Title: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Read Date: 21 October 2011
Goodreads Status Updates: Click here. Contains spoilers and lots of ROFL-ness.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (It was amazing!)
Review in a nutshell: It was epic.
Moral of the Story: I want a Shardblade.
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
Side Note #1: I wish I was the one who thought of the post title, but I wasn’t. It was contributed by @Sevynwarr on Twitter to the “Fake Twitter Reviews of The Way of Kings” meme from August last year, back when the book was released. I found it funny because murder mystery games have been on my mind for the past 2 days (don’t ask), and also because the book really is so big, it could hurt somebody. 😛
I can’t believe I just finished a 1,007-page epic fantasy. Still dazed and dazzled. Please pick me up off the floor after a few days.
I waxed poetic about Sanderson and reading The Way of Kings a couple of posts back. I was not able to successfully uphold my Fidelity Oath to it (I swear, it was only because Riordan’s The Son of Neptune was more convenient,) but I wasn’t kidding when I said that reading this takes a lot of concentration, so I’m glad it only took me a couple of days to finish with Riordan and get back to this.
Don’t get me wrong; the book is an easy read, especially if you’re used to Sanderson’s writing style. As one of the folks over at 17th Shard told me once, The Way of Kings goes down like water. It’s just that the world of Roshar itself demands attention and concentration, because if I could only pick one thing that Sanderson did well in this book, it would be that he built a very detailed and captivating world.
It’s easy to imagine the concept artwork for what Roshar would look like in the indie movie adaptation that I produce and direct in my head whenever I read books. The terrain, the animal and plant life, and the distinct nations, races, and cultures are described so vividly, that I regret not being anywhere near as talented as Shallan Davar in drawing.
There are wonderful illustrations scattered throughout the book, which give readers an idea of just how deep the world building is.
Thank the Stormfather that world building wasn’t really the only thing he succeeded at here.
I love the heart-stopping action scenes. And this being a story that deals with war, there are, of course, a lot of action scenes–from big army battles (think the Battle of Gondor in The Return of the King) to one-on-one duels (think Obi-Wan Kenobi versus Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace) to battles against monsters (think the Heroes versus the Giant Scorpions in Clash of the Titans).
As with his Mistborn trilogy, magic is integral to the characters’ fighting styles, and Sanderson opens the book with a demonstration worthy of the best kung-fu movie I’ve ever seen.
Read The Way of Kings — Prologue: To Kill
If Sanderson ever gets tired of writing, he can probably get a job as a stunt choreography consultant on a big-budget Hollywood film. 😛
The bulk of The Way of Kings is told from the perspective of 3 major characters: Kaladin, a slave who doesn’t exactly act like one; Dalinar, the King’s uncle, who’s been seeing visions every time a Highstorm sweeps across their war camp in the Shattered Plains; and Shallan, a highborn lady who seeks to be apprenticed to the King’s heretic sister for not-quite-so-noble intentions. Each character serves Sanderson’s narrative purposes as he develops their respective stories.
Kaladin is the hero of this first book–a young man who has fallen from grace to become a slave to one of the King’s army commanders. His storyline is the most graphic–he’s in the frontlines of the war, and he was trained in the medical arts since he was a child. Through him, the reader gets a glimpse of the class and political issues within his society. He also struggles a lot with the idea of losing the people that he swore to protect. Although his emo moments sometimes wore me down enough that, in my head, I imagine myself pushing him into a chasm, apparently his sense of honor and loyalty will be the means through which he will gain an unusual power.
Dalinar is in the frontlines of the war, too, but through him, readers see something different. As a Shardbearer (owner of a Shardblade–a sword with magical properties), he demonstrates a different aspect of the magic system of Roshar. Through him, we also get the inside scoop on all the military and political intrigues. His visions, meanwhile, offer a glimpse at Roshar’s history, and the overarching mythology of Sanderson’s cosmere.
Side Note #2: “Cosmere” is the term used for the universe where almost all of Sanderson’s epic fantasy novels are set. Each novel takes place on a different planet, but they share the same basic cosmology.
Shallan, meanwhile, is far from the action. Her story is set in another country, Kharbranth, where she is apprenticed to the King’s sister, Jasnah. Sanderson writes interesting female characters, and Shallan is no different–she’s witty, snarky, and talented. Through her, we discover that only women are allowed to learn reading and writing in their society, with the exception of ardents (monks). Wives, therefore, serve an additional function as scribes or clerks. Just think of how much power the women inconspicuously hold. 😉
Shallan’s story line can be rather tiresome, as Sanderson has seen fit to pour most of his trademark ramblings and musings on religion, philosophy, and society into Shallan’s interactions with Jasnah and some of the inhabitants of Kharbranth. I personally find the musings interesting, and have come to accept it as part and parcel of Sanderson’s style, but I can’t help but think that the book would’ve been shorter and paced better had he cut down on the philosophizing.
The structure of the book is unusual, especially when it comes to Kaladin’s thread. His present story is punctuated with flashback chapters, some of which, go as far back as his childhood, and some that are as recent as a few months before he arrived at the Shattered Plains. The flashbacks don’t appear chronologically either; they pop up when there’s a need to rationalize or give more light to what is happening to Kaladin in the present. So if you’re currently reading a flashback that happened 3 years ago, the next one may have happened 8 years ago, and the one after that just 4 months ago, and so forth.
There are also Interlude chapters in between the main Parts–some no more than 5 pages long–which feature several characters that do not appear in the main story line, and one who is important to the overall arc. Though these Interludes seem like they’re disconnected from the rest of the story, knowing Sanderson, every little detail counts toward world building or a plot point in a future book.
Sometimes, it’s easy to spot when he’s foreshadowing something, but most of the time, he just takes me by surprise. My “Things I Correctly Predicted Scoreboard” reads something like “Meann: 1, Sanderson: I stopped counting”. I accept that the odds are on his side, though, because most of the rules that govern his world and the magic in it are still a mystery. George R.R. Martin once said that coming up with so many rules for a magic system takes all the “magic” out of fantasy. But such a detailed world still evokes a sense of wonder and awe that’s no less magical because everything remains so different from what we know and expect.
It could have benefited from a couple hundred fewer pages, but after 1,007 of them, The Way of Kings managed to fulfill its purpose as the first book in a series: to lay the foundations of the world for the next books. There were a lot of questions posed, and some of them were answered. Shardblades and loyalties have changed hands. The main characters’ present concerns were resolved satisfactorily just as they are maneuvered onto a “staging area” for the next phase of their journey.
1 book down, 9 more to go. It’s going to be a long wait.
I wonder if Time Travel is possible in the Cosmere…