“Words of Radiance, Book Two of the Stormlight Archive” by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2014)

Words of Radiance
starstarstarstarstar

It is known as the sophomore slump, where the second book is not as good and simply doesn’t live up to the hype and success of the previous, first book. Generally this applies to a debut author book and its successor, and obviously Words of Radiance is not Brandon Sanderson’s second book (technically it’s his 11th adult novel), it is nevertheless the second book in his Stormlight Archive planned 10-book epic series. This is the series Sanderson has wanted to write since he was a teenager, and since he had well over a decade to work on the first book, it’s now been four years since the release of The Way of Kings, putting a lot of pressure on him in much less time to deliver just as good of a book with the successor.

It seems Brandon didn’t get the memo about the sophomore slump, or if he did, he just laughed at it and threw it away. Words of Radiance is a work of brilliance that is actually better than The Way of Kings in a number of ways.

Firstly, the book is almost a hundred pages longer, putting it at 1088 pages, so what’s not to like about that? The work and dedication the great fantasy publisher, Tor, put into this book is simply stunning. They built on what they did with The Way of Kings, providing a great landscape scene featuring one of the main characters, Shallan, in full resplendent color detail on the inside beginning pages and a full-color captivating map on the ending pages. Throughout the book are wonderful sketches and illustrations linked with the story, as well as ornate chapter headings. And to cap it all off, there is another beautiful wrap-around dust jacket cover by the great Michael Whelan.

And that’s just the physical book. Let’s move on to the story and writing.

The second book of a series, whether it’s a trilogy or a 10-book bonanza, has a lot to prove and impress upon the reader. The first book captivated and hooked them as the reader learned of everything for the first time. The second book has to maintain the reader’s interest with a world and characters they are already familiar with, and kick it up a notch, by introducing new material as well as expanding the complex world. Sanderson does exactly this and more, leaving the reader by the end of the book gasping at its impressive execution, but also comprehending how this can be a 10-book series. It is not that the reader can easily see what is going to happen over the remaining eight books, but through what is introduced and developed in the second book, they can see this furthering and continuing throughout the rest of the series.

Readers of The Way of Kings knew that with the development of the two strong characters in Kaladin and Shallan, they would one day be getting together, and Sanderson skillfully weaves his plot to make this happen. He has also changed the dynamic of the story from the final events of the first book, with Shallan becoming her own leader and a powerful person in her own right, while Kaladin is no longer a slave but a darkeyes of stature, which is unique in itself, along with his special abilities earning him the moniker Kaladin Stormblessed. As Sanderson often does with his magic system after introducing it in the first book, he pushes it to new revelatory levels in Words of Radiance, expanding its complexity and depth, while dumbfounding and impressing the reader with its sheer awesomeness.

As with The Way of Kings, Sanderson uses interludes at poignant, cliffhanger parts of the book, whisking the reader across his invented world to new lands and new characters. Some have been met before in the first book, others are new and fascinating to behold. He reveals a different world, a different people, a different culture, and a completely different way of life in these new characters as compared to those involved in the main story. As well as being entertained and interested, the reader is also wondering how these characters will relate to the main, central characters they have been reading about for hundreds of pages, and if perhaps they may eventually meet. Many fantasy authors employ elaborate maps featuring varied lands and seas and islands, but few ever actually explore their world fully and use its created complexity. It seems in The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson intends to do this, and thoroughly with a planned arsenal of 10 books to do it in.

By the end of Words of Radiance the reader is of course left wanting more, wanting that third book right away, even though it will very likely be another three or four years before it is published. Though if there is one thing Brandon Sanderson has proven to his many readers and fans countless times over, it is that he works hard and long, and delivers a book to the reader’s hands as fast as he possibly can. So one may end up being surprised as to when the third book in The Stormlight Archive will be out. But the ending of the book shouldn’t just leave the reader wanting more, but also leaving them feeling satiated; satisfied with the story they have read that has reached a completion of sorts, which is really what a book of this epic scale should do, since its successor won’t be available for some years to come.

So then, can you read Words of Radiance on its own without reading The Way of Kings?  Technically yes, some of the events of the previous book are referenced and made clear, but everything will make a tremendous amount more sense if you read the first book in the series before starting on this second one. Does the story warrant 1088 pages, or could it stand to have been edited down somewhat? With The Way of Kings, it could’ve stood to have been edited down fifty or so pages, but with Words of Radiance, I have been hooked on every chapter and it hasn’t really slowed down for me at any point.

Ultimately, it is a beautiful book, a work of art in many ways that is a great length and a worthy addition to the epic fantasy lexicon that will look just great on your bookshelf when you’re done. It is so satisfying to know that great books like Words of Radiance are being made and will continue to be made.

Now go get yourself a copy of Words of Radiance and lose yourself in the land of Roshar.

Originally written on March 3, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Words of Radiance from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

The Way of Kings  Mistborn: The Final Empire
Elantris  The Rithmatist

  • CLICK HERE for an audio interview with Brandon Sanderson from 2008.
  • CLICK HERE for an audio interview with Brandon Sanderson from 2010.

“Heir of Novron” by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit Books, 2012)

Heir of Novron
starstarstarstarstar

The final collected volume of the Riyria Revelations, Heir of Novron, is now available and the really cool thing about is that it’s probably the best volume, bringing together the two best books of the series: Wintertide and Percepliquis.  What’s also interesting is how each book is quite different from the other, one might even say they’re diametrically opposed in some ways: the former is a shorter, smaller, concise story that deals more with intrigue and knowing who you know and being in the right place at the right time, as well as focusing on one town and the enchanting celebration of a winter holiday; the latter is an epic fantasy tale that many have come to enjoy with the genre, featuring a grand quest, a band of important characters, and important events that will change the world of Elan and its people.

In Wintertide, on this year’s holiday of the same name, a special celebration has been planned.  The New Empire wants to make a big deal of its victory over the Nationalists, and has some important public executions planned: the villainous Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar.  The only problem is that Royce and Hadrian are in town and they happen to be good friends with both of those people and have plans of springing them free whatever it takes.

Sullivan clearly had fun with Wintertide, playing around with Hadrian engaging in a joust, even though he doesn’t know much about the whole nobility and chivalry thing, but he sure knows how to fight.  And how having friends in the most unlikeliest of places often proves invaluable.  Fans will enjoy this penultimate chapter, with Sullivan’s strong descriptions and scenes of the winter festivities; of the sounds, sights and smells.  It’s an enjoyable, thrilling tale before the final showdown.

In Percepliquis, the beginning of the end has begun: the elves of old have crossed the Nidwalden River in large numbers and are coming to take over; they threaten the entire continent of Elan.  The people have little hope left; they know they don’t stand a chance against these powerful elves.  And it all comes down to Novron’s heir, who must make a stand, and the only way he can do that is by finding the sacred horn.  It will involve an arduous quest, with a strong group of warriors who also possess intellect.  They will have to travel deep beneath the ground, in search of the ancient, ruined city of Percepliquis, following an old diary that may not even be true.  Fortunately, Royce and Hadrian are coming along for the ride, so if these intrepid few have any chance of finding the horn and saving the people of Elan, only these two will be able to make it happen.

In the longest volume yet, Sullivan has outdone himself here with lots going on: multiple storylines, lots of action, lots of conflict between friends and enemies, important details from the previous books brought to light, travels through various terrains, and an ultimate duel.  With the thrill of a top-rate action movie, combined with the epic grandeur of Tolkien’s Return of the King, this is a final showdown you won’t be able to stop reading, let alone put down.  Who will live; who will die?  In this grand finale, anything can happen . .. you won’t want to miss it.

Originally written on February 11, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Heir of Novron from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Theft of Swords Rise of Empire

“Rise of Empire” by Michael J Sullivan (Orbit, 2011)

Rise of Empire
starstarstarstar

In Theft of Swords, Michael J. Sullivan introduced us to the unusual duo in Royce and Hadrian, giving readers some ideas of what fun and adventures they like to get up to in the first two volumes of The Riyria Revelations.  In this second collected installment, Rise of Empire, readers learn more about the world and the changes that are happening here, and where our two heroes are headed next.

In Nyphron Rising, things take a turn for the worse as war comes sweeping through to Melengar and its people have little hope and respect for their recent, young king.  Princess Arista has been running around playing diplomat and trying to secure allies for Melengar, with nothing to show for it.  Meanwhile the enemy Nyphron Empire continues to grow in strength and numbers.  Arista has one more trick up her sleeve, and with the help of her good friends, Royce and Hadrian, goes on this last journey far south in a last effort to secure an ally, but also to unravel a mystery of Hadrian’s past.  Surprising results are revealed about our unknown thief that ties into the whole story of the Riyria Revelations.  The wizard Esrahaddon continues to be up to no good, while we learn more of the enigmatic man known as Degan Gaunt.

Sullivan does a great job with Nyphron Rising, after setting necessary groundwork and story and setting with the first two books, he opens it up on an epic scale, traveling his invented world, and educating readers on how future events are going to affect everyone across Elan, and why the forgotten history is important.  Royce and Hadrian continue to be the entertaining and interesting characters that they are, while Arista opens up her emotional side.

In The Emerald Storm, Michael J. Sullivan does what every fantasy author should do with an epic series and an interesting and complex map: he takes his characters to new and interesting place.  The Emerald Storm is in a fact and mighty sea vessel that travels across the seas to new lands and places, where new and interesting people are met and the overall story of the Riyria Revelations is furthered along.

With the events of Nyphron Rising now at a close, the elusive duo, Royce and Hadrian aren’t sure what do to next.  Royce has plans to retire and relax, settle down with his lady love and enjoy the rest of his days, while Hadrian has dark shadows of his past and heritage to confront and accept, while deciding he is on a mission to find the lost heir of Novron.  It takes Royce all of three seconds and little convincing to decide that Hadrian won’t last long without him, and together the two set out, following the clues that lead them to the mighty trading vessel, the Emerald Storm.  They know nothing of seamanship and what to do aboard such a large vessel, but knowing one of the crewmen, they’re able to get added to the crew and begin the journey through the mysterious and interesting lands of Elan.  Naturally, there is lots of adventure on the high seas, not to mention some strange guests on the Emerald Storm, as well as the enigmatic cargo.  Meanwhile an important subplot is furthered along with the princess, who is bored with her station, looking to make her life more interesting, and gets some answers.

The Emerald Storm does everything a fourth book in a series does, furthering along some important story, learning more about some familiar characters, as well as introducing some new ones, and not to mention the addition of new lands and new peoples and cultures.  Fans of the series will enjoy the thrills of The Emerald Storm, with the fun Royce and Hadrian get up, looking forward to the final installment, Heir of Novron, due out in January 2012.

Originally written on December 12, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Rise of Empire from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“A Dance with Dragons” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, 2011)

A Dance With Dragons
starstarstar

Six years in the making; over a thousand pages in length: while A Dance with Dragons has gone on to become an instant super bestseller (as well as the hardcover outselling the eBook edition), sadly the best thing about this book is really that fantastically mesmerizing cover.  This mighty tome falls more in line with its less well received and not so well reviewed predecessor, A Feast for Crows, than with the groundbreaking first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire.  It seems that time may not be the best thing for George R. R. Martin when it comes to writing his epic series, as he seems to enjoy spending more time describing scenery, and food, and anything gruesome or unpleasant than moving the story along.  He goes on tangents, taking trips with new characters that appear to have little bearing on the main plot; or spends literally hundreds of pages with characters readers have come to know so well and love . . . and nothing bloody happens!  Martin is becoming what can only really be truthfully described as Jordanian; no he’s not immigrating to Jordan, but writing in the style of the man who became the true master of the “massive mass market,” Robert Jordan.

Warning: here be spoilers.

In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.  Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of.  He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far east.  Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehendible as the great continent of Westeros.  Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine.  He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen.  Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.  She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons.  Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.  The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons.  It does not end well for him.  Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.  These appearances may not have be so incomprehensible if their storylines were allowed to go somewhere, and yet many of them barely get one chapter, leaving the reader wondering why they were ever added to this book in the first place.  What was the point?  Especially when many hundreds of pages are spent on other main characters, with very little happening with them, other than plenty of description of what they’re wearing, what they’re eating, and what the scenery looks like.  Pure Jordanian!

At a recent signing, George R. R. Martin briefly brought up one of his most tumultuous periods in the six-year writing saga of A Dance with Dragons, saying that in a year or two who would discuss it in greater detail once everyone had read the book, but confessing that he had sacrificed at least a year at what he refers to as his “Meereenese Knot,” in trying to decide how events were to transpire and what characters and POVs were to be involved, featuring rewrite after rewrite after rewrite.  It seems Martin may have in fact written himself into a deep, dark pit of despair that he hasn’t really been able to write himself out of.  Perhaps he should’ve scrapped everything and started again?  After sacrificing over a half a decade of his life and the reader’s impatient waiting, he couldn’t exactly do that.  Instead, the result is a book that is too long, has too little going on, and falls behind A Feast for Crows in that it is that much longer with less important story happening.

There may be a number of readers under the same delusion suffered by those who professed the excellence and genius of the Star Wars prequels, starting with A Phantom Menace; but over time have come to realize the error of their ways and the true reality of the situation.  A Dance with Dragons just simply isn’t that good of a book, but does serve to further the story somewhat, and fill in the details with many words and many pages and little action.  At the end readers will certainly be left unsatisfied, as they ponder on the possibilities of the penultimate book in the seven-book series (assuming it will stay at this number) with The Winds of Winter, where winter will supposedly have finally arrived.  The question remains: if winter is finally here, how long will it be before readers actually get to read about it?

Originally written on August 9, 2011  ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase the book from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter!

“A Clash of Kings” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, 1999)

A Clash of KingsStarStarStarStar

A Clash of Kings is the second in the ongoing Song of Ice and Fire series, sequel to A Game of Thrones, and the series continues to be entertaining and interesting, one of my favorite ongoing fantasy series.  What makes it different from other fantasy series is that Martin, instead of using chapter numbers and having everything be specifically chronological, has about five to ten characters whose heads you are in.  So you can be immediately whisked away to another battle, another land, another family feud, by the turn of the page.  Plus Martin isn’t afraid of killing off characters, which can be horrible if one gets really attached to certain characters, but I find it admirable that he has the bravery to do this.  I think it isn’t done enough in fiction, specifically fantasy.  Sure the good guys need to win, but not all the time!

Near the end of A Clash of Kings there is huge battle between two big armies: one attacking the other on a river, beginning as a naval battle, and then once the men land on the ground, moving on to try breaking into the fortress.  Your regular historical or fantasy novel would have you in the head of your main character who would likely be one of the leaders of the armies.  The P.O.V. might switch during the battle to the other leader’s viewpoint on the other side and then come back to your main character.  With Martin’s literary device, the reader sees the battle unfolding from three interesting viewpoints: from the leader of the army in the fortress (who is an ugly dwarf); from one of the captains of the ships, on the other side, attacking the fortress, as he leads in the ship and engages the enemy; and from a young girl who is a hostage in the fortress, under the watchful eye of the queen, in a room full of the important women who are just waiting around to find out if they are on the winning side, or if they are on the losing side and the enemy is about to break down the door and the knight will be ordered to kill them all so they won’t end up as hostages.  So instead of seeing the entire battle from one of possibly two P.O.V.s, the reader gets three totally different viewpoints, and it just heightens the tension and suspense.

Next in the series is A Storm of Swords, with A Feast For Crows due out November 8th, 2005.  As Martin was writing A Feast For Crows, passing the thousand-page mark a couple of months before the book was done, he was told by his publisher that they can’t have one book be this long.  He’d previously promised that his next book would not be as long as A Storm of Swords, which was 1216 pages in the mass market edition.  Since he’s going to long pass this, he negotiated with Random House to split the book in two.  What he’s decided to do, and as I get further into the series I can’t understand how he’s going to do this, is have half of the characters in one book, and the other half in the next book.  Some of the characters can be on their own tangents, meeting different people, and not actually have anything to do with the other main character’s whose heads the reader is in, but there are other characters who interact with each other quite often, and I just don’t know how Martin is going to reconcile this.

It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.  And the good thing Martin said is that the new book comes out soon, and the next one is already half done.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 9th, 2005 ©Alex C. Telander.