Thursday, April 3, 2014

Words of Radiance

And now, my long-promised Words of Radiance review.

But first, two obvious prescripts: if you haven't read The Way of Kings, which is the first book in this series, you probably shouldn't read this review; also, while my review will be mostly spoiler free, if you don't want to know absolutely anything about what happens in this book, you probably shouldn't read it either. So with that out of the way, here's what I thought.

Let's start with a quick recap. Way of Kings tells the story of four characters: a slave named Kaladin, a king named Dalinar, a thief named Shallan posing as a scholar, and an assassin named Szeth. These four are caught up in a series of events that spell doom for the world of Roshar. By the end of the first book, Kaladin and his fellow band of bridgemen has been freed from their slavery for saving Dalinar's life, and promoted to the royal guardsmen. Shallan has been exposed, but has nonetheless been accepted as the ward of the great scholar Jasnah. And Szeth has been ordered to hunt down and assassinate Dalinar.

While Way of Kings focused primarily on Kaladin's heroic journey from surgeon to soldier to slave to member of the emerging Knights Radiant, Words of Radiance turns the focus on Shallan coming to understand her own magical gifts. If Kaladin is to become the first of the new Knights Radiant, Shallan appears poised to be the second as her quest to understand the fate of the world draws her into the Shattered Plains, where Kaladin and Dalinar currently reside. In this second book, the scope is much larger, expanding on threads first revealed in the previous book. Kaladin must overcome his own flaws, Shallan must deal with the dark secrets from her past, and Dalinar struggles to bring order and unity among the quarreling members of his own kingdom. Long awaited events finally occur, such as the memorable first meeting of Kaladin and Shallan, the revelation of the fate of Shallan's father, the identity of the enigmatic Parshendi, the truth of the Shardblades, and not one but two epic battles between Kaladin and the powerful assassin Szeth. And as the end of the book nears, the four are drawn into an epic battle full of dazzling reveals, nail-biting suspense, and plenty of action. 

Like Way of Kings, the production values in Words of Radiance are well above your typical fantasy novel. The inner and outer cover (not the dust-jacket, but the actual cover of the book) has stunning full color artwork, and the interior dotted with full-page illustrations of the seemingly alien world of Rashar. Words of Radiance is even longer than its predecessor, but the pacing is such that it reads like a good half its size. Even the quotes that populate the beginning of each and every chapter make their own unique addition to the story, hinting at some things and helping to explain others.

If you'd like, you can check out both the dust-jacket art and the cover art here; you can also check out all the interior illustrations here.

Words of Radiance is Brandon Sanderson at his finest. The character are brilliant and believable, the worldbuilding detailed but not forced, and the interweaving of the cast of characters masterfully accomplished. Perhaps its one flaw is what I would term "middle-book" syndrome, in that more threads of the story are left unfinished than was the case in the previous novel. Nonetheless, the ending is certainly still satisfying.

Simply put: this is an excellent book, and one you should definitely read. This series may well set the bar for epic fantasy for a generation. And that's high praise indeed.

If you'd like to read more, I have included links below to several more solid reviews online:
  1. Tor's official "spoiler-free" review and the accompanying "spoiler" review.
  2. A short and mostly positive review from GroundZero.
  3. A featured review from Elitist Book Reviews, which is a Hugo-nominated fanzine.
  4. Another glowingly positive review from io9.
What about you? Have you read this book? If so, I'd love to hear what you thought of it in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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