“Jasnah Kholin pretended to enjoy the party, giving no indication that she intended to have one of the guests killed.”
– Words of Radiance, opening line –
Thus, my friends, begins the book that has managed to topple The Betrayals out of my number one favorite spot of the year. The book that has opened my mind to the possibility that the Mistborn trilogy might not be the best series Brandon Sanderson has ever written. The book that is at least 50% responsible for me acting like an absolute idiot this week because I sacrificed a considerable amount of sleep to binge-read its last 500 pages.
(The other 50%, I blame on my general stupidity. Seriously, when I wanted to ride to university on Wednesday, I spent almost a full minute wondering why my bike wasn’t moving before I realized that I had never taken the lock off 🙈 And then on the way back, I nearly crashed into a fence because I thought I could manage carrying two full shopping bags whilst riding said bike. Spoiler alert: Bouncing overripe kiwis against your knees is never a good idea…)
My sublime biking skills aside, though, Words of Radiance was everything I could have wished for. Although it is still very much character-driven, there is a lot more going on plotwise than in The Way of Kings, and I was all here for it! There’s intrigue, humor, mystery, and lots of emotion. We finally get some answers regarding the world, but those lead to even more questions. All of our main characters’ paths cross for the first time, and it was so interesting getting to see them from each other’s perspectives! I mean, Kaladin’s reaction when Shallan took his boots? I was living for how offended the poor guy was! 😁 Even though this book broke me on multiple occasions, everything about it was absolutely perfect, and the only regret I have is that I didn’t steal it from my sister sooner.
SOME GENERAL INFO:
Title: Words of Radiance
Series: The Stormlight Archive, #2
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Page Count: 1310
[Which probably makes this the second longest book I’ve ever read, after The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And it’s not just page-count-wise that Sanderson is giving the bard a run for his money 🥰]
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Date Read: September 7th – 11th, 2021
5/5 stars 1000/5 stars, at least! Kaladin’s character arc alone deserves about 100 stars, as do Shallan’s backstory, Pattern, Adolin’s dumb wholesomeness, the Eshonai chapters, the scene with Kaladin and Shallan in the chasms, the WORLD-BUILDING (!!!!), the mystery surrounding Amaram and the Ghostbloods, Renarin joining Bridge Four and being a Radiant, Shallan running around and documenting every living creature that crosses her path, Dalinar trying to figure out what his weird visions mean, and, of course, that cruel twist Brandon Sanderson pulled with Jasnah 😭😭😭
My In-Depth Thoughts
I take it you’ve gathered by now that I absolutely loved this book, so let’s get into some details as to why!
Despite the world – with its fascinating geography, history, politics, and magic system – being phenomenal, the best thing about Words of Radiance were most definitely the characters. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about them, get to see them make mistakes, learn to live with them, interact with one another, and play their part in shaping the world they belong to.
First, I was obviously beyond excited to see my favorites from The Way of Kings again. If you read my August wrap-up, you’ll know that I was just a tad obsessed with Jasnah… So, of course, I was absolutely over the moon when the book started with a Jasnah chapter! Suddenly, we were getting all these answers! We got to see more of Jasnah’s past, and, even better, Jasnah was finally opening up and telling Shallan so many interesting things about the Voidbringers, the Radiants, Soulcasting, the Cognitive Realm, the spren. Although so much is still shrouded in mystery – Where did Jasnah learn all of this? What spren is she bonded to? What really happened on the Day of Recreance? – I was enthralled!
However, I did also have a terrible inkling that all of this might be too good to be true. Brandon Sanderson never just gives his readers access to information without making them suffer for it, and of course, Words of Radiance turned out to be no exception.
A body in a thin nightgown, eyes staring sightlessly, blood blossoming from the breast.
Words of Radiance, p. 124
Reading this scene right after my grandfather had passed away maybe wasn’t the best idea, because, let me tell you, guys, I SOBBED. My emotional dam finally broke, spilling out everything I had been holding back, and even though I clung to hope that Jasnah might still be alive, it was feeble at best. I mean, we had seen a body. You don’t just show your readers bodies unless you want them to know that a character is actually dead, right? RIGHT??
Still, when Shallan was grappling with Tyn and Jasnah’s voice spoke from behind them, I couldn’t help but have my chest swell with hope – only to have it be bitterly crushed again moments later, when I realized that, of course, it was only Pattern. I was devastated. Jasnah was dead, I was sure of it, and I hated Brandon Sanderson so, so much.
And then I got to page 1301. And suddenly, I hated Brandon Sanderson a whole lot more. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME, BRANDON??? This is even worse than the whole Kelsier-kandra situation!!! HOW COULD YOU PUT ME THROUGH THIS MUCH PAIN FOR NOTHING?!
Still, Jasnah’s “death” provided an excellent opportunity for Shallan to grow as a character. With her mentor gone and the rest of her family all the way across the continent, she had to learn to depend solely on her own wits and to finally face the past she feared so much. While The Way of Kings was very much a Kaladin book, Words of Radiance was Shallan’s.
And it was brilliant. I must admit, I wasn’t super passionate about Shallan in The Way of Kings. I liked her well enough, but my feelings didn’t get anywhere close to the love I felt for Kaladin and Jasnah. Now, though? I love Shallan with all my heart! She’s smart. Sassy. She knows where her insecurities lie but keeps going in spite of them. She’s such a scholar at heart, and hearing her order sailors to dump her in the ocean so she could study Santhids or asking Adolin questions about the fecal technicalities of wearing Shardplate was the best thing ever 🤣 She’s a scientist, but also a strong-willed young woman who doesn’t shy away from standing up for herself and the people she’s close to. She knows how to manipulate people into getting what she wants and still come out as friends. And now, she’s also got these seriously cool powers! I was glued to the page during Veil’s Ghostblood infiltration attempts. I was grinning at Shallan’s conversations with Pattern. I was smiling at how Shallan didn’t even take a day to wrap all the warcamps around her finger. She’s so cool!
The thing that gave Shallan the most depth, however, might well be her backstory. I must admit, when I read about Balat ripping legs off crabs in The Way of Kings, I thought Shallan’s brothers sounded like some of the most awful people ever and that they must have cruelly manipulated their sister into going to such lengths for them. Now, though, I understand. Shallan’s bond with her brothers is beautiful, and so, so tragic. What Shallan had to do to survive is horrifying, and I wouldn’t wish her childhood on anyone. Watching her brutally murder her own father, while understanding fully well why she did it, was one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever read, and I love how it makes Shallan a much more nuanced and morally grey person. And of course, I love how her past brings Shallan closer to Kaladin.
“It’s not your fault,” Kaladin said. “I’d rather be like you. I’d rather not have lived the life I have. I would that the world was only full of people like you, Shallan Davar.”
“People who don’t understand pain.”
“Oh, all people understand pain,” Kaladin said. “That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s…”
“The sorrow,” Shallan said softly, “of watching a life crumble? Of struggling to grab it and hold on, but feeling hope become stringy sinew and blood beneath your finger as everything collapses?”
“The sensation – it’s not sorrow, but something deeper – of being broken. Of being crushed so often, and so hatefully, that emotion becomes something you can only wish for. If only you could cry, because then you’d feel something. Instead, you feel nothing. Just… haze and smoke inside. Like you’re already dead.”
He stopped in the chasm.
She turned and looked to him. “The crushing guilt,” she said, “of being powerless. Of wishing they’d hurt you instead of those around you. Of screaming and scrambling and hating as those you love are ruined, popped like a boil. And you have to watch their joy seeping away while you can’t do anything. They break the ones you love, and not you. And you plead. Can’t you just beat me instead?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
Shallan nodded, holding his eyes. “Yes. It would be nice if nobody in the world knew of these things, Kaladin Stormblessed. I agree. With everything I have.”
Words of Radiance, pp. 1021-1022
I can’t help it, guys 😫😫😫 I totally ship Kaladin and Shallan. I feel like they balance each other and understand each other in a way that Shallan and Adolin will never be able to. And yes, I feel terrible for feeling this way, because I love Adolin too and don’t want either of my precious boys to get their heart broken 😫😭 I don’t want their beautiful budding bromance to be destroyed because they love the same girl. I don’t want Kaladin to quietly suffer because he doesn’t want to admit he has feelings for Adolin’s betrothed, and I don’t want Adolin to have his soul crushed because he realizes the only woman he’s ever truly had feelings for is actually in love with his bodyguard. And yet, I find myself firmly on team Kaladin.
“You want too much of me,” he snapped at her as he reached the other side of the chasm. “I’m not some glorious knight of ancient days. I’m a broken man. Do you hear me, Syl? I’m broken.“
Words of Radiance, p. 962
Speaking of Kaladin, though, I have never found myself agreeing with anyone as much as I did with Syl in this book. I wanted to slap Kaladin so hard throughout most of it. His self-pity, his loss of purpose, and his thirst for revenge were heart-breaking to watch and I just wanted to shake Kaladin to his senses while simultaneously giving him a hug. He acted like an arrogant, self-entitled idiot, and yet, I just couldn’t stop loving him. What he was feeling made sense. It was relatable. He’d been hurt and betrayed so many times. Under Dalinar’s rule, he no longer had to fight for the lives of those he loved every second of his life and suddenly, he had time to deal with all the emotions he’d been suppressing. One of his closest friends had been grievously wronged by a man he had sworn to protect, even though Kaladin himself could see he was not a very competent ruler.
So, yes – I understood Kaladin’s anger. I understood his standoffishness. I understood why he might want to kill Elhokar.
It made a twisted, horrible kind of sense.
It hadn’t been Tien’s fault. Tien had tried. He’d still failed. So they’d killed him.
Kaladin fell to his knees in the water. “Almighty, oh Almighty.”
The king was Dalinar’s Tien.
Words of Radiance, p. 1180
And I’m so relieved he didn’t. I’m so glad he came to his senses eventually and did what, deep down, he had always known what was right. I’m so glad he reconciled with Syl and that he hadn’t actually killed her. And I’m glad he finally had the courage and trust to show what he truly was.
And that budding bromance between Kaladin and Adolin!! I adore their hate-to-begrudging-respect-to-hopefully-soon-friendship relationship 🥰 Their snarky comments to one another where always the best thing ever, and I love how both Kaladin and Adolin are able to goad the other into doing the stupidest things. And yet, when it really comes down to it, they have each other’s backs. That dueling scene was absolutely epic! And then Adolin locked himself in jail with Kaladin!!! My heart just can’t handle it. They’d better not destroy their friendship over Shallan, or I’m going to be seriously mad.
In general, though, I also really liked Adolin’s character arc. It was nice to see him taking more responsibility, even if he still makes rashly stupid decisions at times. But then again, those only make him more adorable, so I’m not complaining. Adolin is just that one cheery person you can’t help but love, especially when you see how protective he is over his brother and father.
And that ending! I was definitely not expecting Adolin to go full-on psycho on Sadeas, so I’m beyond eager to see what the fall-out of that is going to be! And I do like how Adolin is slowly growing into a more complex person, too.
Then, there’s Dalinar. We got a bit less of him in this book than the previous one, but what we did get, I loved! Dalinar’s visions are still some of the most interesting things ever, especially now that Navani is there to offer additional insights. And I don’t just mean his literal visions. It’s also beautiful that Dalinar has a vision of what he wants Alethkar to be, and that he never once wavers from it. Even when it means that he has to put the sons he loves in danger, or when he knows he might not have long left to live, he gives everything to turn his country into the place he dreams it could be. He worked so hard to rebuild the Knights Radiant, and I can’t wait to see where he takes them now that he has actually achieved the first step.
Seriously, since we got a Kaladin-focused book and a Shallan-focused book, can we have a Dalinar-focused book, too? There are so many questions I have about the guy, especially about his past! Like, please, I need to know about that wife of his! Constantly reading Shshshsh is not satisfying, and I need someone to finally realize the dude does not remember her! Like, c’mon, Navani, Adolin, and Renarin – don’t you ever want to have a conversation about this at some point?
But enough about humans for now – let’s talk Parshendi! Those Eshonai chapters were some of the coolest additions to this book, and I loved learning more about the Listeners’ culture. Everything about it was so interesting! There is such an emphasis on community, a feeling of being haunted by a past that that no one really remembers, a deep basis in music, and, of course, the whole business surrounding those different forms. What changing to stormform has done to Eshonai is seriously horrifying, and I want answers so desperately! Where did these forms come from? What do they have to do with the Voidbringers and the Radiants? Who are the gods that the people in Roshar worship really?
In general, the mystery and allure of this world is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read about, and I love how we’re getting to see more and more of Roshar. As anxious as I always was about the interludes taking me away from my beloved main protagonists, I genuinely liked them, too. It is nice to see more of this continent than just the Shattered Plains and to slowly get a feel for how this world works and what kinds of secrets it has to offer. World-building is definitely one of Brandon Sanderson’s biggest strengths, and I desperately need to find out what he hasn’t told us yet. I want that Parshendi and Radiant history! I want to know what happened during the Last Desolation! I need to know more about what other Radiants are out there. What is up with those dead Shardblades. Who the Ghostbloods are, what Amaram has up his sleeve, why Taravangian is so crazy and what is up with that weird Diagram of his. Please, Brandon Sanderson, I need answers!!
“I was just testing to see how willing you were to obey me,” Zahel said, throwing a rock into his circle. He grunted, as if pleased with himself. Finally, he turned to look up at them. “I suppose I don’t need to toughen you up. But boy, you’ve got red on your ears like I’ve never seen.”
Words of Radiance, p. 594
And you know what else I need answers to? All the Cosmere stuff! Up until now, I’ve never seen all that many Cosmere connections, but now they’re suddenly coming from everywhere. First, we get Hoid – one of the coolest Shakespearian-fool-like characters I have ever come across 🤩 – and now, there’s also Zahel! Honestly, it took me way too many color metaphors to finally realize something was up, but now, I can’t unsee it. And Szeth’s sword! I have so many questions now, and I really think I have to reread Warbreaker. Badly.
Anyway, I think I’ll leave it at that for now. My thesis is waiting, and as much as I’d love to gush about Words of Radiance even more, I probably shouldn’t neglect my mathematical activities too much…
Still, I’d love to know what you guys thought of Words of Radiance! Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Is there anything I missed in this review that you think I should have talked about? Tell me everything!!!
Okay, maybe not everything… Don’t spoil me for Oathbringer or Rhythm of War! But for Words of Radiance? Bring on those spoilers!!! 🤗