Book Review: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Oathbringer

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: Nov. 14 2017

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: 

With Rhythm of War due to hit shelves in a few short weeks, I’ve spent the last few months lingering over a reread of Oathbringer. I raced through it the first time 3 years ago, and I’ve always felt as if I missed something, so this reread was as much about second chances as a second read.

In my original review, I talked of being two minds about the book, with certain sections working extraordinarily well and others falling flat or feeling tedious. While I still think the pacing was a bit uneven, and a few storylines dragged out a little too long, I can honestly say I didn’t find anything tedious about the reread. Maybe it’s because I took the time to enjoy it, swapping other books in and out as the mood struck me, but I appreciated the sweeping, epic feel, and the depth of characters (and growth) far more the second time around.

This volume belongs largely to Dalinar and Shallan, but there are pivotal moments for nearly the entire cast. Dalinar’s narrative was even more fascinating on a reread, with his extended flashback chapters exposing the darkness and sorrow of his past, shedding new light on his actions and attitudes. We come to see him in an entirely new light, with a contrast between personalities so jarring that it’s often painful to watch. Part of that is due to the phantom presence of his wife, a woman whose name and face have been a gaping hole in his memories for so long, and part of that hinges on his pursuit of The Thrill, which he has long assumed made something of a monster of him. I chafed a bit against his conversations with Stormfather and the visions they share, feeling as if Brandon Sanderson spent too much time trying to be clever and mysterious, but they do have a purpose and there are a pair of pivotal ah-hah moments in the dying pages.

In Shallan’s case, she gets to see a lot more action than in the first two books, and her character (or should that be characters?) development is intriguing. Here is a woman so burdened by responsibility, so paralyzed by fear and anxiety, that she literally becomes three women, splintering her personality into three very different personas. She has the first big moments of the book, the first victories against the enemy, and she comes to stand just as tall and proud as any Shardbearer. There’s a character close to her whose death is undone in this volume, and that could have led to some even more interesting exploration of her personalities, but I felt the conflict there was largely wasted. She’s also the center of a love triangle, which irked me a bit, because not every strong woman in epic fantasy needs to be in romance to be valid, but that’s a personal quibble.

As for those pivotal moments for the rest of the cast, this is very much a story of minor characters taking on major significance. It’s hard to talk about that significance without spoiling any aspects of the story, but characters like Renarin, Moash, the Assassin in White, and others get a chance to shine – and what happens to them (or around them) is sometimes the most fascinating part of the story. It takes a long time for their arcs to be revealed, and the ah-hah moments of appreciation come on suddenly, but they twist and turn the story in ways I wasn’t expecting.

In many ways, Oathbringer marks a lull in the series, but it’s an important lull. As much as I chafed against the pacing at times, we finally get answers . . . and we get a lot of them. So much of what was hidden or hinted at in the first two books is exposed here. Mythology is exposed, history is revealed, and we finally get a wider sense of world-building. The story really begins to move away from the epic saga of a ruling dynasty and into the epic saga of a world on the brink of extinction. On that note, the last arc of the book is Sanderson at his very best, and well worth sticking around for. All the book’s flaws are forgiven as all the threads come together and we realize, in hindsight, just how and why so many little things were significant. The final three-hundred pages (a novel on its own for most authors) are all climax, and they are some of the finest he has ever written.

Oathbringer is not a perfect book, and probably the first time I noticed the page count of an epic fantasy doorstopper in a negative way, but I’m glad I had the time to linger over it and find that deeper appreciation I missed on my first read.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

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