Review: Words of Radiance

So the last chapter took a lot longer to write than it probably should have. A fair amount of that was due to me reading Words of Radiance, the new Stormlight Archive novel by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve mentioned before on here how I’m a big fan of his work, but that he kept coming up with the same ideas I had for another story I wanted to write, so I deliberately tried to do the Paul Twister stuff as “something Brandon Sanderson would never write,” so people wouldnnt think I was ripping off his work to create mine.

Well, either I’ve got really bad luck (though not as bad as Paul’s been having lately) or Brandon Sanderson is stalking me. Because in Words of Radiance, we learn that one of the characters we met in the previous book is.cursed/blessed (it’s from the Nightwatcher, whose blessings always come with a curse attached) with a very strange affliction: every day, he wakes up with a particular attribute of his character randomly and unpredictably changed, which can make him seem like a completely different person on some days. And the first thing he does every day is figure out what he’s like today.

This character (not saying who, to avoid spoilers) is really nothing like Sarah, but that aspect, which turns out to be a really fundamental part of his character, is something I couldn’t help but groan a little over when I got to that part in the story.

We got a few hints, at the end of The Way of Kings, as to what the overarching plot of the series would look like: the mythical Voidbringers, who in ancient times would bring civilization-shattering Desolation to the world of Roshar, are about to return. Nine of the ten Heralds have abandoned their oath to protect mankind, as have the Knights Radiant, but the powers of the Radiants are beginning to return as the spren choose new champions of mankind to bond with.

Words of Radiance shows us how that scenario plays out: we see where the Voidbringers actually come from and what their motivation is, we see several other proto-Radiants interacting with their spren, and of course more awesomeness and more soul-searching with Kaladin and Syl as they both try to come to terms with what it means to be a Windrunner, and what it does not mean. (Brandon has said in the past that limitations on powers are more interesting than the powers themselves, and that philosophy really shows in the Kaladin segments.)

Acting as a foil to Kaladin is Shallan. She’s the principal character of this book, as Kaladin was in the first one, complete with her own series of childhood flashbacks in which we see how her father deteriorated, destroyed his family and the standing of his house among his peers, and eventually died. It gives us a much deeper appreciation for how she ended up in the position she’s in, and why the spren she ended up with is a Cryptic, a spren attracted to lies. (Though he has a very odd perspective on it: he considers anything that’s not literal truth to be “a lie,” and he’s fascinated by how many distinct types of lies humans come up with: humor, sarcasm, figures of speech, exaggerations, etc.)

With Shallan acting as everything Kaladin hates, and her Cryptic acknowledged multiple times in-story as an enemy to Kaladin’s Syl, the sparks really fly when those two meet, though the scene I was expecting, where the two spren run into each other and freak out, never did happen. (I still think it has to, so maybe in the next book?) There’s a very interesting relationship dynamic between the two of them, and it’ll be fun to watch how things progress as the series continues.

One thing that might upset a few readers: multiple important characters get killed off, but not all of them end up truly dead. There are a few hints that attentive readers will notice, but they’re subtle, and if you miss them it might seem like a cheap trick. One of the dead characters has no “hints,” though, and was saved from death via a blatant deus ex machina, almost literally (you’ll see what I mean when it happens,) but it was done so awesomely that I didn’t care. And one major character, who I had thought was going to be a primary antagonist for the entire series, gets killed–apparently for real–near the end, so that balances things out.

As for the plot, even though it’s Shallan’s book and we get a lot of Shallan POV, almost the entire story takes place on the Shattered Plains (even more so than the first book) and the people driving the plot are primarily Dalinar and his Parshendi counterpart, Eshonai, and secondarily Sadeas with his scheming and politicking. Shallan’s storyline kind of runs parallel to the main plot, even after she arrives at the Shattered Plains. But the main storyline is about Dalinar trying to unite the rival Alethi factions into the single, unified kingdom they’re supposed to be, and worrying about the strange warnings that are appearing on his walls now along with his visions, counting down a very short span of time until Doomsday…

Also, where The Way of Kings gave a few hints that this story is very important to the overall meta-plot of the Cosmere, (the multiverse that serves as a shared setting for most of Sanderson’s work,) Words of Radiance is a lot more upfront about it.  The story does fine on its own, but without saying too much, there’s one scene at the end that introduces a shocking twist, and if you haven’t read Warbreaker, it will probably be kind of confusing, but if you have read it, it’s an amazingly awesome bit of Cosmere fanservice and it will make you wish you had the next book RIGHT NOW so you can see what happens next.  (Seriously, the last time I saw an author do something this audacious was the end of the Mistborn trilogy.)

And The Letter that was presented in the first book, introduced bit by bit in the chapter headings, from one character familiar with the bigger Cosmere picture to another, has a response in this one, which gives a different perspective on how the events of this series fit into the whole of the Cosmere.

There was one sort of technical thing that I found a bit jarring: a conversation between spearmen about what an advantage cavalry have.  This actually flies in the face of historical accuracy; on pre-technological battlefields, there was sort of a rock-paper-scissors dynamic in play.  Cavalry beat archers, because they can close quickly and run them down.  Archers devastate infantry, because they can get lots of shots off before the infantrymen can close with them.  And infantry (particularly spearmen) beat cavalry, because their spears, planted with the butt firmly against the ground, can disrupt the heck out of a cavalry charge.

Overall, though, I really loved the book, and I’m looking forward to the next one.  Hopefully it won’t be another 4 years before it comes out!

Comments (2)

  1. […] already got the shape of my mythos all sketched out, for both of the worlds.   (Interestingly, I saw another uncanny similarity in Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, and I know that he’s been a long-time fan of Card’s work as well.  […]

  2. HSC

    I started listening to Words of Radiance a couple of days ago and got to the interlude about the floating islands today., It reminds me a lot of C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra, which takes place on a series of floating islands, though they’re of quite different composition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sanderson has read Perelandra.

    As for echoes of Card, I kept thinking about the Buggers from Ender’s Game all the way through The Way of Kings, especially in the Parshendis’ singing in harmony though widely separated. And there’s the issue of non-human sentient beings.

    (Which also reminds me of Steven L. Peck’s The Scholar of Moab. Steve does a lot with how we define being human and what we do to the non-human. Quite funny. One character comes across the old saw that bees fly by faith, since their shape isn’t aerodynamic, and comes up with an experiment to deprive them little by little of their faith. There’s a poignant image of faith-deprived bees buzzing around in circles on a stump.)

    II suspect Sanderson got a lot of inspiration from the same source Card did for Homecoming, but where Card uses the beginning of The Book of Mormon, Sanderson uses the middle and end. There are two characters in The Way of Kings who particularly remind me of Captain Moroni and Pahoran, who sound like political enemies (else why is Moroni so quick to accuse Pahoran of treason–indeed a couple of times while I was listening to Alma 48 I thought I was hearing a funeral oration in verses 11-17, Pahoran’s for Moroni.

    In today’s listening one character uses the phrase “war of attrition,” which makes me wonder how much attrition will be see? Nephites v. Lamanites, or Shiz v. Coriantumr? This could get very dark.

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