Hi everyone! Eric with 17th Shard here, and I'm here to talk to you about Rhythm of War, by Brandon Sanderson, the fourth novel in The Stormlight Archive. This review is completely spoiler free! There will be no spoilers for the preview chapters, or other cosmere stuff, so if you haven't read anything about Rhythm of War, this won't have any information other than some non-spoilery info Brandon has discussed about the structure of the book.
Of course, all of us at 17th Shard are mega-fans, so you can take us with a grain of salt that, yeah, we really like Brandon books and his writing style. But if we didn't like a thing, we'd tell you, and that'd hold some weight. So, in this review, these are my opinions here, but you'll hear from all our other staff members about the book soon enough, too!
If you'd prefer to watch a video instead, check out our video review!
So let's talk about Rhythm of War! This book is the longest of the Stormlight books, even longer than Oathbringer! Overall, this works really well. I didn't think Oathbringer had fluff, but this book is even leaner. It's just that the world of Roshar is so big, and the number of characters is so big, that there's a lot to do in this. Plus, stuff happens! A lot of stuff happens in this book, and it will really surprise you in many ways. Rhythm of War has some absolutely killer moments. There will be joy. There will be a lot of pain and suffering, too. I think a lot of people will tear up on more than a few occasions.
Character is a massive focus in Rhythm of War, moreso than Words of Radiance and Oathbringer. This book is a character study for several of our characters, and the character moments are the best moments in the entire novel.
Mental health and struggling with mental health takes center stage in the book, and it personally affected me more than it has in the series. As someone who struggles with depression, this book spoke to me fantastically. Now, this might be controversial in the book, because the mental health stuff could be hard to read for some. It gets deep, and it gets dark, darker than Brandon has taken characters before. That might turn you off of the book. And there may be readers who don't find characters dealing with their mental health to be important, and yeah, this book might not be for you. I think it was done really well, I think it really spoke to me, and I think mental health is always a good thing to thoroughly explore in books to continue to destigmatize it.
There are tons of characters in The Stormlight Archive, and as always, Brandon has to juggle a lot of different characters and plotlines. I've always felt Brandon deals with this well, with some characters getting less in some books but more in the next, and that continues in Rhythm of War. It focuses on the right characters for the book, but we still see from all of our main gang of protagonists, and they are all important. There is a main character who gets less viewpoints than others, but there is another character who really comes into their own here, which was lovely.
There are new characters, too. One new character is one I can't wait to talk to you about, because they really steal the show. We also see more viewpoints of characters we didn't see as much as we should have before, and it's lovely to see more from these more minor characters be fleshed out.
I can't really tell you too much about the plot, honestly. But this book doesn't go where you'd expect. After Oathbringer I didn't really know where the story would go, but... I didn't quite expect this, I don't think you'll expect it either! It is really cool and awesome, as you'd expect from Brandon. There are three groups of characters and after Part One they do split up. Some of these interweave a bit, others don't. It's more that Way of Kings vibe, where in that book, we had Shallan in Parts One and Three and Dalinar/Adolin in Parts Two and Four. Rhythm of War is like that in many way with its three groups, and only one of the groups is in all five parts, with the other two alternating after Part One. But each plotline is engaging, and they all get extremely intense. This book will definitely keep you at the edge of your seat.
Now, The Way of Kings is not my favorite Stormlight book. Words of Radiance and Oathbringer had plot structures I more preferred, and the endings of those books, where absolutely everything comes together, man... that just really speaks to me, and I love that so much. Rhythm of War has a great Brandon Avalanche. The highs are REALLY high, but it's not going to be like the ending of Oathbringer where everything comes together. So I liked the ending less so than Words of Radiance and Oathbringer, but I know there are people who thought this was the best Stormlight book, with the best ending. I think it may come down to how character focused you are. I'm more plot based, so I liked it a bit less, but I think this structure is done better than it was in The Way of Kings. There's a ton of awesome here and it's really cool. I quite enjoyed the plot and the ending, it's just the different plot structure Brandon went for here was not as in line to my personal preference. You may well be different!
I do want to say, though, that where the book is meant to have a big impact, Rhythm of War absolutely executes incredibly. There was a moment that confirmed something I figured, but the way it was portrayed makes it easily one of the best and memorable scenes in the book. When there's suffering, you feel it, and when there's a "hell yeah" moment, it's just the best.
Probably one of the weaker parts is the flashbacks. There are both Eshonai and Venli flashbacks, and it's cool, but it's nothing as impactful as Dalinar's flashbacks were. But I mean, Dalinar's were so good and so impactful for the main story, and we just can't have every flashback sequence be as awesome as those. But if I had to get a criticism, it may be these flashbacks. They are fine, but not incredible.
This book has a one year time jump from the end of Oathbringer, which is different for the series thus far. All the other books have happened immediately after the previous novel. So how'd this go with this one? The time jump worked pretty well for me. I felt like we've gotten enough hints of what happened in the interim that it was fine. The time jump allowed the world and characters to progress, and sets the stage for the real action that's happening in this book, and I think made the plot better.
Lore and Worldbuilding
Let's talk about the lore and worldbuilding of the book. Every Stormlight book has tons of worldbuilding. Remember Oathbringer, where it widened the world so much? Rhythm of War expands things way further than I ever could have imagined. I don't think you'll expect where the book ends up, because some of the things we learn are so crazy, I don't know how you'd guess them. The door is open for so many more things by the end of this book. It's insane. We are all going to have so much to talk about once you're all done with this. I didn't think a Stormlight book could expand the world more than Oathbringer did, but this one sure as storms does.
The connections to the greater cosmere increase in this book, even more than Oathbringer had. This might be controversial. Brandon has said in some comments on the Part One chapters (which you can read for free) that Brandon is phasing things more to "things are intersecting more in the cosmere" now, which is a bit different than how he's done things before. It's hard for me to comment on this effectively, because I am so deep into the cosmere books, but I don't think references to other cosmere books ruin your enjoyment of Stormlight if you are a Stormlight-only reader. It's more, "hey, there are some things that are mysteries in world to our characters, but you can learn more by reading some other books if you want." It is less subtle here, so I do think pretty soon Stormlight-only readers may want to start reading the other books. That said, if you're already deep in the cosmere, all of this is JUICY! It is so, so good.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There are some of the best moments in the series here. Its very character based, but also expands on the lore a lot. It's just for me, I like the ending of Oathbringer so much, and though the Sanderlanche is awesome as you'd expect, I just like the Oathbringer and Words of Radiance style of book more. So for me, Rhythm of War is not my favorite Stormlight book, but I think it's really excellent! I imagine this will be a lot of people's favorite, of the four books.
Maybe the worst part of the book is just the wait till book five. If you didn't know, The Stormlight Archive is ten books but split into two five book arcs, and Brandon has always said book five will have a big climax for our cast of the first half. After Rhythm of War, yeah, I really need book five now, please! But of course, I want book five to be as good as can be, and I can only imagine what it's like going through this massive 470k book for several drafts. I understand Brandon needs a bit of a break from Stormlight, and I do want Skyward sequel and that final Wax and Wayne book. So I'll wait!
This book has tons to tide people over to through the wait for book five. And for the cosmere fandom, there's going to be plenty to talk about. We'll definitely have spoilery reactions on our podcast, Shardcast, and I can't wait to talk to you about it all!
Edited by Chaos