Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Stormlight Archive: Book 2. Words of Radiance ; a review

Spoilers ahead..

This book is difficult for me to even wrap my head around enough to review. It's massive. We're talking an 1100 page hardcover book. I had more people comment on the size of the book as I was carrying it around than I ever have had before. It's not just a large book to lug around either, this book has a lot going on within. The story progresses and moves along tremendously well. For the past few days I've just been thinking about it. My head has been trapped in Roshar, which you won't find me complaining about. 
Cover art by Michael Whelan

I didn't possibly think that this book would be better than the first. Of course I was wrong. This book expands the series in such a solid, perfect way that I've been having trouble getting my thoughts in order to even write this review. 

Way of Kings ended on such a high note, with so much to look forward to and so many questions that needed answering. At the end of book one, I had a couple of characters sticking out to me that I was yearning to figure out. Sanderson is great at having the story of a character naturally progress. You don't get the entire back story right away, you get glimpses and flashbacks. Slowly you start to piece together the reason a character is the way he or she is. Slowly you start to realize the depth of a characters words and what they mean as they are talking, or what they are purposefully not talking about. That something I appreciate a lot in life. I think too often people have a knack for spilling their personally story too soon when they meet someone. I don't want you to know everything about me because we had fucking coffee together. You don't get those secrets. They are mine. These are what hurt me most and they are trapped behind layers of armor so deep, you better have some kind of shardblade if you want to find them. This is how people are. We look out for ourselves and if I give you a piece of information about me, I'm mainly telling you something you'd be able to find out with a quick google, or something that you couldn't ever use against me. There's maybe four people on the planet who have some of those deep knowledge secrets, and only one of those four who has them all.
That's a solid point for Sanderson. I don't find this in many other authors work, he builds a back story for the characters that you actually care about. You make judgments of who the character is before you find out and when you actually see what's making them tick, and you have these feelings as you're reading for hundreds of pages, then you feel like a giant asshole for making those judgments early on, but that's what we as humans do. We make judgments all the time about everything. There's one chapter that Kaladin finds out more about Shallan, as they are both certain they are about to die, that slaps him hard across the face for a wake up call. It was pretty great. I as the reader was feeling pretty similar to Kaladin at the point he was making assumptions about her, Shallan, when she started to digress about her life a little more, it was pretty heart breaking. Equally heart breaking was the wonder in Kaladin at how she can continue to just smile. It was a wrenching moment for the characters I cared about. 

All right. Into the belly of it.
This book is an epic fantasy. Truly epic in scope, the world is even bigger than you thought it was in the first book, the characters are even bolder, the stakes are higher. I must say that I never really feared for any of the main characters - which isn't a bad thing, but I appreciate a little hesitancy in what I read and what decisions the people I'm reading about are making. The scope of the story is just too vast to tell you about. There's the main plot for each character, the sub plots for each character, the side characters, the interlude chapters, the shadow organizations, and more.
My favorite scene had to be Adolin (who is a full shardbearer, meaning blade and plate) versus 4 full shardbearers in the dueling arena. It was epic. I was on a book high for about four days after reading that single chapter. It was just insane, they were out to cripple or kill Adolin, not letting him get his hands up to forfeit the duel. No one would jump down to help him out. Every "honorable" person turned their face away when Adolin's father, Dalinar, asked someone to help him. It was that point where Kaladin, wearing no armor and not having a shardblade, jumped into the pit with just his spear.
“Honor is dead. But I'll see what I can do.” 

Kaladin is able to draw stormlight, meaning he can heal himself and make himself much stronger and faster than most people, but a shardblade through the neck, chest or spine will instantly kill someone, no matter what. Kaladin had two full shardbearers attacking him at simultaneously and he was weaving in and out as the air from the swords was barely missing. He was guided by more than skill and instinct. He was the wind.
Second favorite scene, of course, has to be when Kaladin uttered the third oath to become a Windrunner. I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right. This is where Kaladin realizes that it's about more than just himself. Just because someone has done something wrong in the past, doesn't mean it's okay to not defend them now, in fact you show yourself to be the best person there can be by defending someone who might have no one else to defend them.
I wish I had my own Syl, she's just such a bad ass who is essentially the moral grounding for Kaladin. The one time I was scared for a character was hers. She's just so, pure. Her wit doesn't diminish at all in this book. If I could draw, there's a few scenes I would love to put to paper that I have in my head of her and Kaladin. The twist at the end with her was perfect. I couldn't have imagined it being better. There was a line where was absolutely scolding Kaladin. To be clear, Windrunners are meant to protect. The oaths are just that. I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.
“What happened?” Kaladin asked. “The Stormlight drained from me. I felt it go.”
“Who were you protecting?” Syl asked.
“I . . . I was practicing how to fight, like when I practiced with Skar and Rock down in the chasms."
“Is that really what you were doing?” Syl asked.

That's the moral check that she pulls on Kaladin. When he's not acting how she believes he should be, she'll pull the plug. She is an Honorspren, and he must be acting in accordance to the laws of a Windrunner to receive her abilities to give him the powers of that Radiant. 

Shallan and pattern were absolutely fantastic in this book. They were lacking a little in the last, and I gotta be honest, they were the part of the book I was least looking forward to. How quickly that changed. I laughed out loud hardest and most frequently during her chapters. Her chapters also had the most intriguing things happening. She had a rough start in this book, a lot of shit went down fast. Pattern (who is her spren, like Syl to Kaladin) was hilarious for the entirety of the book. The whole I am a stick scene was one of my favorite scenes in the entire book. She develops into an amazing, integral character. As her back story develops I felt more pity and sorrow for her character than I did any others. She has this just, insanely hard childhood and early adulthood. The more you learn about her the more impressed you are with her. I'm not sure what direction she'll end up going, but from her current path, she's going to be one of the more complex and interesting characters in the story.
“He saw it in her eyes. The anguish, the frustration. The terrible nothing that clawed inside and sought to smother her. She knew. It was there, inside. She had been broken.
Then she smiled. Oh, storms. She smiled anyway.
It was the single most beautiful thing he’d seen in his entire life.” 

Dalinar is one of the coolest characters in the entire story. The dude is a mans man. He's all about what's honorable, but isn't afraid to (literally) kick the shit out of people to prove his point. I'm pretty sure he bullied a god into doing what he wanted. I'll root for this guy until the end.
“I fear not a child with a weapon he cannot lift, I will never fear the mind of a man who does not think.”
His visions are becoming more troubling, and he's now entered a count down until the end of days when the Voidbringers will return. With no one taking him seriously, he devises a plan to risk it all for the salvation of humanity. Assassination attempts and coup attempts, people mocking his name and the things that are happening to him. He has the hardest role in the entire story. He's balancing a fine line of ignoring his nephew the king and ruling in his stead versus playing politician. He's always been a warrior, he is the Blackthorn. Taking a step back and letting his son, Adolin, move into the warrior leading the house must be very difficult, and it plays heavily on him. Though he has no choice but to follow what he feels is right, whether or not it will be to his death. 

Adolin may have stolen the show for me though. Someone who was just a minor character in book 1 has become probably my favorite character in book 2. He's the son of arguably the most powerful person in the series, he's a full shardbearer, he's the best duelist in the world, and he's one of the best battle commanders in the army. He's a womanizer, he's pretty hilarious, and when you get down to it, he's a very decent person.

“People think I know a lot about women. The truth is, I know how to get them, how to make them laugh, how to make them interested. I don't know how to keep them." He hesitated. "I really want to keep this one.” 

Ahh, I know all too well how that feels, Adolin. After a string of bad courtships and pissing girls off to no end, he gets a message from his sister that she's found a betrothal for him in Shallan. I loved the pair. They make each other laugh, they make me laugh, and they can even make stormy Kaladin smile. She asked the age old question, what do you do when you have to poop while your in your armor? and he answered it. Adolin Kholin, Brightlord and son of Dalinar, nephew to the King of the realm, as shit his armor 5 times, on purpose. I laughed pretty damn hard during that scene, it was such a real conversation to find a fantasy book, very refreshing. Adolin comes to earn the respect of our main characters, and is always charming in a way. My turn around for being indifferent about him to thinking he was great was when he stayed in prison as long as Kaladin was being imprisoned.

Kaladin frowned. “Wait. Are you wearing cologne? In prison?”
“Well, there was no need to be barbaric, just because I was incarcerated.”
“Storms, you’re spoiled,” Kaladin said, smiling.
“I’m refined, you insolent farmer,” Adolin said. Then he grinned. “Besides, I’ll have you know that I had to use cold water for my baths while here.”
“Poor boy.”

I enjoyed the development. It honestly caught me off guard, and I think it was a solid scene to include. It breaks down the character to more than what you thought he was. Yes, he's a spoiled son of Dalinar, Yes, he's pompous, but he wasn't sentenced to prison, he was there because Kaladin was being held for bullshit reasoning by the king. It really worked to progress key plot points and develop the character. The ending, with Adolin doing something that I absolutely did not see coming, really changed the entire way I thought the story was going to play out. I'm curious as to what's going to happen, and I really hope he just owns it, and doesn't have any ill regret towards his decision. He would be far more of a bad ass to just own it. I won't reveal what it is, but it's a pretty stark change (for the good).

Over all, the book was amazing. It shattered my expectations (which were high) for how good the sequel could be to Way of Kings. Please do yourself the favor to read these books, these are some of the heaviest hitters in fantasy right now. The thing that I didn't see coming was that he ties these books into the same 'cosmere' as his Mistborn series, and his Warbreaker novel. I'll have to read those soon.
“All stories told have been told before. We tell them to ourselves, as did all men who ever were. And all men who ever will be. The only things new are the names.”

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