Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings

The Stormlight Archive #1

Written:  Brandon Sanderson[website]

Published: Tor

When: August 31, 2010

ISBN:  978-0765326355

Obtained via: Purchase* (I also won an ARC in a contest, but ended up buying a copy as well.)

Cover blurb:

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.

My Review:

The Way of Kings is Sanderson’s very ambitious magnum opus, a projected 10 volume epic fantasy, of which this is the first. As an added bonus – if you get mugged after purchasing this book, you can use all 1,000 pages of it to beat your attacker senseless.

All the arm cramps I got from trying to read this thing in bed were totally worth it. I received an Advanced Reader Copy, but ended up running out to buy the hardcover edition because I kept hearing that all the wonderful art was so much better in the final copy. It was the truth, and I don’t regret my purchase at all.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Brandon’s other work: everything from the Mistborn books, to his stand alone Warbreaker to his Alcatraz series with Scholastic. I’ve been following his work since shortly after it was announced that he would be finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. He’s done remarkably well with that series, in my opinion.

Finishing someone else’s epic series with their notes, however, is a very different animal from successfully carrying off your own. Does he manage it? I think it’s too early to tell.

The Way of Kings is its own world and it’s a highly complex one. We’re shown elements ranging from a harsh alien landscape complete with new and frightening wildlife to an intricate political system with multiple peoples and countries. The only problem is that the world is so vast that we’re shown only the merest of glimpses of anything.

The world is beautiful, hypnotic and deadly. Yet we get only the smallest taste of the banquet that’s hinted at throughout the story. For every element that’s shown, there are at least a dozen questions that we’re left wondering about. Why do noblewomen cover their left hands? What exactly is the nature of the fabrials? Where does the power for lashings come from? That doesn’t even cover the series’ big mysteries, those are just world-building questions.

We’re ultimately left with more questions than answers, and Sanderson’s treading a very fine line between leaving the reader wanting more and leaving the reader frustrated beyond endurance. Does it work? It did for me, but I think it’s going to depend on the willingness of the reader to wait for answers.

No one builds worlds like Brandon Sanderson – it’s his signature, what he’s famous for and he does it like a master. The Way of Kings is no different – in fact, if it’s possible to go too far with world-building, then he might have managed it. There might be too much information here, but the way Sanderson builds worlds leaves the reader wondering whether that information is extraneous or whether it will be vitally important later on in the series. Or maybe I’m just pissy that I’m going to have to wait until at least 2012 to see book #2.

It’s a good thing that the characters carry so much of the book’s emotion. Dalinar, Kaladin and Shallan – three of our major characters – are vitally alive. They hold within them brutal strength, desperate hope, and an innocent ruthlessness. Kaladin’s storyline especially is spell-binding, and I’ll be forced to wait for the rest of the series if only to find out what happens to him.

You have plenty of time to pick up and plow your way through this massive tome before the next volume hits shelves. This is probably for the best, because this is a story that will require multiple readings to wring out all its juices.

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Buy the book at Amazon or B&N.

3 Replies to “Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson”

  1. Multiple readings, indeed. You make me want to do so again right now! Once I get through some Brent Weeks and then the Dresden Files… oh, but I need to re-listen to The Hollows, too! *sigh* I’ll get to it eventually, I suppose. Thank God for audio books, yes? ;o)

    1. Agreed! I’ve been doing almost all of my re-“reading” by audio book. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have time for anything else.

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