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Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
4.5
Book Name: Words of Radiance
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: March 4, 2014

Now, before you accuse me of gushing over the story in Part One, I gave Words of Radiance 9 (8.5 rounded up) for a reason. I did not like everything.

The humour, for example, while funny, was sometimes counterproductive. It made some encounters seem a little silly, the humour forced, and character actions incomprehensible–and as such not really ring true. These instances are few and far between, the majority of the humour was used well to relieve the pent tension and vary tone and experience.

I also disliked (which is really a pet peeve of mine) the few coincidences that occur (mostly in Part Two, for some reason). All unnecessary coincidences need to die. They cheapen the ones that really matter, making them less believable or impactful than they can or need to be. They also narrow the world, leading to “If this world is as big as you say it is, how comes everyone keeps running into each other?” kind of questions. These again, thankfully, are few and far between, which begs the question of why they were there in the first place.

My biggest criticism, however (I told you the list was short), lies with, in a word, pacing.

The five parts of the story work reasonably well, as they follow (roughly) the five act structure. Each builds to a climax that catapults you onto the next (or would if there were no interludes–more on that later), but the pace really slowed from Part Two into Three. The third I felt was the least successful of the five. Honestly, it made me feel bored, and tired and, for a time, as I contemplated how much I still had to read, that the book was overly long.

Things do pick up again as certain revelations are had and we make our way towards the Part Three Climax, which is AWESOME (yes, all caps–AWESOME), but the feelings of creeping dissatisfaction lingered. Why?

Some of it had to do with Shallan feeling at times like the forever apprentice, though she does later come into her own. Her second apprenticeship (I won’t go into it here, but you’ll know when you see it) is slow and marginalizes her in a way. It splits her focus, washes her out a little. Indeed, though I admit to being a little biased on this account, I found the direction a little off-beat, a little off-tone, and though it does eventually pick up and become quite exciting and fun, the switch in focus was a little jarring and did not resonate with me as much.

Mostly, however, the pacing issues stemmed from the flashbacks and interludes.

Now, I usually dislike anything that gets in the way of the forward momentum of a story, but these started off well. Through Shallan’s flashbacks, it is made clear that WoR is her story, as much as TWoKs was Kaladin’s. (A shame she was not on the cover, then, of either US or UK versions of the release. I’ve seen some Shallan artwork for the US version that would have been not only appropriate, but awesome. Apparent marketing considerations…? Anyway….) As I said, as a rule, I generally dislike flashbacks for the way they interrupt the momentum of a story, unless absolutely critical. In this way, I found I disliked Kaladin’s flashbacks in TWoK, precisely because, for the most part, they recovered ground already trod, adding little to the present story, and as such slowed forward momentum to a crawl.

Shallan’s flashbacks, however, started very well. As the story progresses, it is made clear Shallan must confront her murky past, and whatever horror there in is contained (something she hides even from herself), if she is to grow. Until she does, she must use the things given her–her fledgling powers, Jasnah’s teachings, courage and subterfuge to win through the mounting difficulties life throws at her. (And some of what she does is simply breath-taking.) Through her flashbacks, then, we are given the key to unlocking the mystery of her past. And the revelations that come, forward the story by giving you information that not only reveals things you only guessed at before while hinting at yet others, but affects the present, too. Best of all, the flashbacks are short and sweet, cleansing the palate so that you can sink your teeth right back into the meat of the story.

Unfortunately, they do not last this way. Some are overly long, some seeming little more than background fillers. The worse are both. And I found it particularly grating in Part Three, where the momentum seemed to be faltering and a quick injection of anything would have done the pacing a world of good, to find the momentum slowed further by more flashbacks. It had me questioning, as I did in TWoK, whether some of these later flashbacks, other than aesthetically, were really necessary at all.

The same goes for the interludes which also started off so well. They began as often short, sweet and illuminating episodes: other surgebinders discovering and using their powers as spren return to the world; Eshonai and developments with the Parshendi; and darker events brought by a darker character who, in his way, is at least as frightening as Szeth-son-son-Vallano. Hell, some interludes were even touching and exciting at turns. All provide other perspectives to broaden the world by showing you other peoples, cultures, beliefs, and customs. (There is one particular philosophy or cosmic belief, if you will, I found absolutely breathtaking.)

However, as the story wore on, the interludes, like the flashbacks, did exactly the opposite of what the story needed–stole momentum from its forward motion–and at times made it feel too long, even as it built slowly, but surely, towards its awesome finale. To my mind, a book this large has to get the pacing spot on or it feels longer than it should be, longer than it needs to be, and Words didn’t quite manage that.

Conclusion

As I read, I remember thinking, “Gods, what is Brandon up to! Flip me! He’s trying to create an epic to end all epics, and he’s doing it, too!” Now, while that elation didn’t survive all of the journey that is Words of Radiance, it did survive much of it, and was definitely rekindled by the end. Hat’s off to Mr Sanderson for creating a terrific experience and a wonderful book. Epic Fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine, and Words ticked that box and then some. (Count my uses of the word “awesome”, to see how hard it got my fanboy out!)

And if it was too long–a slog at times–it was so purely for the way it dips in the middle. Without this dip it would have consistently hit that goldilocks spot. As is, like climbing Mount Everest, I’m sure (not actually done it myself), I found reading Words of Radiance well worth the journey. You have no idea how happy I am to know there’s still so much to come. So much that could happen. I can’t wait for book 3 in the Stormlight Archive. I cannot wait!

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Rating: 9.1/10 (11 votes cast)
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson, 9.1 out of 10 based on 11 ratings
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One Comment

  1. Lou says:

    Just discovered the site but loving it so far. Your piece was one of the first I read, due to the subject. I was just wondering if you were aware of the whole Cosmere in most of Sanderson’s novels. I only ask because I didn’t find out about it until after I read WoR and it completely blew my mind.

    I really like your article and I did feel the same way about Shallan’s “second apprenticeship”. I guess we needed a way into the Ghostbloods

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