Book Review | Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review | Words of Radiance by Brandon SandersonAt this point, Words of Radiance has been out for a year and a half, and I suspect most of Sanderson’s fans have read it. I’ve bumped into them at cons, book stores, signings, and, frankly, almost every other place where you might find readers. I bump into them at the most unlikely of places and find them in the people I would least have suspected of being fantasy fans. In fact, for a lot of them, this is the only fantasy that they read–indeed, to them, fantasy IS Brandon Sanderson.

There are a lot of explanations for this, but the simplest one is really this: Sanderson writes some pretty awesome stuff. Broad appeal, female protagonists, good writing, high productivity, the absence of foul language and “on-screen” sex, and highly creative world building are all parts of that, but really, Sanderson has a formula that instead of being predictable focuses on storytelling fundamentals and innovative plot, character, and world-building…

But enough rambling: let’s get to Word of Radiance. It merits its own dose of praise.

When the first book in The Stormlight Archive was released (The Way of Kings) back in 2010, I found myself waiting at a midnight release to get Sanderson’s signature–and yes, I still shake my head that I did it, but I digress–he had just finished the last three books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. While I agreed with most readers that Sanderson’s touch had actually improved the Wheel of Time, I wanted assurance that I wouldn’t have to wait a generation to see the end of the next epic fantasy series I would start, of which Sanderson was at that moment signing the first installment in front of me at the table.

“There will be ten books,” he said. “And I promise not to die on the way.”

All of this is just to say that after finishing #2 in the series I am more than even after the first eager to read the next. And I would read as many as Sanderson writes, be they a thousand pages or more…

Book Review | Words of Radiance by Brandon SandersonWords of Radiance surpasses The Way of Kings and sets a path for the series that hints at as much, or more, as it actually reveals.

As Words of Radiance opens, our two heroes–Kaladin and Shallan–find themselves moving towards a purpose, having over come the obstacles that they surpassed in The Way of Kings. Kaladin is no longer a slave, but wields the power of the Knights Radiant, if secretly from all but a few of his closest soldiers of the newly formed military unit he heads in their task to protect the King. Shallan finds herself en route to the Alethkar war camp on the Shattered Plains, learning but slowly to recognize her own growing powers. And yet, neither will foresee what they must do–what they must become–if they are to survive the coming storm, as well as the treachery that awaits at every turn.

Meanwhile, the mysterious Assassin continues to spread chaos across the land, killing heads of state across the continent, commanded by an unseen hand, a shadow power manipulating the nations.

Sanderson has learned how to develop his characters, good and evil, and to make them hurt in a way that accrues sympathy from the reader. For example, it’s hard to see Kaladin’s choices, watch him pay the price, and see how he digs himself out of the results. Yet Sanderson finds a way, proving that he is in command of the story, not the other way around. At a thousand plus pages, building one character might seem easy, but he does it with every character who earns any time on the pages, even during one of the shorter interludes that fill the gaps between sections, both with color and hints of what is going on across the continent beyond where our main story is happening. Every character is individual, creatively rendered, and vibrantly alive. Just when I think Sanderson couldn’t possibly make Roshar more real, he creates another culture, unique and colorful, and adds another layer to what is also a highly developed interplay of characters, countries, cultures, and mythologies.

It’s a ‘wow’ factor that makes Sanderson’s writing–already carrying a strong story–that much more gripping and hard to put down.

Words of Radiance is  fantastic, and almost anthropological at points, in its scope. I can’t wait to read Oathbringer (hinted for a 2017 release, which is so far away as to be almost a depressing thought), as well as anything that Sanderson manages to punch out in the intervening time between his finishing writing and the publisher’s release to shelves.Book Review | Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance Book Cover Words of Radiance
The Stormlight Archive, Book 2
Brandon Sanderson
Tor Books
March 4, 2014

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin's master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status "darkeyes." Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.