Words of Radiance: Book Two of The Stormlight Archive
A few years back, Brandon Sanderson released THE WAY OF KINGS, the first volume in a planned 10-book series known as The Stormlight Archive. It was a thick book, and every page was filled with wondrous things. It was Sanderson sans his Jordan hat, allowed to spread his own wings, and he delivered a book that has easily rated as one of my favorites --- not just of modern fantasy, but of all time. My first question on closing the back cover was "How on earth will he top that?"
A few weeks ago, the delivery truck backed up to the house and the four burly movers brought in WORDS OF RADIANCE, the eagerly awaited second volume. Okay, I kid, but it should be known that it’s as big a book as Tor can make without it collapsing into a pile of loose paper. It's big --- 1,088 pages big. I stared at the cover for a good 20 minutes, eyeing the book to prepare for the journey, made a cup of coffee, and settled into my chair. Before cracking the spine for the first time, I told myself, "You cannot compare this book to its predecessor." I knew I would be setting myself up for disappointment. I had to enter this with a clean slate and take WORDS OF RADIANCE on its own terms.
"For a book of its size, the pages turn incredibly fast, and Sanderson shows once again why he is on top of his game as a world-builder and, perhaps more importantly, an evolving and improving storyteller."
It takes mere paragraphs to once again be pulled wholly into the world of Roshar and taking up with our four main characters -- Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar and Adolin. The world, and its depths, is one of the strongest qualities of Sanderson's writing.
Kaladin, "Stormblessed" and former slave, is charged with protecting Dalinar from the Assassin in White. But he also has a side of himself that seeks vengeance on those who wronged him. While he was the main focal point of the previous book, he is secondary here.
Stepping into the fore is Shallan Davar, the gifted artist determined to become an apprentice to Jasnah Kholin. Shallan is a lost soul, not sure of herself and seeking to understand her purpose. The revelations of her backstory illuminate her character, and she quite easily displays the most growth as she evolves.
In the meantime, Dalinar has visions of the doom of the world even as he seeks a means by which to unify the kingdoms. His solution: the Knights Radiant must return.
To spend more time with exposition would be a problem. For one, I prefer not to spoil any of the story, and for another, there's just so much that to whittle it all down into a sound byte would not serve the work. The characters and their unfolding arcs are all so complex and intricate, and the story is, quite simply, amazing.
It is a truly fine work. WORDS OF RADIANCE takes the threads and openings laid bare by THE WAY OF KINGS and answers them, while also weaving and wending its way along and posing new questions and mysteries. For a book of its size, the pages turn incredibly fast, and Sanderson shows once again why he is on top of his game as a world-builder and, perhaps more importantly, an evolving and improving storyteller. In fact, the final handful of chapters deliver a payoff of such magnitude that your jaw will hang open.
WORDS OF RADIANCE is a supreme work of fantasy, and I would dare say it is the first genuine Must Read of 2014. It is accurate to say that it surpasses, in every way, the already stunning success of THE WAY OF KINGS -- a feat I did not think was remotely possible.
Sometimes it's good to be wrong.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 28, 2014