If I’m being honest this review is likely not going to do this book justice. I was going into Words of Radiance, the second book of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, fresh off a reread of Way of Kings and experience both novels nearly back to back definitely enhanced my reading. Much like with other long-running fantasy series re-reads of all previous volumes will likely become cumbersome at some point but at least with book two the option for a back-to-back read works quite well. When it comes to Words of Radiance most Brandon Sanderson fans know what they are in for and the return to Roshar is like coming home again. Where Way of King eases readers into the world, offering an introduction and exploration of Roshar and how it works Words of Radiance delves deeper into the greater mysteries of Roshar and explores areas of the world glimpsed in the first book. Some spoilers from the first book are bound to occur so if you’ve yet to read Way of Kings consider yourself warned.
The characters readers came to know and love in the first book return here and while Shallan and Kaladin take the fore Sanderson manages to delve into and further explore a host of other characters including Adolin, Dalinar, Navani, Renarin, Jasnah and countless others. Sanderson really puts Kaladin through the ringer again here. Where the bridge runs in the previous book served as a sort of galvanizing force for Kaladin the sudden shift towards providing protection for Dalinar and his family rocks Kaladin back on his heels. Torn between duty and his own anger Kaladin is an extremely troubled figure throughout the entire novel. Perhaps the most standout character of the novel was Shallan. Over the course of the novel readers get to see the tragic events that lead to her quest to steal Jasnah’s soulcaster while during the present narrative we witness Shallan playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the Ghostbloods; a mysterious group who were responsible for the death of Gavilar.
Sanderson delves deeper into the culture of the Parshendi through the character of Eshonai; a Parshendi shardbearer. They are a fascinating society and her arc, seen first in the novel’s interludes, is particularly fascinating given the revelations about the parshmen in Way of Kings. Sanderson strikes an even tone during Eshonai’s chapters revealing how the war to avenge Gavilar’s death has worn on her people. While the war is the result of her people’s action there is a touch of the tragic to her tale as you witness a people willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure their own survival. Also present once again in Words of Radiance is the assassin in white, Szeth. Under the guiding hand of his new master he has been eliminating the leadership across Roshar in order to “help” the land through a unified rule. Szeth’s quest leads him to a head on collision with Kaladin. The fight between Kaladin and Szeth is a major turning point for both characters and Szeth, already broken, becomes an even more pitiable figure. After the revelations about King Taravangian in Way of Kings I was relieved to see that Sanderson delves a bit more into King Taravangian in Words of Radiance. It was definitely a pleasant surprise and the revelations about Taravangian are both clever and fascinating. While certainly a “villain” Taravangian is a character I definitely hope we continue to see more of in further volumes. he exploits of Shallan and Kaladin offer the primary avenue through which Sanderson explores the magical abilities of the Knights Radiant. In his typical Sanderson fashion he unveils a fascinating system of magic, or really systems, the is unveiled in just drips and drabs to whet ones appetite with starving for more information. Many of the interludes seen in Words of Radiance manage to hint at and describe other magical abilities help the some of the other Knights Radiant hinting that Sanderson has loads more to unveil about his world and the magic that is suffused throughout it.
While both Way of Kings and Words of Radiance are likely to draw comparisons to the many other fantasy epics out there a group of intrepid fans far more observant than myself have pieced together through fiction and interviews that Sanderson’s books are almost all part of an interconnected world called the Cosmere. I learned this fact midway through reading Words of Radiance and was immediately ashamed I didn’t pick up on this fact myself. I held off on further research until I finished Words of Radiance and was impressed by the depth of scope in Sanderson’s Cosmere. While each series/story stands well on it’s own the additional knowledge that The Stormlight Archive and many of Sanderson other works are part of a greater universe is quite frankly terrifying.
Words of Radiance is quite frankly the definition of epic fantasy. Sanderson is writer who improves with each new novel he releases and Words of Radiance is his strongest release yet. Clocking in at over 1000 pages it is a novel that never lags; not once. Even in the moments when it slows down you are left, mind racing, trying to figure out how each new revelation and every new character fits into the larger frame of the story that Sanderson is weaving. If you’ve yet to start The Stormlight Archive now is that time.