CRUISING THE COSMERE: Rhythm Of War (BOOK REVIEW)
With each volume of the Stormlight Archives it is getting harder to review without giving spoilers, and whilst I’ve tried my hardest to keep plot details to a minimum and concentrate more on characters and themes, please be aware there will be some spoilers for previous books in the series and perhaps minor ones for Rhythm of War.
What can I say about the Stormlight Archives which I haven’t already said? I don’t think anything I write here could even begin to express how phenomenal this series is. Now that I have come to finish the fourth book, my mind is a buzz with the sheer magnitude of the events which took place in this novel, the revelations which made me audibly gasp and the character arcs which finally came to a sense of resolution.
Rhythm of War is a book which catapulted me into a hurricane of emotions, and in its aftermath I was left stunned and heartbroken and longing for even more.
In the opening chapters we see that a year has passed since the events of Oathbringer and that Alethkar is still in the hands of the enemy. Yet the Knights Radiants, now grown vastly in numbers, are fighting back. Sanderson scarcely lets the reader catch their breath as he uncharacteristically dives straight into a more action packed plot. From the very onset Rhythm of War ups the stakes in ways which were both unexpected and entirely exhilarating. We were lulled into a false sense of security that our Radiants had excelled in their powers enough to make them almost indestructible, we were wrong. We thought the Fused were primitive, unskilled and unintelligent, we were wrong. We thought our well loved characters wouldn’t possibly face any more pain: we were so wrong.
“No army, no matter how clean its reputation, walked away from war untainted. And no leader, no matter how noble, could help but sink into the crem when he stepped into the game of conquest.”
Yet, that’s not to say this instalment is more plot driven than it is character driven. On the contrary, Sanderson manages to develop every single character in the most impactful and gripping ways, which is something that I have now come to expect. From very early on it is clear that each character is going to be pushed in different directions, their abilities are going to be put to the test and we will witness what happens when they are placed into new roles. For example, Dalinar has to take a step back from warfare and discover more about what a Bondsmith can actually do. Whereas Jasnah has to adapt in her role as Queen and take an active part in warfare. My vulnerable Shallan must finally face her past, and Kaladin, my sweet, poor beloved Kaladin, has to learn other ways to fight and survive. Throughout the entirety of Rhythm of War we watch each character strengthen, grow, learn, or just simply endure.
Over the course of this series I feel as though many of these characters, be they main or minor ones, have become like old friends, or even stronger than that – family. That is why when I say that this book was painful to read at times, I say it with sincerity. I am an emotional reader, and damn you Sanderson, this book hit me with such an immense wave of sorrow. Each character goes through truly emotionally intense journeys, particularly Shallan and Kaladin. Mental health representation has always been a key theme throughout Stormlight Archives and I feel that Rhythm of War brings this to light even further as these characters both reach breaking point. There is an atmosphere of utter weariness permeating the main characters – the ongoing battle has finally taken its toll. The Dog and the Dragon is a chapter which heartbreakingly portrays Kaladin heading towards his darkest self, when Wit, the absolute treasure, comes and tells him a story. Sanderson perfectly reflects why I love stories here, and perhaps reflects why many people who suffer from anxiety and depression read – stories offer moments of solace, they help to show us there is always light through whatever darkness life puts us through.
“He didn’t know what had happened to him. He walked a place of constant winds. The faces of those he loved appeared in haunting shadows, each one begging for help. Flashes of light burned his skin, blinded him. The light was angry. And though Kaladin longed to escape the darkness, each new flash trained him to be more afraid of the light.”
Rhythm of War offers an expanded range of diversity too. The many members of Kaladin’s Bridge Four are the prime example of this. Several chapters throughout are devoted to Rlain, Dabbid, Renarin and Teft, who each represent disability, autism, and those who have been afflicted by racial prejudice and drug addiction. Bridge Four has always been a home for the outcasts, a beacon for the underdogs, and often a family for the broken. They are the very embodiment of the ideal, “strength before weakness”.
“Who do you think is stronger?” Adolin asked. “The man who has walked easily his entire life, or the man with no legs? The man who must pull himself by his arms?”
I have mentioned in my review for Oathbringer that several readers found the interludes and flashback scenes a ‘slog’ to read through, and I have seen the same to be said for Rhythm of War. Now every opinion is valid, and reading is very much subjective, however once again, I find myself disagreeing. In this volume particularly I was thoroughly fascinated by each interlude and flashback scene, they felt significant to the overall story arc, they brought added depth to characters who have previously had less focus, and they brought many implications for the wider connections to the Cosmere universe. For example Eshonai and Venli’s interludes delved into much needed backstory of the time when singers/listeners first interacted with the Alethi. They also starkly portray how much growth the characters have achieved.
As much as the characters have grown over the series, so has the world of Roshar. This is where a new favourite character of mine truly began to shine. Navani, donned Mother of Machines by The Sleepless for her research into fabrials, opens up a world of technology which is slowly pushing Roshar into a new age. Yet she is not the only one to use this advantage, as the singer’s Ancient One Raboniel also seeks the same path. Now, technological advancement works side by side with magical abilities in a desperate fight to win this war. I have always loved Sanderson’s intricate magic system and in this book we get a tantalising taste of new abilities as a variety of spren are introduced, and we delve further into the mysteries of Shadesmar.
During Oathbringer, we are shown that the ‘Voidbringers’ which are now known as the singers, were not all the mindless killers the people of Roshar believed them to be. In Rhythm of War Sanderson heightens this and presents to us a race who are very much akin to humans. Through Venli and Raboniel’s character arcs we see that their desires and desperate need for their survival mirrors that of humans. Yes they are capable of cruelty, of being cunning, deceiving and manipulative but then humans are guilty of the same. Yet the singers are capable of compassion, kindness, intelligence, of feeling guilt, love, and respect too. They are also victims of oppression. Rhythm of War is a book which shows us when two races are pitted against each other for the very right to exist, they will fight tooth and claw to win.
“It is not for us that we fight,” Raboniel said. It is not for our comfort that we destroy, but for the comfort of those who come after. We sing rhythms of Pain so they may know rhythms of Peace.”
Whilst we now better understand, and dare I say sympathise with the singers, that is not to say this book has no villains to outright loathe. Let us not forget, there is still Moash and Odium, and these were two characters which I found very hard to find an ounce of sympathy for. They both may have reasons for their actions be that a heart full of vengeance or in Odium’s case a grander plan in which we catch glimpses of, their malicious actions far outweigh their reasons. Then there are the characters who fray upon the borders, the ones who you are never sure whether they have ill intentions or not. Taravangian and Raboniel, two completely opposite characters, yet so alike in their ambiguity, intelligence and secretive nature. There is also definitely a line between power to create change and abusing that power, and often I felt Jasnah‘s character danced upon the edges of it. Whilst I’m not saying that Jasnah is villainous, she certainly comes close to stepping over moral lines in this book. Don’t get me wrong she’s fantastic, but she’s dangerous too.
When I came to the end of Rhythm of War I realised it is one of the most emotionally draining books I’ve ever read, and this is by no means a negative concept. Let’s face it, a lot of readers are drawn to books which make them feel. It is the sign of a skilled author if they can draw laughter and tears from you in the space of a few chapters or even a few lines, and well Sanderson, you are the master of emotions.
So now that I have come to the end of my journey through the Stormlight Archives and now must wait for book five, which will conclude the first half of this ten part series, what will I read next? Well I’ll continue Cruising the Cosmere by diving into Elantris next and then Mistborn.