Book Review: “The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson

Culture Shock

If you’re a fan of fantasy novels, you get used to seeing the same ideas used over and over again.  The hero rising from humble origins, dragons, castles, dark evils and magical swords, etc…  After awhile, these tropes just start to feel natural, and instead of being annoyed when you see yet another farmboy begin on his hero’s quest, you look forward to how the author will spin the same old story and make it interesting.  Then, you read a book like The Way of Kings, and remember what made you fall in love with the genre to begin with.

Sanderson is gaining renown in the fantasy genre lately, partly because of his work to finish Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series, but also for his Mistborn series and stand-alone novels Elantris & Warbreaker.  Each of his worlds is unique and well-written, but The Way of Kings really ups the ante.

In Roshar, horrific storms sweep the land every few weeks, so the landscape has evolved to survive them.  Grass retracts into the ground when endangered (even when that danger is something as small as a lady about to trod upon it).  Most forms of wildlife have developed a chitinous outer shell and look more like large bugs than dogs or oxen.  Tiny creatures resembling globes of light are drawn to elements (fire, water, etc…) but also to things like pain, fear, and glory, giving visual indicators to emotion.

The world itself is a backdrop to an equally intriguing set of cultures and traditions.  The Way of Kings is the first of a ten-book series, so we only get glimpses of some of these sociological constructs, but the hints are tantalizing and continuously left me thirsting for more.  I’ve never lived in another country, but the feeling I got from the novel was something akin to culture shock.  Sanderson didn’t beat me over the head with exposition regarding a reason for each tradition; they are simply stated as fact.  It felt as if I’d been dropped into a fully realized world then caught up in a rushing current of story, snatching tidbits of information as I raced through the pages.

This current was comprised of four separate characters, explored in third-person point of view chapters.  Kaladin, the surgeon-turned-warrior; Shallan, the shy young lighteyed (noble) lady who is forced to steal to save her family; Dalinar Kholin, an honorable man entrenched in the upper tiers of a decaying hierarchy who has begun to question his sanity; and Szeth, “the assassin who weeps as he kills.”  The main “point-of-view” characters seem to lead completely unconnected lives, but as their stories progressed, I began to see the threads linking them.  The next book isn’t set to be completed for another year or more, but I think I can already begin to make out the tapestry these threads are creating.

Each of the characters were interesting and well-rounded in their own rights, but I found myself most drawn to Kaladin, looking forward to each of his chapters much as I  looked forward to Samwise and Frodo chapters in Tolkien’s The Two Towers and Return of the King.  His struggles, both in his life as a slave and in his self-blame over his inability to save those he cares about, struck a deep chord with me.  Even now, a week after finishing the book, I find myself thinking about Kaladin Stormblessed, and wondering what his future holds.

Sanderson needs to finish the last book of the Wheel of Time series before he begins on book two of The Stormlight Archive, but the man writes like a dervish.  He keeps percentages on his website so his readers can follow along on his progress, and he seems to be averaging about two books a year.  Six months to finish a 1000+ page doorstop like The Way of Kings seems impossible, but Sanderson is making it work, so his fans don’t seem to be too concerned about a tragedy like Jordan’s death before his completion of Wheel of Time, or huge spans of time between books like the six years between George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.

If you’re not a fan of epic fantasy to begin with, the 1,008 page length will probably be a turnoff.  So might the lack of action in large stretches of the book – if you’re looking for dramatic wars and dragons searing battlefields with flame, you’ll want to look elsewhere.  There are three or four battles that I can remember (including one towards the end which was extremely satisfying), but most of the book is pretty tame.

If, however, you enjoy likable characters, sweeping vistas of unique worlds and intriguing magic systems, you’ll want to pick up this book, and soon you’ll be joining me in reciting the oath of the Knights Radiant:

“Life before death.  Strength before weakness.  Journey before destination.”

The Way of Kings
· Author: Brandon Sanderson
· Hardcover: 1008 pages
· Publisher: Tor Books (August 31, 2010) 
· ISBN-10: 0765326353
· ISBN-13: 978-0765326355

Written by: Lyndsey Luther

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