Book Review: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson (Book 4 of The Stormlight Archive)
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson is out now. The fourth book of Sanderson’s epic Stormlight Archive sets up the final arc of the first half of the planned 10-book series. It is a solid entry to the series, with some surprising twists, brilliant emotional beats, and an intense study of the mental health of our heroes. Since The Rhythm of War is such a character-driven book, we will break down our review by following each character arc in the novel.
Warning! There will be spoilers ahead for the The Stormlight Archive including Rhythm of War. We are also reaching a point in The Stormlight Archive where all of Sanderson’s Cosmere-related books will overlap. If you need a refresher on Sanderson’s worlds, check out our helpful Guide to the Cosmere.
Kaladin Struggles With Post-Traumatic Stress
Cover Art for Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Michael Whelan | Image via Tor/Forge
A notoriously tortured hero, Kaladin struggles with depression and mental health issues throughout the entire series. This comes to a head in Rhythm of War. In this book, Kaladin is a broken man. He has become one of the greatest warriors that the Knights Radiant has to offer. But he begins to realize that all of the death and destruction he has witnessed (and perpetrated) is destroying him.
Kaladin turns to his early training as a healer in an effort to help the people of Urithiru. Eventually this leads him to a sanitarium where he encounters other men with battle shock. This is when Kaladin invents group therapy in Roshar. He works to bring these men together to talk openly about their hidden psychological and emotional wounds.
Kaladin’s journey in this book is a fascinating one. Rarely do we see an epic hero struggle with depression and mental health in this way. Kaladin is forced to reckon with the things he has done, the pain he has caused, and his own perceived failures as a leader. He must face the darkness inside of him, and learn to work through his own pain before he can swear the next Ideal.
Shallan and Adolin Take A Trip To Shadesmar
Shallan in Words of Radiance | Art by Michael Whelan | Image via Tor/Forge
Next up on our list of characters dealing with mental health issues is Shallan. Or should I call her Veil? Radiant? Shallan is fully three different characters in this book. In Rhythm of War, Shallan is has developed multiple personality disorder.
The first personality formed in Oathbringer was Veil. This aspect of Shallan was formed to protect herself from traumatic memories. Veil is a capable spy and rogue, the one who knows how to relax and have fun. On the opposite side is the personality called Radiant: the honorable fighter who represents the ideals of the Knights Radiant. And somewhere in the middle is Shallan herself. She is broken and scared, still suppressing traumatic memories.
Shallan’s journey in this book (and indeed over the last two books) is often frustrating. She started off as such a strong character, but has made a lot of bad decisions over course of the series. However her triumphant moment in this book when she finally faces one of her darkest secrets was beautiful to read. Much like Kaladin, Shallan has a long way to go in her healing process. But we are hopeful that in the future books she will transform into the amazing character we know she can be.
Learning More About The Spren
Spren in the artwork for the Call To Adventure: Stormlight Archive Game | Image via Brotherwise Games
Early on in the book Shallan and Adolin volunteer to take a diplomatic mission to Shadesmar to treaty with the Honor-Spren. The spren themselves have had quite an evolution over the course of the previous three books. Initially they are treated as fairy-like creatures who appear on Roshar to represent various elements or emotions. But over time we have discovered that the spren are sentient beings who can traverse dimensions.
Their true home is in the otherworldly realm of Shadesmar, an interstitial dimension that connects all of the worlds of the Cosmere. When spren bond with humans, they imbue them with powers that make them Knights Radiant. But many spren distrust, hate, and fear humans now. And that is a problem when Roshar needs all the Knights Radiant it can get, to fight off Odium’s forces.
In Rhythm of War we learn more about the societies of spren that live in Shadesmar. The spren that represent Honor (both the attribute and the now-dead God of the same name) are angry with humanity. They are still dealing with the horror inflicted upon the spren during what is known as the ‘Recreance,’ an event in human history where Knights Radiant of the past abandoned their oaths and essentially killed their bonded spren.
Adolin’s Character Arc Is One Of The Most Satisfying
Cover Art for Rhythm of War (Stormlight Archive #4) by Michael Whelan | Image via Tor/Forge
Adolin undertakes a diplomatic voyage to the citadel of the Honor Spren in Shadesmar. He is tasked with reaching out to these spren and urge them to bond humans to create more Knights Radiant. However, when he arrives Adolin finds himself put on trial to answer for all of the atrocities that his ancestors committed.
Honestly, Adolin’s character arc in this book was one of my favorites. He has made some questionable choices in previous books, but in Rhythm of War it is clear that he is one of the most honorable characters of the series. He is truly Dalinar’s son, but without the rigid inflexibility and dark past. His relationship with Shallan is sweet and I really grew to like them as a couple, after being skeptical during the events of Oathbringer. Adolin’s other major relationship in Rhythm of War is with the deadeye spren – named Maya – that forms his shardblade. Something that will undoubtedly become a larger focus in the future.
Adolin is on trial after all for the events of the Recreance, because the majority of spren believe that former Knights Radiant murdered their spren when they abandoned their oaths (thus creating the ‘deadeye’ spren). But what if it wasn’t murder? What if it was a necessary sacrifice? These questions will certainly play into the longer arc of the series as the books continue.
Navani Finally Gets To Be A Scholar
Image via Brotherwise Games
Every book of The Stormlight Archive begins with a flashback to the night that King Gavilar was assassinated. Each flashback is from the POV of a different main character, and establishes that character as the primary protagonist of the book.
This time we get Navani’s point of view. She was Gavilar’s wife and Queen of Alethkar for many years. We see that she had a contentious relationship with Gavilar. Her flashback really cements that Gavilar was not the great man everyone thought he was. And also that he was toying with dangerous secrets that eventually got him killed.
One of those secrets is integral to the plot of this book, and involves fabrial science. A topic that Sanderson is clearly enthusiastic about (to some detriment of the book’s pacing). Navani is determined to find answers, in an effort to reactivate the defenses of Urithiru. This task is even more urgent after the Singers invade Urithiru, and start corrupting the powerful spren who inhabits the tower.
An Unlikely Friendship Between Singer And Human
Navani develops an odd relationship with one of the invaders. A Singer named Raboniel, who is one of the Fused. These are powerful immortal Singers that have sworn to Odium who die and are reborn endlessly. Raboniel is a scientist and a scholar who has spent a millennia putting her brilliant mind to work for the enemy. But her goal becomes clearer as the story unfolds.
Raboniel is not insane like so many of the other Fused. She simply wants to end the endless war by any means necessary. She recruits Navani to help her figure out some scientific and magical mysteries. The two of them develop a bond that is close to friendship, even though they are mortal enemies.
The complexity of Raboniel as a primary antagonist in this book is one more way that Sanderson is trying to show that the Singers are not an inherently evil race. They have been conquered and enslaved, spending centuries fighting with humanity to reclaim their planet. The Singers turned to Odium because they were promised a return to their rightful place as rulers of Roshar. But not all of them want to destroy humanity. Raboniel is a fascinating study of a Singer sworn to Odium, while simultaneously trying to thwart his plans. And she is not the only Singer facing this dilemma…
Venli Struggles With Her Dual Nature
Image via Brotherwise Games
Enter Venli, another Singer who bears a lot of responsibility (and guilt) for returning Odium’s forces to Roshar. There are many flashbacks throughout Rhythm of War that show us what exactly Venli did. We also get flashbacks from her sister Eshonai, whose death was a major catalyst of change for Venli’s character.
Venli is unique among the Singers, she has a Voidspren embedded in her gemheart. This grants her Odium’s power. But she has also bonded another spren, which means she is a budding Knight Radiant. Throughout the book Venli struggles to keep up appearances that she is a Singer like any other. But she has her spren Timbre who encourages her to act nobly and selflessly, even though such acts would put her in great danger.
Venli is haunted by her actions led to the destruction of her people. And in taking the steps to become a Knight Radiant, she endeavors to make up for what she has done. Venli is also the catalyst for one of the final epic moments of the book that show the humans and Singers can indeed work together.
Dalinar and Jasnah Go To War
Cover Art for Oathbringer (Stormlight Archive #3) by Michael Whelan | Image via Tor/Forge
Meanwhile, Dalinar is still trying to understand the capabilities of his Bondsmith powers. Jasnah is now Queen of Alethkar, and has entered into a very interesting relationship with the character known in this world as Wit. Together they go to war in a struggle to reclaim the countries of Roshar from the Singers.
Neither character has much to do in Rhythm of War, but their character arcs are progressing nicely. Dalinar is finally learning to detest battle after a lifetime of being defined by it. He gets to converse with some major characters of importance (at least one Herald and Odium himself) and go on some neat psychic adventures with the Stormfather. He is coming into his own as a Bondsmith, although he is venturing into uncharted waters with powers that not even his ancient spren understands.
Jasnah is discovering new sides of herself, as the new Queen she is learning how to lead by example. She strides into battle alone in order to prove herself to her soldiers, and outwits some sexist politicians. Her relationship with Wit is very interesting, based more on a meeting of minds than the joining of flesh. (This book firmly establishes that Jasnah is asexual – which is some nice representation and handled pretty well.)
Rhythm of War Starts The End Of The First Arc of The Stormlight Archive
Cover Art for The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Michael Whelan | Image via Tor/Forge
With Rhythm of War, we approach the end of the first arc of The Stormlight Archive. Author Brandon Sanderson has spoken about how he views this epic series as two sets of five books. That means that whatever happens in the next book will conclude some of the major storylines established thus far.
Have you read Rhythm of War yet? How did you feel about the newest entry into The Stormlight Archive? Join the conversation with Comic Years today on Facebook and Twitter and let us know your thoughts.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.