Warning: this post may contain spoilers for Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, and other books in the Stormlight Archives
We may have talked about “second book syndrome” before on the site. If you’ve read, or even watched, many series, you’ve probably noticed it: the first installment comes out strong, and then the second falters a little before things improve again in the third. By no means is this universal, but it is common enough to be remarkable, which is why we’re remarking on it. Whether it’s the result of the author trying too hard to replicate the success of the first book, or the fact that the pacing of a second book can feel a little like the pacing of the middle of a novel, which is always the hardest to keep interesting, second books often falter. Not Words of Radiance, which takes what made The Way of Kings fantastic, and built upon it to create a sequel worthy of the Stormlight Archive.
So yes, this is another glowing review of a Stormlight Archive book (all puns intended). Although I personally like The Way of Kings more than I like Words of Radiance, it is nothing against the book – merely personal preference. Because of how Sanderson structures each of these novels, with the backstory of a different character being given through flashback chapters in each book, the book avoids feeling like the middle. Instead, it feels truly like a continuation of what was set up in The Way of Kings, while also standing well on its own. Not that I would recommend reading Words of Radiance without having first read The Way of Kings, but from a plotting perspective, it feels much more contained than do many other series installments. That is, Stormlight Archive does not feel like one long book that was split into several because of publishing logistics. Each one deserves its independent existence.
Again, this is a reread for me, but I learn new things each time I read these, both from a story standpoint and a technical writing standpoint. I had honestly forgotten how many answers, or at least hints of them, are given in this book – for some reason, I had it in my head that some of these things we didn’t learn until Oathbringer. Yet for all the answers and resolutions we get that were left from The Way of Kings, the Words of Radiance asks even more questions, and raises the stakes. It is just as impactful as the first book.
However, there are a couple of instances in which it stumbles. Not much, and it is largely a matter of opinion, but it is worth noting. I actually think that Words of Radiance is a little rushed at the ending, specifically within the denouement. A lot happens there, after the main climax, that I think would have been deserving of its own place in the buildup at the beginning of the next book, or incorporating into the climax itself of this book. Probably the former. It works the way it is, but certain events, that have been lurking for a long time, feel like they deserve a little more.
I also have some issue with what happens with Jasnah here (fair warning: this paragraph actually does have spoilers – feel free to skip it and continue with the rest of the post), and her return. Having read both this book, and Oathbringer, I know enough background that her return at the end of Words of Radiance is no longer as jarring as it was the first time, and I understand what was supposed to have happened, but I don’t think it was telegraphed as well as it could have been. Looking back at the scene where she “died,” there aren’t hints, even in retrospect, that she might still be alive. I know that Sanderson writes a tight, third-person limited, and that Shallan wasn’t supposed to know that Jasnah had actually survived, but I think that some hint, sign, or indication earlier in the book or in that scene would make the resurrection a little less jarring at the end. Of course, I am in no way qualified to be critiquing Brandon Sanderson, so take all of that with a lot of grains of salt.
This is also the book where we start to see more hints of the larger Cosmere at play in Sanderson’s novels. I’ll let you read more about the Cosmere on his website, but in essence it is the universe in which many of his apparently unrelated books take place, including Elantris, Mistborn, Warbreaker, and Stormlight Archive, among others (again, there’s a full list on his site). I had my doubts when I read that Sanderson intended to try something like this, because I’ve seen these sorts of schemes fail too many times, but so far he has done an excellent job, and if anyone can pull it off, I think it’s Sanderson. You don’t need to have read his other novels to understand this book, but if you have you’ll catch a more references and nods to the Cosmere than you normally would.
Just as I said with The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and Stormlight Archive as a whole is epic fantasy as it is meant to be, the very embodiment of the genre. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.