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.
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…
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.
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.’”
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!
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.