The primary complaint I hear about Brandon Sanderson’s work is that it’s “too slow” or “too complex”. My counter-argument is always that his stories have a “slow burn with a breathtaking climax”.
Words of Radiance is the perfect example of how persisting through a slower beginning can lead to an ending worthy of any epic tale. Though it starts off at a stately pace, by the time you reach the climactic finale scenes, you can’t stop turning the pages.
The Way of Kings introduced us to the world of Roshar, the land of Alethkar, the battle on the Shattered Plains, and the characters of Shallan Davar, Kaladin (now named Stormblessed), and Dalinar Kholin. Words of Radiance continues the story and builds on the magic, theology, history, culture, and politics of the world, all while keeping up the military conflict between the humans and the Parshendi.
The story begins slowly, but not so slowly that you’re not drawn in. It capitalizes on the main POV characters of Dalinar, Kaladin, and Shallan, all of which are highly complex and well-developed. However, two more primary POV characters are added: Renarin and Adolin, Dalinar’s sons. This gives us another active character to follow (Adolin the swordsman), as well as another complex, “flawed” character (Renarin the weaker younger sibling).
The introduction of these characters also serves to illustrate the world and the novel’s conflict from various perspectives: the older politician, the young woman, the battle-hardened soldier, the playboy prince and natural-born leader, and the young man who wants to be a warrior but is better-suited to being a scholar.
For those who love military action (like me), there is more than enough of that in the book to keep you entertained. The battles on the Shattered Plains are unlike any military fantasy you’ll read, due to the fact that the isolated plateaus can only be reached via wooden bridges, which are hauled by companies of “arrow fodder” slaves and soldiers. This creates a fascinating new dynamic of battle and tension for the characters (Kaladin is a member of one of these bridge crews).
For those who love political intrigue, there is plenty of that as well. Dalinar is at the center of the endless power struggles that take place in a king-less society, where Highprinces share the rule of the kingdom and each is striving to gain power over the other.
The world-building is ramped up a notch in this book. Book 1 introduced us to the primary characters and regions of the world of Roshar, but Book 2 broadens the horizons even more, introducing new religions, new cities, new cultures, new elements of the world’s history, and so much more.
Words of Radiance is like a boulder rolling downhill. It takes time to gather momentum, but once it does, you will be absolutely hooked.
5 of 5 stars
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