Bookshot #168: Oathbringer

I will be honest here: I don't know if I'll ever go back to Mistborn Era Two. That's nothing against

Mistborn- the first two books were excellent, but the third one that resolved the trilogy turned out to be merely good, in my opinion. I haven't touched Elantris or any of Sanderson's other work and I'm honestly not sure I ever will because The Stormlight Archive is on an entirely different level from anything else from Sanderson I've ever encountered.

Oathbringer, the third book in the series (the fourth volume, Rhythm of War is already out and I think a fifth is expected in 2024- tentatively titled Knights of Wind and Truth) is probably my favorite thus far. The first two volumes had this tendency to elongate in the middle (we spend far too much time with Kaladin and his various issues in the first couple of books and he spends a decent amount of time wallowing in self-pity before getting his shit together in a very satisfying way which carries through to this novel.) But there's none of that here- there's no meandering or slogging or 'waiting to hurry up' moments in this volume. Everything clips along at a nice pace and if Sanderson is good at anything, it's hooking readers in and keeping them hooked until he unveils a massive payoff at the end. That basic formula is just about perfect here.

So, let's break down Oathbringer:

Dalinar comes to realize that when his visions told him to 'unite them' he was thinking too small and wants to unify the world against the threat the Voidbringers and Odium represent. He sets about trying to convince the monarchs of the world to join him and has some success. He convinces the Azish, Queen Fen of the Thaylens, and Taravangian (a secret bad guy though he remains) to join his cause and for a while, it works. However, he's also regaining memories of his wife, Evi, and what happened to her, and over the course of the book is forced to confront his past and the man he used to be needless to say, it's not pretty. (But he also discovers he's a Bondsmith when he helps repair a Thaylen Temple in the aftermath of an Everstorm- something that comes in handy at the end of the book.)

With communication cut off from Kholinar and wanting to get more intelligence about what's happening back home, Dalinar and company send Kaladin on a one-man mission to gather intelligence. He makes his way back to Hearthstone and reunites with his parents, breaking the news to them that his brother, Tien is dead and he failed in his objective of keeping them alive. His parents are just overjoyed to see him alive, if not entirely in one piece. Kaladin moves on and eventually allows himself to be captured by the Voidbringers and falls in with some non-transformed Parshmen and befriends them a bit. Eventually, he discovers that Kholinar still holds out, but is besieged and expected to fall soon.

Back at the tower of Urithuru, Shallan continues to struggle not only with her split personalities but with her place now that Jasnah Kholin has come back from wherever she's been (turns out its Shadesmar, the spren realm). Adolin, who is still engaged to Shallan struggles with his secret (he stabbed Sadeas randomly in a hallway and killed him.) They find an ancient spren dominating the heart of the tower and drive it away, potentially giving Navani and the other ardents access to a whole treasure trove of information to potentially help the understand Urithuru better. However, struggling with her personality and wanting to get some distance between her and Jasnah to figure things out, Shallan volunteers for a mission to Kholinar with Kaladin, Adolin, and King Elhokar. 

Once there, they find the capital rallied by a mysterious Highlady, Azure. They meet Wit again, who helps Shallan out a bit before disappearing to do his own thing again and they assault the palace and find yet another Ancient Spren that's in the process of being corrupted by Odium's spren. Moash shows back up and kills Elhokar, Kaladin has a breakdown as the city falls because everyone he's befriended always ends up dead but they all wind up in Shadesmar, the realm of the spren. They spend some time trying to figure out the best way out, but Kaladin becomes convinced that they need to make to Thaylen City, because Dalinar will need their help and eventually they get there.

In other news, Szeth, the assassin in white is training with the Skybreakers and eventually gets his powers back before he swears the Third Ideal of the Knights Radiant, and has to decide what he will swear to. Szeth figures out another option- instead of a what, a who.

Venli seems to become convinced that this whole 'resurrect our Gods' thing isn't working out to well for her people. It would not surprise me if she sort of switches sides here in the next book, but at the very least, she's not the enemy she once was.

Everything ties together very nicely in one hell of a battle at Thaylen City where Odium himself shows up for a showdown with Dalinar and eventually agrees to a contest of champions. Kaladin is a bit better by the end of the book. Shallan is more at peace with herself. The good guys pay a cost, but they win in the end and Dalinar's coalition is still holding together as we head into the next book.

Obviously, because this is a big-ass chunk of a book, there's a lot more to it than that. However, there are a few things that stand out. First is the overall theme of trauma: Dalinar's whole arc in this book is about him confronting his past as his memories return and while I wouldn't say he makes peace with his past, he figures out how to live with it which proves to be key in the finale of the book. Kaladin is confronting his own trauma- because if the first two books taught us anything about Kaladin, it's that he's been through some shit. 

But there's also a certain amount of fascinating crossover with mental illness in a way that I feel is pretty unique and refreshing for the fantasy genre. Shallan is dealing with a mind that is fracturing into different personalities and she has to struggle to resolve that over the course of this book-- much like Dalinar, I don't know if she makes peace with her past, but she learns to live it.

I would have liked to have seen more from Jasnah and Renarin, though they have key moments toward the end of the book. But Sanderson also lays enough groundwork that Jasnah, Renarin, Venli, and Szeth should see plenty of action in (I'm guessing) the next book. It was also interesting to actually spend some time in Shadesmar and learn a bit about the realm of the spren and their culture/politics-- turns out Odium is spreading in Shadesmar as well, so I'm sure we will see more of that going forward. 

If there is a nit to pick, it might be the length, but I feel as if that's far less of a problem in this volume than it has been in previous volumes. This does have that sort of pattern of building up and up and then you get an avalanche of awesomeness to end the book with. It's satisfying and more deftly handled here than in previous entries in the series, but still, at the end of the day: this is a lot of books. And there are some times when it sure feels like a lot of books when you're reading it. That doesn't for one-second mean I didn't enjoy the heck out of this, because I did, but at the same time, sometimes it's a lot. 

Overall: best entry in the series yet. I'm ready for the next volume and I'm ready for volumes 5-10-- I'm assuming Sanderson is well-established enough by now that finishing the series won't be an issue. I remain convinced that this is the best thing he's written and see no reason to change my opinion anytime soon. My Grade: **** out of ****

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