Spoiler Free Summary: Words of Radiance is the second book in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. My review for Book One is here. As Shallan Davar prepares to make her way to the Shattered Plains, her plan gets ruined before they even have a chance to begin. She’ll need to find her own way, and in the process, she’ll have to confront her greatest secret and her biggest lie. Meanwhile, Kaladin has escaped the oppression of the light eyes, choosing to align himself with the only honorable lighteyes in the world, maybe. The more he works with them, the more he fears what he thinks is their inevitable betrayal. Just as everything comes to a head, he discovers a plot that puts him on the wrong side of his oaths. What effect would breaking his oath have on Syl?
NOTE: This is my third (if not fourth) read of the book. I usually re-read books in a series like this before the new one comes out. I read this book again after finished Rhythm of War.
Since this is a re-read, I don’t want to give you information that I’ve already provided. That wouldn’t give you any value as a reader, so for this review, I’m going to focus on the characters. This book is already the best in the series (by a long shot). That doesn’t mean the other books aren’t good or even awesome in some cases, but it does mean this one still stands out.
Kaladin really steals the show here. This is supposed to be Shallan’s book, but for her, this is just the book where I stopped being so annoyed by her. Oddly, some will say Kaladin starts to annoy them in the future books (and I can’t really blame them), but not here. This book is where Kaladin becomes a beloved mainstay character. In fact, for those who feel the later books sort of let them down, I’d argue this book and how Kal progresses is exactly why people are willing to endure Kal’s struggles with him. I’ll talk more about those issues in the future reviews for the next books. For now, I want to express what a great story this was for him.
Kaladin, in this story, is a hero who doesn’t trust his good fortune, and with good reason. Every time he’s done something amazing in the past, he’s had that taken from him and been sent lower than he’d ever been. So how can he not be in a position where he doubts? This journey of a man who doesn’t trust his good fortune is unique because that fear of falling or losing is real despite not being the most overt threat one could see. Indeed most stories would have an identified villain who is in fact trying to take everything from the hero. Not so in this tale.
Shallan however, starts every bit as annoying as she was in Way of Kings. In that book, she pointedly felt like the expositional character. “Oh no, here comes Shallan and another lecture on the economics of Roshar!” However, this story gives us more on Shallan. While she’s still absolutely the characterization of Roshar, its history, and its economics, she’s also a character in her own right. Her history is compelling, and that builds sympathy.
Then we have Adolin, who I will never forget because I get so frustrated with people who do. Adolin doesn’t come into his full potential until the fourth book, but right about here is where we see him start to exist as more than a foil to Dalinar, and Sanderson openly admitted Adolin got more screen time to play that role. In this story, we start to see Adolin as more of an individual. As his goals and earnest charm start becoming clearer, he starts being a more beloved character. After this many reads of the saga, I might actually think he’s my favorite in the who series (though let’s see how Kaladin goes in Book 5). He’s certainly in contention at the moment, and that affection is born here. Adolin should be an arrogant jerk who is only after a new fling and another fight, but that’s just not how it goes. Sure, there’s a duel here where Kaladin get’s an awesome hero moment, but Adolin is all the more impressive because it’s all just him.
This book is the best book in the series because it’s the book that focuses most on the characters reaching their potential. This book shines because the characters grown and evolve, ending with them in a better place. I think the third book falls short because the characters regress. As an overall series, characters need to regress. However, seeing Kaladin regress as far as he does and Shallan do something relatively similar is actually a pretty big letdown because this book ends in a spot where we feel those characters should start to shine. That doesn’t make the future books bad, but it does explain why some may resent them and why this book stands out so well.
Thanks for reading,