Archive for February, 2017

portalofathousandworlds

“I helped him advance on the staircase of worlds.”

A pretty euphemism for assassination, no?

About :

The Good Land lives for centuries at a time without serious threat to its traditions. Each dynastic emperor rules from The Heart of the World, unseen by the masses and advised by his eunuchs. Periodically, rebellions protest the power of the emperor’s “usurper” mother, who appears to rule the throne; fortunately for the ruling class, the only real competing power lies with “The Grey Helpers” of “The Houses of Joyful Departure”—you guessed it, an assassin’s guild 😉

But the emperor takes fearful notice when the Man of a Thousand Lives reappears, a man who is reincarnated cyclically through the ages to share the wisdom of the prophets about the Portal of a Thousand Worlds. This time, the Man of a Thousand Lives prophesies the opening of the Portal. As the auguries pile up, the powerful grow nervous, for the Portal always brings great changes to the Good Land. Dynasties end and natural disasters rock the land.

The changes rarely favor the powerful. The Portal of a Thousand Worlds is adult epic fantasy/alternate history authored by Dave Duncan and published February 14th 2017 by Open Road Media Science & Fantasy. Duncan also authored The King’s Blades and The Seventh Sword series.

Thoughts :

Portal of a Thousand Worlds feels like the sort of book that might take a lifetime to write—tightly plotted and cast, fully-developed in setting and characterized by the sort of raucous, racy and word-perfect humor that enlivens what might otherwise be considered a grim Chinese political fantasy.

The conflict between Emperor’s family and the rebels is the main focus of the book. Every so often, the focus slides back to the Man of a Thousand Lives (also known as the “Firstborn” or the “Urfather”) and his mysterious agenda; but basically every other narrator (and there are many) focuses on the palace intrigue. Most of the narrators are either nobility or Grey Helpers, and from them we learn delicious details of both palace life and the inner workings of the assassin’s guild. It’s like a very (very! Wonderfully! Atmospherically!!) Chinese Game of Thrones.

The story builds to address the climactic mystery of The Portal. Only rumors survive about its opening in centuries past, and nobody knows why. But everyone wants to know, of course—so they ask the Firstborn, who currently resides in the body of a fourteen year old peasant boy named “Sunlight.” But even he doesn’t know much—he always gets assassinated before the Portal itself opens.

So everybody watches and waits, anxious about the opening of the great portal.

My favorite part of Portal is the delightfully wicked and ever-present humor. Clever verbal gymnastics, situations that lurch sideways and riotous personality humor kept me giggling throughout the book. The Firstborn himself trademarks his own running joke, sharing hilarious anecdotes or reprimands about the confusion surrounding past philosophical teachings.

On top of the humor, surprises show up on every page. Tensions run high with conflicting character agendas, sudden tips in power, deaths, magics and all kinds of other ingenious plot twists. I was never bored. Certain portions could have probably been trimmed to shorten the book—I didn’t expect to take two weeks to read this ARC; but every page was honestly a pleasure to read.

The ending may disappoint readers who enjoy the concrete answers often found in a hard-fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s stories; nevertheless, I found it to be profoundly touching and everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love the theme about how the passage of time can affect religion and public perception of religion. The religion also serves justice in a rather unique way…

The limitations of the female sex may also bother some readers. Life is unapologetically rough for all but noblemen (emphasis on the “men”), in this early 1800s-like Chinese fantasy. Women can gain only a little power, and only by birthing sons; as such, every female with a modicum of power spends or has spent time as a prostitute or concubine. If feminism is a touchy issue for you, you might consider the female situation anything from boring to grating; I took off half a star for the disturbingly obvious lack of strong, unique female heroines. But thankfully despite the limits on female power, I enjoyed the female characters as much as the heroes in this one. The range of personalities is both vast and entertaining. (My favorite character, Horse, grew up in a House of Joyful Departure where females get just as much opportunity and have just as much success as males. He is one of the few men who respects women outside the bedroom…and you might like where his arc leads, and what it promises for the future of the Good Land.)

Overall :

I thoroughly enjoyed Portal. The humor and inventiveness far outweigh any negative considerations. It’s billed as a Chinese Game of Thrones, which seems like a fair description. (You might take this with a grain of salt, as I’m only familiar with book 1 + season 1 of GoT.) Occasional short action scenes pop up, but mostly as humorous or dramatic beats. The book is much more about politics and power than about the magic or even the Portal, really.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a hilarious and political epic fantasy with a Chinese twist. Not recommended to feminists. Slight content warning for younger readers, there’s some violence and a loooooot of sex, haha. I don’t recall anything too dramatic, but sex is probably mentioned on every other page, in some form or another (often as a device of humor).

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Dave Duncan,  Open Road Media Science & Fantasy and Netgalley for this amazing ARC of Portal of a Thousand Worlds!

illumniae

About :

What could be worse for a teenager than breaking up with her year-long boyfriend?

Well, lots of things, as Kady Grant soon discovers. When a major mining corporation attacks her sort-of-illegal mining settlement on the tiny planet of Kerenza, her breakup with Ezra is demoted to the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

And they happen on the same day. Of course they do.

But even the Kerenza refugees who escape the attack remain in grave danger—a warship pursues the refugees through space, and as their ship breaks down, everything that can go wrong absolutely does. Worse yet, Kady, Ezra and the rest of the refugees must pry information out of those in charge, who would prefer to avoid panic by avoiding disclosure.

How can anyone onboard help if they’re left in the dark? Illuminae is YA sci-fi written by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and published October 20th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance (2016), Aurealis Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015), The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2016), Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) (2015), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2015)

Thoughts :

In a cool sci-fi twist on the epistolary novel, the authors wrote Illuminae in a series of IM logs, medical reports and other “hacked documents.” It looks brilliant in hard copy. Still, I hesitated to pick it up—I don’t get the chance to read much YA in hard copy, these days.

But when I heard good things about the audiobook, I decided to give it a shot.

“Audiobook?” you may wonder. “How could they convert this clever and unusual epistolary format into an audiobook?”

With lots and looooots of talented voice actors and sound effects. The “translation” from text to audio is well-planned and executed. This is one impressive audiobook, folks.

As far as the actual story, readers will find a lot to like there, also. The “voices” of our two main protagonists—the rebellious teens Kady and Ezra—are completely unique. I don’t know if Kaufman and Kristoff wrote the two perspectives separately or what, but Kady comes off as an extremely brainy, competent and ambitious hacker while Ezra embodies a soulful, handsome and foul-mouthed jock who flies starship missions after being drafted into the onboard military. Two such different and convincing voices rarely appear in the same book.

That’s particularly important in this book, where the voices basically carry the long setup of the book’s first half. The main focus revolves around Kady and Ezra’s love life as several different potential plot problems mount around them. The setup of the first half feels a little like the authors are throwing in tons of tropes to hold our attention, such as [Highlight to view SPOILER: a mutating disease and a warship “timebomb”]; but when the real story starts about halfway through, it grabbed me immediately.

I lovelovelove the twist [Highlight to view SPOILER: when Aiden releases the infected from Bay 4, OH MAN! That got my attention, haha]. Older readers of sci-fi will have read the trope before, but it will be new to a lot of young adults and anyone new to sci-fi and I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. I wish I could talk about it more because it’s probably my favorite thing about the book!

But before I close this review, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote, an offering from the romantic Ezra:

You deserve every star in the galaxy laid out at your feet and a thousand diamonds in your hair. You deserve someone who’ll run with you as far and as fast as you want to. Holding your hand, not holding you back.”

Overall :

Ultimately, the sci-fi epistolary format is the most unique thing about Illuminae. Other than that, I think it’s a fun sci-fi, if a little overlong. A good contribution to the YA genre. I’m hoping for more history and cool techy inventions in book II, Gemina.

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Plot: 3/5 Stars
Writing: 4/5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 4/5 Stars
Audio: 5/5 Stars

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone new to sci-fi and any fans of YA in general. If you enjoy Star Wars, you might enjoy this. Oh, and if you like audios, the novelty of such a well-orchestrated audio might make it worth trying!

‘The woman is a danger…What she does is an abomination.’”

About :

Shai is a MaiPon Forger in a country that despises Forgers as abominations. When she gets captured during a routine palace art theft, she scrambles for an escape plan; but before she gets the chance to spring herself from prison, her captors change the game.

‘She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her.’”

They visit her prison cell and demand that she complete a job for them, a job so secret that Shai knows she will be murdered at its close: reforge the emperor’s soul. The Emperor’s Soul is a Fantasy Novella written by Brandon Sanderson and published October 11th 2012 by Tachyon Publications. Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fantasy (2012).

Thoughts :

This novella opens with the emperor’s staff debating the fate of their captive Forger, and this first layer of cultural tension immediately intrigued me: What is Forging? Why do they hate it? And why must they use it to save the country?

Nearby in prison, Shai desperately seeks a way out of her cell before the next day’s scheduled execution, and her technique introduces readers to the unique Asian stamp magic of the novella:

To Forge something, you had to know its past, its nature.”

At this point (on like page four), the cultural tension and the magic already have me intrigued. Then the emperor’s councilors arrive and explain the situation to Shai and to readers: the emperor has been attacked and needs a new soul to survive.

Whoa. What?

They grant Shai a stay of execution for the next hundred days, during which she must create the soulstamp—a task that will involve a huge amount of complex, untested magic.

Her ambitious artist’s soul longs to create the perfect soulstamp, but she knows she must prioritize one thing over this primal urge toward faultless creation: she must escape before those 100 days are up or she will never leave the prison alive. The 100 day countdown heads each new section, and I totally felt the squeeze by the end of the novella.

Over the course of the story, Shai uses her magic in a variety of ways: transforming her room, making various stamps to reforge the emperor’s personality and history, etc. But a constant war rages inside her between the need to create a perfect soulstamp and the need to escape with her life. Her escape plan is just one more layer of mystery that kept me reading.

The final layer that got me fully invested in the story relates to the characters. In order to escape, Shai knows she’ll need to do something that makes her cringe: she’ll have to manipulate the elderly Arbiter Gaotana who visits her cell to test the soulstamps.

Gaotana seems to have the most integrity of all those palace staff, as he alone regrets the need to forever silence the young Forger after she completes the stamp. So when he criticizes Shai’s choice of profession—thief, Forger, abomination—Shai feels his disappointment keenly.

Why? Gaotana thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, turn to forgery?…Why not be a true artist?”

Aarcanum-unboundednd now she has to trick him—just to escape with her life? It made my heart hurt just thinking about it!

Overall:

I love the human psychology and the theme of cultural misunderstanding in The Emperor’s Soul. And, of course, I love the Asian-inspired stamp magic. It ties in with the “form” type magic present in Stormlight Archives, I think, too—or it sounds like it does, anyway. In fact, I love the format and pacing and characters and everything about this story! I’m so happy it was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, even though it was published previously. I kinda wish we could hear more about Shai because her potential as a heroine is limitless; but I understand that Sanderson wants to finish a few series before starting an entirely new one, haha.

Recommended To:

Although the novella is set in the same universe as Elantris, the reading order doesn’t matter. In fact, this might be a great introduction to Sanderson’s work, if you’re not ready to jump into The Way of Kings. There’s no fat to trim.

*****5/5 STARS

shattered-blue

About :

After her older sister is killed in a terrible accident, Noa struggles through her classes in a prestigious California prep school. She relies on her friends to survive; her parents grieve too hard for their lost daughter to give their living daughter the kind of companionship she so suddenly and violently lacks.

Enter Callum Forsythe, the new high school hottie. Noa feels the sparks between them almost immediately. But even as Callum seemingly-reluctantly reciprocates her attentions, he explains why their relationship will be difficult: he is Fae, banished to her world where he must feed off human Light to survive.

And that’s only the beginning of their troubles. Shattered Blue is YA Paranormal/Fantasy/Romance authored by Lauren Bird Horotwitz and published September 15th 2015 by Skyscape. Paperback, 336 pages. It won several awards and honors including 2016 Independent Publishers’ (IPPY) Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, as well as Finalist honors in the 2016 USA Book Awards for  Best New Fiction and Best New Fantasy, the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Best Young Adult Fiction, and the 2016 International Book Award for Best Fantasy

I KNOW IT SOUNDS LIKE TWILIGHT, but hang on a sec!

If you think you know what happens in Shattered Blue when you read the summary, I guarantee you’ll be surprised. If you’ve ever enjoyed a YA paranormal love story, I recommend checking this one out—and for more reasons than just that GORGEOUS cover.

Thoughts :

After two DNFs, Shattered Blue was the perfect pick-me-up. I kept hearing about it on Socially Awkward Bookworm and The Worn Bookmark , but I hadn’t quite decided to order it for my library until I saw Renegade Red (book #2) pop up on Netgalley—I knew it was a sign! I ordered Shattered Blue immediately and it came in the mail on the very day I DNFed Crossroads of Canopy.

I devoured it.

Horowitz weaves a fully-formed Fae mythology into Shattered Blue. Several orders of Fae live in Faerie and their politics rumble through all the way through the “portal” to the human realm.

‘Use and Let Use,’ he proclaimed. ‘Fae Power without bias.’”

In a such fast-paced YA paranormal, this level of worldbuilding is completely entertaining. I was never bored.

The Fae magic system also personally affects Callum and Noa as they navigate their relationship: whenever Callum touches her, her Light flows into him. This roadblock adds even more tension and intrigue to the human-Fae relationships in the book!

And there’s more good news: Shattered Blue is full of emotional truths, especially regarding grief and love. When Noa’s older sister Isla dies, the whole family grieves in individual ways. Noa has strong, meaningful relationships with her family, especially her little sister, Sasha, but her grief over her Isla’s death sometimes stains even those precious Sasha-moments:

It suddenly struck Noah how awful it would be to lose a sister at Sasha’s age, like Callum had. A different kind of awful from losing someone like Isla, who was a person fully formed.”

The prose is also beautiful and poetic. Throughout the book, we get poems like this first stanza of Noa’s poem “Mermaid Hearts”:

We’re swift in currents.
Down spiny sprays of kelp we dive,
Run hands through leaves to hunt
for snails and sapphires.”

I admit, I have a soft-spot for atmospheric coastal stories (I loved Twilight as a young adult), especially set on the CA coast. Because spoiler alert I live there, haha. But isn’t that beautiful? Horowitz dazzled me with her poetic prose and free form poetry throughout the book.

Shattered Blue is also appealingly plot-driven, delivering regular twists to the romance and other plot arcs. Little mysteries or dramas pop up constantly throughout the story, set against the backdrop of Noa’s school or Noa’s home, and most of them have to do with discovering Faerie.

I slammed the request button for book II as soon as I finished Shattered Blue because *dances* I CAN’T TELL YOU WHY but I CAN’T WAIT to find out more about the Fae realms! And in book II, I have a very good feeling that we will!

Nay-sayers will find a few things to complain about, although I hardly feel like mentioning them after enjoying such an immersive experience!

However: (1) It does have that creepy Edward-watches-and-EVER-PROTECTS-Bella thing going on, and I don’t know if that’s just a ya trope or a paranormal trope or what, but it’s a little weird. (2) The focus never really lands on Noa’s female friendships. In fact, her best friend Olivia is mainly used as a plot device.

Overall:

A genre-perfect read. Gorgeous prose, emotional complexity, speedy plotting and absorbing twists on Fae mythology make this one of the best ya paranormal fantasies I’ve read in a long time.

Recommended To :

I think any fans of ya paranormal, especially of the Fae variety, will love Shattered Blue. If you need a beach read or a book to pull you out of your book slump, I recommend this one. If you liked Twilight, I think you’ll love this.

*****5/5 STARS

gildedcage

“Understanding slid into Luke’s brain and lodged its sharp point there…

‘We’re all going to do our slavedays.’

About :

Luke and Abigail Hadley live like normal teenagers all over Britain until their parents suddenly commit the whole family to their “slave days.” Every British commoner is forced to devote 10 years of service to the magically “Skilled” elite class that rules over Britain, a caste known as the “Equals.” At least the Hadleys manage to score a cushy group deal: all five will serve the richy rich Jardine family on their legendary estate of Kyneston.

At least, that’s what they’re told.

But when the bus arrives, Luke gets marked as “surplus” and sent instead to Millmoor, “Manchester’s filthy, unforgiving slavetown.”

Because in a “state of non-legal personhood,” you have no rights.

You are now chattels of the state.”

Gilded Cage was authored by Vic James and will be published February 14th 2017 by Del Rey Books.

Thoughts :

I requested Gilded Cage mainly hoping to read about the cool “Dark Gifts” of the series title (and based on Vic James’ exciting bio). But the meat of the first 50% focuses instead on the challenges you might find in a British drama. Maybe more like Downtown Abbey? With cruel lords and ladies making life miserable for their butlers, maids and slaves. (I haven’t actually seen much Downtown Abbey, as I don’t watch a lot of tv beyond Cops and 48 Hours, so this guess could be somewhat off.*) The publisher is clearly marketing the book to people who enjoy this sort of story, and I think the target audience would enjoy it more than I did.

I read to 50% before deciding to set it aside.

Why DNF?

The title Gilded Cage perfectly encapsulates the majority of narrative perspectives in this book: Abigail Hadley tells us of life Kyneston; her new masters, the Jardine men, also share their perspectives with us in the first 50%. The “Gilded Cage” refers mainly to a magical wall that surrounds the Kyneston estate, keeping slaves locked inside, although it may also refer to the British society at large that cages its commoners into servitude. So we spend a lot of time in this cage, reading the thoughts of both captors and captives.

This is unfortunate for two reasons: (1) The Jardine men are a largely despicable lot, and (2) Abi’s plot mainly consists of developing feelings for one of them. The plot summary suggests more to her plot, later in the book—she discovers the Jardine family secret and must decide whether to reveal it or not—but I didn’t get that far because I just couldn’t get into the story. The focus stays mainly on domestic and political troubles rather than magical, during the first half, and I had a feeling the focus wasn’t going to change.

But my main problems with Gilded Cage relate to the characters. First of all, I thought there were too many narrators for such a short novel. The first 50% cycles through enough narrators that I don’t remember who they were or how many I met. More importantly, none of the characters feel like authentic people (with the bare exception of Abigail, who feels like a legitimately moony teenaged girl). The Jardine men especially fell flat for me. I had a difficult time buying Silyen’s antisocial brilliance and everyone’s fear of The Young Master. I especially couldn’t believe that the violently angry Gavar cared most in the world about his baby daughter. No amount of Gavar’s POV could convince me of that, after he shot the mother while she held the child in her arms during the prologue. No caring father would do that. The unrealistic psychology and motivations of the Jardine men left me bored and unconvinced.

Luke Hadley is also unfortunately a very wooden character, although his scenes in the slave town of Millmoor are the most exciting to read. Luke takes part in a slave rebellion, and I enjoyed the action scenes in his perspective. Little things in his perspective did make the narrative lose credibility, though, such as when one character gets harnessed up and steps straight off a rooftop, instead of carefully lowering herself down. Ouch! That would give you quite a jolt and likely smash you into the side of the building. I would definitely not recommend doing it thataway.

Overall :

Unfortunately, Gilded Cage doesn’t appeal to the “Fantasy,” “Alternate History” or “British Mystery” parts of me and I couldn’t get into the characters. Very little surprised or interested me about the first 50%. The author focused on Abi’s romantic ambitions or the proceedings of the court of cruel lords when I was hoping for something more magical.

Recommended To :

Readers who like both YA and British dramas. From what the positive reviews are saying, readers appeared to most enjoy the “Britishness” of it. It does feel very British. Lots of class warfare. I can see the Dickensian influence, as another positive review remarked—but only in the class structure and relations. That particular comparison makes me a feel a little sick; Dickens is known for his characterization and this book has terribly un-lifelike characters.

Thank you so much to Vic James, Del Rey and Netgalley for this e-galley!

*In the comments, Maddalena @ Space and Sorcery kindly corrected my misconception about Downtown Abbey: apparently the house staff doesn’t get abused, which is a relief!

WWW Wednesday #5

Posted: February 8, 2017 in WWW Wednesday
Tags: ,

background

WWW Wednesday is a weekly MEME hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I got the idea from Socially Awkward Bookworm. The three W’s are these:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

And I’m adding my own section to this list:

What have you recently reviewed?

Click the book titles for more information about each!

Recently Reviewed

Detecting a theme? 😉

Recently Finished

I just finished up my review of Gilded Cage by UK author Vic James and I’ll be posting it tomorrow!

I got Brandon Sanderson‘s Arcanum Unbounded for Christmas, and I just got the chance to sit down and enjoy the first novella, The Emperor’s Soul. I should be posting the review next week

I picked up Shattered Blue (The Light, #1) by Lauren Bird Horowitz after DNFing Crossroads of Canopy and devoured half of it in one day. I had to set it aside until this weekend, to finish Gilded Cage…which I also ended up DNFing, sadly! It’s a good thing Shattered Blue came in the mail for my library because after two bad ARCs, I needed something really fun. Review coming soon!

Currently Reading

I’m currently re-watching Brandon Sanderson‘s original BYU SFF writing lectures (check it out the whole video roll by Write About Dragons here!), so I’ve been slacking on my audiobooks, lately.

However, I have also been slowly listening to Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. In fact, I was listening to it during a quick store run the other day and suddenly PLOT TWISTS HAPPENED and I ended up listening to it for like an hour while I made and ate lunch, haha. Anyway, I should be finishing that up tomorrow or the next day and reviewing that in a week or so.

I’m currently at 20% of the way through my eARC of Portal of a Thousand Worlds by Dave Duncan and I’m totally loving the humorous, intelligent voice and Chinese atmosphere. Major thanks to Dave Duncan, Open Road Media Science & Fantasy and Netgalley for this imaginative Alternate History eARC!

TBR Next

Next up for ARCs are Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (Tales of Shikanoki #2) & Lord of the Darkwood (Tales of Shikanoko #3) by Lian Hearn. I’ve been majorly anticipating the time when I could sit back and relax with these binge-worthy Asian fantasies. I hope they’re as good as the first installment!

For my freereading, I’m planning to listen to The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan (epic fantasies are officially in, on this blog) and enjoy The Two Georges by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove for my bedtime reading. I’m writing an alternate history, at the moment, and this one sounds right up my alley. When I have spare moments, I plan to savor more stories from Arcanum Unbounded, as well.

And that’s all for this roundup! Have you read any of these? What are you reading right now, or what are you excited to read next? Link up to my post if you’ve done a roundup recently. I’m always excited to see what blogger buddies are reading!

wordsofradiancecover2

About:

The Way of Kings launched readers into Roshar, the world of The Stormlight Archives, by introducing us to key members of the cast. We learned Kaladin’s backstory and we got some teasers about the magic in store for us in this ten book series. But as you can probably tell from the title of book II, Words of Radiance, this second installment begins revealing some of those secrets we wondered about in book I: secrets about the Radiants, about spren, about voidbringers and parshmen, and about the mysterious oaths that gave Kaladin his own powers in the exciting battle scenes of book one.

And Bonus!

Shallan is the backstory character for this second book, and behind her veneer of “scholarly Brightness,” she hides some pretty dang scary secrets. Epic High Fantasy published March 4th 2014 by Tor Books.

SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1! Not too many, but there’s at least one big one!

And if I tried to summarize book II, I would spoil it, so I’m going to skip the plot details. Because the actual plot-development of a ten-book series like this is so slow, revealing almost anything will seriously, seriously spoil the books. In fact, here’s my advice: if you like high fantasy, I recommend just skipping the rest of this review and picking up The Way of Kings. But if you want more than my blanket recommendation, by all means read on…

Thoughts :

I seem to be in good company when I express my potential inability to properly review Words of Radiance. The Way of Kings was my #1 favorite read of 2016, but book II is even better.

The pace starts off at a sprint and pretty much keeps going, only slowing down in Kaladin’s POV sections and during the Interludes. Even Shallan’s backstory feels like forward motion as we learn about her past and how it affects her present-day narrative. And there’s plenty of conflict to keep the main storyline hopping, too, as two major high princes of the war camps openly battle each other for allies and the prophesied Desolation draws nearer, clue by menacing clue.

As in book I, Dalinar Kholin continues to cop a King Arthur-like role, working to bring together Roshar’s equivalent of the Round Table. He pushes the main plot forward in a way lesser-ranked characters don’t have the ability to do. And it’s. So. Exciting! He doesn’t get as many scenes in Words of Radiance as in The Way of Kings, but I’m looking forward to looking backward on his life. He’ll get his backstory eventually, I’m sure….and it sounds like he was kind of a bad boy.
words-of-radiance2
Kaladin, my favorite narrator from book I, spends most of book II fighting metaphorical demons from his past. He leaves book I as an angry, bitter soul, despite managing to pull himself and his men from the depths of Hell by his cracked and bloody finger nails (with Syl’s help, of course). Basically, he wavers back and forth on one all-important character-building and plot-development decision, and can I just say that it’s completely agonizing to read about? Haha. But in a good way. That way a good book can give you an ulcer.

And SHALLAN! I literally cheered (on Goodreads) when we started getting Shallan’s backstory! In book I, Shallan’s tense narrative feels like a subplot (as opposed to Kaladin’s and Dalinar’s sections, which interact more); but in book II, Shallan slams herself into the main plot, refusing to be benched from the action. Now that Sanderson has loosed her into the middle of things, Shallan is a really really really ridiculously good lookin-…I mean, proactive narrator. I love her! Like many of Sanderson’s women characters, she continues to challenge the status quo for women in ways that make for totally entertaining or enlightening moments of social impropriety. I could go on and on about the characters, all of whom are doing interesting things (Adolin and Jasnah Kholin, the princes of war, the bridgemen…even Renarin Kholin and the spren!).

But I must mention the plotting and worldbuilding: the new secrets revealed in Words of Radiance color both Shallan’s arc and Kaladin’s in really engaging and interesting ways, not to mention how they set up the plotlines of the series…and I can’t share any of them here because they would spoil you 😉 But rest assured, we learn a ton about Roshar and its history in this book.

Everything about Sanderson’s writing, in this series, distinguishes itself noticeably above the first books I read by him (his original Mistborn series, which I enjoyed largely for their setting, creatures and plot twists). In terms of humor and messaging, there’s no comparison. I can’t stress enough the subtle and effective way Sanderson manages to keep up a running commentary on big topics, especially racism, elitism/classism and sexism. He does it with genuine insight and emotion and without harping on any crowd in particular. Kaladin’s sections in this book strike an especially thematic chord, as he deals with the trying situation of being a powerful darkeyes in a culture of elitist lighteyes:

‘…Of course. I keep looking at those captain’s knots on your shoulder, but—‘

‘But I’m just an ignorant darkeyes.’

‘Sure, if that’s how you want to put it. Whatever.’”

Yeah, that’s gonna put him in a great mood, haha. And as I mentioned earlier, Shallan’s narrative also shares moments like this. Here she’s remembering some advice from her enormously pragmatic mentor Jasnah Kholin, as she masters the art of [Highlight to read SPOILER: conning everyone around her].

‘Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will,’ she’d said. ‘Both are base and both will fail a person as they age.’”

Yeouch!

I really enjoyed alternately reading and listening to this book, as I did with book I. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sit and read through back-to-back tomes of 1,000+ pages, but this worked out really well!) I recommend either or both forms; get ready for some late nights!

Overall :

A High Fantasy that reads quickly, despite its huge scope, largely because of the highly personable cast of humans and other species. The series will give you a second home for 10,000+ pages—and give you a serious book hangover.

*****5/5 STARS