Rhythm of War
In what is a recurring theme for reviews of this series, I think it’s just too big and too complex. Sanderson tries to keep the focus on just a few key characters, but there’s such a big supporting cast and so many big worlds that it’s just hard to keep track. Sanderson exacerbates the problem (in this and previous books) by making the sequencing of scenes sometimes unclear. In this book, there are a dozen chapters of gratuitous flashback interspersed with the main story. It left me racking my brain trying to remember the flashback’s characters, only to be unsure, at the end, whether I’d actually met them before. It was a distraction I didn’t need.
In addition to the massive and sometimes numbing scope of each 1,000 to 1,500 page book, Sanderson sticks to his usual approach of a carefully defined, logical (and rigid) magic system. Ordinarily, I like that. Unfortunately, while Sanderson shows us his characters (re-)discovering how magic works (which I also usually likes), he’s somehow managed to take all the fun and mystery out of it by making it so mechanical that it’s more like looking up information in a card catalog than unearthing ancient treasures. Sanderson has a team behind him helping produce the book, and I can’t help feeling that this is more of a glossy, volume sale product than a hand-crafted artisanal piece.
I give Sanderson credit for pulling this off as well as he has; not many authors could make multiple massive tomes so readable. But I’m not very confident that the series – even with its vast scope – needed to be this big. It’s also a problem that, in a series about unending war, I’m really tired of the war; even more than the characters are. Sanderson introduces a host of side issues – shoehorning in group therapy, depression, etc. – but at its heart, this is still a story about war, and too much of it.
Sanderson indicates that the planned ten books of the series will be broken into two five book arcs, and – at present – I’m thinking of bailing out after book five. It’s a bit of an odd thing – the writing is good, the world is fascinating, the characters engaging, the magic system functional, but I’m just not enthused about it anymore. The balance is off. The intercalary novellas have provided some much needed leavening for the series, but I don’t think it’s enough. We’ll see. I still like Sanderson’s work, but this ambitious series may be more impressive than good.