I've not posted in ages but I independently wrote up some thoughts on the book for a friend before reading any other spoilers or reviews. I figured it might be interesting for others to read them:
One of my problems with OB is that the book ended with a major character (Shallan) in a very vague state, making it very difficult to imagine how she could behave and come across in future. With RoW we instead end up with the plot in a vague state but I think that’s less of a problem - uncertainty in the plot gives you more to speculate about. But is there too much uncertainty? Maybe I’ll need to re-read a bunch of chapters a few times to really try to get a better sense of the situation.
If I’d vaguely summarise my thoughts on the books so far it would be something like this:
tWoK: highly entertaining and almost flawless - there’s almost nothing I think needs changing/improving.
WoR: extremely entertaining but has a couple of minor flaws.
OB: mostly rather average with a couple of good scenes, multiple major and minor flaws. Left me depressed about the direction of the series.
RoW: entertaining but the flaws I see really annoy me, even if they are relatively small. The flaws here leave me quite frustrated as I don’t think it was that hard to fix them.
So what are the major flaws I see in RoW: the main one is that the Shallan and Adolin arcs felt quite rushed - they needed more time / chapters. Just 6 chapters for 2 characters to get their main plot sequence and resolution is too little. They should have had perhaps 2 chapters in Part 3 to make their situation a bit clearer sooner (there’s no real justification to leave them out of Part 3) and a few more in Part 4 to really hammer home the seriousness of the situation.
While we really feel the depths of the darkness of Shallan’s side, it is somewhat undermined by the fact that her fear of betrayal (of people leaving her) was never really explained clearly. A simple solution for this would have been to make it clear that after young Shallan said those hurtful words to her spren, Testament simply vanished without Shallan understanding why and so Shallan feels that Testament left her because she was “bad” when instead it was due to Nahel bond mechanics. (Side note: present day Shallan should warn the spren not to bond children) We can infer this but we don’t really feel it. In short, it undermines Shallan’s plot arc that we have to guess why she was feeling the way she did in the first place - her central problem in the book is set on shaky ground.
The problems with Adolin’s arc are somewhat different but his situation feels a bit too light. While it’s nice to have more positive viewpoints as a contrast, it would have been better to have Adolin’s situation feel more serious and for him to feel more desperate. Kelek and some of the honorspren felt like ‘cheap’ antagonists. This weakens the payoff. It also feels like a shame that Dalinar never found out what was going on with Adolin.
There’s also a couple of minor flaws: Kaladin’s start in the book was a bit too repetitive and boring - I didn’t even want to read him. The overall ending could have done with a bit more follow-up - you feel a little bit cheated and left hanging. Soulcasting is still underdeveloped or explained. The Stormfather feels a bit too much of a gag character at times - alternating between going “that’s impossible!” to “I can’t do that” or “I can’t help you” a bit too much. In Part 1 Jasnah says she plans to make an announcement to free the slaves but there’s no follow-up, nor any follow-up to the slaves Shallan got in RoW (missed opportunity). At times it feels a bit too much like “The Mental Illness Archive” rather than “The Stormlight Archive”. Zahel vanishes after Part 1.
I don’t want to repeat it too much but I think a flaw that I started to see in OB has been carried over - characters rarely think about other characters unless they have an overlapping character arc. But that’s not how real people see things. To give a simple example, Shallan is now Dalinar’s daughter-in-law and sort-of Navani’s daughter-in-law but they never really give any thought about her. It just doesn’t feel natural. On a related note, chapter 12 was great but needed more.
That above complaints out of the way, there’s a lot to celebrate: Adolin finally gets a proper in-depth stand-alone character arc - a big story where it centers on him and not his relationship with others. While it didn’t quite feel right that Shallan wasn’t helping him more, the more she helped him the more that would have undermined his character. Essentially we needed to see that both were capable in their own way, even if Adolin needed some luck. I hope to see Shallan and Adolin become a real power couple in future. It also appears that my dream of seeing Shallan and Adolin traipse around the Cosmere having fun is going to happen.
The development between Adolin and Maya was very nice - Maya has a real “stand up and cheer” moment. It was obviously going to have some payoff and while it was predictable it was the good kind of predictable. Like when you get exactly the best possible presents that you could have hoped for at Christmas. Adolin wasn’t explicitly trying to revive Maya really, he just wanted to treat her well. Every time another spren disparaged his efforts it just made you want to see him succeed even more. But we didn’t get just that, we got some crucial information - that the spren who “died” in the Recreance were not victims. This could be taken as lacking in realism but them becoming deadeyes wasn’t what they expected though and had never been seen before, so perhaps that’s why they never warned anyone.
So where does Adolin go from here? While he doesn’t seem like a perfect fit for the Edgedancers, he’s certainly not bad. It’s not like there’s only one type of Edgedancer - while some were pure healers, others did fight. We’ve not seen that many fighters just yet. I don’t see any fundamental barriers to him becoming an Edgedancer. That being said, I did start to wonder - might we see Adolin bond spren from two different orders? Basically, he revevies Maya completely but before that happens he also bonds with another spren.
Who could that be? How about Notum? I mean, the guy totally stood up for Adolin in the trial and helped put a completely different dimension on the whole situation. Can you imagine Notum wanting to bond someone else? Not really. You can also imagine Notum wanting to help someone who might figure out a way to help revive his father. Adolin might not be the most conventional Windrunner but let’s not forget that both Shallan and Dalinar have seen him as a potential Windrunner - that could be considered foreshadowing. In addition, perhaps the energy gained from bonding one spren would help Adolin “jump start” Maya’s revival. After all, the power-up energy for Windrunners is special. Another possibility of course is that Maya will be fully revived by Dalinar but I feel it would be better for Adolin to achieve it on his own merit.
It will also be interesting to see where the relationship between Adolin and Dalinar goes from here. I can imagine the Stormfather being rather amazed at the possibility that the deadeye spren could be revived. That would also make a huge difference to the war if 100s or 1000s of dead spren could rejoin the battle. You would expect Dalinar in turn to be delighted - Adolin over delivered. I’d also hope that Adolin will gain some confidence from this. Maybe Dalinar will finally see that the best thing for Adolin is to let him be himself.
On to Shallan: We got a lot of developments that I hoped to see and some that I never expected. I had hoped for a bit more progress though. Still that “time to soar” line at the end is very promising - after effectively 2 whole books of Shallan being somewhat morose and inwards looking, it would be nice to see the kick-ass Shallan return and take center stage in her narrative. I didn’t pay to see two supporting acts (Veil and Radiant), I paid to see Shallan and we got precious little good quality Shallan time. This was very frustrating and the last thing I wanted. Hopefully we can get a decent amount in book 5 and finally have a truly epic scene from her to make up for all this.
Her final state is a bit unclear. Did she level up or not? It would feel kinda weird if she didn’t after admitting such a major thing about herself. I’m not sure why it would take (say) integrating Radiant for her to level up unless that comes with some even further backstory for her to admit to. (Talking of her backstory, it seems likely to involve the Ghostbloods somehow). That being said, it doesn’t matter much for this book since it’s not like she needed to do anything after admitting to the truth regarding Testament. Hopefully we can see some new Lightweaver powers in book 5 as there was nothing new in book 4 at all. It would also be nice to get a better idea of how Lightweavers level up normally since Shallan is such a special case.
One curious development about Shallan is that she will be able to use two Shardblades. But since she is not combat specialised that’s not very useful to her at all. That being said, if you’re going to “dual wield”, using a sword+shield combo is going to be much more useful than two swords, generally. I could also imagine this being particularly useful for Shallan - having much improved defence when she’s not especially experienced in combat would be very useful for her. I suspect the real benefit for Shallan is having a double-strength Nahel bond.
I’m not sure if Shallan has finally gotten the message that it’s okay to love herself. I guess she has but again it’s unclear. It has been her most central issue in the general sense - ie ignoring any specific traumas in her past. I can imagine that Shallan could feel like she has to leave Adolin if she has gotten into the state where she is terrified about others leaving her and I might have even speculated on this. Shallan has a lot of imagination and hates conflict (between people she cares about) and I could see her seeking out a place where she doesn’t have to be so afraid. However, it’s not clear how Shallan got in such a state in the first place. Perhaps she started relying upon Veil and Radiant too much when she wanted to hide so instead of dealing with issues properly she hid and the pain/fear started building up. After all, the more that Shallan hides away the more that Formless develops.
It’s also nice to finally get some progress on the Ghostbloods. It’s way overdue. I was very happy to see Shallan stick it to Mraize at the end. I was also amused to see Shallan telling Mraize to vacate Urithiru or else and the “of course you realise this means war” aspect since these are things I had thought about and speculated on before. Essentially, as soon as Shallan did tell Adolin about the Ghostbloods she would have to take this approach. It’s a shame we didn’t get a scene of Shallan saying this and asking Adolin for help. Shallan’s plot for book 5 seems pretty much set - find the gem with the Unmade and release it while beating the Ghostbloods to it. I’m not sure if Adolin will be a tag-along or doing something else. I wonder who Shallan will use that knife on?
It looks like there’s no real reason for Ialai to have trusted Shallan at the start. It’s still unclear why that happened, which is a bit annoying. It also looks like her little notebook wasn’t especially plot relevant and more about seeding the future possibility that Shallan will be going to other planets. I’d like to see Shallan go to Nalthis and be like “A language that is art? Challenge accepted” - would also be a nice place to go for a “honeymoon” with Adolin. Longer term might we see Shallan going to the Ghostbloods homeworld to finish them off for good? Seems quite likely at this stage, though obviously something for the 2nd half of the series.
On a minor note, I wonder if we’ll see any more contact between Shallan and Sja-anat. I doubt Shallan will be unhappy that the Ghostbloods didn’t get a spren. Will Shallan tell Sja-anat about her plans?
Kaladin was a lot better overall, apart from the first couple of chapters in Part 1. Essentially, until Dalinar removed him from combat I could barely stand to even read his chapters. From then on he was a lot more interesting. In a way, his arc felt closer to tWoK - dark and oppressive, but with real progress and a sense of movement, though with some obvious stumbles and mistakes along the way, with a final epic ending. However, the whole SFX extravaganza when Kaladin powers-up and how everyone seems to worship him feels a bit overdone. It’s wearing a bit thin for me - I suspect this is something that will work well for some but not for others.
To me, Kaladin is sort of the “classic” or “traditional” hero in the sense that his parts are more action orientated and more about him climbing up from the bottom. I very much felt this in tWoK. This is not to belittle him at all. What was great about Kaladin in tWoK was how well this character type was done - better than anything I’ve ever seen, by a mile. I also liked how his flaws were almost his undoing in WoR - very much like a classical Greek hero. However, his character/plot didn’t work as well in OB and I really couldn't stand him at the start of Part 1 of RoW but after again being knocked down to the bottom he rises again. And it was great and rather classic in many ways.
I like that it’s clear that Kaladin still has a lot of mental healing left to do. It also makes sense for him to need a sort of veterans association and forum to discuss their traumas. Szeth is perhaps the person who needs something like that the most, except it looks like he’s going to be going on his little quest with Kaladin. Maybe discussing his traumas with Kaladin will help Szeth, and perhaps Kaladin too. I’m not expecting Kaladin to reach 5th level in book 5, particularly since his Chosen One status seems to have been undercut.
Navani was a lot more interesting overall and despite some of my fears it worked out quite well. It was interesting to see all sorts of little nods to real science. That being said, it took a long time for her story to really get going and earlier on she felt more like a “fly on the wall”. I’m not that happy with her becoming the second Bondsmith (seems a bit too convenient for Dalinar) but it’s not the end of the world. Was nice to finally have Urithiru fully up and running at last and to have all that background detail.
Navani’s relationship with Raboniel was interesting. She’s sort-of the Fused equivalent of Jasnah in that she’s very smart, focused, a realist, willing to use underhand methods etc. I’m not suggesting that Navani saw Raboniel that way, just that’s the sort of person she seems to be. Navani finally got some validation and respect but she had to go through a lot of failure to get there. Raboniel initially comes across as straight from the “mad scientist” trope but I was glad she wasn’t developed that way and she felt very real and relatable in the end. Very dangerous still though.
I’ve struggled to like Dalinar since tWoK. He really depends far too much on using force of personality to get his way and gets little pushback. In tWoK he had Adolin to slap some sense into him and give him pushback but since then he’s largely been charging ahead and making mistakes and then complaining about it. It’s not like I found Dalinar annoying overall here and he does seem to be getting better and has belatedly realised he wasn’t as good a father as he thought he was but he does come across as rather entitled when he complains about not understanding his powers and then not doing all that much about it.
Lift didn’t get much in the way of development or page time. In the original plan she was going to go on the Shadesmar trip. I can understand why this wasn’t done in the end - she is definitely too young and unpredictable for a diplomatic trip. Still, I would have liked to see her and Shallan bouncing off each other - something I’ve been waiting for for a long time. Well, given that she now has a grudge against Mraize and Shallan is openly gunning for Mraize, she’d likely volunteer to go with Shallan in book 5 if it means there’s a chance she can get some revenge.
Jasnah got some development, though I wasn’t surprised by any of it. This isn’t to say that her chapters weren’t interesting or involving. However, I don’t think there was much pay-off for her chapters - they’re more like isolated incidents rather than some kind of character arc. Her relationship with Wit made a lot of sense to me but I was surprised that she wasn’t more paranoid about his intentions. I also wonder if we’ll see any obvious changes in Wit going forwards given what happened in the end.
Venli was interesting but she felt a bit disconnected to the main plots. Her personal arc only slightly overlapped with the other characters - it felt like more could have been done here. With the way she ended I’m not sure how much presence she’ll have in book 5 either. Maybe she’ll have much more of a presence in the back 5 books though. That being said, I liked her flashbacks with Eshonai - felt very nostalgic somehow.
Szeth had a muted role. He’s certainly dialling the crazy up to 10 (Ishar is 11). It doesn’t seem that surprising that he’s in such a bad place mentally. I don’t expect him to survive Book 5 but what will happen to Nightblood?
Overall thoughts: RoW definitely worked for me better than OB, at least so far. One of the “problems” I had with OB is that I wasn’t that satisfied overall and as I tried re-reading the book more to try to make sense of it my feeling of satisfaction got worse rather than better. So perhaps my evaluation will change over time with RoW too, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be thinking about it. After OB I felt rather burned so stopped thinking about the series much. While RoW has allayed most of my fears, I still don’t feel that excited about the series. The spark has gone, as it were.
That being said, I nearly cried more than once during RoW and my feelings were definitely running strong at certain points. The book definitely conveyed strong emotions and feelings. Unfortunately, one of them was a strong sense of “so near but yet so far” - Shallan and Adolin’s arcs in Part 4 could have been truly awesome with just a bit more work and it feels really obvious that they were rushed and came up short.
WoR also had flaws but they were more subtle. In terms of pure entertainment I think I would have enjoyed RoW about as much as tWoK if just the bigger flaws had been fixed. So overall, I can’t really say that the series is getting better.