‘Words of Radiance is the second book in ‘The Stormlight Archive’ after ‘The Way of Kings’. While ‘The Way of Kings’ is undeniably excellent, ‘Words of Radiance’ is in a class all on its own. In my opinion, it’s one of the single best fantasy novels of all time, packed with political intrigue, incredibly complex characters, a fascinating magic system, and above all brilliant, gripping writing which pulls you in and doesn’t let go.
“As I fear not a child with a weapon he cannot lift, I will never fear the mind of a man who does not think.”
The ancient oaths have been spoken, and a magic system not seen in Roshar for thousands of years – since the Knights Radiant betrayed their people and fled – has finally returned. However, with the resurgence of magic comes the resurgence of danger, and the new radiants must learn to trust their abilities – and each other – to survive the oncoming storm. Meanwhile, the war between the Alethi and the Parshendi rages, and another old foe – the famed Assassin in White – reemerges after six years to finish the job he started.
Following the format of each book having a primary focus on one character, ‘Words of Radiance’ is Shallan’s book. In ‘The Way of Kings’, Shallan was a bright but tormented woman, leaning on sarcasm and wit to disguise her internal turmoil. Her way with words and passion for art made her likeable, but she could also be a frustrating and difficult character. In ‘Words of Radiance’, her backstory and character finally become clear, and she’s transformed into a complex, incredible woman with a mind like no-one else’s. Her individual growth and development is extraordinary, but more than that, the way Sanderson frames her to the reader is exceptionally done. There’s some overlap with dissociative identity disorder – a highly complex and poorly understood condition previously known as multiple personality disorder – and whilst Sanderson has stated he never intended Shallan to be a fully accurate portrayal, she’s certainly a brilliantly unique and daring character.
While Shallan was mostly separate to the other characters in ‘The Way of Kings’, in ‘Words of Radiance’ she travels to the Shattered Plains to research the Desolation – and also as Adolin’s fiance. Her interactions with the other characters, especially Adolin and Kaladin, are spectacular. Kaladin especially is a serious, uptight man entirely unequipped for Shallan’s brand of wit and sarcasm and the results are brilliant to read.
Kaladin has come a long way from his slave origins in ‘The Way of Kings’, and while he takes a back seat to Shallan in this novel he still plays a prominent role and has some of the best scenes in the book. He continues to hold a grudge against Amaram, the Brightlord responsible for his initial slavery – and whilst that grudge did him no harm as a slave, it now starts to get him into all sorts of trouble.
“All stories told have been told before. We tell them to ourselves, as did all men who ever were. And all men who ever will be. The only things new are the names.”
Dalinar plays a remarkably small role in ‘Words of Radiance’, relinquishing his chapters to his son Adolin. A good, loyal soldier but somewhat rash – and terrible with women – he handles some of the politics his father is so terribly naive at. Here, he’s most interesting when interacting with either Kaladin or Shallan, but the foundations are laid for a greater role for both Adolin and Dalinar in the third book.
‘Words of Radiance’ also introduces two major new players – Eshonai and Lift. Eshonai is one of the leading members of the warring Parshendi, whereas Lift is a childish enigma. Both play relatively small roles, but their introduction sets into motion essential aspects of the overall series arc.
The magic system of the radiants is possibly one of the best Sanderson has created yet. Elaborating would be a spoiler, but I love how cleverly the reader and characters discover new aspects together, and how Sanderson doesn’t gloss over the difficulty of mastering new skills. There are many mistakes, with repercussions of varying severity, and these add depth and complexity to an already intricate story.
Overall, it’s difficult to sum up what makes ‘Words of Radiance’ one of the best books of all time because there isn’t one standout aspect – instead, many separate exceptional things come together to make something even better. All fantasy fans should read this series, and even for those who weren’t certain about ‘The Way of Kings’ should give this a go – it’s with this book that the series truly reaches it’s full potential. Highly recommended.
Published by Gollancz
Hardback: March 6th 2014