Warning: this post may contain spoilers for Brandon Sanderson’s Rhythm of War, and other books in The Stormlight Archive
When I was younger, I would become so single focused on whatever book I happened to be reading at the time that I would completely tune out the rest of the world. I could read while others screamed and ran and made a general ruckus all around me. I could read and have no awareness of the passage of time, or even of the importance of occasionally checking the clock. I could read and not even hear the voices of people around me, like my parents telling me that I needed to put down the book and come eat dinner. Yes, there was a time in my life where I would occasionally get in trouble for reading too much, as if such a thing were possible.
As I got older, that ability faded some, or perhaps my awareness of my surroundings improved. I can still read under distracting circumstances, but it is harder for me to get so thoroughly lost in a book that I stop being aware of the passage of time, the people around me, or any of the various other stimuli of the so-called “real world.” That’s not too surprising with some of the books I read – I doubt if anyone sits down and finds themselves completely enraptured by something like Justice as Fairness – but even with many fantasy and science fiction books, I can’t lose myself as completely as I once did. In a way, I’ve come to judge a book by how deeply I’m pulled into the storytelling. With all of that in mind, I could probably sum up this entire review like this: I finished Rhythm of War in three days.
I’m glad that Stormlight books don’t come out too often. For one thing, I want to savor the experience and thrill of new books in this amazing series. For another, I would be much less productive at any task besides reading them. Rhythm of War, the newest installment in the series, was full of just as much emotional poignancy and compelling storytelling as the previous books in the Stormlight Archive. It broadened the scope of the world and the conflict in entirely new directions, it was full of twists (a few of which even I didn’t predict), and just as it went about answering key questions about the plot and the world, it raised even more.
Despite this review coming out only now, I actually read the book not long after it was first released, back in November of 2020. As I’m writing the review, I just finished my first read-through – I will probably re-read it again after I’ve taken a break of a book or two. My first read-through tends to focus mostly on plot, and I enjoy the book as a reader, while my second read-through will be focused more on the way the book was created and all of the subtleties wrapped up inside of it. My opinion of a book sometimes changes a little over the course of re-reading, but at the moment I would say that this one is probably the second best in the Stormlight Archive so far.
That opinion is in large part because of the emphasis on fabrial science, which I’ve been trying to piece together throughout the rest of the series, and to which this book finally provided a multitude of answers. However, I do question some of what it attempted. In some ways, I think the book was both too large and too small. I worry that the stakes keep getting raised higher and higher, and my expectations with them. Unlike the other books in the series, this one felt the most like a middle, a plateau in which we learned a bunch of things we need to know to understand what happens next, but in which not a lot of forward movement happened. This didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it, but I do worry about some of those twists and how they will be followed up in future installments.
I think I’ve expressed before my concerns about what Sanderson is trying to do with the Cosmere, connecting apparently disparate stories into one overall epic story. I’ve seen other authors try similar things, and it usually doesn’t go well. However, I maintain that if there is anyone that can do it, it’s probably Sanderson, and the fact that he has planned it this way from the beginning is reassuring. So although I have my doubts and concerns about some of what happened in this fourth book, I also trust that the fifth book will resolve those concerns (and probably raise new ones).
None of those doubts, however, should be taken as meaning that I am casting aspersions on the greatness that is Rhythm of War. This was truly a fantastic book, and everything that I had hoped it would be over the years of anticipating its coming. As with the other books in the series, it is epic in every sense of the word, the very epitome of what epic fantasy ought to and can be. But then, if you’re already up to the fourth book in this series, you already know that. If not, you really should go read The Way of Kings, and start on this epic journey.