If you have read my love letter to The Stormlight Archive, you would know that I pretty much adore everything about The Way of Kings - the characterisation, the worldbuilding, and even the minimal plot progression, given the significant portion of the book dedicated to the former. Words of Radiance took every element which I loved in the first book and enhanced it beyond my imagination.
Character development remains at the forefront of the narrative. While The Way of Kings can be called Kaladin's book, Words of Radiance is Shallan's. Her story finally converged with the main plotline occurring on the Shattered Plains. The flashback chapters in this volume deal with Shallan's poignant backstory which shaped her to be the person she is now. Truth be told, I am not much of a fan of Shallan even while being empathetic to her circumstances. She has always struck me as "trying too hard," and the nature of her character is not one which I can readily stand by.
Hardcover endpaper of Shallan by Michael Whelan. Also available in the latest trade paperback release.
Kaladin remains as the highlight of the book for me; the path that his arc took was what made this volume amazing and solidified his status as my favourite fantasy character. He is honourable and badass, and yet frustratingly stubborn and petulant. His characterisation is compellingly realistic, especially for one who suffers from depression and PTSD having been through what he did. Before he can soar, he is thrown into the chasms – again! It made his transformation into the man he wants to be, and not the wretch he feared, even more glorious. Kaladin practically owned all the most epic scenes in Words of Radiance.
Honor is dead. But I'll see what I can do.
Kaladin's story is not complete without Bridge Four. The strength of friendship and bond between the bridgemen, their honour and compassion despite former enslavement, and their unquestionable loyalty and respect for their leader form the most captivating and emotionally powerful arc in this series so far.
Dalinar has less POV chapters in this book, unfortunately; his presence has been somewhat usurped by his son, Adolin, whose development in this volume is almost as compelling as that of Kaladin's. What I loved most from these multiple and alternating POVs was being able to understand how these men view each other.
A substantial part of the lore on the Heralds and the Knights Radiant remain obscured or lost. However, more has been revealed around the Voidbringers and magic system. There is a better understanding about sprens, shards, and surgebinding, notably for the orders of the Windrunner, Lightweaver and to a lesser extent, Edgedancer. With these revelations, though, further questions arose as anticipation and speculations abound. There is also a higher level of intrigue surrounding the existence and agendas of various secret factions or organisations; all working towards what appears to be a common goal of saving humanity but using diverging methods – some less desirable than others.
I used to moan and groan whenever I reach the Interludes, eager to get back into the story. Rereading made me appreciate how Sanderson incorporated the necessary worldbuilding that would have otherwise been compromised, as the bulk of the main narrative took place on the Shattered Plains. It's from these chapters that we get to know about the rich and diverse races of the people of Roshar. More crucial is, of course, the storyline around the Parshendis - a most unusual and intriguing non-human race, the primary foe of the Alethi forces.
Aside from improved pacing, the critical action scenes are well spaced out in this instalment. And they are seriously epic! Like any climax of a Sanderson book, the last ten percent was heart-poundingly fantastic. The momentous events leading to the jaw-droppingly epic final battle made me cry and fist-pump and cheer like a madwoman.
So far, Sanderson has avoided cliff-hanger endings with each volume being wrapped up as well as it could be. Regardless, it will be difficult to avoid That Storming Hangover, of which no other fantasy novel can cure. At least that was clearly the case for
Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.
Rest assured, Brandon Sanderson has succeeded. Words of Radiance exceeded all my expectations even though it was sky-high after The Way of Kings. With only two books in the series of ten, The Stormlight Archive has set itself apart as my favourite heroic epic fantasy, unfinished as it is; the epitome of what I love so much about this genre.
While this ambitious series is far from being finished, I will nonetheless highly recommend all lovers of fantasy to pick up these books now! Don't worry that you will forget what had happened when a new book is released, you will want to keep rereading them.
NB #1: When the mass paperback edition was being released, Sanderson made a small change to a scene towards the end of the book to maintain what he deemed to be a more consistent arc to a central character. This update did not, however, in any way change the ending nor the outcome of the impacted scene.
The updates have been reflected in the Kindle version, both the mass market and latest trade paperbacks, and the Graphic Audio.
Sanderson's explanation is in the link below which will contain spoilers so only click on it if you've finished the book. There are threads on this topic on 17thShard.com and reddit as well.
NB #2: It is preferable to have read Warbreaker before Words of Radiance to maximise the experience due to the appearance of cross-over characters.