Seems only yesterday I reviewed The Way of Kings with the wide-eyed wonder of a freshly minted Cosmere initiate. Now, I’ve read all of the currently released Cosmere material, and I’m all in. Before I jump into my Rhythm of War review, I recommend you check out our full Cosmere Reading Order Guide.
Where do we stand on Roshar? It’s a complex question with probably hundreds of answers, all of them correct in some way. We pick up after the events of Oathbringer, in which Dalinar managed to stave off Odium’s advances on his psyche. Reveals abounded in Oathbringer, and Rhythm takes up the helm to bring us to uncharted waters. Here’s a cursory, not-at-all-complete look at some of our protagonists as Rhythm opens:
- Dalinar: ready to take back Emul from the Fused and prepare for Taravangian’s eventual betrayal.
- Kaladin: relieved from military duty and wandering Urithiru in an attempt to find his place. Also, he brought his entire family to the tower city.
- Shallan: increasingly nervous about a new alternate personality growing within her, and taking on a new mission from the Ghostbloods that would send her to Shadesmar yet again.
- Adolin: tasked with venturing into Shadesmar to convince Honorspren to bond humans again.
- Venli: reckoning with the choices of her past, she joins an expedition to overtake Urithiru and subjugate humans in an attempt to glean information the Fused believe is in the tower.
- Jasnah: now queen of Alethkar, struggling to cement her leadership position.
- Navani: intent on researching fabrials to uncover the hidden secrets of Roshar.
This is The Stormlight Archive, after all, so consider those descriptions high-level and incredibly malleable. The characters—and their situations—can and do change over the course of the novel, and what fun it is to watch.
Before picking up a Brandon Sanderson book was even a thought in my head, I knew Rhythm of War had its work cut out. Many of my Sanderson-savvy friends listed it as their least favorite installment of the series (which is like wanting Michael Jordan but being disappointed you got LeBron). I loved it. I loved every second of it, dare I say more than I enjoyed Oathbringer? Rhythm of War is a constant build, an ever-louder crescendo that culminates in world-shaking discoveries that undoubtedly set the stage for the climax of Stormlight’s first era.
Rhythm Of War has its issues…well, one issue. Namely: pacing. Where previous Stormlight books balanced myriad protagonists with poise and grace, Rhythm makes things clunkier. Much of the focus rests on Navani and Kaladin in the tower, while Adolin and Shallan’s storylines get less screen time. To be ultra-clear: it’s not that they don’t get enough time. It’s that Sanderson relegates these storylines to large, sweeping sections. So you’ll spend multiple hundreds of pages in Urithiru, then be jolted back to Shadesmar, where you’ll stay for another few hundred pages. This style was still prevalent in the previous books, but the distance between the characters feels stronger in Rhythm. I still loved it, but I did feel jarred when I had to recalibrate and focus on a specific storyline for a while.
And that there is the single worst thing I have to say about Rhythm of War. It has lots of characters and you have to be prepared for that. If you’re reading Stormlight, don’t you know that anyway? I certainly hope so.
Now to the good: everything else. Sanderson has a wily way of undermining expectations and bringing his stories into new territory. Kaladin helps the mentally ill after two and a half books of endless fighting. Navani single-handedly sparks a pseudo-industrial revolution. Shallan battles with her conflicting inner personalities. Adolin shoulders the burden of humanity’s crimes against spren. Dalinar does daddy stuff. Venli retreads her maniacal quest for importance and realizes the terror she’s brought upon the world. As always, Sanderson shows us depth and struggle within the context of a universe-spanning story, and I couldn’t look away.
The last point I want to note is about Rhythm of War’s place within the larger series. It’s a build-novel, in that it brings to light many reveals but doesn’t necessarily offer a lot by way of resolution. And that’s fine by me. Sanderson had to lay the groundwork for an epic finale in Stormlight 5. As a result, Rhythm has a lot of informative sections and lacks some of the action that pervaded the earlier novels. If you lean into it, there are a ton of Cosmere-related goodies for eagle-eyed readers. Rhythm is, by far, the most Cosmere-aware of the Stormlight books. I expect book five will blow it out of the water in that regard, and I can’t wait.
Rhythm of War is a Stormlight book; need I say more? It expands the world in meaningful ways, gives us fresh character development, and hints at grander things to come. It’s an excellent read, as any Cosmere fan is no doubt already aware.