REVIEW: OATHBRINGER (THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE #3)

Say the words...


I took a bit of a break from this series after reading WORDS OF RADIANCE partly because I wanted to broaden my audiobook experiences and partly because I was genuinely worried that nothing would be able to properly follow up the incredible experience that I had with it.  

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 While I didn't think it was possible to top WORDS OF RADIANCE, this book somehow managed to do just that thanks to gripping character arcs, high action, and lots of fascinating narrative turns. 

Please note: While I will not be mentioning any major spoilers for OATHBRINGER, I may mention characters, places, and events in ways that could be considered spoilers for previous books in the STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE.

CHARACTERS
There are some rather interesting developments that happen toward the end of WORDS OF RADIANCE and our characters had also come a long way in the moments leading up to that finale. I was very pleased to find that all of this continued to develop wonderfully here in OATHBRINGER. While he may still not be my favorite member of the cast, I am definitely much more fond of Kaladin now and can understand why he is so loved. He has some awesome moments and I enjoyed his dynamics with both returning members of the cast as well as someone new that he meets (who I won't spoil here). With that said, I actually felt like he was a little bit less of a main focus of the story this time around. As the book went on, I felt like we were getting to see both Shallan and Dalinar step a bit further into the spotlight. Shallan's arc had me on the edge of my seat. I was fascinated and disturbed by how she started to lose herself in her abilities, but also found that inner conflict to be deeply satisfying in many ways. Even more shocking though was Dalinar's storyline. It's his turn to get the flashback sequences this time, and in those chapters we get the background of his days as "The Blackthorn." The way that this information was slowly doled out as he starts to regain these memories in the present day gave the sequences that much more weight and I often found myself almost dreading learning more in the same way that Dalinar fears it since we find out that he is not at all the man we thought he was, or at least, the man he became is not at all like who he used to be. This aspect of the story was devastating, but I loved how it was all handled and I appreciated where it ended up leading to. 

On the supporting side of the cast, King Elhokar gets a bit of a redemption arc this time and I found myself really appreciating what Sanderson did with this character. Wit's moments are brief as per usual, but his involvement was quite interesting and I am still dying to know what he's really up to. Navani and Jasnah had some fantastic moments and it was cool to see Jasnah get to finally interact with other members of her family given how separate her side of the story has been until now. After a bit of an end twist, I'll be really curious to see where her character arc goes in the next book. Renarin's involvement is subtle, but I found myself feeling really invested in him as he grows and some different aspects of his character come to light. Venli and Szeth's stories are largely broken up across different interlude chapters. I'm still not fond of some of the more random interludes that we get, but I enjoyed theirs quite a bit, especially since it all eventually led into the book's ending. I do think more could have been done with different members of Bridge Four. Granted, this is a large cast and these books are already massive, but I hope that we get to focus a little more on them in the next installment rather than spending so much time with brand new characters who didn't add quite as much. Lift, for her part is okay, but she really doesn't do much for me, even after reading her novella. It's odd because she's similar to Wayne from the MISTBORN series in many ways, but I really don't care for her even though I like him and I'm not sure what factors into that. Taravangian, on the other hand, really shined here, even with his relatively limited involvement in the story. 

SETTING/WORLD
Things have gotten a bit more expansive this time around. The lost city of Urithiru serves as an important locale for the book's opening sections. I enjoyed the intrigue and the mystery of it as well as it's connections to different eras of the world. I also enjoyed some of the dark secrets hiding within it's maze-like halls. After all this time, it was great to finally see characters actually visit Kolinar as well, albeit a version of it that is mired in shadow. Through Dalinar's flashbacks, we get to see much more of the geographical expanse of Roshar, due to his expansive campaigns across Alethkar and beyond. We also get to see Thalenar proper for the first time along with other countries, thanks to the newly opened Oath Gates that promise to really shake up the way the world is laid out. 

One thing that Oathbringer does nicely is start to really pull in the more mystical aspects of this world. From the odd Spren cult in Kolinar, to Dalinar's bond with the Storm King, to an extensive trek across Shadesmar, things get a lot more supernatural and I really liked that. We get to meet some of the world's darker deities too in the form of Odium and The Nightwatcher. While they both showed up somewhat unexpectedly, I think they were both introduced at the right time. There is a third cosmic being who also comes into play, but I think their reveal was a bit more of a twist, so I'll avoid getting into that. There's a lot more emphasis placed on some of the lesser Spren, largely thanks to how much time the story spends within the realm of Shadesmar. I've heard some people complain that they don't really like this place, but I find it to be fascinating. It's not entirely what I expected, but I think that made it rather fun at the same time. It also gave characters like Pattern and Syl the opportunity to have a much more active role in the story. In addition to them, we finally get a better understanding of the rather horrifying fate that befalls a Spren who has "died" in the physical realm and what that really means for them back in their homeland. I enjoyed how we got to see the true forms of the various Spren that appear and disappear throughout the world as well as finally getting to meet the companions to Renarin and Jasnah who haven't truly been revealed up until now even though we, of course, knew of their existence given the cousins' status as Knights Radiant. This combined with a deeper exploration of "The Old Magic" and an exploration of different locations from both the past and present made this world feel like it is expanding in some brilliant ways. That's all before the pretty significant ties to the greater Cosmere that I won't mention.

PLOT/TONE
As with the prior book, there is a really nice balance of character-driven narratives combined with a strong sense of forward direction for the central conflict of the story. Like I've already mentioned, Dalinar is sort of the featured character this time in terms of who gets the flashback scenes. One thing I really appreciated about his memory sequences was how directly they actually ended up tying into the main plotline. While Kaladin's and Shallan's backstories were also important to the events of the present, I felt like the way things were handled for Dalinar was on another level. So much about that character has remained shrouded in mystery thanks to his shady deal with The Nightwatcher, so it was very rewarding to see that all unravel. In terms of the present, the stakes have really scaled up in some incredible ways. Kolinar's fate hangs in the balance while Dalinar attempts to rally the world's nations to his cause now that The Voidbringers roam at large. The story covers a lot of ground, explores a lot of characters, and contains some big reveals about both the lore of this world and the Cosmere at large, but it's this conflict with the ancient force that threatens to wipe out all humanity that ties everything together. With the exception of select Interlude chapters, I found myself constantly impressed by how Sanderson can have multiple things going on that are all still somehow relevant to the core of the book. This series so far has been like going through a season of a really awesome TV show. Things aren't the most profound, but there's some nice depth, some crazy reveals, some elaborate action scenes, and a lot of heartfelt moments in between. There is one twist near the end that was particularly insane and maybe I should have seen it coming, but I ultimately did not and it really changed the way I viewed everything that we've experienced so far. There were also some pretty fun surprises that come right at the end which I think will lead to some pretty interesting things in the next book. In spite of these mini cliffhangers, I actually felt like this is probably one of the more "complete" endings that we've gotten since it felt like the story was really only just beginning at the end of THE WAY OF KINGS and WORDS OF RADIANCE ends shortly after the discovery of Urithiru. It was interesting too how the final battle managed to be so cataclysmic and yet leave so much on the table that is yet to be resolved. I have heard mixed things about the story of the fourth book in this series, so I am nervous to dig into that, but I need to know what happens next, so I'll definitely be diving into that right after I get to the "Book 3.5" Novella, DAWNSHARD

THE EBOOK/AUDIOBOOK
Kramer and Reading return for another expertly done performance. By this point, you either like these two or you don't There isn't anything here that will likely sway you one way or the other, but for someone like me who has enjoyed their rendition of the series for the most part, I think they did wonderfully. Kramer fixed the way that Elhokar's voice sounds so that he is no longer so grating. He also does a nice job with some of the new characters that Kaladin meets. That said, there are certain minor characters who end up sounding almost identical to other characters. In a cast this expansive, that is probably unavoidable, but I did find it a little distracting when it happened. Reading managed to keep her vocals a little more varied, but I think she was also dealing with a slightly smaller array of characters with speaking parts. One small gripe for her is that some of her "masculine" voices can sound quite silly at times. Nitpicks aside, these two really have become icons of the Cosmere and their consistent performance with this series is something I appreciate. Something worth noting outside of the narration is that I realized that this audiobook had a companion PDF. Within it I found maps as well as various illustration inserts that I assume must be included with the printed editions of the book. I don't know if the first two books had this or not, I sort of found it by accident this time around, but I really appreciated it's inclusion as there was some great stuff in there. 

CONCLUSION
I'm so glad that I am finally getting back into this series. I was admittedly worried about whether this would be a let down after how much I enjoyed WORDS OF RADIANCE, but I found OATHBRINGER to be an even more fun time in spite of my doubts that such a thing was possible. 

(+) The balance between deep character arcs and a strong central plot continues to wow me
(+) The action scenes were absolutely incredible and also well placed throughout the book
(+) Character dynamics were the best they've ever been
(+) The exploration of this world's more mystical side was so much fun for me
(+) Interludes were much better overall though there are always some that I would argue don't need to be there
(+) Some chapters from various antagonists' perspectives were great to have included
(+) Political intrigue was even more intricate and compelling this time around
(+) The story took some wild turns and left us with quite the setup for the fourth book
(-) Lift still does nothing for me and from what I gather, that's a pretty popular opinion
(-) Not all of the character voices are entirely spot on

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