Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson

This is the second book of Sanderson's "The Stormlight Archive" decalogy. It's in the doorstopper epic fantasy genre, of the sort where humans are engaged in numerous petty wars while a nebulous evil force that they are in no way prepared for is about to wipe out most life on the planet. One gets the impression that the nebulous evil force has done this a lot, and/or that human life is not from around here, because most of the non-water animal species on the planet are crustacean or insect-like (in all sizes, from tiny to house-sized). Soil is almost nonexistent and plant life is also non-standard -- it's more animate than most Earth plant life, with things like grass that lives in holes in rock and withdraws when animals come near. This is a recurring theme with Sanderson -- I'm never sure if the characters should really be worried about the end of the world, because it looks like it's already happened.*

I liked this book better than the first one, The Way of Kings. Sanderson picked a different chew-toy for this novel, and while she gets more than her fair share of torture-as-character-development, I found it a lot easier to stomach than the overwhelming bleakness of Kings. It helps that Shallan only gets horribly abused in the flashbacks and her present-day condition is comparatively good. It is worth noting that, for instance, "shipwrecked with virtually no resources in a desolate wasteland prowled by slavers and predators" is, in fact, much better off than Kaladin was for 90% of The Way of Kings. I am just saying. There was a lot of suck in The Way of Kings.

I did not re-read Kings before this book, because NO. It's a thousand pages long and full of horrible things happening to good people and I don't need to experience that again. I might go back and re-read the climax of Kings, though, because that was epic.

I had a much better time with Words of Radiance, where the PoV characters were more in control of their destinies and able to take decisive and sometimes even constructive action. The story was compelling, the characters entertaining and likable, and the serious tone leavened with occasional humor. I may even re-read this book when book 3 comes out.

As with Kings, Radiance ends well. The climax was not quite as brilliantly executed as in Kings, and had a thing or two that didn't really seem consistent to me. But, while the world remains in grave peril, the climax does resolve a major story arc for the book and it feels like a solid, satisfying end point. This is important to me. If I read a thousand page book that ends on a cliffhanger when the sequel isn't coming out for a couple of years, odds are strongly against my bothering to pick up the sequel. (This is, in fact, what happened with "Song of Ice and Fire" for me -- I may read the series after it's finished, but the first three books were individually unsatisfying and I just don't want to put in the effort to figure out what's going on only to be left dangling again at the end of the latest ones.)

"The Stormlight Archive" strikes me as the sort of series that benefits from careful reading. There are tons of little details and minor recurring characters and hints about the larger picture. I am pretty sure I am missing almost all of these. I am okay with that. I had a good time reading the books but finding all the clues and putting them together feels too much like work to me. (It's possible that the thing that seemed inconsistent in the ending is actually reasonably well-established and I just missed some of the clues pointing to it, in fact.) Fortunately, the books work fine on a superficial level too.

I will give this one a 9, and look forward to the sequel. In 2016. This is going to take a while. Not that I blame him. I can't imagine wanting to write a series of this length myself.

* There's an exchange late in the book that sums this up well, and cracks me up every time I think of it. One of the characters, Wit, is mocking another:
"Perhaps a story for a child," Wit said. "I will tell you one, to get you in the mood. A bunny rabbit and a chick went frolicking in the grass together on a sunny day."
"A chick ... baby chicken?" Kaladin said. "And a what?"
"Ah, forgot mystelf for a moment," Wit said. "Sorry. Let me make it more appropriate for you. A piece of wet slime and a disgusting crab thing with seventeen legs slunk across the rocks together on an insufferably rainy day."

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