Have the Radiants really returned?...

I'd jumped into WORDS OF RADIANCE immediately after finishing THE WAY OF KINGS. As I'd mentioned in my review of the first book in this series, these are absolutely massive books. Even on audiobook, it still takes me a solid couple of months to finish them, but I am so happy to be experiencing this series. 

5/5 This second entry into THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE is an absolutely brilliant follow up to book one and I felt that it managed to strike a much better balance between character building and plot advancement. 

Please note: While I will not be mentioning any major spoilers for WORDS OF RADIANCE, I may mention characters, places, and events that could be considered spoilers for THE WAY OF KINGS.

Although THE WAY OF KINGS was largely focused on building up the cast of key characters in this series, there is still plenty more development that happens in this sequel. The characters were all left in pretty interesting places toward the end of the first book and I am pleased that their stories moved forward in as satisfying a way as I had hoped. I started to see why Kaladin gets so much love as he continues to evolve into an inspiring leader, but there are also a lot of moments where I find him annoying, so the jury is still out on whether he's really my favorite Sanderson character. For me, Shallan was much more interesting to follow. There is an early twist in her story that I really did not appreciate at the time, but it ended up serving to set her on a path where she needed to come into her own very quickly and I loved this journey for her. I also very much enjoyed the dynamic she developed with Adolin even though I'm still not the biggest fan of his character. She and Kalladin have a few interesting chapters together as well that were a particular highlight for me in terms of developing both of them. Dalinar and Navani both continue to be great as well with both their relationship and their perspective on the kingdom evolving over time. King Elhokar was far more annoying this time around, but I am not sure if that is just because the narrator gave him a whinier voice this time around. Wit doesn't show up quite as much as I would have liked, but I felt like we got to learn a lot more about him in the moments that he did get and I was left wondering who or what he really is.

I very much enjoyed some of the characters in the Prologue, Epilogue, and Interludes this time around. It was neat to see the night of Gavalar's assassination from Jasnah's perspective and I continued to find her to be a very complex and intriguing character in general. We get to learn a lot more about Szeth this time around which I loved and it was amazing to see him collide with characters like Kaladin, Adolin and Dalinar in the main chapters. The inclusion of Parshendi characters in these interludes as an unexpected, but awesome inclusion as well, especially after the shocking revelation about them at the end of THE WAY OF KINGS. Lastly, there is a very interesting character introduced who gets a rather long interlude which made me feel quite sure that we will be seeing more of her in the future.

The half fantasy, half science fiction world of Roshar continues to be an exciting and exotic setting for all the action to take place. Most of the exploration takes place during Shallan's earlier part of the book where she wanders a tropical island in hopes of reaching The Shattered Plains. Although the majority of the story takes place in the latter location, I liked that we got a much more comprehensive picture of the various regions of it. The different war camps for some of the High Princes are described in much more detail this time around, as is the king's palace. The Plains themselves also hide some interesting secrets that are uncovered over time. The interludes also serve nicely to break up any potential monotony by pulling the story into lesser known parts of Roshar or by simply showing the plains as a home to the Parshendi rather than a battlefield for the Alethi which was a fascinating shift in perspective. The location at the book's tail end also did not disappoint. 

One aspect of the worldbuilding that I very much enjoyed was the further exploration of the more spiritual (or at least metaphysical) side of the world. We get to learn a lot more about the Spren through Syl, Pattern, and a couple of trips to the mysterious dimension that the Spren seem to be native to. Learning more about who and what the Stormfather is was another nice surprise and I liked that so many questions were raised about The Almighty, leaving me to wonder where all of that will go. 

The story this time around takes on a much more important role in the overall experience. Whereas THE WAY OF KINGS felt character-centric, to the point where I felt kind of anxious that "nothing was happening," WORDS OF RADIANCE did a lot more to satisfy my plot-driven sensibilities. I think a lot of this stemmed from a greater focus being placed on the war with the Parshendi as well as all political intrigue of Dalinar's goal to unify Alethkar's self-centered High Princes and his falling out with Sadeas. Topping off these points of conflict is the exploration of the more magical elements of this world. Kaladin and Shallan both explore their abilities as fledgling Radiants and struggle to figure out whether they should identify as such or keep their powers a secret. How their sentient Spren companions fit into everything is another point of intrigue that takes the better part of the book to understand. Although the magic system does end up as being much harder toward the end of this story, I like that it remained mysterious for so long and that there are still more questions to be answered about everything. 

Part of the reason this may have been more satisfying for me as well is that we got to see a lot more interactions between all the main characters than we did in book one. Shallan's story does still play out on it's own narrative branch for the beginning portion of the story, but eventually all the man players converge and they start working towards the same goals, even if they don't necessarily know it all the time. I also appreciated that the ending felt a lot more complete this time. There are still little cliffhanger-y hooks for the next installment, but I had far less a sense of "but the story is just getting good" than I did in the first book.

I stuck mostly to the audiobook for this adventure. The main drawback here is that there is some nice illustration work that you obviously don't get as part of the audio experience. Other than that though, I really do think that audio is one of the best formats for this series, particularly for those trying to fit these massive texts into their schedule without taking a ridiculous amount of time to get through it all. The performances by Aaron Kramer and Kate Reading are both fantastic again, though one small gripe I had is that some of the characters get voices/accents that are different from how they were performed in the first book. Elhokar and Tvlokv being particular standouts when it came to this. 

If you enjoyed THE WAY OF KINGS even a little bit, then you absolutely have to continue with this second book in the series. It improves upon its predecessor in every possible way, using the solid foundation and character roster to tell a tale that is truly worthy of the term "epic fantasy."

(+) Character work and plot advancement felt a lot more balanced
(+) Some truly spectacular action scenes throughout that had me losing my mind
(+) Main characters got to interact with one another
(+) The magic system evolves in some interesting ways 
(+) Interludes felt much stronger this time around
(+) Some chapters from the Parschendi's perspective
(+) Political intrigue was handled quite nicely
(+) The story felt much more complete although there are some definite hooks for the next book
(-) There's some nice illustration and interior design that I missed out on by sticking to audio
(-) Some minor inconsistencies in character performances from the first book
(-) I still don't love Kaladin as much as other readers do


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