Monday, January 1, 2018

Oathbringer Book Review

by The Wanderer
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Stormlight Archive Book Three
Pages: 1,220

(Spoilers for Stormlight Archives 1-2 and Warbreaker are below).

With the Everstorm released, a new Desolation has begun. Dalinar Kholin and the Alethi armies now occupy the once lost great city of Urithiru. There he realizes he must not only unite the Alethi but all of Roshar if he is to defeat Odium and the Voidbringers. But the cause of the Voidbringers may not be unjust, as Kaladin tries to infiltrate their numbers and learn more about their mission. The murder of Brightlord Sadaes also stands to tear apart the Alethi, and Adolin and Shallan are tasked with investigating it, along with a string of other bizarrely occurring murders.

The release of a new Stormlight book always feels like something to celebrate, as Sanderson has stated this is his magnum opus series for the entire Cosmere. And of course it's something that will occupy a lot of your time, as the latest installment required Tor Books to use a new binding and a different printing method just so the whole thing could be contained in one volume. So in short this is a big, highly anticipated, book.

Flashback sequences focus on Dalinar, who has had a memory blocking spell put on the memory of his first wife. He slowly begins to remember the role she played in his life, what he was like during his conquests with Gavilar, and why his wife is no longer with him. Considering what we know about Dalinar, these flashbacks were pretty straightforward, and they didn't throw too many big surprises, but there was a nice Easter Egg thrown in there. In the present Dalinar is mostly contained to Urithiru and trying to get the Oathgates to work, which would allow quick travel to other gates scattered across important locations in Roshar. 

A lot of the action and adventure sequences are given to Shallan, Adolin, and Kaladin. And although there arcs develop slowly, they all find themselves in very interesting situations during the latter half of the novel. Kaladin, seems like he takes on a role of lesser importance, too. He also seems to be learning that his empathy can make situations worse, and at times provides nice examples of a person trying to do the right thing but is only making things worse. 

A couple of "new" character additions were highlights for me. Nightblood the talking sword given to Szeth at the end of Words of Radiance and his quest to destroy EVIL, remains a highlight, and one of my favorite Sanderson character creations. The appearance of Azure in the back half of the story was also nicely done, and I can't wait to see how Azure will fall into more things on Roshar.

Shallan continues to be the most interesting character for me. In Oathbringer, as a Lightweaver she has the ability to create different illusions. As such, she creates two illusions, Veil and Radiant, that she infuses with parts of herself that she wishes to be. In the case of Radiant, she creates a beautiful woman who enjoys the luxuries of the nobility and shardblade training with Adolin, and with Veil she creates a sort of spymaster that crawls through the pubs looking for answers to the murders being committed in Urithiru. Each of these characters also create a strange sort of love triangle, where Shallan/Veil becomes attracted to Kaladin, and Shallan/Radiant becomes attracted to Adolin. 

Internally speaking, and as a character, Shallan has a lot of different conflicts going on, between reconciling her past and what she did to earn her shardblade, her romantic feelings about the men she's around, discovering the truth about the murders in Urithiru, struggling as Jasnah's ward, not being accustomed to being surrounded by nobility, and learning a new set of magical abilities, there's a lot to work with in making her plots and growth as a character interesting.

To contrast this are other characters that don't seem to get developed very well, but are given some significant narration time, like the members in Bridge Four. A lot of these men are given time as narrators in part two, and what comes across as an attempt to develop these characters more doesn't really pay off. I still don't see too much of a difference between all of their personalities. And I think this is a larger issue with Sanderson's writing. There are a lot of characters that do start to look the same, and it becomes a lot more obvious when all these characters are in such a long book together. I believe this sameness is directly linked to his style of humor. In some cases it works well, in others not so much. 

In the cases where it doesn't work well, the sense of humor for most of Brandon's characters is Brandon's sense of humor. If you watch the author in any of his lectures, interviews, etc. you should be able to get a clear idea of his style of humor. What I would like to see is Shallan, or Kaladin, or Adolin's sense of humor as different styles of humor that directly reflects on who they are as characters. Because when I'm reading the jokes that go between these characters, I'm registering a lot of Brandon's humor as opposed to say exclusively Shallan's humor. With these major characters, it's less of an issue. But with the secondary characters, like Bridge Four, the humor almost exclusively sounds like Sanderson jokes. And humor being one of the best ways for a writer to endear a reader to their characters as well as create distinct voices for them, can't be accomplished when they all sound the same.

Issues aside, Oathbringer, is still a fun book to read, and of course essential to anyone who's reading the Cosmere. Although Sanderson likes to say each different series within the Cosmere can be read independently, I would argue that the reader is doing a serious disservice to themselves by not reading Warbreaker before reading this book. At a rate of one Stormlight book every three years, I'll be well into my forty's by the time this series is finished, but that won't stop me from continuing my journey through Roshar and the Cosmere at large.

Score: 9.0

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