Because of the pacing, I felt this was the weakest installment in the series so far. Not very much happens in the first 200 pages, which is only 1/6th of the overall length, but still… getting 200 pages in without a real sense of what a book is about is frustrating. At about that point things picked up and the overall direction of the plot came into focus. At about 900 pages in I started to worry that one of the central conflicts would not be resolved until the following installment. Oh me of little faith! This led to a short section of 100 pages or so that really dragged for me. And suddenly it all started clicking into place. The ending is very satisfying and features a couple of twists that set the stage for a really phenomenal book 5.
The character arcs focused on Shallan’s trauma and split personality disorder, Kaladin’s PTSD, and Navani’s imposter syndrome. Shallan is a very intriguing character. She has a real depth of history and personality. It makes her eminently readable, but her struggle to come to grips with her past is ground we’ve already covered, and the deepening of it in this novel felt a little repetitive and forced to me. On the other hand, Shallan’s self-discovery and habitual snooping does uncover some very cool secrets that enhance the overall plot quite nicely.
Kaladin’s PTSD is more interesting to me. It’s a little difficult, in fiction, to ascribe wartime trauma to an overall experience rather than an acute and memorable moment. I think visually and aesthetically it probably would’ve worked better if there was a clearer image or theme to what triggered him and what haunts him. The moments when Kaladin is overcome don’t have consistent descriptive or flashback elements, which may or may not be more accurate to real PTSD(I don’t claim to know), but at times it felt a little vague, which made it unconvincing. Despite that caveat, this was an interesting direction for Kaladin to take, and it dovetailed very well with his longer character arc and the plot of the novel. Again, a strong ending redeemed some so-so chapters.
The last major arc is Navani coping with her imposter syndrome about being a scholar. This arc was overpowered by a whole bunch of quasi-scientific fantasy ephemera; binding spren, the tones and rhythms, and other elements of the magic system which she approaches scientifically. For me this is one of the common pitfalls for Sanderson‘s writing. He goes into more detail than is interesting to me about the nitty-gritty of his magic system. Overall, I really enjoy how well thought out and unique his magic systems are, but this time there was just a little too much detail. Eventually, it left me feeling bogged down in the made-up science of fabrial design, and Navani’s storyline, despite some cool and memorable moments, suffered for it.
So what did I like about this book? As I’ve said, it has a very strong ending, not really in the ballpark of Oathbringer, but still pretty good. Most authors would be thrilled to have this strong of an ending, for a giant like Sanderson it is merely…pretty good. Rhythm improves on already strong characterizations and well-imagined world building. The Cosmere is immense, and yet Sanderson continually dangles intriguing details to draw us further into his multiverse. He is a master of storytelling and this book lays the groundwork for a staggeringly epic conclusion to this age of the Stromlight Archive. All-in-all, a solid book that drags a bit here and there, but never-the-less accomplishes its mission, and manages to shine a time or two.