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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

“Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

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With The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson began what he intends to be a 10-volume epic fantasy series called The Stormlight Archive. It's massive, it's ambitious, and it's wonderful.

If anything, I actually enjoyed Words of Radiance more.

At upwards of 1000 pages, this isn't a book that you're going to read in one sitting unless you are superhuman. But the plot drives forward, and unlike other massive epic fantasies I've read, every word is working hard for the story and I never get the feeling that it could stand to lose a couple hundred pages. It's long, and it's worth it.

Sanderson is trying to do so much, complicating everything in a beautiful way, but sometimes to a degree that sometimes leaves me more confused about what information I actually know. He has a tough balance to walk to give enough answers so that readers aren't completely overwhelmed, while he adds more questions and complications to others he's already asked. Mostly he's walking that line well. For instance, I think he's nailing the release of information about the Parshendi. We're getting information about the Radiants and spren at a good rate as well, but I am totally confused about the Voidbringers at this point.

Structurally, my only problem is that there are too many interludes after Part 1. Sanderson has talked before about what he's trying to accomplish, but dropping what is essentially a short story collection so early on and all at once killed the momentum. While I knew going in I wasn't going to finish the book in one sitting, the successive shifts left me tired and relieved that I had a clear stopping place to put the book down.

On the other hand, I think structurally the ending of Words of Radiance felt a lot tighter than in The Way of Kings. All of the main POV characters were physically in the same place, their arcs and climaxes were connected to the same event, and while there's no way Sanderson could have arranged that in The Way of Kings, it really worked in Words of Radiance.

And then there are the characters. Kaladin's characterization was a bit inconsistent at points: I love how clever Sanderson is, and that adds to the voice of many of the characters, but sometimes he slips quips into Kaladin's dialogue that don't belong there (especially when characters across the board comment about his utter lack of humor). It cuts Kaladin's broodiness a bit (and how he broods!), but also caused me to do a couple of double takes at the text.

On the other side, I am so interested in the direction Shallan's character took this book, and it was really a breath of fresh air from Kaladin's chapters. The contrast of their different reactions to awfulness emphasizes their agency and choices, and I absolutely love that.

We also got to explore Adolin more, which I really enjoyed. And Wit remains amazing. His bits and epilogues are possibly my favorite part of this series so far, though it is hard to choose.

In short, Brandon Sanderson has undertaken a task of enormous scope, and two volumes into The Stormlight Archive, he's executing admirably. Brandon Sanderson is putting the “epic” in epic fantasy and I'm reveling in the story every step of the way.


Windsprite said...

Maybe I should also get to reading this series. I'll see...

Bob R Milne said...

Well said. I was a bit worried about this, having been frustrated by the amount of padding he did on the final WOT novels, but I thought this worked perfectly.

Charlie Warren said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this installment. I took a chance on Sanderson with the previous book and I was blown away by his writing. Great review and it makes me want to read it even more.

Heather Grove said...

This sounds fascinating. I wish our library's e-collection had the series.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the first book but have had the hardest time getting into the second. I have the worst case of "And who is this? And why are they doing that?"

Richard said...

Really, who wants to read - let alone wait for years to finish - a ten volume (or more, if experience serves) fantasy series? My guess is a more skilled writer could tell the same story in one long book or a trilogy at most. Padding, indeed.

Anonymous said...

actually richard, he won't take long. just five years nd I think there aren't many authors as skilled as him considering the fact that he puts out two books a year. nd he's not only working on stormlight archives but on elantris, mistborn nd war breaker at the same time.

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