Book Review: Words of Radiance

17332218Spoiler Alert!

So, I just finished reading Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (hey, it’s a thick book and it took some time to get around to in the first place 😉 ) and I have a few comments to make.

First comment: this second novel in the Stormlight Archive is, in my humble opinion, another masterpiece!

Further comments:

(and forgive me for greatly summarizing, and not really introducing the characters as I mention them here, but this is a thick novel, and I’m not commenting on everything)

As usual, Sanderson weaves an intricate, entertaining tale about people, their choices, their mistakes, etc. He is very good at showing how his characters change, not instantaneously, but little by little, and often dealing with the morality of the choices they make.

Kaladin’s journey in this novel is particularly gripping, heart-breaking, and inspiring as he wrestles with his desires for justice and revenge. Indeed, within him is highlighted the overarching struggle of these novels: the war between honor and hatred. Kaladin’s desire for justice is honorable, but his hatred burns in hunger for revenge.

It is a well-founded desire, to snuff out the life of the man who betrayed him, murdered his men before his eyes, condemned him to slavery and the fate of a bridgeman, just waiting to die as everyone around you does exactly that. Kaladin pulled himself and his men out of that hellish life, with a little help from a man of honor. After all that, were I in Kaladin’s place, I doubt I’d want anything more than that traitorous murderer’s blood. I’d probably want him to suffer, only killing him quickly because he wouldn’t be worth staining my soul. Blade, yes. Soul, no.

"Kaladin is hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned."

“Kaladin is hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned.”

In the midst of this, it was hilarious to read his interactions with our lead female, Shallan Davar. From the first moment they meet, they argue, and Kaladin is way out of his league when it comes to arguing, partially because Shallan is simply smarter than him, and partially because she tends to be right. He is biased, prejudiced, and becoming more filled with hate because of the pain he has felt. When he unexpectedly finds that she has suffered something similar and still she smiles, it affects him strongly.

During their first argument, I couldn’t help but think, “ah, young love!” Granted, there are a number of complications involved with that prediction, but that’s rather par for the course when it comes to Brandon Sanderson. When Kaladin sees Shallan’s strength, much like the strength I have commented on before, he can’t help but see her as “the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen.” No surprise. 😉

So she’s beautiful, she’s strong, intelligent, her strengths complement his, and she doesn’t let him get away with anything. Yep, he’s definitely falling for her, and she’s very good for him.

And it’s not like Kaladin is entirely hopeless. He did, after all, step in to save the lives of Dalinar’s sons, Adolin and Renarin, when no one else would, and against foes which should, by rights, have trounced them utterly. That was awesome!

Best of all, when it comes down to it, Kaladin made the right choice, and for the right reasons, just in the nick of time. Hatred was seducing him, and he was giving in. It takes a great deal of strength to turn away from something that seems to be what you want, something easy, to do the right thing instead, when it’s very, very hard, and comes with a high price. For some people, it can be all but impossible to say, “I was wrong.”

Kaladin’s journey as a Windrunner seems to indicate they were an order which was all about “protection.” The oaths, “I will protect those who cannot protect themselves” and “I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right,” are two strong indicators of this. With that in mind, I look forward to seeing what the remaining two oaths are.

I suppose Kaladin’s journey was what I most wanted to comment on. Yet, Shallan’s journey and growth are every bit as impressive. She was once a frightened young girl, a fledgling scholar, but she is now an accomplished liar (in a good way) and illusionist, infiltrating even the nefarious Ghostbloods under an alias. Which will be interesting for her to explain when it eventually comes to light. I have no doubt it will, as at least two Ghostbloods now know her true identity. Not so long ago, she’d never have been able to do the things she has done. But she has grown, taught by two drastically-different mentors, and improvising much as she’s learned to move among the most dangerous people in the world.

"Never go in against Shallan Davar, when death is on the line."

“Never go in against Shallan Davar, when death is on the line.”

Dalinar is mostly a static character in this novel. He grew admirably during the first novel, but now he is dedicated to a specific mission. His quest is for an objective, more than a journey towards growth. Nothing wrong with that, of course. In fact, it’s more than a little admirable how he remains steadfast and holds his ground against, basically, the entire world.

It stands as a direct contrast with Sadeas (his political rival), Amaram (a man Dalinar counted as an honorable friend), and especially the leaders of the Ghostbloods. Sadeas has no moral code at all, viewing it as weakness. Amaram was the man who betrayed Kaladin and his men, an act which catches up to him, ruining his saintly reputation, and he did it in an effort to bring back the harbingers of destruction, the Voidbringers (which is far worse than mere betrayal and murder), all to try and bolster the power held by his church. He reasons that if he can bring back the ancient evil, the ancient good will also return and validate everything his church preaches. As for King Taravangian and his order of Ghostbloods, they commit atrocities, including betrayal, manipulation, and murder, against widespread individuals, even entire nations, all in the name of the human race’s survival. It’s ironic how they are compromising all form of morality and compassion, “doing what must be done,” for the same goal Dalinar is pursuing without similar compromises. And they see him as a threat.

And finally, there is the Assassin, Szeth, who holds so strongly to his culture’s moral code that he commits monstrous acts, all in the name of a misguided religion (most religions in this world are absurdly misguided, though possessing small pieces of the ancient truth), or, rather, in the name of those cowardly fools who condemned him to a path which now drowns his soul in blood. Again, this contrasts with Dalinar, who maintains his morality, but also asks questions. He even questions the Almighty himself, while Szeth obeys blindly and becomes haunted by his actions.

Though there is a certain amount of hope at this novel’s conclusion, there are a number of alarming things as well.

It is confirmed, the “Almighty” is dead and was a false god, albeit one of considerable power. His murderer, Odium, is coming to destroy them all.

Houston we have a problem - Apollo 13The Stormfather is not Odium, the evil god who is coming to destroy them, the “Father of Hate.” But he is “broken” somehow, such that he wants to see the humans dead, though he is bound not to do so. Not the most ideal spren for Dalinar to bond to when he becomes a Radiant, but hopefully better than nothing. If he can wield the Stormfather’s power, that’s a tremendous boon. But said Stormfather seems to have some hatred of his own. Not good.

The Everstorm was not, as I thought, a really big highstorm. It’s an Odium-infused storm, summoned by the Voidbringers. It was summoned on the very day that was predicted, but I can’t help noticing that if the Stormfather had not aided/forced that transformation into a Voidbringer onto poor Eshonai, perhaps it would have never happened.

Then again, maybe it would, as there are clearly some Parshendi who were already corrupted by Odium. Now an entire people are dead or, worse, possessed by an unrelenting evil entity. There were some escapees before the mass-possession, but we can generally guess that they died in a highstorm, or were also possessed as the Everstorm passed overhead.

Now the world’s greatest catastrophe is poised to take said world completely off-guard, and instantaneously transform millions of enslaved Parshmen, in every corner of the world and at every level of society, in every room, standing over ever child, standing behind every lord, sitting beside every workhand, into Voidbringers. It’ll be the single worst slaughter in human history. (and I thought it was bad when Book 1 ended with a “god’s” death, but this is so much worse)

Adolin murders Sadeas in a dark hallway, out of anger, and he enjoyed it. Hatred like that, right in the inner circle of the heroes, makes me just a little bit anxious. Particularly with the developing triangle between him, Shallan, and his friend Kaladin. Oh dear, this won’t go easy, will it?

Szeth nearly dies. Actually, he does die, but is brought back to life by a Herald, who may or may not be a traitor. Certainly he has no compassion within him, which makes him, in my view, an enemy to all mankind. We already know that he and eight other Heralds abandoned their comrade to an eternity of unbearable torment, so I don’t hold with any of them.

Whether he is or isn’t the traitor, he gives Szeth a very special sword, that speaks and says, “Hi! Would you like to kill some evil?” (oh holy crap… N-N-N-N-Nightblood?!)

Here it comes!

AAAAHHHH!!!!

Departing from the list of alarming things at the end, a moment about what this sword implies with it’s presence here. It was last seen in the hands of a hero in one of Sanderson’s previous novels, Warbreaker. There is no way he would just let Nightblood slip from his fingers, so what happened?(okay, that is an alarming thing, but moving on…) Also, does this mean what I think, that we will see the different branches of Sanderson’s overarching Cosmere magic system collide with each other? Also, as we can guess that Odium is the Cosmere’s overarching antagonist, to be met and (hopefully) overcome in this series, can we assume that this is, more or less, the Cosmere’s “concluding” series? Particularly with the presence of Hoid/Wit and, now, Nightblood? When unrelated things that have come before are drawn together, “conclusion” is what I think of. So does this mean that Sanderson intends to publish the rest of the Cosmere novels before or after completing Stormlight Archive?

But I have digressed and rambled long enough. I’ll end this here.

I really enjoyed this book. And even though I managed to stumble onto some spoilers here and there around the internet, there were plenty of twists and turns which took me completely by surprise.

Definitely five stars out of five!

A-Plus!

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