Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.
The Assassin, Szeth, is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.
Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.
Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.
Words of Radiance is the phenomenal sequel to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings and book 2 in The Stormlight Archive series. I threw a comment out on social media saying how much I loved it, and the immediate response showed me just how much this book is beloved in the SFF community. I knew the series was highly-acclaimed, but it was not clear to me that many people consider this book to be the pinnacle that they do. And I am right there with them. Words of Radiance is book that completely takes over your life.
When I reviewed The Way of Kings, one of the many praises I had for Sanderson was the depth of the characters. I have similar praise for Words of Radiance in that regard, except this book goes so much deeper. The characters evolve in both expected and unexpected ways, and there is a ton of growth. Sanderson continues to put the characters in situations that demand change, which is a great medium for character expansion. So, I guess what I am saying is that character development was great in book 1 but even greater in book 2. They really continue to be a driving force in this series.
Stop hiding, Kaladin. Be.
Of course, as great as the characters are, the world building is Sanderson’s bread-and-butter. The more I think about what is so great about the world building, the more I realize it is not necessarily what the author is telling the reader that makes it so encompassing but what is not being explained. Sure, this book is full of wonderful descriptions. One of the reasons this book is so hard to put down is that everything is described so well down to the different shades of color on uniforms, and I absolutely love that. But, when I examine it more closely and actually look at the world around me I find there is so much more that is implied here. It becomes obvious that the author has this crystal-clear view of the world, and the reader has to synthesis the information that is presented to get that same perspective. I will probably never going to get there, because I am not sure Sanderson ever leaves these worlds he constructs, living in them all simultaneously. And that is what makes it wonderful, because as much as we love Roshar, we will never have the relationship with it that the author does; but I, for one, love the chase and will pursue that bond until the end.
The pacing was out of this world, of course, constantly pushing the limit and creating a situation where it is impossible to stop reading. I was happier with the chapter delineations than I was in the first book, as there were less lengthy chapters here. This also contributes to the pace at which I read it, because it is easier to play the “one more chapter” game when the next chapter is not too long.
The absolute best part of this story, though, is the end. Sanderson is a master of tension-building, and uses most of this book as an opportunity to tighten the spring for 800 or so pages, and then hits you with the release. The conflict builds to an insurmountable height, and suddenly the story hits the climax and everything explodes, erupting in a sequence of events that change everything about the series. There are a ton of reveals, and there is so much emotion that it is impossible not to get wrapped up in it. I think my jaw remained dropped for the last 20% of the book. It was unbelievable.
Words of Radiance is a sequel on steroids. It follows the typical path of a second book in a series by expanding on the world that was presented in the first book, evolving and growing the characters, and heightening the conflict. The difference between this sequel and others is the amount of leveling up that happens; in Words of Radiance everything is so much bigger and faster and deeper. Honestly, I did not know one could put on a bigger show than Sanderson did in the first book, but this book completely blew that out of the water.
The Stormlight Archive has taken its place as one of my top series of all time, and I am only two books in. Words of Radiance has earned my highest recommendation, and I cannot wait to dive into Oathbringer (book 3 in the series) to find out where the story goes from here. As the Stormfather says, “Time… is the most valuable thing a man can have.”