of course, nothing wrong if a specific reader prefers that in their fantasy books, but personally speaking, I found this to be a limitation to the genre. Fantasy is a genre that’s brimming with limitless potential, and if done believably and fitting to the narrative, the combination of magic with science/technology can conjure exceptional results. And that’s what Sanderson achieved in Rhythm of War.
“If we slow down… the past catches up to us. History is like that, always gobbling up the present.”
Sanderson’s world-building has always been perpetually outstanding, that’s to be expected of him, but even with that belief in mind, Sanderson has outdone himself here on the world-building, or to be more precise, universe-building. Almost the entirety of the narrative in Rhythm of War was confined to two settings: Urithiru and Shadesmar. Please do not let this fool you into thinking that there weren’t a lot of revelations and information to learn about. A lot is actually an understatement; there’s SO MUCH content to unpack here, and if you’re caught up with all the Cosmere novels, well, you’re in luck, we’re finally at the crossroads where crossovers aren’t merely Easter Eggs anymore now. A lot of people have asked me whether it’s necessary to read the other Cosmere books before reading The Stormlight Archive. I usually suggest you have to read Warbreaker before reading Words of Radiance and Oathbringer. But now? Read Mistborn trilogy and Mistborn: Wax & Wayne series as well, or even better, just read them all; they’re all superb books anyway. I know that it can be a burden to have to read so many books if you’re in a rush to read this series, but Sanderson’s vision of the Cosmere pretty much will result in these crossovers getting more prominent as each respective series goes by. Sanderson is not just a world-builder; he’s a universe-builder, and Cosmere is his ultimate playground. Seriously, some of the most shocking events in this book were intensely exalting to me only because I’ve read everything in the Cosmere universe so far, and I hope you get to experience that as well.
“Talented or not, you cannot conjure for yourself a lifetime of experienced butchery through force of will. There is no shame in using the powers you have developed. It is not unfair—or rather, it is no more unfair when the most skilled swordsman on the battlefield falls to a stray arrow. Use what you have.”
One last thing before I end this review, I want to give my praises to the production value. I’ve mentioned on my YouTube Channel before that I don’t read many more physical books now due to limited spaces and budget. I tend to read more often from my Kindle now, but each physical book in The Stormlight Archive is irresistible to me; they practically have a living soul that demands me to spend my money on a physical copy. I mean, The US edition of Rhythm of War has its cover art illustrated by the legendary Michael Whelan, then there’s also the ultra-beautiful Endpaper arts (only available in the US edition) done by the always terrific Magali Villeneuve and Karla Ortiz. Last but not least, there are TONS of interior artworks illustrated by Ben McSweeney, Dan dos Santos, Isaac Stewart, and Kelley Harris. There’s no way I would be able to resist getting myself a physical copy for my library. For the first time ever in the history of this series, I read a book in The Stormlight Archive from my Kindle because I couldn’t wait for the physical copy to arrive. I am a believer that interior artworks matters, and if they exist in a specific book, they should be experienced through a physical edition if possible. I did feel that my reading experience of Rhythm of War would’ve been enhanced further by reading from a physical copy. But alas, it hasn’t arrived yet at the time of writing this review, and I know I would’ve suffered even more if I had waited for it to arrive before reading it. Anyway, I’m rambling; here’s four examples of the resplendent artworks in Rhythm of War:
Picture: Chanarach by Karla Ortiz
Picture: Envoyform by Dan dos Santos
Picture: Dagger by Kelley Harris
They’re gorgeous, right!? I’ll leave the rest for you to examine yourself. It’s always worth remembering that a lot of people played a role in bringing a book into its final state, especially for a book as massive as Rhythm of War. Kudos to all the people involved!
“Too often… those who write history focus on the generals and the scholars, to the detriment of the quiet workers who see everything done. The salvation of our people is as much your victory as mine.”
Congratulations, you have finished reading this review/short story. Feel free to include “Petrik’s review of Rhythm of War” as a part of your reading challenge. Following the footsteps of its predecessors, I’m willing to give the superlative Rhythm of War a 6/5 stars rating if I could; this is—for me—unquestionably another masterwork by Brandon Sanderson—one of the master storytellers in epic fantasy. The insanely challenging internal battles conflicts that the characters fought—whether in this book or the previous books—extensively reinforced the point that characters and superbly-written characterizations are the most vital element to my reading experience. The world-building of Roshar and Cosmere are both intricate and meticulously built, and Sanderson’s prose continues to be accessible and impeccably vivid to read. The Rhythm of War have been sung and orchestrated, but this doesn’t mean the time to hum the rhythm of peace has arrived. All the groundwork for the grandiose conclusion to the first sequence in The Stormlight Archive has been prepared, and I have faith that the fifth book in the series—slated to be released in 2023—has a great chance of becoming the undisputed best book of the series. Rhythm of War and The Stormlight Archive is a tremendous marvel for epic fantasy, and it is a series of a lifetime I’m grateful to partake in. Until the next book… Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.
“Since we all go to the same place in the end, the moments we spent with each other are the only things that do matter. The times we helped each other.”
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