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.
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You might also like . . .
- CLICK HERE for an audio interview with Brandon Sanderson from 2008.
- CLICK HERE for an audio interview with Brandon Sanderson from 2010.