It continues the story Sanderson tells in The Way of Kings, a book I finished ten impatient days before the sequel's March 4th release. It was my previous favorite from Sanderson — high praise considering how much I liked Elantris, the Mistborn series and 2013 Hugo Award winner The Emperor's Soul. When the 48 hour 15 minute audiobook of Words of Radiance was finally on my iphone, I might as well have crazy-glued the device to my body. Except for my own work, absolutely nothing got done here if I couldn’t do it while listening.
A few mornings ago, while moping because I'd finished the book, I found a note in my email box from one of my favorite indie bookstores, Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. It asked its newsletter subscribers which books had excited them lately. And I couldn’t pass up the chance to gush. Powell’s included my recommendation in its blog and newsletter. (If you follow the link, you’ll see my picture. Please imagine me waving hello!) I posted the link on Facebook, and Susan from 29 asked if I’d republish the paragraphs here. You’ll find them under the squiggle.
I love and write mystery books, but I can’t resist telling you about the epic fantasy novel, Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson. I find that I just can’t stop thinking about and recommending it.
As much as I adore crime novels, I often need the change of pace and stretch of imagination that comes from reading science fiction. That’s why in addition to excellent mysteries I’ve read lately, from terrific writers like Tana French, Matt Haig and Adrian McKinty, many of my favorite books this year were outside my own genre—books by Neal Stephenson, Andy Weir, Max Barry, Jo Walton, John Scalzi, Peter F. Hamilton.
But Sanderson’s Words of Radiance actually had me shouting out loud to the author, begging him please to keep my favorite characters alive and whole. I don’t remember the last time a novel had me literally crying out.
Except for George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, I hadn’t strayed out of science fiction into fantasy since I was a teenager enraptured by The Lord of the Rings. Somehow I’d come to believe that epic fantasy wasn’t for me, that “sword and sorcery” was for video game lovers, that science fiction was the limit of my dalliance. But from the minute I started Sanderson’s Mistborn books, I was hooked, moving on from those to Elantris, to my favorite (before its sequel, Words of Radiance), The Way of Kings.
These are very fat books—in fact, at around 1100 pages, Words of Radiance is said to be the very thickest that publisher Tor’s printing press can produce. But far from finding the size daunting, Sanderson’s books flew by, fascinating me from paragraph one with their alien worlds drawn in exquisite and original detail, each featuring at least one strong, complicated woman as a protagonist. (I’d been wrong to assume epic fantasy relegated female characters to support status.)
Words of Radiance is a masterful epic, in my opinion. Continuing the story begun in The Way of Kings, it shows the slow bitter struggles of slaves to climb out of depression and injustice to join with other classes and races in elaborate and cut-throat strategies to save the world. That world, so different in geography and customs and natural law from this one, became as concrete to me as my own, thanks to Sanderson’s vivid characters, realistic motivations, and highest possible stakes. Reading the book, my real life seemed to fall away, bringing back that joyful kid-again feeling, that first library card thrill, that all readers cherish. I’ve recommended Words of Radiance to every Facebook friend and Twitter follower. I know it takes a big leap of faith to believe that a thousand pages can whoosh by in no time at all. But it’s a leap I’m glad I took with Sanderson’s books.