by Brandon Sanderson Book : Fiction
Superior, complex new fantasy series begins   (2011-05-31)
Sanderson, Brandon ~ Way of Kings ~ TOR, 2010 ~ 1007 pages, end-paper maps, interior maps and illustrations, end notes ~ ~ Audience: adults, some teens ~ Rating: excellent.
“Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast. The enormous stone beast lay on its side, riblike protrusions from its chest broken and cracked.”
Way of Kings is the first volume in the Stormlight Archive series. It sets the stage for a most complex and intriguing story. In fact, the story is complex and detailed enough to warrant a second reading almost as soon as the first is finished.
Roshar is the name of this world. Way of Kings comments briefly on a variety of its kingdoms, but most of the story focuses on the Eastern and far Eastern part of the world. Roshar is notable for its rocky and challenging landscape. Even more difficult for its inhabitants are the brutal storms with their great destructive power. This environment plays a major role in the story.
While I did not completely understand the complex and sometimes incomplete pre-history of Roshar, evidently great wars have been fought against dark magical opponents as well as each other. Humanity [of various races with some even alien in appearance] seems to have learned little over the years. Great evil and darkness lurks and grows while men, and woman, play their petty power games.
Technology is medieval, but is notably improved by magical tools, including some fabricated by engineers and “scientists.” Weapons focus on spears, swords, and bows and arrows. The great magical weapons are shard swords and shardplate which can give a man superhuman powers. Only a few of these weapons are available and they are much desired.
Government is fragmented with the rich and powerful leading and plotting against each other. Little is said about business and commerce.
Sanderson is known for his ability to create complex, believable and different magical schemes. He does that again in the Way of Kings. This reader had some difficulty in understanding where the magic came from or how it was originally created. Having said that, the author clearly describes the ten essences and what they do.
The plot is both simple and quite complex. Here is the simple part:
1. The high lords of Althkar have taken their armies to the Shattered Plains to battle the Parshendi who likely had the Althkar King slain. They also hope to kill great chasm monsters whose hearts have magical properties. Who will win this war? At what cost? Can the high lords really work well with each other?
2. Kaladin, son of a dedicated but poor country physician, has joined the army with his younger brother. He is talented at both medicine and warfare where he soon develops quite a good tactical sense. While honorable and dedicated, he is poorly treated after some success and becomes a slave. Can he escape slavery and lead others to do the same?
3. Shallan is the daughter of a now dead lord of a minor house [House Davar]. The family discovers that they are nearly bankrupt and something must be done quickly to prevent the death of the house. She hopes to steal a soulcatcher from the historian Jashan Kholin and use it to solve her family’s financial problems. Beyond that, she loves scholarship and Jashan is one of the leading historical scholars. She is also the daughter of the assassinated King and know for her free-thinking ways.
4. Syl is a windspren who floats like a small cloud. She discovers and takes an interest in Kaladin. Gradually, this grows into a partnership of sorts and her consciousness grows as she discovers more of her forgotten past. She can make the difference between Kaladin’s survivial and death.
Who is she and what is she? Can she keep Kaladin alive and can she help him not to sink into a death-leading depression?
5. Dalinar is the brother of the former king and leader of a major house and a substantial army. He strongly believes in the traditional code and is conservative in manner and thinking unlike most of his fellow lords. His army is unusually well organized and does things the right way. He cares for his troops and they care for him. He has both a shardblade and shardplate as does his oldest son. Dalinar leads from the front and is a fearless warrior. He has many enemies, both because of his leadership and traditional ways and because he has strange dreams that take him back to major events in the past. Dalinar knows that something terrible may be on the horizon, but he lacks knowledge of the particulars. Other lords believe he may be losing his mind. Can he learn from his dreams to prevent great disaster in the future? Can he protect his house and family from those who seek to destroy it?
The complex part relates to the pre-history -- what happened, why, and how the past will impact the future. Some sort of terrible darkness/desolation may be coming to destroy the known world. Why? What might be done to defeat it? Less important, but still notable is that some one or some group has begun a campaign to slay leaders of powerful houses and destroy the power structure of all the lands? Who is behind this and why?
With over 1000 pages, there are many, many characters and the list of important ones just in this volume would be substantial. Sanderson has done well in creating a variety of interesting characters who fit will into various cultures and races. Each has some sort of story to tell and often provides insights into the larger themes. A list of major characters would aid the reader.
Way of Kings is not a typical trade fantasy book. Its size is unusual and I’m surprised that the publisher did not split this book into two volumes. Even more unusual is the degree to which the book includes a rich variety of special features. The color end paper maps are nicely done and there are additional maps inside. There are 20 interior illustrations, including additional maps. Shallian is quite a sketcher and many of her sketches are included to illustrate aspects of the story and relevant landscapes. Chapter openings are nicely decorated.
Type is dark and quite readable. White space is reasonable on the outside margines and tight on the gutter margins. See-through is notable, but tolerable.
Story length: quite long, may be too long for some readers. Many unknowns left at the end.
Mood: often bleak and gloomy, especially in the chapters focusing on Kaladin.
Approach: somewhat conventional, but far more detailed in culture and history. Very large number of characters and places. This is a stage setting volume so little is resolved. The story requires more careful reading and thought than in most fantasy novels.
Sex: Some courtship, nothing explicit.
Violence: both the historical elements and the story contain considerable and sometimes explicit violence. The assassinations and the military campaigns include explicit and sometimes bloody scenes.
Reading difficulty: more difficult than average because of the depth and richness of the story. Too, the sometimes fuzzy pre-historical elements leave much to be revealed. Still, a careful reader should have no problems.
Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy gathered much praise and popularity. Similarly, his work in completing Robert Jordan’s massive multi-volume story has been very well received. Thus, the new trilogy is an automatic selection for all but the smallest collection.
My only real complaint is the need to wait for the next volume. Still, Way of Kings does end in a way that will leave most readers feeling comfortable about the characters that they have grown to really care about.
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