A lot that I have written in my review for The Way of Kings, the first book of The Stormlight Archive, is true for this second book: it’s entertaining, it has interesting characters, the language is unimaginative, there’s too much repetition, the story tends to drag at times, and it appeals to the reader’s heroic self.
What’s different? The world-building feels a bit better, but that’s mainly an effect of being more immersed in Roshar, not necessarily better writing. All and all, the unique features of this world (the prevailing stormwinds) are still underdeveloped and don’t have a real influence on the Rosharean societies’ structures or people’s behaviour. Alethkar particularly could’ve been whatever standard medieval fantasy kingdom, except for the fact that some of the animals have shells, and some trees pull in their branches. Features like these are more gimmickry and embellishments, not stuff that drives forth the story. The storms only really play a role as a factor in the magic – storms recharge stuff with magical energy, that’s about it. And although lots of animals and plants have evolved like such and such because of the wind, knights still ride regular horses. Can’t do without horses in high fantasy, it seems.
It also turns out that the spren are indeed an important, necessary part of the story – but I still don’t feel they are well conceived. The metaphysics of this book are an awful mess: there’s a kind of platonic divide between a world of ideas and the world of humans, and some unclear stuff about the reality of God and gods. But then again, the remaining books in the series will undoubtedly clear things up a whole lot, so maybe I should refrain from judgement on the magic. Still, a true masterpiece, even as part of series, shouldn’t feel disjointed on that part after more than 2000+ pages in. So, up unto now, this series feels like B rather than A-list material.
Storywise, Words of Radiance rests mainly on one narrative device: main characters not telling other main characters of their true abilities. That gets tiresome after a while.
The finale doesn’t offer a lot as compensation, since about everything that one expects to happen, does happen. Still, I’m intrigued by the the story and some of the characters, and it will be interesting to see where Sanderson will take us in the 3rd book – there’s a lot of Roshar that remains to be discovered, and I feel that with the completion of this second book, the stage has only now been truly set. While this book was quite predictable, I have no idea whatsoever where Sanderson wants to go in the remaining 8 books of this series.
On a sidenote, the art in Words of Radiance didn’t add as much to the story as it did in The Way Of Kings. It feels a bit contrived, and it sure doesn’t come across as authentic: printing a few pages on fake parchment grey doesn’t do it for me. Final quibble: Sanderson should drop the titles for the chapters, they’re uninspired and add nothing at all.
Final verdict: recommended, if you liked the first book, and don’t mind to again read a 1000+ page novel. It’s simply more of the same indeed… not necessarily a bad thing, as it worked great as escapist vacation reading…
originally written on the 21st of August, 2015