Here we go, folks: The Way of Kings, at over 1000 pages, is the first volume of Brandon Sanderson's projected ten-book series, THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. At one book per year, we probably won't see the end of this series before 2020, especially given that Sanderson is first planning to finish up Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME. So, if you're looking for a new series to read, this one has some advantages and disadvantages: on the plus side, there will be a lot of reading material coming your way; on the other hand, it'll take quite some time for all of it to get here. Luckily, The Way of Kings is a very promising start to the series. Unlike what seems to be most of the fantasy audience, I haven't been a huge fan of all of Brandon Sanderson's work so far, but The Way of Kings is easily his best work to date.
The book has three main characters (Kaladin, Shallan and Dalinar) and a host of side characters, who occasionally also have chapters or "interludes" written from their point of view. The main story focuses on Kaladin, a surgeon's son forced to become a bridgeman -- a form of military slavery that involves carrying siege bridges in Alethkar's ongoing war with the Parshendi, who at the very start of the novel assassinate Alethkar's king. Dalinar is the late king's brother (and uncle of the current monarch), who along with nine other High Princes is running the war effort against the mysterious Parshendi. And finally, on the other end of the continent, there's Shallan, a young noble girl who wants to become the apprentice of Jasnah, a princess and famed scholar -- although Shallan's motives for seeking this position are not what they initially seem...
Of these characters, Kaladin is the most fascinating and well-rounded one. Brandon Sanderson does a fantastic job building up his history and explaining his motivations in a series of flashback chapters that gradually ratchet up the dramatic tension and turn Kaladin into his most memorable character to date. On the other hand, the witty, independent Shallan was a bit too recognizable: add color-changing hair and you could almost confuse her for one of the sisters in Warbreaker. The heroic Dalinar falls somewhere in the middle: he's the lone wolf warrior noble, the only High Prince to follow the ancient Alethi Codes of War, and someone you can admire -- while at the same time being able to predict what's going happen to him in the midst of nine other, less noble High Princes.
The book's blurbs inevitably point out that there's yet another main character, the world of Roshar -- but in this case, there's really something to this. It's hard not to be excited about a brand new fantasy universe at the start of such a long series. Brandon Sanderson performs a fine balancing act here, showing enough hints of the vast history and depth of this new world without revealing all of it. From the mysterious "prelude", showing events that happened 4,500 years before the start of the story, to the intriguing fauna and flora, to the nature and origin of the High Storms, to the question of what exactly a "spren" is... you'll end up with more questions than answers by the time you turn the final page, but you'll be intrigued and eager to read more. A testament to the quality of this book: it's rare for me to read a book that's more than 1000 pages long and still wish I could immediately read more.
Part of the reason for this is Brandon Sanderson's completely transparent prose. Some authors write prose you need to savor slowly -- Guy Gavriel Kay, Catherynne Valente, Janny Wurts. Their prose invites contemplation and appreciation of the rhythm, rhyme and sheer elegance of the words on the page. By contrast, Brandon Sanderson's prose has very little artifice to it: it just exists to tell the story. It's plain as can be, doesn't draw any attention to itself, and rarely if ever stands in the way of the story. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate how difficult it is to write a novel in such a way that you sometimes completely forget that you are, in fact, reading. Sanderson's prose never stands in the way of the reader's complete immersion. As someone who is usually very aware of what I'm reading and how many pages I've read, I often was surprised to look up and realize that I'd just read 30 or 40 pages without even being aware that I'd been reading. There's a real art to writing a compulsive page-turner like this, and Sanderson, who teaches Creative Writing at BYU, is becoming an expert at it.
Not that The Way of Kings doesn't suffer from some of the same flaws as Sanderson's other works. Characters are often still a bit one-dimensional, and some of the plot devices the author uses are too predictable and transparent. The start of the novel, describing the assassination of the Alethi king, reminded me strongly of some of the action scenes in the MISTBORN novels, with the assassin using his magic to perform gravity-defying stunts, but fortunately the rest of the novel doesn't read like a video game's magic system turned into a story. It's also written more tightly and with less filler (which, again, comes as a surprise given the length of the book). The end is filled with rousing heroism and a moving, truly exciting climax, but after the Big Final Battle, there are a few big revelations crammed in a few short pages, and while those were fascinating and definitely sparked my interest to read more of the series, they also felt a bit rushed and anti-climactic. Still, The Way of Kings is, in almost every way, a better book than anything Brandon Sanderson has produced so far, and if the rest of THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE keeps up this level of quality, we may end up looking back on the MISTBORN trilogy as an early practice run leading up to a work with better balance, better writing, and a much larger scope.
Finally, The Way of Kings is also a lovely book in terms of artwork. From the stunning cover illustration by Michael Whelan to the interior artwork, this book simply does everything right. Every few chapters, you'll find a full page of artwork, e.g. some pages from Shallan's sketch book showing Roshar's native animals and plants, or an illustrated page from the Alethi Codes of War. These aren't just beautifully done, but also relevant to the story. I've never really seen an epic fantasy integrate art into the novel in quite this way.
The Way of Kings is an excellent start to a promising series that's sure to dominate sales charts and bookstore shelves for many years to come. If you're already a Brandon Sanderson fan, this book will blow you away -- and if you're new to the author, you now can get started with the author's finest work to date.
on July 10, 2012
I felt when putting a title on this review that the final words of "The Lord of the Rings" would be somewhat appropriate. I, like Samwise the Brave, have returned from a great journey.
That journey lies within the pages of Brandon Sanderson's novel, "The Way of Kings".
There are a couple bottom lines I'd like to make clear before I discuss this book in more depth, and I'll go ahead and set them up here to prevent anyone from unnecessarily spending their valuable time.
1. "The Way of Kings" is the best book I've read in a while. 9.5/10 on my scale.
2. I've noticed a lot of reviews draw comparisons between "Kings" and Robert Jordan's "The Eye of the World" / "The Wheel of Time" series. This got me thinking - it's probably good that I make clear what I think of the three prevalent fantasy-series touchstones before I discuss this book so whoever reads this knows how my mind works. This reader loved "A Game of Thrones" as well as the subsequent series, but found books 4 and 5 quite tedious. My reactions to Robert Jordan's WoT series are lukewarm at best - I found "The Eye of the World" to be derivative, predictable, and a lot of the time very poorly written. This being said, yes, I enjoyed it for what it was. I loved "The Lord of the Rings," but have clearer and fonder memories of "The Hobbit".
3. Books like "Dune" tax my patience. Heavily.
4. I hate reviews with spoilers. Be at peace, wary reader. Here, there be no dragons.
5. This book is over 1200 pages long. I've spent about three weeks reading it. This review is going to be long as well, and arguably nowhere near as well written.
6. Did I mention that I didn't like "Dune"?
Now that we've gotten the introductions out of the way, on to "The Way of Kings" itself. I'll go ahead and call it TWOK from here on out. It sounds cool and it's easier to type. So. Here we go.
ATMOSPHERE: As I think I already made clear, this book absolutely blew me away. Carried me away might be a better phrase, actually, or transported me Elsewhere with a capital E. It did everything I want a fantasy book to do - took me out of my world and introduced me to one so fantastic, so alien, so unforgettable and yet so believable that I found myself thinking about it...well, all the time. I would describe the world in detail, but so many other reviews have beaten me to it I'll skip that and relegate myself to saying this - imagine an ocean floor without the ocean. I think someone may have actually already written that. Well done, anonymous person. You hit it right on the head.
There are more mysteries in this world than there are answers, and whenever one question is answered another four sprout up in its place. The nature of the highstorms (and their somewhat ominous sounding "Origin") was of particular note to me, not to mention the nature of "spren," the strange spirits that accompany basically everything in the world. If I were to pick a character to fall in with, I'd roger up with Axies the Collector, a side character from one of the Interludes who I sincerely wish Sanderson would make into an entire storyline. When you find yourself fascinated by the daily life of characters that have no bearing whatsoever on the overall storyline, you know the author has done something right with their Worldbuilding. This, actually, brings me right into my next point of review.
CHARACTERS: The book focuses on four main characters, or maybe it would be more accurate to say three and a half. Kaladin, Dalinar and Shallan account for the majority of the book, and though he appears far less frequently, Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar (Yes, that's his name) accounts for what remains. There are a smattering of side characters, some utterly forgettable and others utterly unforgettable (Axies the Collector, for instance, who travels the world studying spren) and they form the interludes between parts. In the end, you'll care about some more than others. Fortunately, Sanderson did this on purpose. The result is that when one chapter ends, you're angry because you don't want to leave their storyline. And then you finish the next chapter, and feel the same way. And so on and so forth. It's similar to what Martin did with his Song of Ice and Fire series, except without the Sansa chapters.
I noticed that one of the chief complaints about this book was that it has a lack of gray characters. This fascinates me, because gray characters tend to grate on me after a while. Again, I'll go ahead and reference that Other (pun intended) epic fantasy series, "A Song of Ice and Fire," for a reference point here. I love it when characters surprise me. I don't like it when there aren't really any heroes I feel like I can root for. George Martin, I'm talking to you here. But I digress. Are the characters in TWOK relatively one dimensional? I suppose maybe they are.
There are others who suggest the characters found in this book are largely derivative. I disagree, except to say that they are very typical heroes. I think I like that, though. I like that Sanderson has heroes who are capable of heroic things. Who else would a fantasy writer choose to follow? The uneventful people? Would that be like Holden Caulfield goes to Middle Earth? I don't know. Maybe it could work. The point is that Sanderson has characters I can get behind, characters I can fall in love with, who I can fear for (I'm thinking of one character in particular here) and who when they are in genuine danger I can start gnawing my fingernails. I thought the characters in this were great, for what they were. And let's be honest here. The last 75 pages have more twists and character revelations packed into them than the other 1125 pages combined. This brings me around to the next part of my thoughts.
PLOT, PROSE AND PROGRESS: One of the chief complaints about "The Way of Kings" is that nothing much happens in it. I blame this sentiment (and yes, I use the word blame because I think this is a shortcoming of us as readers) on the fact that we live in a largely instant society. We want everything NOW. Take, for instance, the adoration a lot of people have for "The Eye of the World". Things start happening pretty fast in that book and they don't really let up. For a reader like me, that's boring. TWOK is more about setting up a storyline. It's a 1200 page introduction to a 10 book mega-epic that demands an enormous setup. It's the kind of book that has a prelude and a prologue, lots of interludes and lots of parts.
This being said, I never once felt like the book was lacking in action. There are battles galore, intrigues, mysteries, romances and failures. There's a real sense of wonder and mystery in this world - its inhabitants are as baffled by it as we are as readers. This comforts me. I liked that I didn't feel stupid reading this book. A lot of the time, I was sitting there going "Wait, what's this now?" only to discover a character a few pages later going "So wait...what was that, then?" Sanderson is trying something interesting here, introducing a world where characters don't know what's happening. Unlike most other books, which have the standard Wise Old Person to tell them exactly what is happening, this book doesn't have one (yet). The characters, readers and story wander around in the dark with a candle, looking for something while hearing frightening sounds coming from the shadows. The Alethi Kingdom is at war, and yet everyone has a strange sense of creeping dread that we the readers are infected by. We know SOMETHING is coming - we just don't know what. Something called the Night of Sorrows. The True Desolation. What that means and who its bringing, we never do quite figure, but it sure doesn't sound like they're bringing sweeties.
Brandon Sanderson has a strange way of writing. I say this fondly. His prose is never astonishing. When I read George Martin, for example, I usually come across a paragraph/line or two that I savor in my mouth for a bit before carrying on. Patrick Rothfuss does this too, and so does R. Scott Bakker. There are always those zingers that I text to my friends, often annoying them with my enthusiasm. Sanderson has none of that. His paragraphs are simple, his words elemental. He sets out to tell us a story, not wow us with his language. I'm wowed anyway. Prose this transparent, this clear, this unpolluted and convincing...it's a gift. In other words, his writing is deceptively intelligent. I was in awe for reasons I've never really been in awe before. In fact, when someone asked me for a good quote from the book, I was genuinely stumped. The book itself is a quote. It cannot be separated from itself.
OTHER FACTORS: One of the things that impressed me most about this book was the storyline of Kaladin. Kaladin himself may be your run of the mill hero (the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emp - oh, wait, wrong movie, I mean book, I mean - aw phooey...) but he's approached differently than I've ever seen a character like this approached in fantasy. Here, Kaladin earns his place as a leader by a painstaking process which unfolds over literally hundreds of pages. Leadership isn't a microwave meal, and neither is Kaladin's story. His struggles, his dilemmas, his obstacles and solutions are all strikingly realistic. As a current United States Marine, I found myself thinking a lot about some of the people I serve with while I read this. The portrayal of what it means to be a leader that Sanderson has created here is uncannily accurate, and really gives some good guidance on what it means to be a better leader. This, needless to say, is quite impressive.
I noticed some complaints that the women have hardly any role in this book. This is true. Only one of the three main characters is female, and she only has one of the biggest character twists in the story. (If you haven't caught the sarcasm dripping from my words, here's your cue to chuckle.) Look, I'm not going to deny that the women in this book are pretty much the same spunky independent females you get in most fantasy books, but I think that can boil down the fact that it's surprisingly difficult to write a female character everyone can get behind. The closest thing I can think of off the back of my hand is probably Katniss from the recent "Hunger Games" trilogy, and even she had her nay-sayers. Plus, she was written by a woman, which definitely helps. This is a story about war, and the women in it are certainly subject to a patriarchal society. I for one have a hunch they will play a bigger role later on in the series (in fact, the twist I mentioned in Shallan's storyline basically assures this).
Magic is used in a way unlike anything I've really seen before. Rather than dying out in the world of Roshar, it's coming back, and no one really knows what it is or how to handle it. The result is exhilarating - magic feels mysterious, dangerous and intriguing. Exactly the way magic should feel, in my opinion - unless its in "Harry Potter". For example, in TWOK, gems hold stormlight in them which is used to power magical armor called Shardplate or to light a street. Different colored gems means multicolored lanterns. As a result, streets at night turn into little disco parlors. This is just one of the many ways Sanderson uses magic in this world.
Most importantly, I think, is the sense of wholeness that Sanderson's world has here. The amount of detail with which he can see the imaginary is nothing less than astonishing. The book comes with a copious amount of artwork inside it, which adds to the story in a way I've never seen used before. The art is beautiful and masterfully done, to the point that I want to buy the hardcover edition of this book just so I can have larger copies of it.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Not much. I mean that honestly. I noticed one of the chief complaints amongst readers was that the book was too long. This made me chuckle a little bit. It reminded me of when I went to see "The Return of the King" in theaters, knowing full well that the film was going to run over three hours, and yet my friends still complained about how long it was. Friends and fellow readers. Please, for the love of everything that is holy, don't pick up a book that is 1200+ pages and then complain that it is long. Yes, it is very long. It was intended to be. It's a comprehensive, detailed look at a magical world. Not every moment is going to be spent in swashbuckling glory. There are going to be times when characters need to sit around campfires discussing the strange natures of markings on other character's chests. This book didn't come out of a microwave. Someone sat down and wrote out 1200 pages of great material that culminated in a great book with a distinct beginning, middle and end. I dare you to try the same.
Are there some parts of the story where the language gets carried away with itself? Sure. As long as I'm being honest, I actually had to put down the book a couple times to rub my eyes when a couple of the characters had incredibly emo moments. I also had to put a belt between my teeth early on to avoid breaking all my molars at the shockingly immature use of the word "storm" as a swear word. It's funny - the story addresses mature themes such as suicide, murder, rape, the controversy of religion - and yet when it comes to swearing, characters say things like "Storm you!" or even "Storm off!" I think my favorite was "Storm off!". I wondered the first time I read that if I had made a terrible mistake.
Are there slow parts? You bet. There were a few slow parts in a couple other books that come to mind, such as "War and Peace," "Anna Karenina," "The Brothers Karamazov," even "East of Eden". "But Sanderson is neither Russian nor a Depression era Californian!" some people cry. Sure. He's not. He's a 21st Century American writer who wanted to tell a story about a war and a whole lot more than that. A few slow parts in a 1200 page book really isn't that bad. If you are looking for instant gratification, STAY AWAY FROM THIS BOOK. If you're looking for a world to roll around in and delight in, please, buy it and encourage this man to write more. I honestly don't know what I'm going to be doing for the next year.
Last but not least, the real subject matter of the book - namely a couple of the twists towards book's end - made me hesitate. Understand now that this book has a very serious undertone to it, and when it hits you what this series is really about, you'll know. I can think of another fantasy trilogy which addresses themes Sanderson brings up late in this book, but I'm willing to operate on a little faith here. (For those who have read the book, you'll get the pun there.) The twists are great. A couple of them I genuinely didn't see coming, and they blew me clean off my rocker. One was underwhelming. One was genuinely bewildering. So it goes.
In the end, I can't recommend this book enough. It's got great - albeit one dimensional - characters, an utterly original storyline with just enough of the familiar fantasy trope to make us feel at home in our own genre. The world it introduces to us is breathtaking, one which we will have no problem whatsoever spending 10 books frolicking in. The questions it raises at books end are tantalizing, not to mention dangerous. It is very well written, and the best thing I've read since I first met the Others north of the Wall over two years ago, shivering in the snow.
Bravo, Mr. Sanderson. Bravo.
**EDIT: Upon re-reading "The Way of Kings" in preparation for "Words of Radiance," I feel confident in its original score. I will keep a tally of the overall series here as it comes out, as well.**
Book 1: The Way of Kings - 9.5/10
Book 2: Words of Radiance - 8.8/10, Excellent but unfulfilled due to pacing issues. My full review can be found here on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/review/R2GY81SK3HT0F/ref=cm_srch_res_rtr_alt_1
on September 1, 2010
I had the opportunity to read an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of a book a lot of people out there probably want to get their hands on, and I thought, "Hey! Here's a chance to review something in a timely fashion." So I read through all 1000 pages of said book, and I'm here today to review it for you. Aren't you lucky?
What is it?
It's the first book in a planned ten (count 'em, ten) book epic fantasy by Brandon Sanderson, fantasy author extraordinaire. He's well known for his Mistborn series, and much better known for being that guy who's finishing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. (The next book's out in November, folks! Excited much?) This isn't just any ol' epic fantasy series, either. The back of the ARC says "What Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time has been to the fantasy genre for the last two decades, The Stormlight Archives (the name of the series) will be to the next." And while Sanderson persuaded Tor to keep that wording off the final, published book, any which way you look at it, the gauntlet was thrown. Sure, some of it could be an attempt at hype, but the thing about hype is that sooner or later, you can evaluate for yourself whether it's earned or not.
I'm here to tell you that in this case, the hype is earned.
I still vividly remember seeing Jordan's Eye of the World on the shelf at the library for the first time. I was at an age where I was choosing what to read based on book thickness alone. If it was really long and heavy, and it had something remotely related to fantasy on the cover, I checked it out and read it, usually three of those a week. Jordan's book stood head and shoulders above the other stuff I was reading. It was long, but fast paced. It had fantastic characters, and even though it was the first book in a series, it had a distinct beginning, middle and end. It was a series started with an entirety in mind, and it's gone on to be the most successful fantasy series in the past two decades. It's been mimicked many times in many different ways. It redefined the genre.
For The Way of Kings to do that, it was going to have to break new ground--not just traipse along in the wake of other books. That's just what it did.
The book tells three separate stories. There's Dalinar and his son Adolin, two nobles embroiled in a six-year old war. There's Shallan, a young woman who's doing her best to save her family from ruin. There's Kaladin, the one-time war hero and current slave, battling inner demons. These are roles we've seen before in fantasy, yes, but Sanderson breathes new life into them. They're full-fleshed characters, each very well done. My personal favorite was Kaladin, and it's his storyline that takes the bulk of the book. I'd delve into more of the plot, but I read it spoiler-free, and I'd like to give you the chance to get to know it that way, too.
For me, what really made this book stand out from the crowd was the world-building. Most fantasies these days share fairly similar settings. Yes, they each of some funky animals and strange demons or mythical beasts, but the technology level's usually about the same (fairly primitive), the cities all feel like they're out of medieval Europe, and the various climates are all very Earth-based.
Sanderson's world feels more like something from a science-fiction book. It's a world ravaged by regular super-storms. Storms so strong they can pick up boulders and hurl them through the air. Storms that have had a huge effect on the ecosystem of the planet. For example, they have something they refer to as grass, but it's far different from the green stuff we know. This grass is more of a living creature, able to suck itself into the ground when danger appears, then emerge again once it's gone. And that's just one example. The animals are also almost wholly different and alien: more like land-crustaceans than mammals. It's hard to describe this just right, but it feels very natural in the book. Sanderson came up with a unique, new world, and it plays a very big role in the story.
Technology plays a role in the setting, as well. The world has scientists devoting themselves to the study of magic, putting it to new uses that have a very steam-punk feel. These people don't view themselves as primitives: they look at their lives in much the same way we do, feeling like they're living at the best of times, where technology has developed far enough to make their lives easier and give them hope for continual new developments in the future.
Another way the book stands out is in its art work. Full color maps appear in the front and end flap, each chapter gets its own illustration (similar to the beginning illustrations that start each chapter in The Wheel of Time). More fully drawn maps dot the text itself, accompanied by pages of illustrations of the various creatures and items that appear in the book. No expense was spared on the development of this novel, and it shows. You get more than your money's worth from this one. Three separate interior artists in addition to the cover artist. When's the last time you saw that in an epic fantasy? Have you ever? I haven't.
Was there anything I didn't like? Well, as the first book of a ten book series, it doesn't exactly hurl you into the full climax right off, but that's to be expected. The book has plenty of action and plot turns, but at the end of the day, it's still the first step in a long journey. It has a lot of promise for things to come, but it pays you in full upfront, too. Does that make sense? Better yet, the book's written by a man who's proven he can keep up the pace of a huge epic. Sanderson is a prolific writer. He churns out words like a machine, and he's devoted to his craft. He has a very transparent writing process, willing to communicate with his fans extensively through his Facebook and Twitter accounts and his blog. I'm not worried that we'll go through three or four (or five!) year droughts between books with him. He's not just a fantasy author, he's a fan, and he knows how frustrating that can get. So while I approach many fantasy books with caution (10 books? Really?) I don't feel that way about this one.
My only other frustration came from something typical to epic fantasy: with three separate stories to tell, I'd have to leave one plot and go to another after each chapter. Of course, I think it's a great sign when I'm upset the chapter ends--each time. There wasn't a plot line that I didn't look forward to reading. I'd get into one, then be disappointed when it ended and a new one started, but I was disappointed again when that new one ended and I got back to the old one.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can give the book is that I spent most of my Saturday reading it. I think I blazed through the last 750 pages in a day, and it's been years since I read that much that fast. In fact, the last time I remember doing it was with Robert Jordan.
on August 31, 2010
Brandon Sanderson fills me with awe. He's so prolific, so inventive, so exactly what I want to read. I was lucky enough to receive an advance reading copy of The Way of Kings, and from the very beginning I was completely enthralled by this new world he's created. It's gritty, realistic, thought-provoking, completely unique, and fascinating. I enjoyed reading every single character's viewpoint, and that's a rare thing; usually in books of this length, there are the necessary but somewhat boring chapters woven cleverly in with the exciting ones to keep you reading. This wasn't at all the case with The Way of Kings; every character was one I was eager to spend more time with. Also rare, Sanderson managed to completely stun with a twist near the very end - one of those perfect twists that are so logical and fit so perfectly into the story that you wonder why you never saw it coming. I love that kind of storytelling, and if you can't tell, I loved this book. It's going to the very top of my "Best Books of 2010" list.
This is a must-read, folks.
on September 5, 2010
By far my favorite Sanderson work has been Mistborn, though Stormlight Archive will probably come to supplant it. I'm now on my second read-through, having been so captivated by the book that I read it very quickly the first time. It is far too complex, however, to pick up all the details of character, plot, and world when you read it that fast. (There are also clues that you won't recognize as clues until the end of the book!) I find that I'm enjoying it as much, if not more the second time.
As with Mistborn, Sanderson does an excellent job writing powerful, relevant women who lack some of the more annoying traits other fantasy writers mistake for strong female qualities. (Though I sympathize with other reviewers' complaints about his reliance on "wittiness.") It will be interesting to see how some of these characters' storylines become entangled in later volumes. ( Sanderson resists the temptation to start off with a group of heroes that is later separated, reunited, separated, etc.)
By the end of the first book, Sanderson has given the reader a sense of where the series is going and what the stakes are. Anyone who has read Mistborn knows, though, that these expectations will likely be thwarted. (This is part of the fun of reading Sanderson.) Sanderson has a clear understanding of the conventions of the genre he is writing in. At times, he'll embrace them, at other times, he'll subvert or put his own spin on them, though never gratuitously. In the same way The Wheel of Time dominated my 20's (yes, I started late), Stormlight Archive will dominate my 30's. Eagerly awaiting the next installment.
on September 23, 2010
I read a lot. I have dabbled into virtually all of the best in the fantasy genre. After reading so many series and authors, I consider myself a very jaded reader. Its hard to surprise me, I try not to be overly critical. I don't like toxic people that are difficult to please, but I know good work when I see it. I went into reading Way of Kings with Brandon's own words in mind. He told me himself that he was excited for this new series. It was going to be big.
It is. Its epic. And that's a good thing. Without spoiling anything. I can say it is well thought out, well written and it makes me care, which is important. I want to find out what happens to these characters, although I admit it was hard to care about Shallan at first. There is plenty of heroism, it comes close to being over the top, but not quite, leaving me shocked and excited. I even cared about the assassin. This is epic, its a really good story. Its also only the beginning of Brandon's series.
This is not without its flaws, sometimes I felt the characters sounded a little unrealistic and somewhat cliche at times, the story almost predictable, though there were twists that I wasn't expecting. I think Brandon needs to flesh out his characters and story more, but wow its good! If there is nothing else you get from reading this review... This book is good and the ending is well worth it, even if it may be a long series by the time its done. Its probably Brandon's best so far. Its epic.
on October 30, 2010
I've read the Mistborn books, Elantris and Warbreaker. I've also read the one released Wheel of Time book authored by Brandon Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson excels at clever and rational magic systems, complex world building and writing many words without being repetitive or seeming like he's being paid by the word. He also did an amazing thing with the Wheel of Time in that he told a great story and still managed to cut out the excessive ramblings favored by Robert Jordan and RJ's second rate editor.
The only issue with Brandon Sanderson is that I sometimes find his conversation awkward and his characters a little less than three-dimensional. Warbreaker especially was a little wooden in delivery, it seemed to me (although I thought the Warbreaker plot was fantastic). So I went into the Way of Kings with some trepidation, but knowing that I'd probably like it regardless. Unlike many, I had no feel for length or size of the book as I bought an ebook. I knew it was long as I'd read in his blog about how it would be epic in size and length. It sounds like I made a good decision and that, when it comes out in paperback, no normal book glue will hold it together.
The book started out slow. I didn't care for Shallan at first. However, her development was interesting and I found myself interested despite her slightly difficult-to-believe motivations. Kaladin also felt somewhat contrived at the beginning. I made headway slowly. I liked Szethe, despite his silly name. I also found the Adolin/Dalinar characters difficult at first. Everyone felt a little contrived. I say this because I want you to know that the book gets better. The characters do grow over time and become more interesting. I suspect that my re-read when the next book comes out will show me liking the characters a lot more because I already know them.
The world building is complex and interesting. The evolution of the natural world, in reaction to the strong elemental storms is fascinating and I love that he comes up with this stuff. Politically I was lost for some of the book. Light eyes and dark eyes were ok, but there were some shifts between cities and people that I wasn't always following. It did all come together in the end though. Again, a re-read will probably bring me much satisfaction.
The hints of history revealed throughout the book offer increased depth. I can see that this story will be long in the telling. Some of the plot reveals at the end were unexpected (although I don't tend to over-analyze until after a book is finished)and made me excited for the next book. The ending of Kaladin and Shallan's plot lines were interesting, satisfying and even a little heartwarming. I found myself liking just about everyone at the end. I admit to a preference for Dalinar which probably means he's going to die horribly in a book or two, knowing my luck. I also liked Jasnah quite a bit. Adolin might grow on me with time. We'll see. He has potential.
A few awkward moments that were really jarring for me: at two different points in the book, two different characters used the word, "Wow!" I'm not a fan of modern slang in my fantasy novels and it took me a while to get over it. There were a few different slangy spots in the book. Those spots, along with Shallan's iffy plot motivations and some wooden characterizations at first are what contributed to my 3-star rating. However, I went into the book with expectations very similar to what I found and was in no way disappointed by The Way of Kings. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to someone who likes dense books with complex world building and political situations, as long as they were willing to commit for the long haul as we wait each year for a book to come out.
It's very likely that this series of books could progress to a 4 or 5-star rating in my overall repertoire. See my profile for how I rate books. A 3 is very good and I'd go so far as to call it a 3.5.
The Way of Kings is the first in a multi-volume Fantasy Epic from New York Times best-selling author Brandon Sanderson, now known best as the author chosen to finish out one of the most beloved series known to modern Fantasy, namely The Wheel of Time. However intimidating it must have been for Sanderson to take over WoT, he knowing only committed himself to two or three volumes, but with The Way of Kings he has already stated it will be at least ten volumes. Is this the first case of an author ever realizing from the start how long it may take to tell a story properly? If so Sanderson is in a class all of his own making.
Sanderson has given his fans exactly what they wanted: a book filled with a new magic system, a wondrous and violent world, and characters you'll grow to cherish like old friends. I managed to finish The Way of Kings over a few long days staying up well past midnight more than one night because it was that captivating. Sanderson clearly has been thinking about this world and its races for some time and his love of them shines through to the reader.
The Way of Kings is sprawling in every way that is good and epic to its utmost. The world-building is immense to say the least, but Sanderson smartly decides to focus on the characters while still slipping in facts about the world, history, and the cultures. At a few points the narrative turns into an info dump, but that feels like what is needed to flesh things out a bit more as the desire for more knowledge of this world and its deep mythology infects you.
War between the Alethi and Parshendi has been on-going after the Parshhendi killed the Alethi King Galivar. The two sides have been fighting daily to a stalemate for many years on the Shattered Plains, which is one of the most fractious battlefields found in Fantasy. The very land has been split like a puzzle with deep chasms separating one plateau from the next. In order to move troops from one plateau to the next movable bridges are needed. The swiftest bridges are carried by slaves known as bridgemen.
The Way of Kings is about the truth and how it becomes legend, which changes and gets reinterpreted with time. Heroes become heretics, the lawless become laws givers, and once great places become shattered. The world is known as Roshar, which suffers highstorms that are so violent and frequent that the very ground is eroded away and life on the planet has evolved to survive. Think land creatures that have shells and plants that close up. The flora and fauna were at first very difficult to picture, but some art strewn through the book helps visualization. These highstorms also somehow distribute energy known as Stormlight that is involved in the magic of the land, which I found to be a great concept.
The story is told from 4 main character points of view, well, really 3 and the son of another from time-to-time. There are also a couple sections known as "interludes" told from characters not involved in the main action. The inclusion of these sections puzzles me a little, but Sanderson is likely laying the groundwork for the introduction of characters in future volumes to tell the story from more points of view as the telling grows and action varies from region to region.
The two most prevalent characters are Kaladin and Dalinar. Kaladin is a fearsome warrior whose luck ran out after he pushed it a few too many times. His story splits between present day and flashbacks all the way to his childhood leading up to his fall from grace and eventual slave life as a bridgeman in the Shattered Plains. The divergent storylines never appear unnecessary, but Kaladin's back-story does go on too much. Sanderson hammers home just how much Kaladin suffers and what brought him to his bridgeman status, but does so to a degree I found a bit repetitive. Two or three flashbacks could have been eliminated and still had the same effect. Also, one flashback that was built over the course of half the book, which seemed to shape Kaladin so much from his early warrior years felt underwhelming when finally revealed. Kaladin's present story were the sections I most look forward to as his abilities shine even when covered in dirt and we get to see a broken man become whole again.
Dalinar a High Price of Alethkar is Uncle to the current King of the realm after his brother Gavliar was murdered. Much of what Dalinar does is driven by his need to do what is right, which is not always seen as what is best for him politically. Because of this he comes off a bit flat, but his action sequences were some of the most edge grabbing parts. Dalinar's scenes of prophetic/ecstatic visions don't make much sense at first, but when the last two comes they are humdingers. Dalinar is a Shardbearer like his son Adolin(another point of view at times). Both wear Shardplate and have a Shard blade, which are incredibly durable and enhance the wearer's strength and stamina and therefore make them the most formidable warriors around. (And yes all the capitalization do get tiresome after awhile.) The Shards are a relic from a time now gone into myth and are coveted by all. At first it seemed like the Shards were very rare, but as more pop-up their lustre is somewhat dimmed yet when they get involved in a melee things pick-up. There are promises of even great power and magic coming back into the land.
Shallan is the third main view and her storyline while the most sedate in comparison to the battle laden Kaladin and Dalnar was also the most intriguing and played out very much like a spy thriller. Her story takes place away from the Shattered Plains, but does involve some overall intrgue that will propel the series forward. She is trying to save her family by becoming an apprentice to Jasnah the sister to the King, but she clearly had a lot happen to her in the past most of which is only alluded to. Shallan grows so much in the pages that she became the character I wish I could speed ahead in the series in order to find out what is in store for her in the next volume as she will be in the thick of the march soon enough.
At more than 1,000 pages The Way of Kings does come off as slightly bloated, but keep in mind there are around 30 pages full of art as Tor spared no expense in bringing us a book that nearly rivals a Subterranean Press edition. Plus, The Way of Kings has a surprisingly complete narrative as both the characters and storyline move forward. There were some expected coming together of characters in the end, but they were all ones I had been hoping for. The aspect of the spirit-like spren seem mostly window dressing that didn't add much to the story at this point except for one very odd one. There were too many types of spren that kept popping up in nearly every chapter to the point they lost their allure for me. Deathspren, windspren, painspren, rotspren, joyspren, etc. Maybe they'll turn out to be more in later volumes. But all flaws are minor quibbles and hardly detracted from the enjoyment factor.
Is it Dune as the back cover of the galley suggests? Well, no. And that's an unfair comparison to make. Was Dune as revered when it first came out? Or The Wheel of Time? No. They earned their place after years, if not decades, of growing fandom and buildings of their worlds. But Sanderson has laid the groundwork for a series that has the propensity to be up there with the other giants if he can develop what he has begun into something just as memorable. The Way of Kings contains characters who you'll miss when their section ends and a setting that begs to be explored. The Stormlight Archive series could quite possibly be up there with Jordan, Eddings, and dare I say Tolkien when all is said and done. This is without a doubt the most epic Fantasy novel of the year and should not be missed by any fans of the genre.
I've only scratched the surface with this review as there is plenty of political backstabbing, great battles, secret organizations, details on the magic system, and intrigue happening as well. As a whole we only get an inkling of what this series has in store for us, but it is more than enough to leave me satisfied. Sanderson is at the top of his game and on to something with this world known as Roshar, which however inhospitable is a place I hope to return to over many, many years to grow alongside the characters. I give The Way of Kings 9 out of 10 hats. Also, be sure to re-read the prologue about a third of the way through. It will make much more sense and help things click into place a bit better. The follow-up to The Way of Kings will most likely not be out until at least 2012 as Sanderson has pledged to finish the last WoT book before beginning work, which I can't fault him for wanting to do. Why haven't we just figured out how to clone this guy yet?
on November 19, 2012
Sanderson has done a great job writing a thousand page book where hardly anything happens. Having bad things happen to a hero, and having him recover makes for a good book. Sanderson, on the other hand, decides to drag out the low point of the heroes life for some 600+ something pages of the hero being shit on while his situation doesn't really change despite the pages dragging on. Meanwhile there are a lot of fragmented flashbacks that should have never been split to so many pieces. This book would have been much more tolerable had it been condensed to 500 pages, instead of having it stagnate for a 1000.
on August 31, 2010
We just posted this review over at Elitist Book Reviews. Go check out our other reviews!
From the very beginning you know THE WAY OF KINGS is a novel by Brandon Sanderson--you would know it even if his name wasn't imposed over a Michael Whelan cover. Sanderson has made a name for himself through his imaginative magic systems, and TWoK is no different.
He starts with the pacing set at a sprint. Following a series prelude (yeah, there is a prelude, then a prologue), we are put right into the action of things with a mysterious assassin, Szeth. Right from the onset of the novel we get hints of political intrigue, and of shadowy organizations pulling strings like puppeteers. What it seems to us is that Brandon is trying to start faster than his previous novels. His habit has been the slow burn in pacing followed by an explosion of craziness. Not so much here. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Really it will depend on your personal taste.
Ah but we get ahead of ourselves.
TWoK is a hard book to summarize. The worlds that Brandon creates are always well envisioned. Effort is made to make them stand-out. That said, there is usually a bit of familiar in them. The best way to describe the world in TWoK is to say it feels like a rich sea floor...but without the sea. Huge storms ravage the surface of the world of Roshar regularly, and that surface has adapted to them. Plants and animals retreat into hardened shells for protection. Cities themselves are built only where there is a measure of safety. There is a very alien feel to it all, and for the most part, Brandon makes it vivid and easy to visualize. It also helps that there are some seriously incredible sketches of the various creatures of the world come to life. We love interior art work.
As for the plot itself, we'll give you the basics without spoiling the details. War. Lots of wars and battles that are treated almost as competitions, and an excuse for personal gain. For greed. It becomes quickly apparent the level of stagnation that pervades the armies through these motivations. Brandon does seem torn throughout the course of the novel. At times the story is purely setting based, and yet at others it focuses exclusively on the characters. A smoother blend may have been nice, but really this is just a quibble.
Characters. We know Brandon, and we know how much effort he puts into making characters unique and likable. While not quite as good as his MISTBORN trilogy (yet), the characters in TWoK are pretty solid. Kaladin is a promising general on the rise who ends up a slave. Dalinar is a commander of one of the various armies fighting for honor and riches, but he has begin questioning the motivation behind it all while suffering vivid dream-visions of the past. Shallan is an artist whose goal is the theft of a priceless magical conduit. All-in-all, they are great characters. Except...
Look, we like shades of gray. There is none of that with the main characters. They are all good guys, regardless of some of their misleading attitudes and actions. We just wish there were less black-and-white characters in his novels. This isn't really a major criticism, just more of an observation. Brandon's characters in TWoK tend to go pretty emo as well (if we are honest, it caused some facepalm moments). Either that, or they are tough as nails. There isn't a lot of in-between. Most people won't have issue with this, but we felt we should bring it up. We ARE honest after all. It's our third best quality.
As we mentioned earlier, the pacing starts out at full-speed. It serves its purpose in hooking the reader--and it does that extremely well. Things are crazy early on. We get assassinations, epic battles, solitary heroic feats, dramatic failures, terrifying situations and awesome magic. We get all of this FAST. There is a full book's worth of awesomeness in the first third of the novel (which we guess is the actual size of a normal novel...TWoK is a 1000+ page behemoth). The issue with this? The middle third of the novel. When you start the novel with a peak, and end it with one as well, there is bound to be a valley in the middle. That middle 400 pages, while extremely interesting, can drag for less-than-patient readers...especially when that first part is so fast and breathtaking.
As we mentioned, this is the first book in a series. A BIG series. Ten books big. As a result, there is a lot of set-up here. It is done as well as can be, but it is very noticeable that we are embarking on a long, long trip. Our personal hope? That it is broken up a bit like Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series. What we mean is that the first few books become effectively a trilogy or quadrilogy. Then two more sets of three. Reading a straight ten book series feels daunting. Not knowing the end until at least 2020? Yikes! Again, just being honest.
We don't want to make it seem like we are bashing TWoK. We aren't. These issues are pretty small-time, and won't matter a bit to the very large majority. So we'll end with what we DO like. We love the learning curve. This has a much steeper one than any of Sanderson's prior novels. We like authors in the fantasy genre to challenge us, and to make us think for ourselves. Now this isn't quite at the Erikson Learning Curve level, but it is still fairly high. We can't stress how happy we are that Brandon is doing this. We've been begging him since ELANTRIS was released to go this route.
TWoK is also better than his previous novel, WARBREAKER. The writing is better, the story is better, and the characters are better. In our opinions, of course. Which are fact. Really, we liked this better than ELANTRIS too. TWoK is right there with his Mistborn Trilogy. We haven't read a Brandon Sanderson novel we didn't like (a trend unlikely to change over the next decade or two), and the Mistborn trilogy is high on our list of GREAT books. So when we say TWoK is almost (juuuuuuuust below really) as good as MISTBORN, it is a compliment. High praise indeed. And this was just the first book. This series has a HUGE amount of potential. This could very well turn into one of our favorite fantasy series ever by the time it finishes.
Brandon's chapter leads, though always great, are freaking awesome in TWoK. Once you get to the end of the novel, suddenly they take on a whole different meaning. This is how chapter leads should be done. We're not sure where they have been done better. Ever.
We love the clarity of the action sequences. The Bridge Crew scenes (especially the first few) are gripping, chaotic, and terrifying. The Shardblade duels and battles are artistic and flashy. Everything truly has its own unique flavor. While the very end seems like it is a little less than it could have been, the final section of the book (originally conceived as a series of epilogues, but now its own section in the novel) is fantastic. It really is a moment where, as the reader, you say, "Oh crap. Everyone is soooooooo screwed!" Love it.
THE WAY OF KINGS, Book One of the Stormlight Archive, is a fantastic opening entry in a truly epic (in every sense of the word) fantasy series. Every reader of the fantasy genre should buy this book immediately. Fans old and new will enjoy all 1000+ pages, and will be anxiously awaiting the sequel. We sure are. Of course, we've already been waiting for the sequel for a year now...`cause you know, we did read this last year.
Recommended Age: 15 and up.
Language: Not really. Made-up oaths and such.
Violence: YES!! Have we mentioned how much we love Brandon's action sequences?