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“Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson

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The second book of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series continues the adventures of Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar as they seek to re-establish the Knights Radiant and prevent the return of the Voidbringers. Sanderson expertly balances character development, plot movement, and worldbuilding in a way that makes WoR just as satisfying as The Way of Kings.

Throughout TWOK, we saw the Parshendi only as enemies of the Alethi. Because the primary viewpoint characters were Alethi, the Parshendi were shown as a mysterious “other” who had broken a treaty and assassinated a king for no known reason. In WoR, we learn a great deal more about the Parshendi—not only their importance to the plot, but their culture and society. Seeing the war of the Vengeance Pact from the other side enriches the story and also emphasizes that most conflicts between mortals aren’t simple matters of good vs. evil.

Speaking of which, another major thread in WoR concerns a plot to assassinate Elhokar, the ineffectual king of Alethkar. Upon learning of the plot, Kaladin is torn about whether to let it go forward or not, and Sanderson makes the reader feel that this is a legitimate dilemma. While Elhokar is merely incompetent rather than truly evil, his actions are costing lives, and Alethkar has no mechanism for peacefully removing a bad ruler. Is the aspiring assassin no better than the man who killed the previous (good) king, or is he more like Jaime Lannister? Kaladin may have the patronage of a powerful lord and the personal power of a Knight Radiant, but that doesn’t mean his life is always going to be easy. Sometimes those difficulties will come from obstacles placed in the way of his goal, but sometimes they arise from trying to figure out what his goal should be.

For all its virtues, the book isn’t completely flawless. At the end of TWOK, Dalinar received a revelation about the source of his visions that has important implications for the Vorin faith and maybe even Roshar’s cosmology in general. Dalinar didn’t spend much time grappling with that, and that didn’t feel realistic to me. Also, I would have liked to see the Bridge Four members’ reaction to Kaladin’s imprisonment as it happened, rather than just hearing about it afterward.

Readers of my review of TWOK may remember that I listed several theories. None of them were definitively confirmed. One was half-right, and one was…sort of connected to the truth, I guess? I developed one new theory during the course of the book, but it was disproven in the last chapter.

One side character I particularly enjoyed was Lift, so I was happy to hear that she features in the novella Edgedancer. I’ve been told that it doesn’t spoil anything for the third book in the series, Oathbringer, and that in fact many fans read it first, so that is what I will probably do as well.

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