This book is quite possibly my new favorite book. In short, if you even remotely enjoyed The Way of Kings, then you MUST read the follow up book, Words of Radiance. Sanderson took everything that was good with the first book, and made it spectacular. The Way of Kings formed a phenomenal foundation that allows Sanderson's writing and creativity to really shine in Words of Radiance.
When I first read and reviewed The Way of Kings, I struggled with providing a rating. It was my first time reading Brandon Sanderson's work, so I was not only unfamiliar with his style, but I didn't really have a full grasp of the extent of what Sanderson is undertaking. In that review I admitted that I enjoyed a great deal of The Way of Kings, but I felt that is excessively long. I also was annoyed with how frequently we were forced to relive the character's past. It isn't that I felt it was unimportant, but I thought it was long and drawn out. All that being said, I still gave the book a full 5 stars. Why? Because as ignorant as I was to Sanderson's other works and the Cosmere, I could clearly see that he was masterfully crafting an amazing story. The depth in which he imagined the world of Roshar was spectacular. Everything from how the world was battered by the highstorms to how the flora and fauna evolved to survive in such a place, were perfect. He created a world populated by many varied people and cultures as well as a deep and rich history. So I ended that review with the following statement:
Overall, I did enjoy this book. It was long and some parts were not exciting, but I was fascinated with the complex characters and a world with a clouded history. I am looking forward to reading Words of Radiance, as I am emotionally invested in Sanderson's characters at this point, but I do hope that some of my complaints here are addressed in the second volume of the Stormlight Archives.
So basically, I pointed out the items I found to be flaws or points of irritation in TWoK, and purposely ignored them and gave it a perfect rating because of the potential that I saw. I gave it high marks because of my hope for the entirety of The Stormlight Archive. I must admit, I wasn't wrong.
I was fortunate enough to find a brand new, hardcover copy of Words of Radiance at a local bookstore for just $8, so without hesitation I snatched it up. I had previously heard that book number two focuses heavily on Shallan Davar, so I did have my reservations, but I jumped into the book anyways. What I had heard was correct, the book does focus heavily on Shallan, but I was also reaquainted with my old friends (Kaladin & Dalinar) again too. What I quickly found though, was that I actually began to like Shallan a lot more, even before we explored her past. Yep, just like we visited Kaladin's past in TWoK, we did the samething with Shallan. I did feel that this section was again, a bit long and drawn out, but it helps you see why she is such a strong character. I also feel that Sanderson did a better job at keeping her past in a nice, neat, chronological order. It made it easy to follow, even though it could have been condensed.
As I mentioned though, I wasn't initially excited to read about Shallan and her scholarly pursuits. I thought that I needed to read about Kaladin Stormblessed and Dalinar Kholin to have action and excitement. Boy was I wrong. Shallan gets herself into many crazy situations and it was fun. However, my heart was still with the Blackthorn and his new body guard. So I was very happy to spend so much time with Kaladin and Bridge Four. In particular, I just really loved watching Kal try to understand his new found powers and rank, along with the limitations to both.
During this process of discovery, you really get to explore more of the mythology that The Stormlight Archive is built upon as well as the magic system. Sanderson again has done such a masterful job here, which is no easy task for someone writing hard fantasy. There are laws (limitations) to the system and even when you don't fully understand what is happening, you find that Sanderson never breaks his own rules. They are often presented from another angle, offering a new perspective, but he honors the rules from start to finish. He also isn't afraid to really explore the life of the protagonists, sans their powers, and it really stretches them. And sometimes when this happens, there is no magic wand to just fix everything. The characters have to really work their way through things, and it allows them to really shine.
That is a huge part of what makes the story so great. Our characters, especially Kal, really struggles with some issues, and like us, he doesn't always make the best choices. Then again, there were times where I just wanted to scream at them, Kaladin in particular. This is just part of what Sanderson does in this book, and it rocks. There is a line in the book, written from Shallan's perspective, the epitomizes this so well. It reads:
Contradictions, those were what made people real.
He makes characters that are wonderfully complex, broken, and conflicted. They have real struggles and real failures, but it makes their successes all the sweater. If you are a fellow author, like me, then I hope you understand how important this is. This allows the readers to form strong connections to the characters, which will make the reading experience much more emotional, therefore powerful. I won't give any details, but there were pages of grief and sorrow but my goodness there were some real joyful fist pumping, I'd cry (for joy) if I wasn't a MAN moments in this book.
Now as with every book, I do have a few gripes, but they are minor. First off, as I mentioned, I feel that the historical narratives, while very important, could be condensed. Shallan's history in this case, probably could have been done in half as many chapters. She had a rough childhood and it left her broken, we get it. Move along. I also am not a fan of the interludes. Sanderson always gets you on the edge of your seat then BAM, the chapter is over and he hits you with four or five interludes. The interludes themselves were often interesting, but sometimes they just are not relevant to the current storyline. I would like to see the irrelevant ones yanked entirely. There are some other minor complaints I have, but I can't share them without spoiling the story, so I will keep them to myself. Overall, these issues are simply things that I would like to have seen done differently, but they took nothing away from my experience. I cannot wait until we get the 3rd installment of The Stormlight Archive! For now, I will be forced to read the other books that belong to the Cosmere.