Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings has received much attention, and it is well deserved. Sanderson serves up his sixth standalone, adult effort and the first in his all-new Stormlight Archives series, predicted to run no less than ten novels. Yes, this is another long one. The Way of Kings delivered just what I expected, an incredible epic, going even farther than I anticipated. If there is one book for epic fantasy this summer, this is it. This immense novel really is unavoidable.
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.
and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.
This book is supposed to be Brandon Sanderson’s first truly epic piece of fantasy. Yes, he has given us Elantris, Mistborn and Warbreaker, but according to him he was saving himself for this. He was waiting until he though he was established as an author and he felt he was ready to deal out such a massive piece of writing. Evidence for Sanderson’s ambition is found everywhere in The Way of Kings. It looks and feels like his previous work blown to enormous proportions - almost everything is seen and built from a vast, vast angle. In a phrase, Mr. Sanderson treats us to no end. The Way of Kings is a blend of familiar elements of his storytelling and a generous amount of new bits to make this an inviting and succulent epic.
Of the many, many strong points that I could talk about the element of The Way of Kings that truly blew me away was the world of Roshar. It does what I believe is central to any epic - it fascinates. Roshar emerges as a character all of its own with a complexity and beauty I’ve rarely known from a secondary world. Sanderson paints a colorful, rich and - more importantly - vast canvas for his story to build upon. This is a world that has its own, intricate way of life and possesses a variety and depth that grasps readers and draws them in without them being able to do much about it. Sanderson’s descriptive prose shined out unlike what I’ve previously seen before in his other books. To be fair, much of the sense of realism and diversity comes from the splendid work that Tor, the Sanderson Team and artist have put into this book. Beyond the resplendent cover art, they’ve gone to much lengths to include multiple maps and stunning illustrations, mostly sketches of lifeforms from Roshar, that amplify the detail and scope of Sanderson’s writing.
As has become his almost staple style, Sanderson let’s the plot be driven by three main storylines that twist and turn across the world of Roshar, each storyline supported by its own set of characters. There is no mistaking that this first in the Stormlight Archives tells Kaladin’s tale. For one, he features more often than the others but it is his growth that is most observable, and for the most captivating. This is not to say that the other characters aren’t up to level. In their own ways I found Shallan and Dalinar both extremely interesting characters. Dalinar brings the court intrigue and, being older, a point of view vastly different to that of the other two. The scholarly ventures are what Shallan offers, through which much of the detail of Roshar we can discover. But more importantly, with the exception of a few downtimes, all these storylines whisk along at a brisk pace, taking the reader on an incredible journey.
Yet beyond its creative world and absorbing characters, The Way of Kings managed to surprise me further. Sanderson spoke on his blog of his growth as a writer through the process of completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and that is very much perceivable in his latest effort. Sanderson’s prose baffled me. In most ways, Sanderson has escaped the prejudices so often associated with the sub-genre of epic fantasy. But there remains the question of his accessibility. Sanderson already brings with him a large readership but many others might think twice about jumping into an imposing 1008-page book, first of ten, with a very defined audience. Then there is also the issue of how the novel stands on its own and here things are not so grim. Though perhaps not as standalone as the first of his Mistborn Trilogy, The Way of Kings leaves no immense cliff hangers, but it does leave a lot of things hanging - all the better, in my opinion, for the next books.
This is not really an entry-level book to epic fantasy but for fans of a good epic, though, there is no surer novel in which to find their fix. Some will ask whether it stands up to the other major pieces of epic fantasy it has already been compared to, but while I don’t usually use such comparisons, I can say that The Way of Kings certainly has a strong footing. There will be a wait for the next volume of the Stormlight Archives, Sanderson having promised to complete the Wheel of Time before continuing on with this project, but as things are, it’s looking good for the sequels.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Brandon Sanderson's Website: http://wwww.brandonsanderson.com/
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