9:30pm Monday to 9:30pm Tuesday, only taking breaks to help with my newborn from time to time.
Rhythm of War is my least favorite Stormlight Archive book and continues a personal trend of liking each book slightly less than the previous. My personal opinion is that the Way of Kings was the best book in the series and then each successive book is slightly less, in a literary sense, good.
To be clear, Rhythm of War had a lot of amazing elements and, overall, the Stormlight Archives remains a great series. I do, however, worry that Sanderson has put destination before journey.
Too many times in the series, and in this book, seemingly great or important scenes have happened off-screen. Scenes that could, that should, have a powerful impact on the reader are skipped completely.
Kaladin flying Shallan to Thaylenar in Oathbringer is the first egregious example I can think of. After their impactful time together in the chasms in Words of Radiance, with the undertones of a potential romance in Oathbringer, Sanderson skipped out on potentially powerful scene that could have built tension, foreshadowed outcomes, and developed both Kaladin and Shallan's character. At the end of Oathbringer, we are not given a glimpse of Adolin and Shallan's wedding, Jasnah's coronation, nor are we shown what should have been a difficult, but revealing, conversation between Dalinar and Szeth.
Rhythm of War continues this tradition of skipping key storytelling moments. In Kaladin's case, he apparently has had, another, entirely off-screen romance (first Tara, now Lyn, maybe others). Furthermore, despite Kaladin being in all 5 acts in the same physical space as Laral, we get no interaction whatsoever between childhood friends and low-key tension romance potential. During the life-and-death situation in the Tower, we are to assume that Kaladin never once even thought of Laral, much less made sure she and her kids were ok? Does that sound like the protective Kaladin we know?
Jasnah's situation is even worse. While I understand that she is a "back 5" character, that does not mean Sanderson can just completely ignore her in the "front 5". Her scenes, after Words of Radiance, continue to be short and disappointing. We never actually see her as a Queen, but only as someone who interacts with Dalinar. We never see the effects her edicts (women can inherit titles, slavery to be outlawed, etc.) have on the people of Alethkar; her actions seem to exist in a vacuum and no results are ever shown. Her romance with Wit/Hoid came out of nowhere and the one scene we are given of them together did so much surface level telling and zero showing (in the literary sense of "show not tell"; I am not asking for a Wit/Jasnah sex scene). Even her battle scene was muted and dull; she was less useful on the battlefield than Adolin would have been despite being a 4th Oath Radiant. It is one thing to want to keep a mystery until later, it is entirely another neuter a character completely until it is "their turn". Remember how mysterious, knowledgeable, wise, intriguing, etc. Jasnah was in the Way of Kings? Compare that to this book. She is dull and uninteresting and it is a shame for such a wonderful character to be treated this way.
I could go on and on about how Sanderson keeps pushing for his plot points, his "I have been dreaming of this scene for 20 years" moments, instead of giving us a well-paced narrative that does its cast of incredible characters justice. Too much, in my opinion, is being sacrificed to keep "on schedule" instead of allowing the story to go where it needs to go in order to not just be incredible in a "this plot has cool twists and turns" way, but also in maintaining a satisfying narrative overall.
For those who remember when Sanderson agreed to finish the Wheel of Time, I see the Stormlight Archives going in the opposite direction of what Sanderson did for the ending of the Wheel of Time. Initially, Sanderson promised, repeatedly, that the Wheel of Time would be finished in a single book. Over and over we heard that no matter how large of a book it became, it would be a single book. Well, look at how that turned out. Sanderson ended up doing 3 books instead of 1. And that was the right call! He absolutely was right to go back on his promise and finish the series in the 3 books instead of 1. Imagine how truncated the story would have been with 1 book! Imagine how many great, and important, character scenes we would have lost!
Sanderson should, in my opinion, pause and reevaluate where the Stormlight Archives is going. He should reflect on what is being sacrificed, narratively, in order to meet his 1 book every 3 years, 10 books total plan. While I respect his understandable caution against exploring secondary characters, or bogging the story down in "side quests", I think he is cutting more and more from each book in order to fit his schedule and I feel like that is truly harming the narrative and the characters.
Other items that irked me:
1. Why did a bunch of side characters even bother going to Shadesmar with Adolin and Shallan? They, literally, did nothing. Adolin saved Notum solo, and Adolin and Shallan handled the whole trial thing without their help.
2. Dalinar and Jasnah's battle for Emul was both pointless and uninteresting. It existed solely as an excuse to get Dalinar and Jasnah out of the Tower so the rest of the plot could work.
3. Speaking of the Tower, are we to seriously accept that Dalinar and Jasnah would ignore the situation there for weeks on end? I find it absolutely unbelievable that they would just shrug and think, "I hope Kaladin does his thing."
4. Where the shardfork were the Dustbringers? Did they, too, rebel? Did they not? How is that we never saw a single Dustbringer doing anything?
5. Same question but for the Skybreakers. Why didn't we see Jasnah versus 2-3 Skybreakers?
6. Venli's near non-participation in everything despite this being "her" book.
7. The Venli/Eshonai flashbacks felt weak. I think I lacked enough connection (pun intended) to the characters and so their flashbacks were less powerful.
8. We did not get to see Lift and Mraize interacting.
9. Despite being a "middle book" that is supposed to set up the climactic final battle, Team Radiant won both the battle for the Tower and the battle for Emul with minimal losses (RIP Teft). Furthermore, the "big bad", Rayse/Odium, was just replaced by Taravangian. While this might have a sinister undertone, overall, replacing a genocidal maniac with no limits with a genocidal maniac who cares about saving the world is a big step up (imo). It feels like the stakes were dramatically lowered at the end of this book.
Now, I know I did a lot of complaining, so I want to end on a happier note and share some of the parts that I truly loved.
1. Adolin's efforts to help Kaladin. Their bromance is one of my favorite scenes in part 1.
2. Adolin in general. His character continues to be a wonderful addition to the books. He is an example of what can happen when you deviate from the plan (my understanding is that Adolin was supposed to be a far more minor character).
3. Raboniel was a fantastic antagonist. Her and Navani's interactions were exceptionally well-done.
4. The Pursuer being absolutely demolished by Kaladin, both reputationally and then literally, was fantastic.
5. Taravangian ascending to Odium's Shard is an incredible plot twist and I am excited to see where Brandon takes this.
6. Hoid being hoodwinked by Taravangian was excellent and really helps show that Hoid is not unbeatable.
Two unforgettable lines:
Kaladin channeling Rand Al'Thor from the Path of Daggers: "I am the storm."
Navani finishing her Radiant oath: "Journey before destination, you bastard."