Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

The highly anticipated continuation of The Stormlight Archive is here with Oathbringer. As a fan of Sanderson and his Stormlight series, I've been re-reading the prior books and came to this one with anticipation and high hopes.

As the third in a series, I consider the prior books to be fair-game, but avoid spoilers for the current one.

Overall Impression
This third book of a potential 9-book series started a bit slow, but then exploded into action. Many of the same characters are there and we get to see many new faces as well, yet some of the broad strokes of story towards the start muddled its focus. It wasn't until about a third or so through that a clearer storyline emerged and really grabbed attention. With lots of revelations of the nature of the world, the Radiants, and more, this is a worthy addition to The Stormlight Archive.

Plot
Many of Sanderson's books run at a breakneck pace leaving you breathless. This one starts much slower and I wonder if it has to do with the multitude of characters. Despite being "Dalinar's" book, as evidenced by the title, we see frequent chapters focus on Kaladin, Shallan, Adolin, and new faces as well. So much is going on that we don't get to see all of it on page. This is fine, however, and, as the story coalesces, a clear focus emerges to keep the characters and their actions on-page. The ending, in typical Sanderson fashion, is absolutely explosive. I'm honestly not sure how subsequent Archive novels will fare. Will the next few have more subdued or personal endings or should we expect Earth Roshar-shattering action in each? There is a bit of wind-down after the climax, which hints at future developments to the story.

Characters
A key aspect of the Archive novels to date has been the exploration of a single character's backstory through flashbacks. This book is Dalinar Kholin's and brings us much anticipated answers to his experiences with the Nightwatcher, his rise as the Blackthorn, and his wife. Beyond Dalinar, we also see more of Adolin, Shallan, Navani, Kaladin, and even some Bridge Four members get their own chapters. We see Elhokar developing more and more into a king, despite the long shadow of Dalinar upon him and we see deeper conflicts in Shallan. We also see and learn more about the villains in the story, including some of the parshmen, the Unmade, and Odium.

Sanderson pushes himself in this book by tackling a variety of social themes. Most notably is probably the aspect of oppression, discrimination, and slavery. In some cases he does very well, but in others he falls a bit flat. Sanderson has tried this in the past, with lighteyes and darkeyes, and he continues it here with humans and parshemen, but his focus is almost entirely on humans. He's no N.K. Jemisin, but it's good to see he's continuing to grow a broader perspective in this series. Another aspect that comes through a bit better, though, are various character's struggles through alcoholism and drug abuse. It's rare to see such heavy themes associated with Sanderson and I think he pulled them off decently.

Setting / World Building
One of many illustrations throughout the book.
Sanderson has always excelled at world building and this is some of his finest work. Not only are we seeing more and more of Roshar thanks to the Oathgates and the growing cast of characters, this book also has for more overt connections to the rest of the Cosmere- the universe that connects many of Sanderson's works. In the prior novel, Words of Radiance, we saw at the very end the Nightblood, the talking sword from Warbreaker. This re-appears in this novel and the sword will frequently mention names from Warbreaker. There's always a bit of text at the start of each chapter and in one part of the novel this appears to also allude to the Cosmere.

Beyond the Cosmere, there's plenty to satisfy oneself in Roshar itself. We learn a bit more about the various Radiant orders, their oaths, and their powers. It'll be exciting to see how the various characters develop into full Radiants. We also learn more about the nature of the Desolations and the Heralds, including some details into the prelude to the series itself which we saw in The Way of Kings. Equally interesting are the descriptions of the parshmen, and Odium's champions- the nine Unmade. We've actually unwittingly witnessed some of them in prior novels so it's cool now to be able to put an origin and name to them.

Add to all this the usual fare of Stormlight Archives setting with its spren, Shardblades and Shardplate, its storms, the flora and fauna, fabrials, Old Magic, the diverse cultures and lands and you get a rich world ripe for story telling. I look forward to learning more about Roshar in books to come.

Final Thoughts
This is a worthy addition to The Stormlight Archive series. It has everything you could love about the prior books and so much more. Despite the odd pacing at the start, it quickly picks up and delivers the frenzied pace we have come to expect from Sanderson. I'll eagerly await the continuation of this saga in the years to come.

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