“Instead, Dalinar had only a handful of new Radiants, and there was no sign of help from the Heralds. And beyond that, the Almighty–God himself–was dead.
Somehow, Dalinar was supposed to save the world anyway.”
Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.
Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together–and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past–even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.
CW: slavery, gore and body horror (including eye gore), murder, self-harm, animal death, miracle cure, drug use and addiction, loss of a loved one, graphic injury, alcoholism, implied sexual assault
It seems that with Oathbringer, the Stormlight Archive has finally slowed down. That’s not to say this installment was bad (though shout-out to my friend who didn’t like it; I can see why and I get it), so much as it is to say that it is slower.
As the third book in what’s projected to be a ten book series, not everything can be revealed or explained in this volume. There’s lots of new questions regarding the Heralds, the future of the Knights Radiant, the gods of Roshar, and even more. There are also some answers, especially regarding the Recreance and Voidbringers, but this is more than anything a set-up for the next Stormlight Archive novel. Which takes time. Which then makes this more like a political fantasy in many ways than an action fantasy, as it was during the first two books.
There’s a great deal of focus on Dalinar’s political movements in pursuit of a unified Roshar, which is what slows the book down. It’s fascinating to see Dalinar as he was and as he now is through flashbacks against the current plot, but it requires taking time away from the inevitable invasion by the parshmen and Odium’s forces. Also slowly the book is the discussion of how to address the bundled issue of slavery, land ownership, colonialism, and the violence that weaves them all together. I’m not sure if it’s being handled well or not, especially given that we’re nowhere close to a solution, but having characters mull over the implications of these things still takes time.
Honestly, it took until the battle at the end of the book to finally get a taste of the action and pacing that originally made me love the series.
HOWEVER, I still adore the characters, which is what kept me invested. This is Dalinar’s book, so the focus is on him (and admittedly, my mostly neutral opinion has not changed), but the chapters from Shallan’s POV had me extra engaged. She’s one of my favorites, along with Kaladin and Syl, but in this book, she really has to wrestle with what she can do and who she is at her core, if she’s herself at all or if she’s better off as one of her invented personas that she sometimes loses herself to. Her romantic arc also seems to come to a close, and in a way that left me satisfied despite the result not being my ship of choice. (Spoiler alert: I loved the result because Shallan weighed her options and CHOSE, and chose for excellent reasons.)
Meanwhile, Kaladin continues to protect those who can’t protect themselves (tbh my favorite kind of character), and Adolin gets some growth of his own, facing his Shardblade and the damage done to it in the Recreance, and his own self-worth when stacked up against Radiants and gods and the like. Renarin also gets to shift and change, at last allowed to act where everyone had cautioned him against action in the past, and a whole host of side characters weave in and out of the story, complicating it greatly. Rock and Teft in particular have my favorite side character centric moments, and they both made me go all soft and proud of them for their choices.
And the WORLDBUILDING. I am so thrilled Oathbringer finally dug further into the nature of spren and the machinations of the gods. We’re getting a more complete look at the forces that have made Roshar what it is, whether or not those forces have an immediate impact on the conflicts at hand or not. We even get to see powerful spren known as the Unmade, dangerous creatures in the service of Odium, and their existence explains even more about the dangers plaguing Roshar over the course of the series. Despite Roshar being mostly rocky and difficult land to really inhabit, these gradually unfolding glimpses into the world are making it more and more full of life with every reveal.
Essentially, it’s not that Oathbringer is a worse book than the rest of the series so much as it’s a slower book, which isn’t to my personal tastes. If you like diving deeper into characters and preparing for societal upheavals and navigating complex politics where few players have all the pieces needed to control the outcome, you’ll probably still enjoy Oathbringer‘s direction. And if that’s not to your tastes, hopefully the next book, whenever it arrives, shifts tone into something more active. If I had to guess, there’s going to be something of a murder mystery element entering the fray.
And without a doubt, Wit will be back. I doubt we’ll understand him, but he’ll certainly return, and I can never get enough of him. He’s a bigger player in the world than he’ll admit, and his aims are still clouded. We’ll just have to see where he ends up, and how far he pulls everyone else along with him…