The eagerly awaited continuation of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series has arrived. OATHBRINGER is everything you want it to be. It’s big (1233 pages!) and continues the amazing stories from THE WAY OF KINGS and WORDS OF RADIANCE. Buckle in your seat belts, folks.
For those of you who need a refresher about what came before, check out Tor.com’s “Before Oathbringer” article.
The first lead-in chapters attempt to gently set you back into the world, which is gentlemanly of Sanderson, especially considering the cataclysmic events of the final chapters of WORDS OF RADIANCE. Instead, we get to start off with a wedding and a little housecleaning as the Alethi settle into their new digs.
The city of Urithiru takes center stage here, as our heroes spend most of their time in the empty city they discovered in WORDS OF RADIANCE. While on the surface the structure seems straightforward, there’s more to it as the story unfolds: it was created out of the mountains, even maintaining the striations of the rock, but with no obvious signs of human building methods; there are tunnels and vents that they don’t understand, other places where perhaps furniture or columns once existed but no one can guess what they’re for; there is a public bath but they can’t figure out how to stream water in; and etc. Fortunately despite its strange design and function, it shelters the refugees from the Everstorm which currently rages across the world, leaving behind it a wake of destruction. The Everstorm is different than the highstorms because it doesn’t recharge the gemstones and also affects any Parshendi it comes in contact with. This storm is a game changer.
Early in OATHBRINGER we learn about the Voidbringers and where they come from–as teased in the ending of WORDS OF RADIANCE. The real issue here is less how the new Knights Radiant must deal with the oncoming destruction and more with a desire to end this problem so it never happens again, because they learn that the Heralds merely imprisoned and didn’t destroy the Voidbringers. Of course, it’s more complicated with that, especially as what we understand about Voidbringers changes as the novel progresses–in very startling ways. Including the understanding that the Parshendi use spren to change their forms, but there’s still more to be revealed (I won’t spoil it for you).
As for other worldbuilding, previous books spent a lot of time on the creatures and ecology of the landscape, and while there are some details here, we instead spend more time learning about Urithiru, spren, Heralds, and Knights Radiant (it’s especially interesting to me how they deal with the limitation of using stormlight). It turns out there’s so much more to spren and the magic of this world than we learned in the first two books. Perhaps Adolin explains it best: “The world is the same as it’s always been…. These things we’re finding–monsters and Radiants–aren’t new. They were only hidden. The world has always been like this, even if I didn’t know it” (pg 884). And it looks like we’re going to spend OATHBRINGER and the next books learning what was hidden. Spren become a big part of the story and I suspect that we’ve only seen a tip of the iceberg.
Again we get a beautiful Whelan cover that teases about book events. There’s also interesting interior art, including the back of the dustcover with the world map, and interior covers with some of the characters. Some of the inside art was a little dark (which made it hard to see well), and some of the art pages in the middle of the book were difficult to see near the spine because the book doesn’t lay flat because it’s so storming big. Minor issues.
In OATHRBINGER this time we get Dalinar’s backstory, which I had a lot of trouble with because, geez, that guy was bloodthirsty in his youth. Now his past behavior is coming back to haunt him as he tries to unite the different countries and their leaders to prepare for the coming fight with the Voidbringers. Should they believe a guy who in the past chose war over diplomacy? Who killed their kings and princes in an effort to expand his brother’s territory and gain glory and spoils for himself? The Dalinar we know now is a person tempered by experience, so the flashbacks were pretty painful, but also enlightening as to the behavior of other countries’ leaders. Then again, the details of political maneuvering in books like this always bore me (personal quirk, I guess), so I either got painful Dalinar past or dull Dalinar present. It was a double-edged sword. Ahem. Fortunately, there is a purpose to all this, you just have to be patient for the payoff.
Shallan’s story arc is as prominent as Dalinar’s as she learns more about her illusion powers. The first quarter or so of OATHBRINGER follows her story as she uses her powers to uncover a mystery of murders in Urithiru. The result is less about the mystery as it’s about her own ghosts. If you recall, we learned in WORDS OF RADIANCE about her backstory and the disturbing circumstances when her Radiant powers began to manifest. Those experiences flavors her approach to the city’s mysterious deaths, and she uses her illusions to create what she believes are stronger more capable versions of herself. While it means using her powers for good, how she uses her magic begins to blur the lines of who she really is. As a result of her past, Shallan has never really seemed to like herself and being an illusionist Knight Radiant seems to be the best way to hide the parts of herself she doesn’t like. But there is fallout involved. Especially after Jasnah returns.
And Jasnah returns in her usual dramatic fashion, sweeping in to use her brains and sheer willpower to figure out what to do. Up to this point she’s spent all her time trying to learn about Voidbringers and the city of Urithiru, but with those appearing at the end of WORDS OF RADIANCE during her disappearance, all of a sudden she must take up a new mantle now that her scholarship is nearly obsolete. And with her own unique flair, she does just that, but it doesn’t necessarily take her where she thinks it will go. Also, she likes to be flashy with her powers, which was rather fun to read.
Kaladin’s story was easily my favorite, but we don’t see much of it for the first third of the book, instead resorting to politics…bah. If you recall, at the end of WORDS OF RADIANCE he rushes off–I mean, flies off–to warn his family and hometown about the Everstorm. In the process he comes across parshmen, which on the Shattered Plains turned into Voidbringers in the Everstorm, but these parshmen didn’t, so that’s his own mystery to solve. Of course it doesn’t end there–there’s still so much more story to cover, but I won’t spoil it. He experiences the least character arc over this book (Jasnah is about as static), but considering how far he’s come since THE WAY OF KINGS I’m not really complaining.
Sanderson does his best to make the all the novel’s characters recognizable, especially the plethora of secondary characters, so I didn’t get too confused. We also get short PoV chapters from various characters, as well as a few chapters from the men on Bridge Four to help to round out the experiences of a strata of people, and not simply those in charge who make the decisions.
OATHBRINGER is written in the typical Sanderson fashion, with a few (or swaths, depending on your sensibilities) nerdy blips, as well as plenty of his signature goofy humor. You aren’t reading these books necessarily for lovely prose (I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just he’s more a meat and potatoes kind of guy, if you know what I mean; but if it’s prose you want, check out my recent review of THE STONE IN THE SKULL – EBR review), but for the amazingly creative world, with all its history, characters, buildings, climate, magic, and all that’s in between. The story moves at a pace typical of the first few books, with it starting off slow and steady, revelations dropping regularly as the story is built up. Until you get to the end and everything explodes and you finally see the resolution he was leading you to, because up until that point you aren’t 100% sure where he’s taking you.
There is a lot of build up. Perhaps too much. Sanderson is a little in love with his worldbuilding. If it were me, I’d probably shave off a good third of the silly banter, half the politics, and refined Dalinar’s backstory. I understand that it’s epic and all that, but 1233 pages is a bit much to ask the modern reader. Still, for those who enjoyed THE WAY OF KINGS and WORDS OF RADIANCE, OATHBRINGER will provide for you exactly what you were hoping: an epic story worth reading.
- Recommended Age: 13+
- Language: Made-up stuff, mild
- Violence: Yeah, there's a war on, and the deaths have some detail
- Sex: Innuendo and referenced