First, I want to be clear that I enjoyed this book. Sanderson excels at expansive world building and exciting storylines. I can say with confidence that Rhythm of War delivered better than any of its predecessors.
Kaladin, Dalinar, Navani, Shallan, Adolin, and almost all your other favorite characters are front-and-center in this sequel to The Stormlight Archive. I say “almost” because one of my all-time favorite characters, Lift, sadly takes a backseat, despite playing a critical part in resolving the primary conflict. Still, the others get all the attention you could ever ask and more. Each has their own distinct storyline and set of problems to deal with, related, but separate enough that each could have its own book—something I think Sanderson recognized because this novel is presented in 4 distinct parts. Everything meshes well and comes together in a giant, climactic tidal wave that left me reeling, one stunning revelation after another, redefining the phrase “go big, or go home.”
The “but” you undoubtedly sensed coming stems from the 2+ years it took me to finish this behemoth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a general fan of big novels. It takes time for me to become invested in characters. Once I do, I want to ride that wave as long as possible. And so Rhythm of War’s 1,200 pages is well within my acceptable range.
I’m also a slow reader. I have friends who devour 5+ books a week, where I’m lucky to finish a single novel in a month. Part of that is not allocating enough time, but let me tell you… once a book finally grabs me (usually around halfway), I can’t put it down, and tear through the rest in a day or two. Unfortunately, Rhythm of War had so much going on that it took me a longer than usual to get hooked: around three-quarters through, if I remember.
To put that in perspective, it took 900 pages to engross me enough to kick into reading overdrive. That was 2 entire years of picking it up, pecking at it, reading another book start-to-finish, coming back to it, pecking some more, etc. Sanderson simultaneously juggles so many “main” characters and plotlines that it truly felt like I was reading four books at the same time. Sprinkle in a liberal amount of pure flashback chapters, which inevitably took me out of the story flow, made for one seriously overloaded train that took a loooong time to chug out of the station. Had this not been the fourth book in the series, I may have given up, but my investment, along with faith in Sanderson, helped me persevere until the end.
And, like the rest of the book, it’s a long ending. Climaxes are big. They’re supposed to be. Now take your typical climax and multiply it by the number of conceptual books Rhythm of War mashes into one—I’m guessing four or five—and you get a never-ending ocean of gigantic breaking waves that could drown the most seasoned of swimmers. By the time I finished the final 100+ pages, I had long passed the cathartic high into pure exhaustion. It was honestly too much of a good thing. Okay, almost.
Would I still have read it, knowing what I know now? Absolutely.
Do I wish (and believe) it could have delivered the same exciting punch in many fewer words? Or split it into separate books? That, too, is a resounding “yes.”