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You know you've found something special when the first book in a series is excellent ... but the second book is even better. WORDS OF RADIANCE is one such second book, and is a strong indicator that the Stormlight Archive as a whole is going to be Brandon Sanderson's masterpiece. As an encore to the extraordinary and enthralling THE WAY OF KINGS, WORDS OF RADIANCE raises the bar to dizzying new heights. This book's depth, complexity, scope, and sheer heart and gutsiness make it a joy to experience.
In order to write a great fantasy novel, you must first have a great plot and great characters, and in WORDS OF RADIANCE, Sanderson has achieved this with such style that it appears effortless, seamless. THE WAY OF KINGS was the starter's pistol, and WORDS OF RADIANCE shows Sanderson really hitting his stride. The plot expands and deepens like the chasms of the Shattered Plains. The scope of the story increases exponentially, yet never quite becomes too unwieldy or difficult to follow. And excitingly, the final scenes open up whole new horizons to be explored in future books.
Character development in WORDS OF RADIANCE is also first class. I have to admit that in the preceding book, I found Dalinar's character to be rather bleak, but WORDS OF RADIANCE makes him much more three-dimensional and therefore likable. On the other hand, I loved Kaladin and Shallan from the very first time I met them. However, in WORDS OF RADIANCE, both of their characters blossom even further, revealing unexpected depths. They are both such engaging characters because they are both, paradoxically, so deeply scarred, and that is something every reader can empathize with in their own unique way. Through the characters of Kaladin and Shallan, Sanderson poses the questions: How far can a person be pushed before they break? And once broken, are there means they can use to continue to function as human beings? WORDS OF RADIANCE sums up Kaladin and Shallan perfectly: "Contradictions. Those were what made people real." In the end, that is what it comes down to: These are great characters because they are so very real.
For a fantasy novel to be something truly exceptional, it has to have something even more than a great plot and great characters. There are just so many fantasy novels out there - and so many of them are either simply ordinary, or perhaps good, but very few are extraordinary. So when I'm reading a fantasy novel, I'm always looking for something truly special about it, something that it does better than all the rest and that marks it as one of the greats. In the case of WORDS OF RADIANCE, I believe it is the book's deep and heartfelt exploration of important human issues that most emphatically sets it apart from the crowd. There are a core group of themes that are not just explored but are attacked from every possible angle, so that thematically, the book reveals more layers than an onion. It is one of the great paradoxes of literature that real-world issues are often most effectively tackled in the fantasy genre. Brandon Sanderson has been particularly adept at this throughout his career, but never more so than in WORDS OF RADIANCE.
Class difference seems to be a theme that has long been close to Sanderson's heart, and it has its most overt airing yet in WORDS OF RADIANCE. As Kaladin says to Shallan: "'It's the fault of your entire class. Each time one of us is defrauded, enslaved, beaten, or broken, the blame rests upon all of you who support it, even indirectly.'" But in a sign of authorial maturity, the question also arises: If class does separate human beings, does humanity, in the end, bind them together? WORDS OF RADIANCE also asks many questions about the concept of justice, questions such as: Can life pay for life? Is killing ever justified? Is there any real difference between killing and murder? Anyone interested in arguments about corporal punishment could do a lot worse than read WORDS OF RADIANCE.
But there was one theme in this book that truly captured my imagination. This theme, put simply, was the nature of lies, but not in the way we would normally think about it. It takes a being from another dimension to articulate it most succinctly: "'You [humans] are abstract. You think in lies, and tell them to yourselves.'" Not only is the way in which we create our own self-images and our images of others a matter of perspective, and therefore a slightly different experience for every person, WORDS OF RADIANCE demonstrates most profoundly and movingly how we use lies to protect ourselves. Both Kaladin and Shallan lie to themselves and others in order to salvage their own sanity in the wake of unspeakable brutality. And this made me think long and hard about the millions, perhaps even billions, of people throughout human history who have been forced to do exactly the same thing.
Fantasy books as a genre suffer under the stigma of being unrealistic and therefore somehow less than other genres. But as far as I'm concerned, great books can come from any genre, and need only fulfill one overriding criteria: Great books must make the reader THINK. From now on, I shall be holding up WORDS OF RADIANCE as my proof that fantasy books can do exactly that, and do it very, very well.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
As always with Sanderson, WoR provided a superb interweaving of culture, magic and history. Michael Crame truly stepped up his performance, providing a broad and credible range of emotion, particularly for those characters in their moments of haunted agony or disbelief. Kate Reading unfortunately did not provide believable character readings, save perhaps Shallan and Jasnah, often making the characters seem too old, too young, too rigid or generally vapid. Still, the overall effect of the narrative and delivery was extraordinary and well worth every dollar.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I think Brandon Sanderson might just be a genius! He is the wordsmith who has surely bonded the High Spren of storytelling. Ok, contrived comment, but I just couldn’t help myself- also evidence as to why I am a reader of these books rather than a writer, but I can certainly appreciate good craft when I see it.
The Way of Kings was one of my early forays into the epic fantasy genre, and it got me hooked. I have since worked my way through many other series in this genre, with Peter V Brett, Patrick Rothfuss, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and Robert Jordan added to my list of favourites (and probably in that order of preference too) but, in excited anticipation of this sequel, I listened again to Stormlight book one….and in my opinion, it’s still the best!! Indeed it was even better on the second listening as I noticed so many more clever nuances I’d missed on the first pass…..and so my expectations for book two of the series were set very high. Happily, Words of Radiance didn’t let me down. It didn’t miss a beat; it just kept right on where Way of Kings left off. The pace never let up, no “padding in the middle” (my pet peeve when it comes to sequels) and not once in almost 50 hours of listening did a character say something out of sorts or disappoint me for the sake of a convenient plot twist (although perhaps Shallan could have managed one of her quips when she realised she wasn’t the reason for Kaladin’s chasm survival after all!).
I love these characters, and after two books in the series I feel l really know them. They are so well developed as individuals – both their strengths and shortcomings (the narration helps too – it’s been consistent across both books, and the attitude in the tone of the narrator definitely contributes to their characters).
There is humour in this book too – I found myself grinning on more than one occasion: the banter between Kaladin and Adolin, Shallan’s quick tongue, Rock’s observations and Wit’s….well…..Wit’s wit (and I have to admit it, but I so haven’t sussed Wit yet? Just when I’ve decided he’s one of the good guys, there’s an interlude and I’m thrown again – but he is just so likeable!!) .
The plot twists and turns, with new teasers with every interlude – never predictable. The label of epic is more than justified. Sanderson is definitely a master story teller – how does he do it??
Another thing that has always set Stormlight aside from other fantasies in my mind is the sheer enormity and originality of the “new world” that has been created. This imagery is augmented in Words of Radiance. Whereas with most fantasies I can see references or nods to our known cultures, with Stormlight, Sanderson has managed to create a whole new ecosystem too. Also, typical of Sanderson, the magic system is thoroughly conceived and cohesive. It truly is a whole new world, and it’s all very impressive. Overlay this with Sanderson’s creative story-telling and plot weaving, and you have a very enjoyable journey.
In a bid to understand a little more of what makes Sanderson tick, and how he manages to conjure such imagery, I went to brandonsanderson.com (I was also fishing a little - looking for hints at what might be coming next - I was bereft at the characters having deserted me for another few years). Apparently he started work on Stormlight over 15 years ago, and has written “hundreds of thousands of words worth of worldbuilding for it”. This level of investment and preparation clearly shows – it’s manifested as an epic, satisfying experience for his readers.
Although Words of Radiance ends with many, many loose ends and much left unexplained, it’s still a very satisfying cliff-hanger.
Regarding the narration; Michael Kramer is brilliant as usual, and even Kate Reading gets her pronunciation of key names correct this time. (I think she's better than she was in book one? I know many reviewers didn't like her, although I was ok with her).
If you haven’t yet read Way of Kings, you could possibly jump right into this series with this book, but you’d be short-changing yourself. Do start at the beginning. Indeed, I almost envy you if you’re still at the start of this journey – it is a treat. Hopefully it won’t be another four year wait ‘til the next instalment, but I have to admit that I might just be prepared to wait longer than I would like if the quality stays this high – these books are so intricate and detailed that I would fear the implications of simply “churning them out” (although with 5 books planned for this series, and another possible 5 as a sequel, shorter intervals would be appreciated – I need to still be around to read the last instalment!).
51 of 53 people found this review helpful
Quite simply one of the best of the best.I'm not going to give a long review as there are already plenty of good ones out there, this is really just to add my recommendation to the growing number of others. The first story in the series was 5 stars but both writer and narrators have somehow managed to improve even on this. You do need to read the books in series order and the series is planned to span 10 books. I can't wait for the next one.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
loved every moment. improved on everything the first book began. While that one might have suffered from some slow pacing while it set things up, its all worth it since this book becomes one big pay off.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
It was an easy decision to pick up Book 2 in this series almost immediately after finishing the first - and I was not disappointed! The story continues to satisfy at every twist and turn, with the characters developing even more...to a point where you are heavily invested in them all - good and bad (whatever that is at this point!) It moved well in comparison to the first book though could sometimes forsake time explaining situations for the action of the actual situation. The performances of Kramer and Reading were once again phenomenal! Such perfect voices for reading a fantasy epic! Only complaint is that sometimes they would pronounce names differently which was a little off putting, and Reading changed the accents of some original Characters from the first book they didn't make sense to change (the slaver that originally traded Kaladin). Minor gripes among a stellar performance. Looking forward to Book 3!!!!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful