[This review is entirely spoiler-free. Maybe even to a fault.]
I picked up The Way of Kings, the first book in this series, almost at random, looking for a long audiobook. The Way of Kings clocked in at over 45 hours, and after finishing it, I pre-ordered Words of Radiance, and when it came out earlier this month, I ripped through all 48 hours in eighteen days.
Sanderson is a rare talent, and this series is a rare accomplishment even for him—I’ve read the first books of two of his other series, and they don’t compare. In short, I’d recommend this book to just about anybody, but especially to those who like Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or any other epic fantasy.
I’m going to keep this review extremely vague so that I don’t spoil anything for those who haven’t read The Way of Kings (if you haven’t, read my review of it here)—even just mentioning the starting status of certain characters could give away big chunks of the last book.
So, in vague terms, what impresses me most about this series is Sanderson’s ability to create plots within plots, and make each feel distinct and satisfying. Each book in the series has its own individual plot, each sees monumental occurrences in the world of Roshar, and each could easily exist on its own. At the same time, after two books, the series as a whole features a mammoth plot arc that has barely even begun after 2000-odd pages. There’s none of the sense of flawed scope that comes from a story being stretched out past its natural boundaries.
Additionally, Sanderson’s character work is outstanding. He manages to flesh out, in detail, about 10 main characters, and dozens of minor ones, and each has a distinct, everpresent personality. Somehow, even with all these characters, Sanderson’s plot points always feel character-driven and organic, even as they are also unpredictable and satisfying. This is an astoundingly difficult thing to do.
Almost everything else about Words of Radiance is just the same as The Way of Kings, only more and better. Sanderson still manages a heroic amount of world-building, but he doesn’t just pile on details, instead he layers in meaning. For example, the “spren” of Roshar—tiny, fairy-like beings that appear when almost anything happens, wind spren when the wind blows, anger spren when someone’s mad, etc.—seemed to be a cute detail in the first book. In the second one, they turn out to play a vital role in the fabric of the world, and in our heroes’ epic quest. You begin to realize that Sanderson has this world and its story so well fleshed out that he’s probably laying ground work for things that won’t have for thousands of pages yet.
Sanderson can still move at a slow pace sometimes, and the morality of his characters is frequently too black and white, but this series is an amazing achievement. Sanderson has created a world that it’s a pleasure to visit, one filled with great people and subject to monumental events.