I started a blog on a site called booklikes that you're also on. I'm pretty sure you can guess what my blog is going to be like.
Let's start with the long story short on this one. Not nearly as good as the first book. Not enough of a disappointment to turn me off the series.
The first book in the Stormlight Archives series, The Way of Kings, was the kind of fantasy that I'm generally not a huge fan of. Despite the fact that it gave off a bad first impression it grabbed its hooks into me and by the time the conclusion rolled around I was itching for the next book in the series to come out.
I had the opposite reaction to Words of Radiance. The momentum from The Way of Kings had me excited at the start and it just let me down over the course of the book. Part of what made The Way of Kings work was the strength of the central narrative of Kaladin trying to survive as a military slave. Amidst all the world building, and hints at a convoluted magic system, and slow introduction to factions and groups with personal agendas from different nations it was a simple human story to cling to. Don't get me wrong, I like all that other stuff, that's kind of what you're expecting when you pick up a 1000+ page epic fantasy tome, but I really appreciated having a story within the book that was complete and satisfying on its own outside the overarching narrative that's going to be unveiled over ten books.
Unfortunately there's no core story in Words of Radiance that's as compelling as Kaladin's in The Way of Kings. Shallan's story was the weak point in The Way of Kings and Sanderson really tries to make her a strong and interesting character. Shallan and he backstory are the focus here in the way that Kaladin was in the previous book, but it doesn't work quite as well. Part of this issue is that he really over does it and where Kaladin's story was a simple one in the midst of a lot of confusing world building Shallan's is a convoluted one in the middle of an even bigger convoluted one. Making a dull character interesting doesn't mean you have to constantly give them challenges that they instantly solve because then they become forgotten in the face of the next thing you feel obliged to throw at them and the growth of the character becomes divorced from the plot. As an example of events in Shallan's story just being roadblocks and not meaningfully effecting the overall plot [spoiler] [there's one section near the middle of the book where Shallan kills another character with her shardblade and a big deal is made that her mercenaries and merchants she's caravaning with all know that she's a shardbearer now and it's likely that the whole warcamp will soon know. Of course this doesn't become an issue at any point throughout the rest of the book and her mercenaries which we made such a big deal of her winning over are quickly faded out of the plot almost entirely.[/spoiler]
The second part of what really hurts the Shallan Chapters is that Sanderson makes witty banter a huge element in them and he can't do banter. It's by and large painful to read (or listen to on an audiobook as it were) and devoid of meaningful or interesting subtext.
The Kaladin chapters make up the next largest portion of the book and if you liked his story in the first you'll likely enjoy it here too. It's pretty much the same struggling with a moral dilemma plot of the first one, just not as interesting overall to me. I don't know why Sanderson does less with the bridge crew this time around. They're there, they just seem faded into the background. They're are a big element in the plot, but they're rarely active characters and don't have much to say or chances to be involved in the plot. In The Way of Kings I enjoyed the interactions between the members and it was satisfying to see them slowly go from beaten down slaves to regaining their humanity. Personal favorites like Teft who were instrumental in Kaladin coming to terms with his role as a leader and his burgeoning powers are pretty much gone completely. At one point Kaladin even mentions that he hasn't seen Teft so I assumed there was some point to his absence, but nothing comes of it. I guess it's just a forgotten plot point.
There's just a weird sense of tone here. Way of Kings felt like adult-oriented fantasy and Words of Radiance has an overall more YA feel where there will occasionally be something that Sanderson will draw your attention to in an unbelievably obvious way to prove that this book is for mature audiences too. I can imagine him pointing to the passage and going "LOOK AN OFF-COLOR JOKE I CAN DO THOSE TOO" or "HEY, A MORE GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION CHECK IT OUT, AM I TURING AROUND YOUR EXPECTATIONS?!"
Also, I think it's worth noting, I thought the interlude with Lift was straight out of a children's spin-off of The Stormlight Archives and the tone it took was off-putting, unfunny, and had no place in the book.
Of course, if there's one thing Sanderson can do, it's bring everything together into an epic page-turning conclusion. He raises the stakes significantly, gives the characters impossible odds to defeat, and when it's all done you're left with the realization that everything the character have been through in two books was just a mere prologue. So yes, there's something engaging about the overarching narrative. Yes, it's fun to guess who's going to be the next surgebinder. Yes, ultimately, I'm still invested in the world of Roshar and I'll pick up the third book whenever it's done. But, Brandon, if you're reading this, if you go for the obvious and overplayed love-triangle that it seems like you're hinting at I'm going to be really pissed off.(less)