I finally finished this last night at 1:30 am, and I have to say that Row is, without contest, my least favorite Stormlight Archive book.
I've never cared much for Navani, and honestly her "I'm no scholar" line was as tiring and fatiguing to read as Nynaeve's incessant braid tugging in The Wheel of Time, or Perrin perpetually explaining how this tricky situation is like a locksmith's puzzle.
Imagine my horror when I realized that a seemingly unique and interesting villain, Raboniel The Lady of Pain (or rebranded The Lady of Wishes), is really just a life coach for Navani.
This book suffers most severely from an extreme lack of fantastical detail. Brandon is a great writer, but his strength is not in creating fantastical places. His default descriptions for architectural forms are boxy or box-like. The majority of the book took place in the mythical tower city of Urithiru, the Ancient Fortress of the Knights Radiant, and with the exception of the detail of the Atrium, it still feels like a largely unfleshed out space. It's basically a city, and in the book there were really only 8 locations, the atrium, the pillar room, Navani and Raboniel's study, Kaladin and Lirin's surgery room/house, the model tower room (which conveniently became the place for the father of renegade Windrunner and personal attendants of the Last Listener to tend to the comatose Radiants), the breakaway market, the conference room, the Oathgate Platform staging area, and the Teft and Kaladin hidey hole. Tashik in a short novella felt like a more fleshed out space than Urithiru has in 2 books!
Shadesmar continues to be underwhelming, so sad about this really, especially with the very nice Michael Whelan art. Most of the time in Shadesmar was spent on a "box-like" barge sailing over a uniformly boring sea of beads, or in the "boxy" fortress of Lasting Integrity, with the one concession to the fantastical setting being the MC. Eschcalators, walls that you can walk up. But then again there's nothing interesting described on the walls that make it worthwhile walking up, so yay for walking on walls. Also the trial takes place at the forum, but other than the detail that their is a seated section and a standing gallery you really aren't given any description of the setting. I was incredibly interested to see what one of the largest spren cities looked like and see some of the details of how living ideas live, but the honor spren were just props for Adolin's show trial.
That's one of my major complaints, this book more than any other in SLA has canned situations setup to showcase how wonderful the characters are. Characters constantly telling protagonists how amazing what they are doing is, this is basically the author trying to lead you to certain conclusions. Admittedly Adolin is very sweet to Maya, but I got tired of all the side characters gaping at what his deadeye could do. Bravo Adolin, bravo.
My biggest beef with RoW though is how implausible everything is and how stupid the plans that the characters come up with are. Urithiru is occupied, yet Kaladin can still move around pretty much wherever he wants, he just has to be careful. Raboniel was spying on the communications between Navani and the Sibling, but respects Navani's privacy when she is communicating with Kaladin? Dabbid, because people think he's slow, can go wherever he wants with supplies, fabrials, etc. even to the routinely unoccupied portions of the tower. This seemed slightly plausible after the initial occupation, but with Urithiru controlling the Oathgates, Odium should have moved the majority of his forces to the tower, and with the renegade Radiant being Kaladin Storm blessed it seems like they would at the very least be watching Navani, her scholars and Kaladin's family to try and figure out his whereabouts, and have setup a better network of checkpoints. But Odium in this book (and in Oathbringer really) is a pretty seriously stupid bungler.
Then there's Venli. Voice to Leshwi, ok, kind of convenient but I'll buy that. Taken by Raboniel to the tower as her voice, hmm, less plausible but OK. Given essentially free reign, oversight of the recovering Knights Radiant, oversight of the traitorous Bridge 4 listener (who can likewise move around unimpeded), that stretches the skein of plausibility to the breaking point. Oh wait, here's a blank writ from The Lady of Wishes that she could maybe use to sneak the comatose Knights Radiant out of the tower with. Snap goes the skein of plausibility. Once again, the tower feels empty, not enough troops, and far too easy for Kaladin to traipze around in. It bothered me a lot that the big plan to with the baited trap of the Third shield node to kill Kaladin was to have the purser chase him, and then after he took out the completely locally undefended node, to trap him in the well with a bid a big lid that a bunch of singers sat on. That'll show him. Great plan guys.
I love Brandon's magic systems, and I really like that there is a scientific basis for them, but I feel like he's moving away from the highly successful mistborn approach and early SLA approach, where the solid basis for the magic is built into the magic system and the use of the magic by the protagonist is described in a way that conveys the realism of the system. With RoW and especially with the explication of the metals that control fabrials, he's gotten bogged down in the minutiae of his wholly fictitious schema, in a manner that I find tedious and completely uninteresting. You can't theorize, you can only speculate about what the ramifications of revelation are. Not very satisfying.
The Singer Willshaper book had very little new information about the Singers or The Willshapers. We know 3 forms of power?? Raboniel attacked Kaladin with a knife twice, why not use her power of transformation? The Listeners were a tribal society before the humans found them? Disappointing, I was hoping we would get more about the history of the Listeners, more revelations in the Song of Secrets, more information about past desolation, but their culture was as developed as the interior of the tower or the city of lasting integrity, mostly empty.
Now the plans, dear lord, the dumb, dumb plans.
Adolin, I demand a trial by witness, I heard someone walking up a wall say that, that sounds good. He has no idea what this means when he demands it, his is coached by a spren he doesn't know in how to proceed to do this, and he doesn't even think to have Maya help in his defense. Dumb as a manifested brick.
The Honor Spren appoint Kelek, the mad Herald known for his indecisiveness, to be High Judge. And they let trained monkeys drive busses, and give swords to children, and have alcoholics tend bars, etc. etc. Makes you wonder if Ishar was just trying to figure out if the honor spren's brains were in their backsides.
Contest of Champions, do wait, this thing that the Stormfather has been leading Dalinar to for the whole series really, is about who gets Alethkar and Herdaz or Dalinar's soul? Those are the terms for the winner. Oh yeah, either wsy Odium is confined to Roshar for 1000 years, and since to leave is all that Odium wants, then he really knocked that negotiation out of the park. Ishar should have checked where Rayse's brain was too.
Dalinar's plan, I know, I'll visit Ishar the mad Herald to figure out what my power's are, you know, the guy that advised Nale to join Odium's side. Sheesh, Ishar should check where Dalinar's brain is.
Hey, it's still a Stormlight Archive book, which means it's better than 93% of all the books ever written.
The Good Stuff:
Moash. Probably just because all of the other villains were so inept, Moash was truly great in this book.
He says he's going to break the node, he breaks the node. He said he's going to deal with Kaladin and he nearly does. He had a plan to break Kaladin and if the Pursuer hadn't tried to get his vengeance it probably would have worked. He sees Teft is trying to fight defensively, so he kills a Radiant to draw him out. He takes out lift, he takes out Teft. All to be unchained, all to give into Odium's lie. He says he's going to come back to kill Navani and he would have if Raboniel hadn't drlayed him. By far the most capable and thoroughly detestable of Odium's minions. The part were his connection to Odium was interrupted and he had to face the consequences of his actions was so good!
Kaladin finally swearing the 4th ideal. I would have been OK with him deciding the 4th ideal wasn't for him, but I'm so glad that he can move on from this. His compassion is what makes him truly great, but now he is giving others the freedom to do what they think is right too. Good character growth for one of the very best characters in fiction.
The Ghostbloods. This book had do much Ghostblood goodness in it! Mraize's scene where he is talking with Shallan about the spy while his Aviar was hunting moles, the Seon communication cube, Pattern lying to Shallan, the plot to trap Kelek, and the decision Shallan made to reject the Ghostbloods. Such good stuff, though they are the kind of organization to have a failsafe plan, they would have preferred that Shallan had done the deed and joined them, but I'm still pretty sure Isnah is a Ghostblood and that Kelek won't have much time left in book 5. There's also the detail that is unresolved about Shallan using a similar communication cube when she was young, I think her entanglement with the Ghostbloods is not resolved by any stretch, and the fact that her remembering that she killed her original radiant spren is not the truth that leads to her 4th ideal. I'm pretty OK with Thaidakar bring Kelsier, I think it makes them a more interesting organization, Kel's motives might be self-serving but he at least will have a plausibly noble end goal it seems.
Taravangian becoming Odium. So GOOD. We know that Cultivatiion's touch on him gave him both the expanded intelligence to control his shard better and the expanded passions to align to his shard better. And when it's all said and done, dumb Taravangian believed that smart Taravangian was prideful and wanted to be the one that saved the world, making his ascension possibly problematic. Unless as some have speculated this is all part of Cultivatiion's terrible long term plan. Exciting stuff.
The Part 2 epigraphs, the exploration of the Fundamental mechanics of investiture, and Kaladin's fabrial glove. Some very good Cosmere stuff in RoW, interesting to find out that Illumination might be the most super charged of all surges, and Kaladin's use of the fabrial glove was great. A constrained magic system, and plausible and inventive uses for the magic. Brilliant.
Kaladin's expanded use of his adhesion surge. The reverse lashing death for The Defeated was brutal!
Interesting things to think about:
It's mentioned, I don't remember exactly where, that one of the sleepless is working with the Ghostbloods. Sja-Anat agrees to send one of her children to Check out the Ghostbloods in the tower though she doesn't promise it will bond Mraize, she does imply it will bond one of the Ghostbloods. The corrupted truthwatcher spren that bonds Rlain is the voidspren that was hiding in the cremling. Rlain, when discussing how he was the perfect one to build a bridge mentions that he was rejected by the Singers and the Humans and he was a spy. My guess is that Rlain is a Ghostblood.
I think it's interesting also to keep an eye on Sja-Anat, whose one stated goal is to protect her children. As someone stated earlier in this thread Raboniel and Navani never investigated the pairing of Lifelight and Voidlight, but this seems like exactly what a truthwatcher spren is (if you look on the Knights Radiant Surgebinding chart, Truthwatcher are on the opposite side of the Gods eye symbol from Bondsmiths, implying a stronger connection to Cultivation). Also Sja-Anat appears to Taravangian in his mirror, it's the sacrifice of her children that brings Odium to Taravangian that Renarin (bonded to one of her children) delivers a note that says sorry. Maybe Sja-Anat has been touched by Cultivation too!