Brandon Sanderson further maps out the Roshar segment of his Cosmere in his newest novel, Rhythm of War. This fourth installment in the Stormlight Archive brings new twists in the ongoing war between the Knights Radiant and the Fused, drawing it close to a finish. I’ve been excited about this book since I finished Oathbringer, and you can read my review here. The Rhythm of War sees Kaladin process the horrors of war he’s seen so far, and especially track Navani as she explores the ethics of science in her world.
Fans of science fiction usually mix pretty well with the fantasy crowd. Hey, we’ve written entire articles on the difference between the two. However, every secondary fantasy world has laws and physics that run the world, the same as we do here. Earlier Cosmere entries, especially The Final Empire from the Mistborn series, have become prime examples of well-integrated science in a fantasy story. While Navani often has comments where she refers to herself as a scientist, two conflicts gracefully weave worldbuilding into an engaging plot. When a Fused general with her own hypotheses on the workings of spren and their influence through Odium’s strange Voidlight, leads a covert invasion of Urithiru, Navani finds herself conducting research for the enemy, while trying to convince the spren of that gemstone column to trust her enough to save the Knights Radiant. After all, human usage of spren has led to thousands of spren deaths, which Navani’s son Adolin finds himself answering for during a diplomatic mission in Shadesmar. How does one proceed when the very machines that power your world cause so much destruction? Fortunately, Kaladin, who has retired from active duty to become a surgeon, escapes an EMP-like device that dampens his Windrunning abilities and acts covertly to unseat the invaders.
However, the Singers only successfully took Urithiru because Taravangian convinced Jasnah and Dalinar to follow him on a campaign despite their knowledge about his deception. This carried them disappointingly away from the main plot, though it left Dalinar right on the edge of the conflict for the next book in the series. Instead, the plot largely followed Adolin and Shallan’s missions in Shadesmar. Adolin’s efforts to convince the Honorspren to ally with humans against Odium may have been a forgone conclusion, but it allowed more time to be spent in Shadesmar, an interesting and yet unexplored feature of Roshar. Syl’s growing humanity comes to the fore as she attempts to help Kaladin address his PTSD. These real psychological dilemmas were a strong internal conflict that hopefully will not go away in later editions. Best of all, that plotline opened development for Dabbid, a man on the autism spectrum understood by no one in Roshar, but with his own agency that allows himself to be a better spy even than Veil, who disappointingly exits from Shallan’s psyche after the climax. Veil, more than her roommates Radiant and Shallan, drives Shallan’s quest to become a Knight Radiant herself, even though the Ghostbloods plotline moves frustratingly slowly.
If the previous two paragraphs made zero sense, then you’ve encountered what’s probably this series’ biggest weakness: approachability. I recommend visiting The Coppermind for a good online reminder of how this world’s magic system works. These works do include appendices to remind readers of exactly what each Radiant order does. A world this big offers a lot of opportunity for very striking portraits of humanity but offers little intimacy. Even when characters presumably are intimate in the physical sense, the flirtation and passion associated with kisses fingers romance seems absent, and doubly more so, when entire relationships like Kaladin’s and Lyn’s are introduced in the past tense. This book is a franchise player, demanding fans to keep up, but a little more patience for readers who pick up another book sometimes would go a long way.
But, we’re all fans here, right? The Rhythm of War will make you one if earlier entries did not. Navani leads a fascinating scientific conflict as the war itself rocks right up to a breaking point. Dalinar might be absent from the action this time, but he could use a break after the heavy focus of Oathbringer and Words of Radiance. Meanwhile, the psychological trials that Kaladin and Shallan face round out a solid combination of plot and character, leaving me excited for book five.
Favorite quote: “The new rhythms were her majesty, the proof that she was special.”
Four out of five stars