It will be difficult to review this without spoilers, but I will do my best. See, Oathbringer is a tome that readers that have been waiting for since mid-2014, almost four years ago. The third novel in Brandon Sanderson’s juggernaut, his magnum opus The Stormlight Archive, Oathbringer picks up right after the devastating ending of Words of Radiance, and catapults readers into a world beginning to topple. Because now, there’s no hiding from the truth. The Everstorm circles around the planet, bringing with it the spren of crimson lightning, waking the docile parshmen. And as they waken, the Knights Radiant must once again speak the ancient oaths, and work to defend humanity from Odium.
Sanderson wastes no time in bringing readers back into his massive, complex world of Roshar, where superstorms sweep now from horizon to horizon. Kaladin, empowered from his oath at the end of Words of Radiance, races home to see his parents, and if possible, find the awakened Parshendi, and figure out what their plans are. Shallan, now able to admit her terrible truth to herself, struggles to keep a grip on reality, as her abilities as a Lightweaver begin to seduce her. And Dalinar Kholin—once warlord and soldier, now a leader struggling to live a peaceful way—is bonded to the shadow of a god, the Stormfather, and must unite a world that has only ever known him as a tyrant. And these are all merely the tipping point, as Sanderson quickly unravels the status quo for each character, forcing them into difficult, uncomfortable, and often dangerous situations. Kaladin’s journey throughout the novel is fascinating, as he struggles to find the next oath within a warzone. Likewise, Shallan’s arc is unexpected but totally in keeping not only with what we know of her, but also of who she wishes to be. But of the three of them, this is Dalinar’s book to shine.
Each book’s backstory is dedicated to a particular character, and Oathbringer belongs to Dalinar—so named for the shardblade he won in his youth. A man whose past has often been shrouded in secrecy and shadows, both deliberate and magical, Sanderson finally begins to peel away the shell around Dalinar Kholin, and what we see is not exactly pretty. Much as Kaladin and Shallan were shaped by tragedy, so too was Dalinar. Sanderson works a very beautiful effect: readers come to learn about Dalinar’s past along with the character, as memories are returned to him unbidden from the ether. These memories stack layer by layer until they reach their natural conclusion: Dalinar must come face to face with the man he was, and decide what kind of man he wants to be. It is a gorgeous moment, and Sanderson knocks it out of the park.
And, of course, it would spoil to say much of what else occurs in the novel, but suffice to say, there are mysteries answered and even more questions raised. There are characters who return for their time in the spotlight, and others who come out of nowhere and demand the spotlight for themselves. There are bit players who now have complex, three dimensional narratives, and others who fade to the back, to make room for their compatriots. There are moments of victory where I whooped with joy, and there are moments of jarring terror, where everything seems as though it will crumble. There was one moment halfway through the book where I stopped everything, and my heart flew to my throat in disbelief at what Sanderson had just done. We spend time in new cities, and we meet new friends, new forms of life, and those who live by their own rules. And we see old villains in new lights, and wonder if we can ever really forgive them.
Sanderson also makes efforts to tackle important topics in these epic fantasy novels. As much as we want to know the oaths and learn more of Odium, I was incredibly happy and proud to see Sanderson taking on the larger, important questions: when an enslaved people are now free, how do you tell them to go back? How can you? Is there a path forward when the oppressed have been freed from their shackles? How do you resolve your guilt for participation in an oppressive system, and how do you work to help those beaten down by it? Not just that, but Sanderson also attempts to engage with and talk about sexuality, gender, and identity in this novel more than the others before. And while some of the above moments can come off a little awkwardly, or sometimes exist more to hang a lampshade on important questions, I’m very happy that Sanderson is trying to tackle these issues more than he has before, and very happy to see him exploring representation more in this series.
Oathbringer is everything you need out of a Stormlight Archive novel. It has magic in bounds, and mysteries by the minute. It has characters growing and changing and learning, and just as often, failing and screwing up or making the wrong choice. It has lore for days, and deep histories that only get more tangled the deeper you go. It has answers to your questions, and more often than not, more questions after that.
It is a triumph of a novel, and if you’ve enjoyed the first two, you’ll certainly enjoy Oathbringer. I never know where Sanderson is going to take us, in this world of storms and blades, but I am more than happy to continue along the journey with him.
After all, it’s journey before destination, is it not?
Martin Cahill is a contributor to Tor.com, as well as Book Riot and Strange Horizons. He has fiction forthcoming at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. You can follow his musings on Twitter @McflyCahill90.