Review: Words of Radiance

“Someone has a high opinion of himself. Comes with being royalty, I suppose. Like funny hats and a fondness for beheadings.”
~ Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
1,303 pages
Published by Tor, 2014
Genre: Fantasy 
Re-readability: Over and over and over… 
Rating: 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Pete
Spoiler-free review

The Stormlight Archive is a massive, ambitious epic fantasy series that is three books in of a planned ten. As a result, summarizing it is challenging. For an introduction, check out my review of The Way of Kings, which includes a quick primer. 

Words of Radiance is a “more of the same” sequel. It picks up right where the first book leaves off and follows Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar at the war camps of the Shattered Plains. Where it succeeds as a sequel (and in many ways surpasses the first book) is through its incredible buildup and massive payoff. Beginning around the midpoint of the book, the story adopts a breakneck pace that makes Words of Radiance feel like the second part of a whole. And its ending leaves the reader with far more questions than they began with.

Shallan is the central character, and several flashbacks focus on her troubled past. Though she can seem privileged and self-centered at times, her backstory gives us a look at just how complicated and broken she is. 

Without spoiling anything, I’ll note that Words of Radiance is the point in the series where more traditional fantasy elements start to emerge. There’s a definite ramping up of the stakes, and the finale reveals that the story is becoming less about the political squabbles of the Alethi and more about a world faced with rapid change and massive disaster. 

On my second read of Words of Radiance, I caught many more details about the nature of spren, the Recreance, and the Heralds. Re-reading Sanderson always feels rewarding as so many details that were missed on the first read are extremely obvious the second time around. 

This book’s climax is a masterpiece from a plot and character development standpoint, and knowing where those characters are headed makes it even more poignant. Dalinar, Kaladin, and Shallan all undergo growth and self-discovery in the final hundred pages, and the world of Roshar begins to change in substantial ways. 

How Sanderson can pace plot, character development, and worldbuilding so exquisitely is astounding, and Words of Radiance is proof that he can maintain his momentum across the forthcoming seven novels.

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