If you've been following along for the past few weeks, you know that I've been rereading the existing books in the Stormlight Archive before I read the newly released Rhythm of War, which I've been eagerly anticipating since I finished Oathbringer for the first time back when it came out. When I finished Words of Radiance, I realized that I should probably also read Edgedancer, which is a Stormlight novella, and part of Arcanum Unbounded. Since I haven't posted reviews for any of these stories before, it seemed worthwhile to also post about them here on the site.
So yes, I've gone on a bit of a Sanderson kick recently, with the excuse of wanting to derive maximum enjoyment and satisfaction from my first (and likely subsequent second) read of Rhythm of War. I would have left Warbreaker out of that, and settled for just the other three books in the Stormlight Archive, plus Arcanum Unbound, except that I am fairly certain that the peculiar black sword that appears in Oathbringer is tied to a certain sword in Warbreaker. Plus, it has been quite awhile since I've read this novel, and it's worth rereading every now and then.
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.
Technically, this is not a new book to me. In fact, this is at least my fifth time reading The Way of Kings. It is one of my go-to books when life looks particularly bleak, or when I need to remind myself of what epic fantasy should be. This time, my excuse for rereading was the release of the newest installment in this series, Rhythm of War. I don't do that for all series, especially not ones with which I am already as familiar as I am with Stormlight Archive, but these books are simply so good that it makes a great excuse. Since I have not yet reviewed the books here on the site, I decided it was also an appropriate time to rectify that gross negligence.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I try very hard to read broadly. For the most part, I enjoy the books that I read, even the ones that are outside what I'll call my core genres. This especially true of much of the nonfiction and biographic texts that I consume, all of which come with the added benefit of improving my knowledge just a little bit more. Then there are the times that I return to the core fantasy genre, and I remember why fantasy and science fiction are my true favorite genres. Wintersteel was just the kind of reminder for which I was looking.
In my mind, one of the most significant drawbacks of the modern education system is its tendency to silo or stovepipe ideas and topics. Yet as I learned in The Substance of Civilization, it was partially the work of Flemish artists that led to the invention of the movable type printing press...
Considering that a lot of classic fantasy genre tropes come from this period and region of history, perhaps that is a bit of an oversight on my part, one that reading Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series has helped me address. In fact, reading these books, combined with some thinking I've been doing recently about plotting, has led me to some interesting reflections. So while this is still a review of the series, I also want to talk a little about those thoughts.
If I were reviewing this is a fantasy book, I would critique is for being repetitive. After all, this is book four in which Lancaster and York fight, kings get captures, kings get killed, people don't have heirs at the appropriate times, and battles are fought over the exact same thing that they were waged a few years ago. However, if this is not a fantasy novel, so I can't blame Iggulden if Ravenspur started to feel repetitive in places. This is, after all, what really happened, or at least the broad strokes are. For some thirty years, the houses of York and Lancaster fought back and forth over the throne of England, and devastated the population in the process.
In the previous two books in this series, a lot of time was spent bringing players into place and setting up introductions. There is plenty of action, but it all retains a fairly light touch - there is a sense that, although things are happening and changes are occurring, nothing really major has changed yet, and anything that has changed is not necessarily permanent. This is common in series, when you start to look at them holistically; it takes time and words to put all of the characters into the places they need to be for the plot to start really picking up. With The Stiehl Assassin, the plot definitely accelerates.
There's something vaguely amusing about the fact that as I go through and read The Fall of Shannara series, I find myself most interested by, and rooting for, the invading Skaar and their hyper-competent Princess Ajin. It's not that I don't like the other characters (most of them, anyway), or that Brooks hasn't done a good job at making them sympathetic. To me, though, Princess Ajin is exactly what the best characters should be.