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Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is one of the most ambitious and rewarding series in modern epic fantasy, truly the magnum opus of his astonishingly productive career. With the upcoming release of Book Five, Wind and Truth, I thought now would be a good time to share my personal ranking of the Stormlight Archive books by Brandon Sanderson.

#4 – Oathbringer (Book Three of the Stormlight Archive)

OathbringerI enjoyed Oathbringer but not nearly as much as the other books in the Stormlight Archive series. Let me address the main issues that I had:

1. Shallan is broken. The funny, upbeat Shallan from the first two books is gone after she learns something terrible about herself at the end of Words of Radiance. In order to escape, she loses herself into two other personas, which she has created for herself. I love Shallan so much and really hated what was happening to her in Oathbringer. That being said, sometimes the ones we love suffer through terrible mental illness which is outside their control. That is exactly what’s happening to Shallan here. It hurts like she is a real friend who has become ill and lost herself.

2. Kaladin isn’t given nearly as much to do and doesn’t undergo the same level of character development in this book. Don’t worry. Rhythm of War more than makes up for this deficiency.

3. Magic is everywhere. In the first two books, magic was scarce. Only a few characters were discovering their powers, and that is what made it special. Suddenly in Oathbringer, it seems like everyone is a Knight Radiant. (Except for poor Adolin. Sorry, Adolin. We love you and you are special even without magic!) I read with dismay as there were entire flying armies. I realize that Sanderson has purposely taken the opposite approach as Tolkien. In Tolkien’s world, magic is on the decline and ultimately disappearing. Who didn’t feel sad when all the Elves left Middle-earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings? In the Stormlight Archive, magic is on the rise and becoming more common as people learn and understand more about it. This was a deliberate choice by Sanderson to break away from the usual Tolkien approach.

4. The scope of Oathbringer has exploded and become global. All of Roshar is involved. While the first two books focused on individual characters or smaller scale conflicts, here we are dealing with all-out war. This came across to me as impersonal, at least at first. But it all makes sense in the context of the larger plot, and the personal implications are dealt with brilliantly, both later in Oathbringer and especially in Rhythm of War.

Those are my main issues with Oathbringer and the reasons why it ranks last for me in terms of the four Stormlight Archive books published to date. That being said, Oathbringer is still a highly rewarding read, especially with respect to Dalinar’s backstory and growth. Dalinar’s story is heartbreaking and the best part of this novel.

#3 – The Way of Kings (Book One of the Stormlight Archive)

The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings is the epic first volume of the Stormlight Archive, one of the most monumental of all modern fantasy series.

The Way of Kings has everything readers could possibly want in an epic fantasy. Of greatest note are the several main characters, all of whom are so well realized and feel like friends by the end of the book. The characters’ problems feel so real, including mental illness such as anxiety and depression. Sanderson is truly a master at realistic character development.

I am also amazed at the level of detail that Sanderson provides in his worldbuilding. While reading through the later volumes of the Stormlight Archive, I found myself flipping back to The Way of Kings to discover more details that I missed in my first read, especially in the first two scenes involving the heralds and the assassination of the king. This whole series is so well planned and executed.

The Way of Kings is also surprisingly accessible for a work so epic in scope and detailed in execution. My only minor complaint about The Way of Kings is that the plot drags a bit in the middle. Otherwise, this book is close to perfect.

#2 – Rhythm of War (Book Four of the Stormlight Archive)

Rhythm of War

Rhythm of War combines the best aspects of the previous volumes of the Stormlight Archive and propels the series forward in new and unexpected directions. I don’t have nearly enough stars to give Brandon Sanderson for what he has accomplished with Rhythm of War.

Like Oathbringer, Rhythm of War takes a global perspective of the epic battles on Roshar. Actually, the battles go well beyond the physical world of Roshar, and do so in spectacular fashion. Whereas the action in Oathbringer was largely dominated by the growing presence of magic, in Rhythm of War the limitations of the Knights Radiant become much more apparent. Instead, the focus on Rhythm of War is on scientific discoveries.

One of the most compelling interactions is between Navani, who is an absolutely brilliant scientist, and her Fused counterpart, Raboniel. The race for scientific discoveries and the psychological battle between Navani and Raboniel is amazing. And I love how much respect they show for each other, even though they are enemies.

Despite the enormous scope of the plot in Rhythm of War, the focus returns to the more character-driven aspects of the first two books in the Stormlight Archive.

Navani is the star here, in my opinion. Her scientific and technological genius are the most influential parts of the book, as well as her keen understanding of psychology. Navani also has the best line in the entire book. (If you’ve already read Rhythm of War, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

But it’s not just Navani. The character development in this book is riveting for so many of the characters we’ve grown to love. Kaladin grows so much over the course of Rhythm of War. His storyline will make you weep multiple times. It’s just so, so good.

Shallan has another big secret concerning her past. Fortunately, Adolin is so unwaveringly understanding and supportive of her. Their relationship is just so sweet and perfect. I love them both individually, and I especially love them together.

Dalinar makes what may be the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Roshar. Somehow I have a feeling that his character arc will be coming to an end in the next book…

Jasnah is a boss. Her no-nonsense, take-charge attitude is amazing. There is much more Jasnah here compared to the previous two books. I also adore her relationship with Wit, which is based on an intellectual attraction rather than anything physical. Bonus points to Sanderson for the excellent ace representation here.

And the ending…just when you thought the book couldn’t get any better, Sanderson gives us the ultimate epilogue featuring Wit and Odium. This epilogue will make you question everything.

#1 – Words of Radiance (Book Two of the Stormlight Archive)

stormlight archive

I am in awe of the genius of Brandon Sanderson. Words of Radiance has everything: perhaps the best worldbuilding of any fantasy series I’ve ever read, a highly compelling magic system, an exciting plot with perfect pacing, and realistic characters who truly capture your heart.

What pushes this book over the top is the main character, Shallan, and her wonderful sense of humor. Words of Radiance has some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read. I will never look at boots in the same way.

Don’t be intimidated by the length of this book: it flies by surprisingly quickly and will leave you begging for more.

I really can’t do justice to what an amazing book this is. It is perfect in every way. (Seriously…I tried to find faults, but I can’t…)

Other readers seem to agree. As of the writing of this article, Words of Radiance has over three hundred thousand ratings on Goodreads, with an average rating of 4.76. Kudos to Brandon Sanderson for crafting this stunning masterpiece of modern fantasy.

Also be sure to check out my reviews of the Stormlight Archive novellas:

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

15 Comments

  • Chad Ridgeway says:

    You think Shallan is funny? The only way I made it through these books was to skip her chapters

  • Saidu Mukhtar Tukur says:

    This is an extremely interesting arrangement, but personally if I don’t see The way of Kings at the top of any list with the keyword ‘fantasy’ I’m immediately biased

  • R says:

    Just trying to figure out who digitally painted the image for this article, so sad how no one gets credited. especial with the growth of AI.

  • Alea Johnson says:

    Are you talking about “Journey before destination, you bastard,” or does she have a better line?

  • Bryan says:

    I’m sorry. Spoilers maybe but, “You cannot have my pain”. Best point in the entire series. That build up and line alone puts it at number one.

  • Chris says:

    Rhythm of War was an almost complete failure. Jasnah, Navani, and Adolin were the only redeeming chapters/perspectives.

    Power creep is always an issue in fantasy, but the ridiculous macguffin used in this book to nullify the power gained by the “heroes” was insulting and stupid and it made no sense why after its introduction that the conflict didn’t immediately end (that’s how ridiculous and overpowered it was)

    Add to that, listening to god-like power imbued Kaladin piss and moan for yet another book about how hard things are for him was stomach turning.

    Sauderson is one of my favorite authors. Not only is he the most prolific fantasy author of our generation but his magic systems and world building are second to none. With the colossal disappointment of Martin and Rothfuss, he was my saving grace. This book shook my faith.

    I pray this was a one off mistep from an otherwise exceptional author. I don’t have many other long running series left I’m invested in.

    • Josh says:

      To say it was a Macguffin is bizarre. It makes sense within the magic system itself. With Raboniel being the mad scientist type, it was her untested design and was yet to be perfected. Besides, I looked at the whole of it as an opportunity to tell Navani’s story without having to worry about the magic.

      With Kaladin, I feel like it’s shortsighted to say that he was pissing and moaning. He has deep trauma that he had not yet dealt with and it is all forced back in front of him with the confrontation with his father. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I do believe that in RoW, Sanderson did a phenomenal job highlighting that even if you do suffer from some form of mental illness, you can still step out of that.

    • Sean says:

      100%. It’s as if I wrote this myself.

  • Kyle says:

    Always interesting what different people see as strengths and weaknesses in books. My ordering would be the exact opposite of yours.

  • Matt P says:

    Disagree with your placement of Rhythm of War. For me it’s where all the series problems came to a head. Enemies like the Singers should be a massive threat yet they struggle with green as can be radiants most of whom haven’t even gotten their armor yet. It’s hard to imagine these guys giving the old Radiants trouble when they had the Heralds on their side. Odium himself feels defanged by now too, and no I don’t consider the change of status quo at the end a viable fix for this issue. The world building issues also rear their head. Roshar as a planet as a concept is really cool. But aside from the Shattered Plains and Kharbronth, I couldn’t tell you much about most of the other locations which seems like an issue when the whole book is about fighting to reclaim various captured nations.

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