Eshonai had always told her sister that she was certain something wonderful lay over the next hill.
– Oathbringer, opening line –
Am I really giving you another behemoth of a Stormlight Archive book review? Of course I am 😁
Oathbringer had been eyeing me temptatiously throughout all of October, so the minute my thesis was handed in, I rescued it from its bookshelfous neglect, plopped down on my bed, and basically didn’t get up again until I had finished reading. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that I was glued to its pages, completely engrossed in the history and politics that were finally being revealed, in all the new places we got to see, and in every little tidbit regarding the characters I have grown to love so much.
Granted, I did think the first 700 pages dragged a little and could have focused a bit more on interactions between characters rather than going on and on about Dalinar’s past battles. There’s only so many ways you can describe the guy slaughtering people without it getting repetitive… But the second half of the book? I was absolutely sold! There was everything I ever could have asked for, from magnificent world-building, insane plot twists, intrigue, betrayal, humor, suffering, to lots and lots of character development.
Although it is probably my least favorite installment thus far, Oathbringer has done nothing to dampen my obsession with this series, which is slowly but surely cementing itself among my favorites. So be prepared for loads of rambling! Or, to be more precise, loads of rambling with loads of spoilers, because I have thoughts, and with this being the third book in the Stormlight Archive, I can’t really say anything non-spoilery anyway…
SOME GENERAL INFO:
Series: The Stormlight Archive, #3
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Page Count: 1242
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Date Read: September 26th – November 10th, 2021
(My thesis kind of got in the way… Having to put Oathbringer down for a month was absolute torture, so don’t let the amount of time it took me to finish it fool you into thinking it wasn’t good. Because it was!! 🥰)
Rating: 4/5 Stars. Or maybe 4.5/5 Stars? 🤔 I’m having a really hard time deciding! 😫 I loved it, obviously, but there were still some things that could have been done better.
My In-Depth Thoughts
WARNING – MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
As I can proudly say I predicted, Oathbringer was very much a Dalinar book.
(Okay, fine. Considering that Oathbringer is named after Dalinar’s ex-shardblade and that we already got a Kaladin book and a Shallan book, I probably shouldn’t be too proud of this prediction. But hey, my divination skills have to start somewhere, right? 🙃)
To be honest, this could have gone either way. I always thought Dalinar and his visions were interesting, but I found him nowhere near as fascinating as the other protagonists. He was always so righteous and honorable, and seemed to have no flaws whatsoever. Apart from his visions, the only thing that made him intriguing was his past and his inability to remember it.
So I was beyond thrilled we finally got that background! Reading Shshshsh whenever someone mentioned Dalinar’s wife was beyond frustrating, and so were all the allusions to the Blackthorn’s days of brutal warfare. I wanted to know this stuff! And now I do 😊
Still, I have some pretty mixed feelings on Dalinar’s backstory. While I love that the man finally has some flaws – I mean, he’s basically the worst war criminal ever – his prowess in battle was a bit too spectacular to feel fully believable to me. Even with the Thrill, how is this guy capable of taking on entire armies almost single-handedly?
Besides, I just wasn’t all that invested in most of the battle scenes themselves. All Dalinar does in those is hack people apart, and I never really felt much of an emotional connection. I wanted Dalinar to feel more horror at what he’d done after the fights were over! I wanted to see him form friendships with fellow soldiers and have my heart torn apart when they fell in battle! I wanted more arguments with Evi, whom I adored (and whom Dalinar did not deserve whatsoever)! I wanted to see more of Dalinar and Torol’s camaraderie, so that Sadeas’s betrayal would hit even harder! But instead, we got a whole bunch of technical fighting descriptions that had me itching to return to one of the other POV characters…
At least mostly. Because some of the battle scenes also wrecked me in exactly in the way that I wanted them to. When Dalinar killed Tanalan right before the eyes of his son. When Dalinar was so lost in his battle rage that he almost attacked his brother. And, obviously, when Evi died. That scene was one of my absolute favorites in the entire book 🥰 Apparently, something is very wrong with me, because the way to make me love a story is to put the characters through as much pain and suffering as possible…
Which is also why I felt that Dalinar’s struggles with his past were really well done. It was so heartbreaking how it took Evi dying to make Dalinar see what he truly had in her and to open his eyes to what a visit from the Blackthorn meant to the people of Alethkar. How he was so blinded by guilt – maybe especially so because he never paid his wife the attention he should have – that he pushed his own sons away and turned to alcohol instead.
What stupid words. Yet Dalinar found himself weeping. Renarin let go, but Dalinar grabbed him. Pulling him close.
Oh, Almighty. Oh God. Oh God, please… I’ve started to hate my sons. Why hadn’t the boys learned to hate him back? They should hate him. He deserved to be hated.
Please. Anything. I don’t know how to get free of this. Help me. Help me…
Dalinar wept and clung to the youth, that child, as if he were the only real thing left in a world of shadows.
– Oathbringer, p. 890 –
Honestly, the scene where he staggers back home, roaring drunk, hating his sons for how much they reminded him of Evi, had me sniffling. Despite everything, Adolin and Renarin still admired their father and strived to be like him. Even though all Dalinar did was scream at them in a drunken haze, even though he barely even remembered Renarin’s name, they were always there for him. And eventually, Dalinar came around to seeing it. I already loved the bond he had with his sons when we first got to see it in The Way of Kings, and this book just made me love it even more.
Furthermore, I also really liked how Dalinar’s memories returning affected him in the present. He was no longer the stoic leader, he was the general who had turned against his own people and had murdered them on a grand scale, including his wife. He was not a hero, but someone who couldn’t be trusted with power. He was vulnerable at a point where his people needed him most, and it was great to see his perfect façade waver right when negotiations were critical. I absolutely loved seeing him break down under all his guilt 😁
The only thing I’m not sure how I feel about is the Thrill’s role in all of this. Even though Dalinar accepts responsibility for what he did, I can’t help but feel that the way Oathbringer is written shifts a large part of the blame to the Thrill, alleviating Dalinar’s guilt. In a way, the Thrill is used as a plot device to make what Dalinar did in the past seem less horrible. It’s an evil force that was responsible for all of this, not the character himself. Dalinar might not be wholly perfect, but even if he is a war criminal, you can’t compare him to real-life war criminals because it’s some ancient being that made him do it. I don’t know… I feel as though I’m doing a bad job of explaining what exactly bothers me about this, but I just don’t like the implications. I don’t want the characters to be blameless. I don’t want terrible crimes like Dalinar’s to be trivialized. I want lots of suffering and a good redemption arc, and while we did partially get that, it kind of feels like the Thrill’s involvement cushioned the impact a little…
But enough about Dalinar! Let’s talk about the rest of Oathbringer – or parts of it, anyway.
As I’ve already mentioned above, I liked the second half of the book much more than the first. Not that the first half was bad or anything – there were so many interesting things going on! The murder investigation following Sadeas’s death, where Adolin was suddenly put into a very uncomfortable position and Shallan figured out that some creepy spren was copying human murders. The exploration of Urithiru, the encounter with Re-Shephir, and the discovery of ancient records. Jasnah’s return. Kaladin staying with the parshmen and then abandoning them without even considering that he is dooming them to a fate not unlike what he had to face during his time as a bridgeman.
However, what I was missing in that half were more interaction between the different characters. Like, suddenly, Jasnah was back from the dead and no one even batted an eye? I would at least have expected Navani to not let her daughter out of her sight for a few days or Jasnah to go see Shallan immediately and fuss over her, rather than acting all normal when Shallan ran into her almost by accident.
Also, I wanted more scenes with Kaladin and Shallan! They had an entire cross-continental flight together and instead of showing it to us, Brandon Sanderson cut it from the book completely! Didn’t you think that this might be a good opportunity to build their relationship, Brandon, rather than giving us this weird Shallan likes Adolin and Veil likes Kaladin business that came out of nowhere?!
I mean, don’t get me wrong. Shallan’s other personas taking over was interesting and a nice reminder that magic has side effects and can be dangerous. It gave Shallan even more to struggle with, which my black dark soul always appreciates 😁😅 Besides, I thought it was a really cool portrayal of a mental health condition that reminded me of Dissociative Identity Disorder, which I have barely ever seen in literature, much less in a fantasy setting.
However, I wish there had been more build-up to this, rather than it suddenly being a thing in Oathbringer and not in Words of Radiance. Shallan-as-Veil was still very much Shallan in the latter, whereas here, we suddenly have Shallan and her alters Veil and Radiant… It all just felt a bit sudden, and I would have liked more gradual hints that the other personalities were taking over the more adept Shallan became with her illusions.
And gosh, Veil annoyed the heck out of me in this book!!! The whole lusting after Kaladin thing felt so unnecessarily overdone that it distracted from her missions, which were actually really interesting! I definitely cared more about those than having Veil dwell on the same boot jokes over and over again 🙄 How did we go from the beautiful conversation Kaladin and Shallan had in the chasms to this creepy and superficial attraction based purely on looks?? Kaladin saw Shallan for who she was even before Adolin did, so why is Veil the one suddenly so besotted with him???
Splitting the love triangle by different personas honestly just felt like a cheap cop-out to make the resolution of this relationship drama easier. I don’t mind that Shallan ultimately chose Adolin – I love Adolin! 😍 – but what was the point of having the whole love triangle in the first place if there isn’t more regret involved? Shallan can simply blame any feelings she had on Veil, and even Kaladin is all like “I don’t think I loved her, Syl. I felt…something. A lightening of my burdens when I was near her. She reminds me of someone” (p. 1101).
SERIOUSLY???? You give me all this build-up for this?! To have the two of them realize they basically never liked each other anyway?? This would have been the perfect opportunity to break our reader hearts a little more, Brandon Sanderson! You could have made us shed tears over the beauty of Kaladin and Adolin’s friendship! You could have made Kaladin support Adolin, while suffering in silence, and still have Adolin realize just how much his friend is willing to sacrifice for him. Sure, Kaladin has already suffered plenty, but… this could have been so much more emotional! Watching your friend fall for the person you like and desperately trying to push aside your own feelings so that you can be happy for them is one of the most painful things ever, and I guarantee you that I would have loved Oathbringer about a thousand times more if we had gotten to live through that pain with Kaladin.
Maybe I’m a masochist. But I really feel like we were deprived of so many great painful moments that would have made this a five-star read for me. Reactions to Jasnah’s return. Veil dwelling on Grund’s death for more than about five minutes. Renarin worrying about Adolin after the fall of Kholinar. Dalinar having to blame his wife’s death on solely himself, and not the Thrill. Kaladin facing the pain of Shallan picking Adolin, and Adolin facing the pain of knowing that his happiness is hurting Kaladin.
Apart from that, though, Oathbringer pretty much perfect 🥰
I loved discovering more about Urithiru and Roshar. Dalinar’s attempts at getting the other rulers onboard reminded me of exasperating bureaucratic experiences I’ve had in the past, so, obviously, I was highly entertained. I really like Queen Fen, and although Taravangian is beyond nuts, I find him super intriguing. I liked getting the perspectives of the other members of Bridge Four – Teft’s and Rlain’s in particular tugged at my heartstrings – and I liked seeing more and more of the Parshendi’s side of things.
I mean, can we talk about Venli and how all of her friends are basically fused monsters now? No offence, Parshendi, but your gods are horrible! I mean, I get that they don’t trust humans, but with the way they’re erasing your personalities and don’t care whether or not you’re slaughtered in battle, they don’t really seem to have your best interests at heart, either. Why can’t you and the humans just put the past behind you and get along? 🥺
Speaking of that past, though, it was nice to get confirmation that the Parshendi were the original inhabitants of Roshar and the humans were the voidbringing invaders. Considering that basically every native species on this planet is covered in carapace, I didn’t think this was a very surprising reveal – okay, fine, and I also know there’s a bigger Cosmere connection here – but I love how it came as such a big shock to the humans. Wars are hardly ever fought for righteous causes, but rarely do the ones fighting them acknowledge it. Here, the protagonists are forced to. They can’t look away from the fact that they’re the colonizers. Their ancestors are the ones who enslaved their hosts when they came to a new world. As their descendants, they still treat the parshmen and Parshendi like lesser beings and continuously blame their troubles on “the Voidbringers” without even bothering to learn anything about them. They’ve completely rewritten history to their advantage. Usually, we get stories of the oppressed rebelling against their oppressors. The Stormlight Archive gives us something different, something much messier, something much more morally gray – a story of the oppressors trying to stay in power.
And I really appreciate that we, along with the protagonists, are slowly starting to see the other side of the picture as well. I loved getting to see Kaladin’s time with the parshmen, and watching how, even though he was conflicted about leaving, his human loyalties eventually won over the side of him that sympathized with them. So Kaladin abandoned them. He abandoned them before he grew too attached; before cracks started appearing in the cause he believed he needed to fight for. A decision that I could understand, but a decision that hurt nonetheless. Especially when we got to see how the parshmen were treated for taking in Kaladin in the first place, and when Kaladin’s decision came back to haunt him during the siege of Kholinar.
Several of his men groaned and cried as they fell, bloodied, to the enemy spears. Kaladin felt his rage flare, and he lowered the Sylspear. It was time to begin the work of death.
Then he saw the face of the parshman in front of him.
It was Sah. Former slave. Cardplayer. Father.
– Oathbringer, p. 817 –
I think part of the reason I love Kaladin so much is because, like me, he’s such an idealist. In spite of everything he’s been through, he still believes that the world could be a better place if everybody just got along and treated one another with respect. He doesn’t shrink away from single-handedly trying to fix all the unfairness in the world, no matter how hopeless a situation might seem, even if it breaks him time and time again.
So when Kaladin stopped fighting during that battle, when his failure to act ultimately led to Elhokar being killed by his former best friend, and when Kaladin broke down because of it, I was close to crying myself. I wanted to tell Kaladin that, no, he wasn’t wrong for not wanting to senselessly slaughter the parshmen, even if they were trying to kill his people. I wanted him to know that it wasn’t weakness to believe that a future of peace between the different peoples of Roshar was possible. I want Kaladin to keep dreaming and make this vision a reality. I want him to show people that forgiveness is an option.
Which is also why I think Moash’s story line was by far one of the most interesting additions in Oathbringer! I simultaneously sympathize with him and hate him for killing Elhokar, and am super intrigued where his journey is heading. Because I get it. He blames Elhokar for what happened to his family. By fighting for what he thought was right, he betrayed and lost the only friends he had. He is alone in the world, and yet, he still fights for the parshmen when he sees how they’re being mistreated. In my opinion, Moash’s character arc shows great promise of becoming one of the coolest ones in this series, and I’m beyond excited to see where this is heading! Please, please, please, let the Parshendi, parshmen, and humans eventually work together, and let Kaladin, Moash, and Venli be essential in bringing this about!
Also, we got to go to Shadesmar!!! How freaking cool was that?! I was fascinated by pretty much everything about the place – It’s not like I haven’t been asking for more background on the Cognitive Realm and the spren since book one 🤗 – and so many interesting things happened! For starters, we got to know Azure a whole lot better, and now I think I really need to reread Warbreaker… Pattern and Syl together gave me even more life than Pattern and Syl on their own. Adolin’s sword is a creepy dead-eyed woman, and I already love her. If Maya doesn’t eventually return to life, I am going to be so mad!! And then Adolin nearly died! My heart almost stopped, let me tell you. I just couldn’t take Kaladin breaking down because he couldn’t say the Fourth Ideal, and Shallan sobbing and simultaneously trying to comfort Kaladin. Honestly, when Shallan isn’t Veil, I absolutely love the dynamic between those three! Thank the Almighty that they got Adolin to Renarin in time because I just don’t think I could have taken Adolin dying.
Or Renarin, for that matter! How dare you to do this to me twice in one book, Brandon Sanderson! When I thought Jasnah was going to kill him, I was just about ready to throw my love for Jasnah out of the window. Because how can you not love Renarin? He is basically every awkward introvert’s soulmate. He’s shy, withdrawn, more of a bookworm than a fighter, but tries to appear stronger than he really is because he loves his father and brother deeply and wants to live up to their expectations. He inherited so much from his mother in how deeply he thinks and cares about the world, and not even being bonded to one of Odium’s spren is going to convince me that that boy is anything but precious. Although Glys sure is interesting, so please, I want more! Can we have a book about Adolin and Renarin next? Or about Venli? I don’t even know what to ask for, but I want all of it! At least the title Rhythm of War doesn’t make a Venli book that implausible, right?
Either way, whatever Rhythm of War turns out to be about, I’m sure it’s going to be epic. We now have a slightly humbled Dalinar, who narrowly did not become an evil madman and seems to have very loyal but very crazy followers in Seth and Lift. Venli can control Stormlight now. Our atheistic Queen Jasnah is about to rule Alethkar, which is basically the embodiment of an extremely religious and patriarchal country. More and more Knights Radiant are popping up over the continent, and Kaladin is close to saying the Fourth Ideal. If that doesn’t promise epicness, I don’t know what does!
Still, I’ve rambled on for more than long enough, so if you actually made it to the end of this ridiculously long review, let me know what you thought about Oathbringer! Who is your favorite character? Which scene was your favorite? What did you think of Shallan’s different personalities and Dalinar’s past? I would love to know all of these things and more!