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Words of Radiance – A Review

March 6, 2014

The following is a review of Book Two of Brandon Sanderson’s colossal epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archive. While I will be refraining from posting any major plot spoilers, there are still some thematic elements discussed herein. If you’ve only read The Way of Kings, I’d recommend proceeding with caution.

 

Brandon Sanderson has outdone himself. For an author with an already impressive resume (Mistborn trilogy, Warbreaker, the last three books of The Wheel of Time, and The Way of Kings, just to name a few), he’s established himself firmly in the top echelon of current fantasy writers. With a reputation for startlingly rich worldbuilding, creative and unique magic systems, and layered plotting, I thought I knew what I was in for with Book Two of The Stormlight Archive. Boy, was I wrong.

Words of Radiance is simply one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

With the manner in which The Way of Kings ended, there were many events that I knew were going to take place in this book. Szeth was going to fight Kaladin; that was obvious. Shallan was going to make it to the Shattered Plains; again, obvious. Dalinar was going to be fighting further to unite the Alethi highprinces in their Vengeance Pact against the Parshendi. The list goes on.

However, none of these developments played out as I thought they would. This is a hallmark of Sanderson’s writing: even when you think that you’ve got his plot points and his foreshadowing figured out, things always develop in unexpected ways. Sure, a few of my theories were proven correct in Words of Radiance, but by far the majority of my expectations were wildly off.

Instead of diving into a spoiler-ridden review, since anyone who hasn’t read this book REALLY doesn’t deserve to have such excellence spoiled for him or her, I’m going to talk about some of the more surface points, and only hint at the actual events.

To begin with, Words of Radiance has really shown the lessons Sanderson learned while finishing The Wheel of Time. His handling of character development over multiple books is greatly improved, and he’s really done an excellent job of turning things from the first book that flew under the radar into big plot points and key moments of progression. People like Amaram, Gaz, Tvlakv, and others play major parts in Kaladin and Shallan becoming the people they needed to be—becoming Knights Radiant.

While this is Shallan’s book, so to speak, and features her flashbacks, it is obvious that Sanderson has the best touch with Kaladin. As a major theme in Words of Radiance is that of broken people—and Shallan, among others, is certainly broken—the dynamic personality of Kaladin allows exploration of more than one way he is broken, and thusly, the eventual climax of his arc is all the more fulfilling. Since the beginning of The Way of Kings, we’ve seen Kaladin struggle through slavery, depression, frustration, and now hatred and vengeance, all toward the noble goal of a Knight Radiant. As the Second Ideal of the Windrunners (“I shall protect those who cannot protect themselves”) defines his uphill climb from the literal precipice of suicide in The Way of Kings, the Third Ideal defines his new self-awareness by the end of Words of Radiance: “I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right.”

The poignancy of the fateful scene wherein Kaladin finally says the Third Ideal was both touching and exciting. Sanderson has always had a gift for cinematic action scenes; one need only look at parts of the Mistborn trilogy or Warbreaker to see that. What he does here, though, is turn a blood-soaked, heart-pounding scene into one of the most profound moments in Kaladin’s relationship with Syl. The seemingly inevitable progression of their separation through Words of Radiance comes to a head here, providing one of the most moving moments I’ve ever read.

While Sanderson has progressed in leaps and bounds dealing with multiple character arcs over multiple books, the true genius of his work lies in two words: The Cosmere. For many casual readers of his books, you may have heard this term tossed around, may have noticed the mysterious presence of “Hoid” in every one of his adult epic fantasy novels, despite them taking place on disparate worlds. These worlds, of course, are all in the same universe—the Cosmere—and Hoid is an enigmatic, meddlesome, and magically powerful character capable of living for centuries and traveling from planet to planet.

The hints of the greater Cosmere plot have always been present in Sanderson’s books, but before Stormlight, they’ve always been more like easter eggs: fun, little cameos for the astute reader. Here, though, the greater plot that has been weaving behind the scenes and across seven previous books and multiple short stories begins to move to the forefront. Characters from Mistborn, Elantris, and Warbreaker have all been spotted in Stormlight, at this point, but it was the absolutely STUNNING revelation barely a dozen pages before the end of Words of Radiance that stands as Mr. Sanderson’s ultimate statement: the Cosmere gloves are off.

Thankfully, he seems to be some kind of tome-writing android, and the third Stormlight book should be along within the next couple of years. Then, we will all get to continue the massive adventures that he has taken us along on Roshar, and perhaps even extending to other Realms.

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