Words of Radiance is a very worthy follow-up to The Way of Kings. The most noticeable difference is the pacing, which is vastly, vastly superior to that of The Way of Kings. Rather than around 80% of the novel be set-up and the last 20% be the explosion of climaxes, Words of Radiance paces itself much more consistently, with a climax every 200 pages or so. The five-act structure works much better when the book actually has five acts.
Another improvement is the characterisation of Shallan. I enjoyed her POVs in the first book but they were pretty clearly the weak link. In this book, she is extremely compelling; Brandon really did a great job fleshing her out and making her chapters interesting to read. Her flashback arc was not as well-done as Kaladin’s, but still fascinating (it just didn’t connect as cleverly to the structure of her primary POVs like Kaladin’s did).
The book also had a more interesting handle on morality compared to the first book, which fell into Sanderson’s black and white moral tendencies a bit too much. Shallan is the most compelling of the three primary characters to me because she’s less predictable and more nuanced in her morals and decisions.
I’m really, really enjoying the structure of these Stormlight books. The interlude idea works so well for me – letting Brandon exercise his worldbuilding tendencies without clouding the main narratives by adding non-primary consistent POVs.
This is the first Cosmere book where I’ve really felt reading all the Cosmere books improved my experience. There are two fairly substantial connections to a book not in the Stormlight Archive series, and I felt there were some moments that worked much better for me for having read that other book. I’m looking forward to future Cosmere books being similarly intertwined in this way.
Ultimately, I found the narratives of the book less compelling than those of The Way of Kings, and a lot of the book felt like “filler” to me – enjoyable filler, with well-done characterisation, but little story movement, which is frustrating in a projected ten-book series. The improved pacing and characterisation helps balance out my concerns here, but I really hope the third book sees a lot more plot movement.
I give it three liespren, and a series-spanning sword.