Feel free to listen in, but it's going to be rambly and extremely spoilerific. If you're planning to read Words of Radiance and hate spoilers, flee now.
I approached The Stormlight Archive with trepidation, and not just because it's a planned ten-book series and probably won't be finished for another decade or so (stay healthy, Sanderson!). Brandon Sanderson's books and I have a shaky relationship. I really liked Elantris and wished fervently for at least one sequel. I really liked Mistborn and wished it was a stand-alone (sorry, Vin, but my apathy for you knows no bounds). Sanderson seems to suffer from the same writing disease as Robert Jordan did, symptoms of which include female characters I often cannot (and have no wish to) relate to, fantasy stereotype male characters that often border dangerously on Gary Stuism, and fantastic world building at the expense of pacing. This book has all of those problems.
I don't want to say WoR and its predecessor are bloated. I can't make that judgment yet. I won't know for several more books whether all the information in the first two volumes is necessary or if the series could have been better without some of it. That's why I'm not doing a proper(ish) review with a rating. But to be totally honest, right now the books feel bloated. Really, really bloated. I am being inundated with information and I have no idea how much of it is relevant, and at the same time I feel like I'm not being told enough. There are no clear lines drawn in this series. This is not a black and white struggle between good and evil. I know who certain characters think the bad guys are, but these "villains" think they're also saving the world, so I have no idea who to invest in, whose methods are right or wrong, if there even IS a right or wrong method, or what they all actually hope to achieve. By the end of book two I expected to be sure of more, to be able to see where it's heading, but I'm not even 100% sure what the main conflict is all about. All I'm sure of now is that I wish the series was a trilogy. If I rated this book now I would probably give it two stars as a reflection of my frustration. It's just too early to discern whether my annoyance is justified or if I'm suffering from I-can't-see-where-this-is-going-itis.
What I can say with absolute certainty is that both books in this series feel rushed. Not pacing-rushed. Production-rushed. I'm pretty sure the publisher is trying to capitalize on Sanderson's involvement in Jordan's Wheel of Time saga by pushing these books out there before the fickle fires of popularity die down. Sanderson thanks his "team of editors" in the acknowledgments. I formed the impression in book one that the members of this "team" each got a section of the book to work on, had major communication issues, and weren't even using the same style manuals. I have no proof of this, of course. It's just an impression formed by a general feel of pieces not fitting together properly. The pacing isn't great, the flow is off, and something I can't even pinpoint makes it feel disjointed.
And now comes the super spoilery part where I rant about stuff that bothered me.
Most of it involves Shallan in some way. I really liked her in book one. She's probably experienced the most character growth, and of all the characters I related to her the most ... until she started taking stupid pills and giving in to her teenage hormones.
Shallan's been through some ugly, ugly stuff. The previous book hints at her dark past, and in this book we get to see it played out in annoyingly-placed flashbacks. Her strength of character was built almost entirely on her strength of denial, and this made her very, very interesting. She's been through hell and can still smile, not because she's that strong, but because she's really good at locking bad memories in mental boxes and never opening them. This is probably why she persists in the belief that Jasnah is dead.
Knowing what I know about the healing capabilities of Stormlight, I never believed that Jasnah was dead. It really bothered me that Shallan continued to believe it even after she survived a freaking 250 foot fall from a plateau. She even comments at least twice on her near-immortality and correctly attributes it to her ability to infuse herself with Stormlight, but it never occurs to her that Jasnah could likewise survive a mere stabbing and possible subsequent drowning. Never mind that she knows Jasnah can Soulcast and freaking physically travel to another plane of existence. The analytical scholar with a knack for spotting patterns couldn't see the flashing neon implications. I am so disappointed. I'm sure Jasnah will be too.
And then there's Adolin, who with his smile can turn Shallan's intellect to fluff and set her hormones aflutter. This is somewhat believable in that it's not an odd response in a normal teenage girl, but Shallan's not normal. She grew up not knowing what a happy relationship looks like. She killed her parents. She's got serious baggage, she's got firm conviction in a life or death cause, and she still goes weak in the knees when Adolin, who even manages to be boring when he's murdering a Highprince, flashes his teeth. Maybe it's the boringness she finds attractive. Maybe when she finds out he did something almost interesting, such as stabbing Sadeas in the eye, she'll dump him and focus on Kaladin, thereby avoiding the horrid love triangle that seems to be developing. Or maybe she'll lurve him even more because murder gives them something in common, and she'll forget about Kal and we can still avoid the love triangle. Or maybe she'll get the hots for Renarin too and we'll end up with a reverse harem eerily similar to Rand's harem in WoT (the seer, the warrior, the boring-ass royalty). Time will tell.
But I would really, really like to avoid the love triangle.
Some smaller, less spoilery annoyances:
Kaladin makes me want to beat my head against a brick wall. He'd rather choke than swallow the moral lessons being shoved down his throat. Then other characters have to hold him down and plug his nose to force him to swallow. Even considering what he's been through, his stubborn prejudice feels forced. I can't claim this is unrealistic, however. I do know people like this (hell, I may be like this), but especially during the prison scenes I just wanted to beat Kal with the get-a-clue stick (it's a big stick with hard knobby bits).
Totally not Sanderson's fault, but once I made a connection between Kal/Syl and Link/Navi, I had Legend of Zelda music playing in my head every time they had a scene together. Most distracting. Though often appropriate.
I'm feeling much better about this book now that I've done my ranting. Despite my irritation and frustration, I have enjoyed this series. Sanderson excels at world building, even if his pacing does suffer for it. (That scene where Kal notices his horse is licking the ground to trick the grass into coming out was brilliant, even if it was totally unnecessary. I can only assume Sanderson thought it was vital for the reader to know how horses graze in a land where grass is skittish and can move out of the way. *shrug*) I may rage, but in this case it's because I care. I want to see where this is going. I want to know how it all fits together. But I'm wondering if I should wait several years until more books are out. I played the waiting game with Wheel of Time back in the day, finally giving up when the planned six-book series hit book nine with increasing delays between releases. Hey! Maybe I'll finish WoT while I wait! Maybe.
Now that I've gotten all that out of my system, I'll pick my next book to read. I spent most of yesterday playing MMO's, hacking and slashing and quietly stewing over all of this while avoiding the book case so my irritation wouldn't spill over onto the next hapless title I pick up. I think the next book will be safe now. Unless there's a love triangle.