There came a point in Robert Jordan's seemingly endless "Wheel of Time" series that even faithful readers had to wonder if anything would ever really happen. Sure, the words were strung together nicely, but the narrative just sort of sat there, fat, happy and immobile.

Granted, I couldn't take any more after book eight, so maybe things got better, but it did take 13 long books to finish the series, and two of them were written after Jordan died, by Brandon Sanderson, whose unrelated new work we consider here.

  • "Words of Radiance" (Tor Books, $28.99, 1,088 pages) is the second of Sanderson's "Stormlight Archive," and there are supposed to be eight more. Sanderson is an excellent writer, better than Jordan, and he is enormously prolific (he's working on at least three series right now). This gives hope that "Stormlight Archive" will be concluded in the next decade (and perhaps even before George R.R. Martin wraps up "A Song of Ice and Fire"), but there are some troubling developments in "Words of Radiance." Those 1,000-plus pages cover only about a month's worth of time, and though the plot definitely moves forward, it could have done so with a lot less exploration of side roads, odd characters and emotional introspection. In short, 700 pages would have been better, and 500 pages would have been a lean, mean fighting machine that would have had me hungering for more of Sanderson's meticulous world-building and mastery of the preindustrial, magical fantasy worlds where good faces up to evil.

    In "Stormlight" so far, we've spent a lot of time on the Shattered Plains with armies led by greedy nobles who search for valuable gemhearts, and with several main characters who are trying to find their way in this stratified society. Kaladin and Shallan are outsiders trying to survive in a world battered by inexplicable highstorms emerging from some eastern origin, and their journeys, both physical and mental, are described in great detail.

    That's fine as far as it goes, but is Sanderson going to write another 1,000 pages about the next 30 days?

    Or is he going to veer off into another part of the world, and spend 1,000 pages developing characters just barely introduced in "Words of Radiance" so they can all start from the same place somewhere around volume seven? I fear the latter, as Sanderson's usual fixation requires at least 10 protagonists, and we have a ways to go to get to that many.

    One other nagging point: Like Martin, Sanderson has no problem killing off a character and then, abruptly, bringing him or her back to life. This is a very annoying trait in an author, as readers of such long, long series appreciate occasional closure. When characters who are definitely and completely killed return as though nothing had happened, it takes the steam out of a narrative, because if death is reversible, so is everything else that has gone before.

    All that said, it's hard to give up on Sanderson because of his tremendous talent. I looked forward to reading "Words of Radiance" every chance I got, even though hoisting the book was equivalent to a light weight workout, and I still have high hopes that "Stormlight Archive" will be a great fantasy series. It will only reach that height, though, if Sanderson picks up the pace.

    Contact Clay Kallam at clayk@fullcourt.com.