Review: The Stormlight Archive, Book Three: Oathbringer

The friend who was lending me Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books switched to ebooks, but thanks to my local library, I’ve pressed ahead with the series.

Cover art for The Stormlight Archive, book three: Oathbringer by Brandon SandersonThe previous two books in this series suffered from painfully slow pacing, but made up for it with spectacular endings. Oathbringer breaks that pattern, which is both a blessing and a curse.

The upshot is the pacing is a lot more even throughout. The pace is still a little on the slower side, but not unpleasantly so, and he doesn’t seem to spend so much time getting bogged down in irrelevant details. Things move forward at a slow but steady pace, and Oathbringer is a lot more approachable and readable than its predecessors.

The only place it does drag a bit is Dalinar’s story. His story in the present day isn’t exactly thrilling, but what’s really tedious is the flashbacks that are peppered throughout the book. They keep teasing a big reveal but it takes so… long… to get to it. I actually skipped ahead — something I never do when reading — and read all the flashbacks up to the reveal in one go because I was tired of being strung along.

That doesn’t do much to make the book as a whole less enjoyable. It’s still a great read… right up until the end.

The previous two Stormlight books have justified themselves with intense, kickass endings full of exciting action and big reveals. Oathbringer tries to double down on that, but there can be too much of a good thing.

The ending to Oathbringer tries so hard to be an epic, fantastical thrill ride that it crosses over into the realm of the ridiculous. And this is coming from a Warcraft fan, so that has to say something. I accepted Richard A. Knaak and Rhonin’s psychic dinosaur army (albeit grudgingly), and even I think this is too much.

We’re only three books in, and already the power levels of the heroes have gotten so absurdly high that it’s nigh-impossible to inject any drama into the story. The Radiants are all invincible gods at this point. The middle of a good fantasy epic should leave you struggling to imagine how the heroes could possibly triumph, but at this point I struggle to imagine how they could possibly fail.

I’ve heard it said that Brandon Sanderson is planning this to be a ten book series, but I don’t know how he’s going to pull it off. He’s already answered almost all the big questions, and already the power levels of heroes and villains alike are so high it threatens to break the story. How in the world is he going to wring another seven books out of this? To me it feels like there’s one book worth of story left at most.

Based on this series, Sanderson is great at world-building and creating memorable characters, but he really needs to work on his plotting.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

Review: The Stormlight Archive, Book Two: Words of Radiance

Having enjoyed the first book — and still being peer-pressured within an inch of my life — I was quick to borrow the second book of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, Words of Radiance, from my friend.

Cover art for The Stormlight Archive, book two: Words of Radiance by Brandon SandersonI enjoyed this book more than its predecessor. Words of Radiance improves on many of the strengths of The Way of Kings, and polishes some of the flaws, though it doesn’t erase them completely.

Words of Radiance sees Kaladin and the bridgemen saved from their brutal life of slavery as they now occupy a place of honour as guards in the employ of Dalinar Kholin, but the political intrigue of Alethkar provides threats of its own, and Kaladin’s personal demons threaten to rob him of everything he’s achieved.

Meanwhile, Shallan must begin to find her own path as she finds herself separated from her mentor.

For the most part, this is the same sort of experience Way of Kings was. That is to say a very traditional but highly competent high fantasy. It’s not surprising, and it’s not innovative, but it is entertaining. The plot is compelling, the setting is interesting, and the characters are deeply likable.

Near the end, it also boasts one of the most insane action sequences I’ve ever read. I wish I’d written it.

The flaws of the past book have also been at least partially addressed. Shallan has become a much more compelling character, though she’s still not my favourite, and her plot is too reliant on withholding vital information from the reader. There’s a semi-decent explanation for this within the story, but it still feels cheap.

The pacing issues have also improved. Words of Radiance is not nearly so glacial as Way of Kings was, though it does still have the problem of more happening in the last 1-200 pages than the first 1,000.

I also didn’t find the writing got so bogged down in irrelevant details this time. Or maybe I just got used to it, but there didn’t seem to be as much wasted prose this time.

On the downside, some new issues have arisen. The newly introduced romantic arcs are as lifeless and predictable as you would expect from such a classical high fantasy, and the fact it all seems to be headed towards yet another love triangle is making me physically wince.

But those are ultimately minor criticisms of what is for the most part an exciting, fascinating, and at times inspiring read. This series remains a strong recommendation for fans of old school high fantasy.

Overall rating: 8.4/10