A step down from Sanderson’s normal brilliance.
Reviewing a book like Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, the third book in his The Stormlight Archive, was always going to be tricky. There are very few books that can be claimed to be similar – Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn is the only book on my shelves I can compare it to – and the hype for this particular book had reached epic proportions by the time it finally arrived on my doorstep.
To make matters more complicated, and in the interests of full disclosure, the UK edition of the book has quoted me on the back cover: “Brandon Sanderson is one of the greatest fantasy writers”, a crib from the conclusion to my review of his second Stormlight book, Words of Radiance. In full, it reads: “Brandon Sanderson has written a book that seals his spot as one of the greatest fantasy writers."
Though I have now finished Oathbringer and still believe Sanderson is “one of the greatest fantasy writers” I do not necessarily think I can attribute his latest effort as proof of that statement. This is what makes my situation trickier than it was going to be, because I stand by my ratings for The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance (10/10 and 9/10 respectively), but Oathbringer was a step down from Sanderson’s normal brilliance.
Coming in at a whopping 1,233 pages in length, Oathbringer is, as I have mentioned, the third book in The Stormlight Archive – a series which is intended to run for 10 books. Oathbringer is the third of 10, but also the third of 5 books – Sanderson’s intention is to write two five-book cycles. This was always going to be a difficult book for Sanderson to write, as it sits both smack-bang in the middle of his first cycle, must do justice to the two books that comes before it, make enough progress to make sense of the two books to follow, while still fit within a 10-book arc.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, there is a lot going on. There are 25 separate point of view characters – though, admittedly, the lion’s share of POV rests with Dalinar, Kaladin, Shallan, and Adolin – and numerous geographical locations. Normally Sanderson has always managed to keep a firm grasp on the width and breadth of his stories, but I found myself repeatedly losing track of names that were thrown about as if they had been introduced, only to find they hadn’t, and place names which I thought were the same, only to find they weren’t.
I’ve been reviewing books for over a decade and have read Robert Jordan – I know how to keep track of what I’ve read and what is new, and Sanderson occasionally let this slip, which surprised me.
To do justice to a book the size of Oathbringer I feel I would have to write a review three times as long as normal – which I’m not going to do. Suffice it to say, I really did enjoy it, if for no other reason than the story progressed, and I was returned to some of my favourite characters – Kaladin, Syl, and Shallan are my favourites. And Wit, of course.
However, the primary reason I feel Oathbringer was something of a let-down was not the occasional slip-up with names and places – as I said, I’ve been reading and reviewing for a while, I don’t need someone to hold my hand the whole way – but was rather the blatant and repeated intrusion of the author into his story.
Authorial contrivance is the single greatest sin an author can commit, in my opinion. When I can see the author’s hand in a character’s decision-making or in the way circumstances come together, then the author has failed to properly tell his story. To be fair, The Stormlight Archive is a huge undertaking, but this is pressure Sanderson put on himself and, to my eyes and in my opinion, with Oathbringer he failed to properly execute. Characters reverted too often to type or were made to change their type as the story required, situations were too often conveniently placed in order to exacerbate other situations or were untold so as to hide their implausibility, and there were numerous times when rules that were put in place were suddenly broken at the author’s convenience.
Given the intricacy of The Stormlight Archives and Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere work as a whole, I might come to realise that all of these seeming-issues were planned all along – though I don’t think so. Too often I saw the author’s hand in his story the same way we eventually saw the artist’s hand as Daffy Duck’s tormentor in the classic Merrie Melodies cartoon, ‘Duck Amuck’. In fact, Duck Amuck reminds me a lot of Oathbringer. The cartoonist behind Daffy Duck’s turmoil (Bugs Bunny) continually changes the scenery, clothing, voice, and instruments of Daffy’s destruction. Sanderson – though not to the same comic and extreme degree, of course – similarly played a little too fast and loose with the story and his characters so as to reach a specific, predetermined ending.
If I am to, at one time, call Brandon Sanderson “one of the greatest fantasy writers”, then I need to also be able to, at another time, highlight instances where I think he fails to live up to that title. I don’t like doing so because I still believe Oathbringer was a brilliant book. I just don’t think it lives up to the high bar Sanderson has set for himself. In the end, Sanderson remains one of the greatest fantasy writers because of his larger oeuvre and what he has accomplished therein. I just don’t think Oathbringer will go down as contributing to that title of “greatest” unless from this book he learns to remove his hand from the scales of his storytelling and continues to grow as an author.
Review by Joshua S Hill
11 positive reader review(s) for Oathbringer
120 positive reader review(s) in total for the The Stormlight Archive series
Sardar from Pakistan
I honestly can't think of where do I put this book in comparison with the other two. This book easily has the best collection of goosebumps moments. The best and longest climax. Actually there are two. And the best charecter work I've seen in fantasy, or in general. Ignore a few odd dialogue choices and pacing problems and epic fantasy doesn't get any better than this. "If I must fall, I will rise each time a better man." 9.6/10
Anthony from Canada
I would have given this 7.5. The first two books were amazing - the slow plot progression was forgivable because of the mind-blowing imagination of the author. However, Oathbringer drags in places. There are still very good parts where the mystery and excitement return but some parts become downright boring. There were parts that should have been cut. However, I will still read the fourth and would say the Stormlight Archive is still a must read for fantasy fans!
JJ from United States
While still a great book, Oathbringer was a slight step down from Words of Radiance and The Way of Kings. I still enjoyed it, though, especially the flashbacks.
Tim from USA
I really enjoyed the first 2 books in the Stormlight Archive but was really disappointed with Oathbringer. I agree with the reviewer that there were too many side stories and the plot was pulled in way too many diections. I’m also not a fan of super detailed descriptions of mythical planet and references to stuff that has nothing to do with story or characters. Overall I found myself shaking my head throughout the book trying to get to relevant story points.
Rand from Two Rivers
Loved it. Great twists. More amazing worldbuilding. Continued character growth (though I didn't like Shallan's arc that much, and I liked her in the previous books), and an epic battle at the end. Dalinar's flashbacks and his character, in general, were amazing. This book cemented him as one of my favorite characters of all time.
Holio from US
Although I gave this book a "7", it seemed more appropriate to give it a "6.5" rating. This 3rd installation of The Stormlight Archive series felt like the Last Jedi movie going experience with Kaladin replacing Luke (weak and feeble) and Shallan replacing Rey (Mary Sue). Just like the movie, this book was a fun read overall. However, it was such a letdown from the previous 2 installations, hence, my disappointment.
Rakesh Krishna from India
I loved it, not as much as the first two books but still one of the best I've ever read. We can't expect Mr. Brandon to push out books that are equally amazing. There willl always be ups and downs in a series, but I don't think this is as bad as you are saying, is it?
Allan from DK
Solid read. Lots and lots of awesome stuff, and the book end resolution managed to be very different from the last two books which was nice. I missed a character overview in the beginning of the book though. If I hadn't had the online wikis I would have been lost to some of the name and situations from the last book, as it has been too long and there is some many of them.
Markus from United States
Love the book. Unexpected twists. Lots of points of view but not confusing. I feel like we read a different book.
Anon 2 from United States
Not that I don't kind of get what issues you might've had with the book from having read it myself and enjoyed it myself while still understanding its faults, but this review is incredibly vague to the point of being kind of worthless for those thinking of buying it or those looking to see others' thoughts on it.
Anon from UK
I had so many more problems than you listed in your review. Firstly I hated how Sanderson torpedoed Kaladin to avoid making him seem like the main character of the series. Kaladin was the foundation of this series with the first book. Then how about the dialogue of the women? I hated them all. And then the ending of the book was a complete mess with too many point of views.
8.3/10 from 12 reviews