The Way of Kings
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Rating: 4 out of 5 magical swords
The Way of Kings (or just Kings from now on) is the first novel in a planned ten book series written by Brandon Sanderson. A ton of hype surrounded this book before release, and many hoped (myself included) that it would be the beginning of “our” generation’s great fantasy series. How does it stack up against the monolithic authors that we have come to rate all others upon (I’m looking at you, Tolkien, Rowling, and Lewis)? Let’s find out...
Kings, at its heart, is a story of war. There is plenty of bloodshed on the battlefield, but conflict is also buried deep in the hearts of the main characters of the novel. The story follows the lives of three people as they struggle to survive in the desolated continent of Roshar.
Kaladin: A young man who was trained as a surgeon, and then became one of the best spearmen in Alethkar’s army. For unknown reasons, we now find him branded as a slave and a murderer sent to rot and die in a work camp for the same men that he protected. Memories of past failure and death haunt Kaladin, and he must overcome them if he is to escape the clutches of the tyrants who rule him.
Dalinar: A Highprince of Alethkar, uncle to the reigning king, and commander of a tenth of the nation’s troops. Rumors run wild through the camps that this once brutal war chief has lost the taste for battle, and has slowly been losing his mind. Dalinar walks a difficult line between the man others need him to be and the man who he promised himself he would become.
Shallan: A young woman who has traveled to a far-away kingdom in order to become a pupil of Jasnah, one of the wisest women in the world, and sister to the king. Shallan would do anything to achieve this goal; to fail would signal the fall of her entire family.
Kings focuses mainly on the nation of Alethkar, as it seeks vengeance on a seemingly endless number of foes for the murder of the previous king. The Highprinces, instead of uniting to crush the foe – squabble and compete with one another. Alethkar used to be a symbol of honor and pride, but it has quickly descended into chaos.
Sprinkled among the chapters are various “interludes” – short tales focusing on different characters and different regions of Roshar – meant both to break up the story and to give some hints at the broader plot of the series as a whole. Some of these are very exciting (especially those about the brutal assassin who can bend gravity to his will), but others seem only to slow down the pace of the novel. After all, it is likely that we will never hear from these “interlude” characters again, so it is hard to care about them or their situations.
The main characters, though much more solid, do not feel as three dimensional as Sanderson’s other creations. You can be sure that all three of the characters...
1. Are hiding a terrible secret from their colleagues
2. Are “rife” with a simple internal conflict
3. Change from one viewpoint to a second (opposite) viewpoint multiple times throughout the novel
Sound familiar? These elements are part of every character (ever), but Sanderson doesn’t seem to take that extra time to really add something MORE to the mix in order to make them shine. I still cared about the characters, but they weren’t as colorful as those from other Sanderson novels.
This may be in part to the vast amount of time that Sanderson spends building his world – and let me tell you, this is a monolithic undertaking. Sanderson’s love for the unique is stamped throughout Roshar. It seems he has thought of everything, including...
Class structure and sociology – Those who are born with light colored eyes are naturally born to rule and hold higher places in society than those with dark eyes.
Economics – Money is in the form of small glass spheres that hold a gem stone. The type and size of the stone marks different denominations.
Religion – The most popular religion of our characters is Vorinism, a teaching rife with past failure and political implications
Gender roles – Males focus on war and politics and are often illiterate. Females read, write, and create art. Therefore, in order to be powerful, men and women must work as a team to account for the others’ weaknesses. There are even masculine and feminine foods.
Technology – Mankind has invented a variety of contraptions called fabrials, which use the power of gemstones to do many functions, from heating a room to turning stone into food.
Mythology – Countless stories and myths including The Almighty, his ten Heralds, evil Voidbringers, and the once majestic Knights Radiant who turned their back on mankind in their hour of need.
Geography and biology – The land of Roshar is constantly assaulted by disastrous storms that can rip people apart in an instant. As such, life has adapted. People live in small stone houses on the leeward side of large rock formations, plants such as blades of grass are able to retract themselves into the ground at the first sign of a threat, and animals are covered with large chitinous plates to protect them.
Nothing has been left out of Sanerdon’s world, and it is very satisfying to read about all of the little pieces that other authors tend to ignore.
Of course, the icing on the cake (as always) is Sandersons use of magic. In this novel, magic tends to be left to the myths and legends of Roshar. In fact, what magic the people do use is in the form of relics that have survived, namely powerful Blades and Plate armor that grants their owners superhuman strength and agility. All of these magical objects seem to feed off of Stormlight, a mysterious luminescence that is infused into gemstones whenever a storm passes. Unlike in Sanderson’s other novels, magic in Kings is mysterious even to those who wield it, so there is never a perfectly clear explanation of its workings. Indeed, I imagine a large portion of the series will be devoted to uncovering the secrets behind the magic of the land.
Being the first novel in a ten book series, Kings is meant mainly to introduce the main characters and the world that they live in. The pace is often slow and with a few exciting exceptions, not much actually happens in the book. This is understandable for a first book in a large series, but it can feel a bit tedious when that book is about 1000 pages long. Having said that, Kings is still a fun and exciting read, one just needs to have a good amount of “reading stamina” to get through it in one piece. Those that do finish it will be rewarded: the last few chapters in particular are like a punch in the stomach, and make you wish the novel was twice as long.
In all, The Way of Kings is a great start to what looks to be a lasting series. Due to the unique and detailed world that Sanderson paints, Kings comes highly recommended.
4 out of 5 magical swords!