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Posted on 25 Feb 2021 in Fiction, SFF |

BRANDON SANDERSON Rhythm of War: Stormlight Archive Book 4. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley.

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Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series encompasses battles both mental and physical.

A thousand quotes from noted scholars leapt to her mind. Accounts of what it was like to be in war. She’d read hundreds; some so detailed, she’d been able to smell the blood in the air. Yet they all fled like shadows before sunlight as she reached the front…and looked out at the enemy.

On the planet of Roshar, life clings to cracks in the bare rock, beset by near-constant storms. Strange spirits known as spren are an accepted part of life – with different types manifesting in the presence of strong emotions or everyday environmental phenomena like wind, fire and rain.

In The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archive, the murder of the Alethi King Gavilar by the mysterious Assassin in White sparks a long war for revenge on the Shattered Plains. Indeed, Kaladin, once a solider and now a slave, believes his life cannot possibly get any worse, until he is forced to run on the army bridge crews – where human lives are spent like loose change. A young rural noble, Shallan, also has her life turned upside down when her family’s finances change and her only hope is to convince Jasnah Kholin, a famous royal scholar, to accept her as a ward.

We follow their stories throughout the series, gradually picking up other main characters as important world events unfold. It becomes clear in later books that Sanderson doesn’t just write single worlds, he’s writing an entire universe – the cosmere. The links to his other series are a nice touch in the world of Roshar, but it isn’t necessary to have read them. I’ve only read the two Mistborn series, for example, and I imagine there are more references to the cosmere that I haven’t picked up on. Rhythm of War does contain a spoiler for the end of the first Mistborn series, so if that’s also on your reading list, I would recommend finishing that first. Sanderson has a guide to the reading order for his many books on his website, which is far more comprehensive than this review. (You can also find comprehensive plot summaries of the previous books here.)

 Within the Stormlight series itself, Edgedancer, a novella set between Book Two and Book Three, is also well worth reading. We first meet Lift in Book Two, as one of the new interlude characters, where she helps some other thieves break into a palace. Her companions are after a few trinkets to sell but Lift just wants to show off.  Edgedancer details Lift’s transformation from a street kid with a few tricks up her sleeve to a Knight Radiant during her quest to save innocents from being killed by the man she calls Darkness. Books Three and Four will still make sense without it but the story is too beautiful to skip entirely.

In the first Stormlight book, a few of the fragments of texts at the start of chapters, the interludes with random, seemingly unconnected characters and the sheer amount of worldbuilding going on can be frustrating. I remember putting it down at one point, thinking: ‘I don’t care about these new characters. I just want to know what happens to Kaladin and Shallan … and OK, maybe Dalinar and Adolin too, but that is it!’

But enjoying these books simply boils down to making a choice about how deeply you want to engage with the plot. You can try to put all the pieces together as you go and this can be fun: like trying to guess who wrote a letter based on their speech patterns and word choices. Simply letting these details wash over you as you read, however, is an equally valid, and potentially more relaxing, approach to this series. Stormlight Archive can be enjoyed as a comprehensive interlocking account of this world, or you can just be carried along by the story, and if you happen to make a few connections on the way, then that’s great but you don’t have to. The big revelations will be explained. You won’t miss them if you hadn’t picked up the clues.

There are many things that make this series wonderful, including the fantastically detailed world, vivid alien landscapes, devious plotting, epic scope and a range of unforgettable characters, from solid and dependable Dalinar to Jasnah, as brilliant as she is bitchy. There’s also the King’s Wit, with his amazing insults and philosophical discussions, often with the unwilling and uninterested. It is appropriate that a character who is often referred to as just Wit makes me think of Oscar Wilde.

It’s refreshing to see characters who struggle with their mental health – Kaladin with PTSD, for instance – it’s not something that can be healed with magic and it doesn’t just go away. Even after someone’s life improves or some kind of resolution is reached, the battle continues. These changes might make it easier to soldier on living, but the underlying condition is still there. This makes the characters’ emotional journeys more compelling and relatable:

Was he happy?

He wasn’t sad.

For now, he’d accept ‘not sad’.

Sanderson is also very witty:

A group of people in black robes stood around her … Each robe was embroidered with the Double Eye of the Almighty, and Shallan had a fleeting thought, wondering at the seamstress they’d hired to do all this work. What had they told her? ‘Yes, we want twenty identical, mysterious robes, sewn with arcane symbols. They’re for … parties.’

In the fourth and latest book, Rhythm of War, a year has passed since the battle at the end of Book Three and the war is still going poorly for the humans, who are gradually losing ground. As a technological arms race is set to decide the outcome, the enemy seek to strike their most powerful blow against the human coalition yet.

Kaladin is growing so weary of the conflict that he isn’t sure if he can continue fighting and is forced to contemplate other ways to contribute to the war effort and fulfil his Ideals. Shallan and Adolin return to Shadesmar, the realm of the spren, to ask the honourspren to fully commit to their side, despite the horrible events of the Recreance centuries earlier still tainting their view of humans. They are warned, however, that honour might not be what they find.

This far into the series, the pacing, character arcs and twists are still really satisfying. Occasionally, I can even predict something correctly! Or at least wonder about the right question. There are six more books planned and I’m looking forward to every single one.

Brandon Sanderson Rhythm of War Gollancz 2020 PB 1008pp RRP $32.99

Amelia Dudley studied plant biology and currently works as a tutor. She is the proud auntie of many nieces and nephews. In her spare time she reads, gardens, draws, paints and doesn’t get to do enough writing.

You can buy Rhythm of War from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.