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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fantasy Review: Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Having had a few days to reflect on it and collect my thoughts, I am still of two minds regarding Oathbringer, the 3rd massive tome of Brandon Sanderson's epic Stormlight Archive. There is a significant change of focus here, both in terms of characters and storytelling, and while parts of it worked very well for me - extraordinarily well, in fact - others fell flat or just felt tedious.

For starters, this volume belongs to Dalinar and Shallan, resigning Kaladin (my favorite character from the first two books) to the background. In Dalinar's case, it turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding change, with extended flashback chapters that expose his darker, far more violent past, and which shed new light on his actions and attitudes over the first two books. We come to see him in an entirely new light, with a contrast between personalities so jarring that it's often painful to watch. Part of that is due to the presence of his wife, a woman whose name and face have been a gaping hole in his memories for so long, and part of that hinges on his pursuit of The Thrill, which made something of a monster of the man. Outside those flashbacks, his story is rather slow, full of politics and philosophical discussions that really weigh down the first half of the book, but they do lead us to some incredible revelations regarding the magic and mythology of the Desolation, the Voidbringers, the Heralds, Honorblades, spren, and more.

In Shallan's case, while we get a lot more action and some genuine character development, I found her to be a rather tiresome character. It's a shame, because there is so much potential within her, especially with how her various roles and guises begin to bleed through to one another. Her personality just rubs me the wrong way, and even scenes that should be sweet or amusing come across as bland tripe. It doesn't help that a significant aspect of her character arc is completely undone in this volume, a revelation that I guess we should have seen coming, but which struck me as a cheap way of restoring conflict to her role. It's much-needed conflict, and does make her a little more interesting, but not enough to justify her page count. The only redeeming grace is her spren, Pattern, who never ceases to trigger my amusement and curiosity.

Although it is Dalinar and Shallan who dominate the novel, I would also argue this is a story of minor characters taking on major significance. It's hard to talk about that significance without spoiling any aspects of the story, but characters like Renarin, Moash, and others get a chance to shine, and what happens to or around them is sometimes the most fascinating part of the story. Bridge Four has an important role to play here once again as well, but - for me, at least - their scenes just emphasize how far Kaladin is from the center of the story this time out.

Oathbringer marks a lull in the series, but it's an important lull. As much as we may chafe against the pacing and the character point of views, we finally get answers . . . and we get a lot of them. So much of what was hidden or hinted at in the first two books is exposed here. We get answers, we get mythology, and we finally get some wider sense of world-building. It is here that the story begins to move away from the epic saga of ruling dynasty, and into the epic saga of a world on the brink of extinction. Having said all that, the last arc of the book is vintage Sanderson and well worth sticking around for. All the book's flaws are forgiven as all the threads come together and we realize, in hindsight, just how and why so many little things were significant. The final three-hundred pages (a novel on its own for most authors) are all climax, and they are some of the finest that Sanderson has ever written.

So, not a perfect book, and probably the first time I really noticed the page count in a negative way, but I'm glad I had the time to linger over it, take my time, and digest it along the way. And, of course, I remain just as excited for the next installment.

Hardcover, 1248 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

4 comments:

  1. Oh no. Don't use the word "lull" for a tome (unless deserved, which I guess it was)! I really want to read this, but the size is always a bit offputting (just coordinating the time to dedicate to it). Hearing there's a lull doesnt help motivate me to make time

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    1. Yeah, it's a BIG book - I'm glad there was a review embargo so I could linger over the ARC. :)

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  2. It's interesting because this was my favorite of the Stormlight books so far, but then my favorite character is actually Dalinar so that probably makes a lot of sense! :D

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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    1. I like him a lot better now that he has a backstory to give him some edge/color, but I chafed against his POV for much of the first half.

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