I’m trying to complete a Master’s degree in English, and Brandon Sanderson is not helping. My work schedule and discipline is in tatters because of his Stormlight Archive. Thankfully, I just finished Words of Radiance a couple hours ago, so I have enough of a reprieve to at least write a quick review, if only to justify why I’m going to start the 1,400-page subsequent installment Oathbringer as soon as I post this review.
Part of me is grateful that the fourth book will not be released until 2020, if only because I shall have completed my degree by then and won’t have to balance living in Roshar with writing essays on Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian interpretation of the biblical narrative. Most likely.
A Skepticism Gloriously Disproved:
I approached the Stormlight Archive with the same skepticism I hold for all works of fantasy, especially epic fantasy, a genre too easily muddled by escapism and unrestrained fancy. The first book in the series, The Way of Kings, held what sounded like a generic fantasy title. Having given up on Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings just a few months before, this eerily similar sounding title made me wary. I finished the book flabbergasted. I wrote a review about it. It was damn good (the book, that is).
Then I started on Words of Radiance. Half a million words later, I turned off my Nook. I had finished it, and proof was in my hand that this was the best epic fantasy series I had even laid eyes upon. Or…well, at least tied with The Gentleman Bastards and The Kingkiller Chronicles.
It Has it All…
Sanderson displays here not only a mastery of story, but an understanding of humanity, reality, and the Other. The pacing is superb. Each scene progresses the story just as much as is needed. The interludes provide breathing room, indulging the reader in the greater world of Roshar, but in ways that are relevant to the overarching plot, even if not obviously so.
And the characters. They are all gray. And it is brilliant. Everyone in this story is flawed. The heroes most of all. One is consumed by hatred, another by self-deception. The antagonists are just as multi-faceted, leaving the reader unsure of whether or not they are actually in the wrong. It is a story about how sloppy morality gets when the fate of the world is at hand and no one is exactly sure how to deal with it.
Hints at Something Deeper:
Beyond the characters, Sanderson displays a comprehension of the world. A mindset that is not closed off to any one idea, but open to the myriad possible explanations for why things are the way they are. That we might all be part of the same thing experiencing itself. That a soul lives in every object. That honor might even actually exist.
And the plot is thick. Layers. Crusts here and there. Peel something back, a minor event from the first book, and you see what was really going on. It is airtight.
Just read it. After all, as Neil Gaiman’s paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton goes, ‘Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.’ And this tale is all about showing how dragons can be conquered, namely, the dragons we might carry around inside our own selves.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Radiants