The Way of Kings is the first book in The Stormlight Archive, which will be a 10 book series that shall compose the main body of Brandon Sanderson’s legacy. This 1007-page monster is Sandersonian in every way. It is direct (at times,) entirely alien yet believable, exciting, visual, and addictive. It’s a fantastic read, and I eagerly anticipate the upcoming release of the second book in the series, Words of Radiance. (I have already preordered my autographed copy.)
I may have mentioned this previously, but Sanderson is doing something very interesting with his work, and it bodes mentioning in this post, since it appears more obviously in this book than in the others I’ve read thus far. Sanderson is constructing a large-scale epic fantasy which will be composed of his complete body of work. Each of the stories takes place on a different planet in Sanderson’s connected universe, called the Cosmere, and Sanderson intends that any reader can jump into the story on any of the planets (any of the individual series), and continue thereafter through the Cosmere Cycle in any order they choose. It is an incredibly ambitious project, and so far as I understand, it has never been done before. It is a large part of why I have been so eagerly devouring his work–uncovering subtle hints at the large-scale story is tremendously gratifying, and adds a layer of depth to each of the stories.
The Way of Kings is a story of magic, war, political maneuvering, love, conflict, honor, fear, deception, wit, and scholarship. There is betrayal and hopelessness, and fantastic plot twists that keep the major beats of the book exciting and fresh. It reads like the first book in an epic series, insofar as it spends a long time establishing the world, cultures, magic system, characters, and history. Six hundred pages in, I still felt like there was relatively basic exposition at work, but that wasn’t a bad thing; Sanderson’s worlds are so excellent built that I find learning more about them to be just as enjoyable as reading his well-choreographed fight scenes.
The book is split into three acts, between which are a few interlude chapters which feature unique settings and characters, and serve as moments of respite between long, relatively dense patches of worldbuilding. Without them, it’s entirely plausible that the book might have felt like it was moving too slowly, but I was excited at the end of each group of interludes to hop back into the story.
The Way of Kings remains fragmented for most of its massive length, with each of its “main” characters starting out in complete disconnect from one another; but their actions inevitably pull them toward uncovering something about themselves, learning the magic of their world, and each other. The entirety of the book leads up to an incredibly climactic battle scene (with many entertaining skirmishes to whet the appetite on the way,) which is explosive and epic in every way. I found myself literally exclaiming aloud as I read the final scenes. At one point I believe my words were: “HOLY SHIT, THAT’S AWESOME!”
Out loud. Alone.
I can’t really go into the specifics about characters and events because they’d simply take too much time to explain. “So this guy Kaladin is a surgeon’s son, but after a few years of internal conflict he becomes a soldier, but then he loses his brother in the war and then he….” Suffice it to say the characters have depth and are very believable in a world that barely skirts around the edges of believability. Almost everything is a crustacean and plants move. Talk about awesome. Also there are massive, world-shattering storms constantly, that only travel in one direction. See what I mean? It’s very convoluted.
The long and short of it is that I’m a big, big fan of this book, but I have to be completely honest. My reading of it slowed dramatically at about the 45% mark, because I felt like it was taking too long to reach an exciting point. So I read a few pages here and there, and started (and finished) a couple other books while I dawdled over the 15% or so that remained until I hit the really exciting points. If the book had spent slightly less time building an elaborate, convincing, utterly alien world in great detail, it very well could have been 700 pages and a book I’d have devoured voraciously. As it is, it’s good. I think it could be better served by less narrative and dialogical worldbuilding. I recommend this for those of you who may like an intense amount of worldbuilding with a satisfying punchline, but I know that isn’t many of you. That being the case, I can honestly say that this series will be for the die-hard Sandersonians and that you, dear friend, would be better served starting one of his other books (most of which are reviewed somewhere below.) 4/5