After my review of The Way of Kings, I realized how off my rating scale was. I gave the book a ten, when really it only rounded up to a ten, in my opinion. So after that I changed my rating scale, from a ten-point system to a hundred point system. I can say with conviction that, although I gave the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Stormlight Archive’ a 10/10, and this sequel a 9.8, Words of Radiance improves on the first in almost every respect.
A major complaint from many in the first novel was its padding – the amount of time it took to officially start getting good. That’s been obliterated in this book. Within the first few chapters a major event happens to one of the main characters of the series, Shallan, that helps propel her toward the person she was born to become. The same goes for the rest of the book as well. Something is always happening. No character is slighted, no open-end untouched, no intrigue left alone. This book is brimming with excitement, which is why it’s so hard to write a review for. As one of the old oaths of the Knights Radiant claimed it’s the “journey before destination”. The Way of Kings was that “journey” while Words of Radiance was the “destination”. I don’t want to give any spoilers away, especially because this is the second book in the series, but it’s hard not to when the book is over a thousand pages.
Yep, that’s right. 1087 pages to be exact. And at roughly 400,000 words, it’s the largest possible book that Tor books is capable of printing. That makes it officially the longest book I’ve ever read. And within its depths we get some of the best worldbuilding that literature has ever seen. Roshar is a world unlike any other, where thousands of different types of spren (coexisting fairy-like creatures) are commonplace, each appearing from different human emotions, creativity, or nature. Most cannot communicate with these spren, but with the coming portents of something truly terrible, some spren begin to interact with the humans, and their bond allows for truly fantastical abilities to take shape.
One thing Sanderson does extremely well is showcase his bizarre fantasy without turning it into a spectacle for his characters. Each character is well knowledgable about the goings on in Roshar, whether it be Highstorms, Parshendi, Spren, or other oddities, so to them it’s no big deal and they live their life accordingly because that’s just how life has adapted over the centuries and millennia.
I was amazed at the level of creative intricacy and diversity Sanderson was capable of portraying in every facet of the story, whether it be religion, written tomes, lore, mythos, character types, cultures, creatures, mysteries, racism, secret societies, royalty… None of it seemed to undermine another – it all worked in perfect synchronicity. Not a lot of series can do that, if not in just one book, but this book certainly breaks that mold, albeit a thousand page man-killer. All the while, we finally get to see all the characters finally meet, their efforts coalescing into some of the most engaging storytelling I’ve ever been privileged to read.
The Stormlight Archive is a planned series of 10, which I find extremely daunting. It’s eerily apparent how well he’s mapped it all out, how long it’s been mulling over in his mind, because so much happens in one book it feels as though the story finishes by the end. But really it’s just one of many chapters, and the ending gives us a tease as to the future of the series – the horrors that shall bestow upon the world of Roshar. The series does well at switching from one character’s focus to another, but each book focuses more specifically on one individual. The first book, albeit showcasing many characters, was ALL about Kaladin and 1 in every 5 chapters we’d get a glimpse into his past. This book is no different in format, but instead focuses on the mystery that is Shallan – how she got to where she is now, and the people and scenarios that have helped shape her.
If I have one criticism that stood out over anything else, it’s actually about Kaladin. After the first book, where you learn how he becomes the broken man he now is, but then overcomes that, you’d expect him to be a more lively fellow in the sequel. Well he actually became more annoying. He just became so emotionally monochromatic in his self-deprecation that every time he’d begin speaking it was hard to feel anything for the character. This is a very minor quibble, but a quibble of mine nonetheless. Kaladin does come out of his melancholy down the line, and it’s quite a fantastic self-journey for him in the end.
The book is broken into 5 parts, each starting slowly, picking up where the last left off but they each end superbly. The end to part three with Adolin and the 4… Gah! No spoilers. But seriously. THAT scene. Between each part are interlude chapters, giving a more rounded view of the world, introducing us to characters with unique stories of their own. If there is anything these chapters accomplish most it’s the ability they have to expand the worldbuilding, showcasing cultures not native to the main storyline. Essentially, it’s just Brandon Sanderson writing short stories with ulterior characters. Whether these chapters serve a greater purpose down the line is unknown. It’s strange. Every time the interludes begin I’m all “nooo, let’s go back to the real book” but you really do get into them.
I recommend this read to anyone who wants an absolutely epic story, or anyone who needs to escape to a distant world. My advice is to start with book one, obviously, but if not the Wikipedia page has a great summary of the events found within. I consider this a better read than most other books, and I’ll go ahead and say it now that I found this a better read than A Song of Ice and Fire. Sanderson’s ability to craft a world completely ungrounded in any ideologies that we are currently used to, while not losing sight of the story is truly astounding. My girlfriend has never read a proper epic fantasy novel before, but she’s devoured both novels, so yes. Even if you’re not a fan of fantasy, I recommend this book to you. It’s suitable for all ages (although the prose is slightly more articulate than your typical YA fiction), and will take you to a world and culture you’ll never be able to visit otherwise, as it’s just that unique.
I read this book while simultaneously listening to the incredible audiobook over on my Audible app. It’s what I consider the “full reading experience”. Don’t quote me on that. But really, I find that audiobooks really do aid in the reading process, especially with character names. I was watching a review for the book over on YouTube, and although it was a great review, the reviewer was reading all the names just so so wrong. But for those that don’t like to listen to audiobooks, here’s a handy little guide to pronouncing a few of the many many names. It may seem like common sense now, but it’s not always easy when you don’t have the correct pronunciation at your eartips, like the readers in the audiobooks are instructed.