Book Review: Words of Radiance
I've been putting Words of Radiance off because I wanted to get closer to the release of Oathbringer, the third Stormlight Archive book which released in November. Also it's huge and rather intimidating. But I finally read it in October (yeah, that's the kind of delay I have - ugh) and discovered that I enjoyed it much more than The Way of Kings.
Kaladin is no longer a slave; instead he's responsible for protecting the king and Dalinar. He'll need every ounce of his Radiant abilities to fend off the Assassin in White. Dalinar struggles to follow the directive of his visions and unite the highprinces; with the help of his sons and the support of the king, he enacts a scheme to force cooperation. Disaster befalls Shallan en route to the Shattered Plains, and she must use her wits and her growing Radiant abilities to make it safely to her destination, retain her position as Adolin Kholin's betrothed and find the legendary city of Urithiru before time runs out. For the Voidbringers are returning, and they're bringing a new Desolation with them.
The Way of Kings felt like a lot of waiting around for the climax. While it didn't drag necessarily, it felt like one, protracted held breath. In contrast, Words of Radiance opens with a bang and then rattles along, with several smaller climaxes and dramatic moments folded in throughout the novel. It's better balanced overall, and even though it's longer than WoK, it earns that length much more than WoK did.
That said, I honestly do not believe these books need to be as long as they are, and there are chapters and parts of chapters that are so tangential to the plot. A good case in point is a bunch of the interludes (excluding the Eshonai ones, which are fantastic - see my comments below). Maybe they'll be relevant in some future book, but from here, they look like padding in an already long story.
I will say, though, that the characters feel stronger. They're still a little too straightforward hero for my taste, but Sanderson starts filling them in more. In particular, he puts some weight behind Shallan, thanks to the gut-wrenching insights into her backstory (she's this book's flashback character). Between the disturbing secrets she's deliberately repressing and her burgeoning Lightweaver abilities, she takes a much more interesting turn. (Also, her spren Pattern wins the award for Best New Character. His delight in little nuances of human interaction made me laugh out loud several times. I will take one of my own, please.)
But surprisingly, my favorite character in WoR turned out to be Adolin - and based on the interwebs, I'm not alone. Adolin was hit or miss for me in The Way of Kings; I found his undercutting of Dalinar hard to stomach, and he seemed shallow, more focused on appearances than substance. That changes a lot in WoR as Adolin builds a rivalry and then a mutual respect with Kaladin. His relationship with Shallan, which begins when he notices how different she looks and doesn't judge her for it like everyone else, is just the cherry on top of a really delicious sundae.
The Sanderson fans might hunt me down for saying this, but Kaladin is not my favorite, and this book just reinforced that. While I like his Radiant powers the best, and he does get some of the most cinematic setpieces, I really need him to build a bridge and get over his mopey-ness. (Hah - see what I did there?)
Dalinar is Dalinar, and I enjoyed watching him go from believing he might be mad in the first book to confident in his visions in WoR. The ending of WoR with regards to him did not surprise me one whit, and based on it, I expect there will be plenty more for me to enjoy in Oathbringer (particularly since Dalinar takes up the mantle of flashback character).
I said in my WoK review that Sanderson's worldbuilding was astounding, and he continues to impress on that front. This book answers a lot of questions I had after WoK, while simultaneously introducing tons of new information. Perhaps the most pertinent and fascinating is the exploration of Parshendi society. As a musician, the concept of a people whose entire lives are lived to "rhythms" is utterly fascinating. Sanderson takes that idea and paints a beautiful, tragic picture of a people who are damned if they do, damned if they don't. Mad props.
To sum, I definitely enjoyed Words of Radiance more than The Way of Kings. If it weren't for a lot of the set-up necessary to understand the world, I'd say I wished Sanderson had started with Words of Radiance. The characters are better, the pacing is better, and the ending is better. If you like doorstopper fantasy epics, you'll love this one.