Note: This review may contain spoilers throughout. Proceed with caution if you have not read The Way of Kings.
Preface to the Review
A few quick things before I get started on this book. Firstly, I KNOW I’M LATE TO THE GAME! Secondly, that’s it!
Anyway, I first learned of Brandon Sanderson on YouTube, funny enough. BYU’s English Department uploaded a series of videos featuring Mr. Sanderson lecturing on Creative Writing. These videos, and having people constantly recommending him to me, are what initially compelled me to read this behemoth of a book.
My copy of The Way of Kings — Book One of The Stormlight Archives — by Brandon Sanderson (pictured above) weighs in at a whopping 1007 pages. It’s pretty daunting, but I’m ready to get started!
Starting the Book: First Impressions
First off, I really loved the color map of Roshar at the front of the book. I got a feeling from the cover that there would be at least a fair amount of war going on between these nations. I wasn’t sure if this was their entire world, or if these ten distinct areas were just one part of an even larger world. There was another page with some connected discs that looked like runes of some sort as well, but there was no description or explanation for what function they served. So it seemed I would be starting off mostly in the dark, and I was okay with that.
The next page didn’t help clear things up: a pencil-drawn page showing three polygonal-shaped… I didn’t know what they were. They looked like wizards with shards of crystal on their faces (or tentacles, can’t tell).
So I started with the Prelude (wait, I thought… there’s a Prelude and a Prologue?)
The Prelude provides an immediate grasp of the quality of Sanderson’s world-building. The setting is a battlefield following an intense battle, and we’re greeted by rocky stone ridges and enormous beasts called Thunderclasts. We’re given a number of unfamiliar titles with little explanation–Surgebinders, Dustbringers, Honorblades, the Desolation–but, for the most part, their duty and/or purpose is easily surmised by the time they become important to the story.
We are quickly introduced to our first POV character, Kalak, who is navigating through this battle-ravaged world.
He’d been killed by hands like those before, and it hadn’t been pleasant. Of course, dying rarely was.
To be honest, I was hooked by the first page. There was a lot to soak in here: Heralds, Oathpacts, “the place of nightmares”. Kalak and his leader Jezrien discuss ending the Oathpact these ten Heralds had created. As long as one of them (Talenel or “Taln”, who died in battle we presume) is still bound to the Oathpact, it may be enough. Both Kalak and Jezrien are broken from all the fighting, but more so by the “place of nightmares”, where they reside between these wars called Desolations. Again, there are a lot of names, places, bits of lore, titles, etc in this short section, but somehow it’s not confusing. In fact, it’s exciting. I’m literally excited to learn more about this world and what it contains, its history, how things progress from here.
Sanderson’s writing in this section is strong. To me, it seems like this is all mostly backstory, that this is a history that will become important later in the story. The fact that these Heralds are abandoning their Oathpact, which puts the burden on Talenal alone in the “place of nightmares”, leaving him to be tortured until he can withstand it no longer.
There’s so much information here in only a few pages of content. Luckily, I have found a Stormlight Archive Wiki that has all kinds of information on the books, characters, the universe, etc. This is an invaluable resource for when you across unfamiliar characters, historical events, etc. (Be wary of spoilers)
Holy Shit Moment: Realizing the Prelude took place 4,500 years earlier than nearly everything else.
Brandon Sanderson’s writing style is a delight to read. He writes in a way that just flows without anything to impede it. That’s not to say it’s an easy book to read necessarily. The book is LONG. Very long. And it starts slowly.
I liken The Way of Kings to a snowball rolling down a snowy mountain. It starts off slowly, picking up more snow as it rolls along, getting bigger and bigger, gathering momentum, until by the end there’s this unfathomably huge ball of snow hurdling toward you at near light-speed. I mean it when I say the last third of the book was some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time. Once that ball got rolling, it didn’t stop until the very end.
The scope of the book is insane. From the spren themselves to the stormlight and highstorms, from the Alethi to the Parshendi (and not to mention the slaves, the Parshmen), and from the vast and expansive history shown through the Prelude, through Shallan and Jasnah Kholin’s research, and also through Dalinar’s visions, one can only gawk in wonder at how all of these individual strands are going to come together by the end of the series.
I feel like The Way of Kings would be a great read for veteran Fantasy readers and newbies alike. The book, as huge and varied as it is, is not hard to understand. Everything that’s important is explained and wrapped up nicely, and yet, you’re still filled with questions by the end of the book.
I’m having a hard time with describing what exactly this book is about without writing a novel of my own. There’s just so much, so many characters, each with their own story to tell, yet they’re all connected in a way. Each of the three main character arcs (those from Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar/Adolin) are all very different in tone. Sanderson has a knack for character development. With the close POV he writes in, we’re constantly in the heads of Kaladin as he relives his past and questions his future. We’re with Shallan as she confronts her inner demons and questions how far she would go to save her family. We fight with Dalinar and his son Adolin on the Shattered Plains against the Parshendi warriors. We experience his visions during the highstorms.
Each character, major or minor, feels important. Each death hurts. At this rate, I think The Stormlight Archive will go down as one of the greatest Fantasy Series of all time.
Now on to read Words of Radiance.