Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere soldiers onward in Oathbringer, the third book in The Stormlight Archive, the series of ten high fantasy doorstoppers containing enough information to tie all his other books together. Oathbringer drops jaws, but not always in a good way. The battle scenes can certainly inspire awe, but the baroque fantasy setting can overwhelm. The marathon endeavor required to simply get into these books might detract any Sanderson neophytes, but diehards will enjoy a return to the intricate planning that makes Roshar so believable.
The Stormlight Archive concerns a war for dominance over Roshar, the supercontinent where everything on Planet Roshar lives, between the humans and the Voidbringers. The human nation of Alethkar, led Highprince Dalinar Kholin, believes that the Voidbringers will trigger an apocalyptic event unless Dalinar can bring about a renaissance within his own civilization so that humans can use fairylike-creatures called “spren” to get superpowers. In Oathbringer, Dalinar reaches out to the other human kingdoms on Roshar to create a coalition to fight the Voidbringers, but must confront the war crimes he committed in the past.
Spoilers ahead. Spoilers everywhere. Spoilerspren crawl all over the computer. Here’s a graphic explaining how Oathbringer fits into the Cosmere as a quick distraction.
Dalinar, as usual, spends much of the book stumbling around the dark. Oathbringer, named after his sword, mostly follows his character arc as he comes to grips with the sheer amount of people he had to kill. Oathbringer reminds us that for every faceless mook in a stereotypical fantasy army, a family of mooks waits for him to come home. These characters all have stories, and it’s truly refreshing for a high fantasy book to pause to consider that.
Foremost among these Dickensian aspects, the supporting characters who travel through painful arcs really shine. Elhokar, in particular, after two books sitting on a cushion, gets a touching moment of heroism just before he dies. Taravangian enters the spotlight further and we get to see more of the inner conflict caused by his own illness. Perhaps most fulfilling of all, Moash starts this book on the lam with one of the Ghostbloods, and it ends it with an Honorblade in his hand. All of the most satisfying characters in Oathbringer experience real pain and shy from the black-and-white morality that usually plague fantasy characters.
While some of the supporting characters went through these tragic, harrowing journeys, the heroes seemed to waste time. Also, the story somehow manages to choke by trying to swallow the whole world of Roshar at once. While the characters spend a few chapters of the book attempting to figure who killed Sadeas, no one suspects Adolin. He finally admits it to Dalinar at the book… and Dalinar does not care. The plotline gets totally lost in all the other crazy stuff that happens in this book and remains unresolved. Instead, Adolin spends a large portion of the book half-heartedly flirting with Shallan who barely responds. She gets to do a lot of cool espionage work with her Lightweaving, but Shallan also shipteases a love triangle between herself, Adolin, and Kaladin. And then she marries Adolin, regardless. I didn’t really expect to write about this with a Sanderson book, but I never got an inclination that Kaladin would even be interested in Shallan until Oathbringer. It feels unnatural – and I don’t mean in a cute A Midsummer Night’s Dream kind of way – for this conflict to even have occurred, and it’s all dragged out by a boat ride through Shadesmar.
The Shadesmar sequence reveals very little information, though it certainly stalls enough time for Dalinar to remember his own faults through the magic of flashback. We learn more about spren as we travel through the land of the spren, but nothing that really seems vital to Oathbringer’s climax. When that climactic battle occurs, most frustratingly of all, it’s revealed that Renarin (Dalinar’s other son, don’t switch over to the wiki just yet) had a psychic connection to Odium the whole time, which might sound like deja vu, because Words of Radiance had a similar big reveal about Renarin shoehorned into the last few chapters. Renarin annoyingly bounces back and forth between importance and negligence and I’m really curious how he feels about that.
What? Who’s Odium? He’s a new character, revealed to be Honor’s nemesis, and the villain behind the entire war. He’s not the best new character, however. It’s not Lift, either. No, Azure really steals the show because of her pragmatism and surprising indifference to the politics of the book. Knowing the Cosmere, I’m sure that there’s a larger story only about her; I just need to figure out which one. Oh yeah and Wit shows up. He’s funny, as usual. Jasnah’s alive by the way and they make her Queen of Alethkar at the end of the book. These two get eclipsed though, by Shallan’s internal conflict between Kaladin and Adolin.
Despite the focus on the Shallan/Adolin/Kaladin triangle, Oathbringer presents the best chapter of The Stormlight Archive yet. It simply has the coolest battles. The middle part of the book involves Elhokar leading a strike team to retake Kholinar, and nearly everyone dies in glorious battle. Despite the detailed scholarship and religion in the background of the story, every a Shardblade gets summoned I am reminded why these books get so much storage on my Kindle. In Oathbringer, the war scenes paired nicely with the ethical questions raised by every aspect of Roshar. Dalinar exhibits the most significant character growth in the series yet. As the war progresses, the rationale behind the fight deteriorates. While it can be hard to break into the rich details, this chapter of The Stormlight Archive ends on a wonderfully bleak note, and leaves the entire human forces wallowing in moral ambiguity.
Four out of five stars. I might sound like a grumpy reviewer, but I enjoyed this book much more than the others in the series.
Favorite quote: “Failure is the mark of a life well-lived. In turn, the only way to live without failure is to be of no use to anyone.”
Number of Pages: One thousand, one hundred and forty-two.