Monday, September 12, 2011

The Way of Kings, a Review

Beginning a ten book series can be daunting.  It takes a kind of commitment that many of us just don't have the time for.  It takes effort to stick with a single story for a decade, gobbling up installments every year or so.  We're an impatient people, by and large, and waiting is something we loathe.  Just look at the vitriol surrounding GRRM's prolonged release of A Dance with Dragons.

Nevertheless, Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, Book One of The Stormlight Archive, delivers such an impressive story that it's impossible to resist.  The hardcover spans over one thousand pages, but it's populated with beautiful internal artwork that goes right along with the story, not to mention the mesmerizing cover art.  
TWoK is difficult to summarize succinctly.  Roshar is a land wracked and ravaged by storms.  These storms are ferocious and lethal, with winds and rain strong enough that to be caught out in them is to die.  In part, these storms have shaped the geography, ecology, and sociology of the ten countries that make up Roshar.  Some animals have developed rock-shells for protection.  In some lands, the grass even recedes.  The creatures and places of Roshar are as much a story as the main characters.  It's obvious Sanderson has labored and put thought into his grand epic, and the thrill of experiencing these unusual settings is absolutely delightful.

But more than this, tWoK is a tight focused tale centering on a trio of characters.  Kaladin, this novel's major POV character, has wanted to fight in the war on the Shattered Plains for years, and he's finally found himself there, though as a branded member of a bridge crew.  Bridgemen are lower than slaves, especially the bridgemen of Sadeas' warcamp.  To be a bridgeman is to have a death sentence.  Dalinar Kholin, brother to the murdered king that started the war and uncle to the reigning king, is a man of honor and does thing the Old Ways.  He will not let himself get entangled in the squabble of politics and quests for power, much to the chagrin of the other generals, and insists on doing things Right.  But when Dalinar begins having vicious dreams during the highstorms, rumors circulate the warcamps that the Blackthorn is  losing his mind.  And Dalinar can't help but wonder the same.  The third major player is Shallan, a girl who's family is plunged into impossible debt after the patriarch dies.  Shallan decides to seek out Jasnah, the king's heretic sister, and steal her Soulcaster.  She'll use the money to free her family, and possibly survive the quarreling houses.  But the more Shallan learns about Jasnah, the more she begins to question her motives.

These three characters are the major players of tWoK, but they are by far not the only ones.  Sanderson has crafted a dramatis personae filled with memorable characters, from the enigmatic Szeth-son-son-Vallano, a Truthless Shin and an angst-driven assassin, to the equally enigmatic Wit, who I'll keep silent about, to Adolin, Dalinar's up-and-coming heir apparent and established warrior on the Plains.  Each person has a wealth of information and life in them, and I eagerly look forward to seeing them all develop over the course of the series.

Brandon Sanderson is widely known for his unique magic systems, and tWoK does not fail here.  In fact, if you've read any other Sanderson, you'll certainly notice some similarities between the magic systems, but also some very original concepts, too.  As this is Book One, there was a lot introduced, but also a lot of mystery left behind the magics waiting to be revealed.

I could go on and on about this book, and I really haven't scratched the surface.  The Way of Kings is a solid first novel for a series.  It wraps up a lot of things, not leaving too many cliff hangers, but not enough to lull the excitement, either.  The stories about these characters--all of them, not just the three primaries--are amazing.  Sanderson knows how to turn a phrase, as well as keep the reader turning pages, and the plot never dies down during this massive read.  If you want a completely different epic fantasy, one that leaves you eager for the next volume and filled with a sense of wonder and awe, then I heartily recommend The Way of Kings.  I'm invested for the duration of the series, and I cannot wait to see where Sanderson takes us.

1 comment:

Carl V. said...

It was such a pleasure to read this with you, given your attachment to Sanderson and your knowledge of his other stories.

This book is the very definition of "success" in my mind. Sanderson wrote a long and complex story with interesting details and richly realized characters that flowed so well that it didn't "feel" complex. It didn't feel like work, it felt like an experience.