Book Review: “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance”

If fantasy writers were vehicles, Brandon Sanderson would have been a steamroller. He writes great stories involving convoluted plots and intricately contrived magic-systemsand he writes unbelievably quickly. Ever since he has started writing, he’s been inexorably churning out book after book like a machine – without compromising on the quality, mind you.

As good a writer Sanderson is, I have a love-hate relationship with his books. I utterly liked how he finished the floundering Wheel of Time series. The magic of Wheel of Time had fizzled out since the first 4-5 books, and the tragic death of Robert Jordan was another big setback. It was Sanderson, who with the help of Jordan’s wife got the series back on track and ended it fairly well.

I also liked Mistborn series. But there was a problem – dialogue in Mistborn felt too artificial. Too stilted. It wasn’t natural, like it should be. Most of the conversations, particularly the friendly ones, in the series were a little jarring and incongruous. They felt out of place. They betrayed the fact that they were contrived. Because of this, I never did feel any involvement or true escapism in the world of Mistborn.

With The Stormlight Archive, though, Brandon Sanderson has ironed out this chink in his otherwise perfect armour. And then some.

Stormlight Archive is definitely going to be huge. To give you an idea: the first book was 1008 pages long, and the second book about 1088 pages long in terms of paperback pages. Through The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson seems to be taking on Steven Eriskon head-on. Whether he manages to match the vertigo-inducing complexity and superb storytelling of Malazan Book of the Fallen is another matter.

The books in The Stormlight Archive are designed prettily with tonnes of beautiful pictures and maps. It would be expensive, but I recommend buying hardcovers of these books. Not only these books are well-written and enjoyable, they will also embellish your bookshelf.

I finished the second book – Words of Radiance – last week and was left craving for the third book. Yes, this series is that good. So far, at least. I will concisely review both of the books for your convenience:

The Way of Kings: When you start to read a 1000-odd page book, it is natural to be a little apprehensive. But with books like The Way of Kings, your misgiving does not last long. This book introduces you to the elaborate world of Roshar, which is sporadically assaulted with powerful magical storms called “Highstorms”. The magic system is complex – not as complex as allomancy in Mistborn – but is nicely and simply (perhaps too simply for my taste) explained. It takes little time to plunge into the world, and the action to start.

The people in Roshar are divided by the colour of their eyes. The people whose eyes are dark (dark brown, black) are considered socially inferior than the people whose eyes are of a lighter colour (blue, hazel). The lighteyes are also the ruling class or, simply, nobility. And darkeyes, the peasantry.

The are many “primary” characters in the book, but the main focus is on Kaladin – a young darkeyes warrior. Kaladin is a resigned man, who carries an intense hatred toward ligheyes, for various reasons. This hatred propels his life; he wants to avenge the death of his younger brother. But after being put into slavery, even that hatred becomes an apathetic indifference.

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It’s only after reaching the Shattered Plains (which is the battlefield of the conflict between humans and a humanoid race called Parshendi) does Kaladin acquire a reason to live. He is put in with the bridgemen–who are considered to be at the lowest tier in the army and whose task is the most arduous and without any sort of reward. Kaladin makes his life goal to protect his fellow bridge men. There are frequent glimpses of Kaladin’s past which make the character well-rounded and fleshed out. Those reminisces also explain Kaladin’s current predicament and the choices he makes through the course of the novel.

The Way of Kings is a long, but fast-paced and action-packed fantasy book. It is highly recommended to every fantasy fan looking for a new fantasy series with a detailed, well-built world.

Rating: 4.5/5

Words of Radiance: In comparison, Words of Radiance reads even faster than The Way of Kings. In this book, all the previous characters in the first book converge on the Shattered Plains, the battlefield of the conflict between the humans and the parshendi. As the first book was centered on Kaladin, the focus now shifts on Shallan. She is the daughter of a deceased minor noble (read lighteyes). Her character comes down as even more complex than Kaladin, in my opinion.

Like the brief glimpses we saw of Kaladin’s yesteryears in the first book, it is now Shallan’s turn. Her childhood had been like hell because of her scurrilous father and tough upbringing. If I tell you anything more, it will spoil your fun. This is a great book, and yes, better than the first one. The pace is faster, plotting is tighter and characterisation is even more improved. 

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As far as the number of words goes, the book is longer than the first one. But it doesn’t feel like so. More focused and eventful storytelling ensures that you won’t ever be bored with the book. Bottomline: if you read and liked the first book, just pick this one up. This book is better in almost every way.

Rating: 5/5

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