Friday, December 1, 2017

#CBR9 Review #25: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

(Book #2 in the Stormlight Archive series)

I have been working on this book for about 2 months now: I mostly read at work and it has been busier, also it’s so long, but now I only have one book left for my half-cannonball goal! The next book in the Stormlight Archive series just came out and my cousin actually gave his copy to me for me to read after this one but uuuh…. seeing as it’s page count comes in at 1200+ pages (Words of Radiance at 1087), there’s no way I’ll make it by the end of the year, so it will have to wait until I finish my goal. This preface being said, let’s get on with the book and stop my rambling. (Just kidding, it will continue throughout the review as always! Beep beep!)

Words of Radiance is the second novel in Brandon Sanderson’s expansive Stormlight Archive series, focusing on a number of major characters including Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar, and Adolin. While the previous novel included a lot of flashbacks and information on Kaladin, this book features more about Shallan and her life leading to the present story being told. While previously these major characters (with the exception of Dalinar and Adolin) had been separate, the end of the first book began to move them together and all their stories, though still with their individual storylines and conflicts, begin to converge directly. It makes things a little easier to follow and see the affects on one another, but the world doesn’t seem any less small than previously.

The beginning of this novel (not unlike the previous one establishing context and backstory) starts a little slow as new roles and dynamics and the affect of the previous novel are settled into. Kaladin begins a new role in the King’s guard, Dalinar faces uniting a torn kingdom after the betrayal of another highprince, and Shallan begins to learn about her abilities as a radiant all while travelling to the wars on the shattered plains to meet up with Jasnah’s royal family. Fortunately, the pace picks up quite a bit until the ultimate climax near the end of the novel, and indeed gets very exciting. There’s a lot going on overall, and the book is fully fleshed out in terms of plot and characters, and I am always astounded at the intricacies and just absolute breadth that Sanderson brings to his stories and world: there’s just so much to it!

I found Words of Radiance to be once again a long but good read with plenty of twists, intrigue, adventure, and just enough magic thrown in there too. I just have a couple of complaints, which basically mirror the exact same issues I had with the previous novel, Way of Kings. They are minor, however, and didn’t really affect my overall enjoyment of the novel, they just made me pause a few times or roll my eyes before getting over it and moving along.

The first issue is that, while impressive, the scope of the novel is really huge. The main characters and plots are honestly enough, and while I sometimes forget the odd name or role of a person or two (such as I do in any epic fantasy like this), it’s not really enough to cause any issue. I do however, find that some parts with minor characters are extraneous. Well, actually, it’s mostly that the book is divided into different “parts” and after each one is an “interlude” with other characters. Some of these are interesting and do tie in quite directly with the overall story, such as the inclusion of Sveth the assassin and Eshonai in the parshendi army. Others, however, at this point have nothing to do with anything: why am I supposed to care about these characters? Maybe they will play a role way later on, but honestly I don’t think I will remember them by then. I know that it’s to show that the world presented is bigger than that which centers on the main characters, and like I said, it is very inventive and impressive, but we already know that the world is larger than these areas and that these actions have a farther reach: we see glimmers of that in the major plots and in countries of origin, etc. These interludes always occur right after something exciting happens in the novel too, not unlike the end of a weekly tv show that wants to keep you hanging on until next week. But is that really necessary in a book to space it out? I read some kind of chapter-ending-cliff-hanger and I want to keep going right now! Don’t make me waste time in what is already a book with a ton of pages that now has even more about things that aren’t per say necessary! (But then, I do know that some people really enjoy these little blips or short story-like things of something different, so who is to say I’m right in complaining about it!).

The other issue I had also comes in the form of world building, and it’s veeeeery minor but still made me stop a couple of times. It’s more or less the seeming arbitrariness of some of the customs and rules at given times. Sure, we are in a different universe and people do things differently all over the world, but sometimes it seemed like these little blips were put in there for no reason than just because. The one that kept coming up repeatedly was the thing about “safehands” for certain women, covering one of their hands at all times after they reach a certain age as a form of modesty. It just kept being mentioned and I was wondering if there was really a purpose to it or would it end up playing a part later? Apparently, not yet. I mean, I could see this as a commentary on certain arbitrary rules we have in our own society in regards to the bodies of men vs. women, ie that male breasts and seen as fine but after a certain age women need to cover theirs even though they have a function of feeding the young. But they even mention women’s breasts and modesty in one part of the novel (an interlude!) so I don’t really know if I can make that claim that it’s a commentary on this: it would make sense but as of now it doesn’t read like it, it just keeps getting mentioned like “don’t forget this is a rule here!” without any payoff so far. I don’t know, but every time I just stopped for a second.

Speaking of arbitrary, sometimes the way certain people act/give orders/act insolent to royalty and get away with it or not doesn’t seem to follow a specific pattern. I mean, this book is largely serious and not goofy like Merlin where his seeming insolence doesn’t really have too many serious effects, but here I feel like Kaladin gets away with a LOT. And yes, he is respected for saving the highprinces but there is still a hierarchy that is brought up a lot, and roles and status are really respected in this world so it almost seems random or out of place at times? Again, this might just be me.

But again, these issues I have are minor compared to the overall flow and enjoyment of this novel, no matter how long it may have taken me to get through. There were little hints coming up in the later parts of Words of Radiance that may indicate an upcoming love triangle, which I am 100% not here for, but we shall see how this is handled and plays out (if at all, though I can for sure smell it in the air). In any case, I will likely kick off next year’s CBR with the 3rd novel in this series, Oathbringer, as I definitely need to find out what happens to the world now, after the daunting conclusion I just finished with.

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