Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Posted on Sat 02 October 2010 in Dispatches • 5 min read

What’s that you say? Another epic fantasy by Brandon Sanderson? Sold.

I swear, the rate at which Brandon Sanderson produces his massive books is a bit intimidating. The added fact that they are so consistently good marks it as an indicator of an almost terrifying amount of talent and skill. You could almost hate him for it, if it wasn’t for the fact that he appears to be such a genuinely nice guy.

I was first introduced to his writing via his excellent Mistborn trilogy – which I highly encourage you to read – chronicling the people of a world thousands of years after the hero died and the Dark Lord won. Simply put, it was brilliant.

Impressed with the series, I immediately moved on to two of Sanderson’s standalone novels, Elantris and Warbreaker. They were also excellent books in their own right, but didn’t have the same sense of scale as Mistborn. I was craving something big, but I knew that Sanderson was busy finishing the Wheel of Time series for the Jordan estate, and so I assumed that I would have to wait several more years before he would be able to provide the major epic I hungered to read.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

A few weeks ago, Sanderson’s latest novel The Way of Kings was released, the first in a new series titled the The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson states on his blog that the new series “won’t be as long as the Wheel of Time but longer than anything I have attempted so far.” Sanderson has also previously written that The Stormlight Archive was originally plotted out as a ten book series. This story is clearly going to be huge in scope, and with a promise like that, how could I resist?

I was lucky enough to receive my pre-ordered copy in the mail just before I had to leave for a business trip, and I was thrilled to have it for the flight out. Although, in retrospect, if I had paid more attention to the page count I might have ordered the ebook version to avoid lugging its bulk through airport after airport. With the hardcover edition weighing in at 1007 pages, it is a massive tome, but then again, I was looking for something big.

The Way of Kings takes place in the world of Roshar, where powerful “highstorms” batter the landscape until it is nothing but rock. Much of the plant life has evolved to be capable of withdrawing into the stone at the first sign of wind, and the rest have developed protective shells to shelter them from the storm, much like the animal life. The human residents of the world depend on the shelter of their stone cities to weather the buffeting winds of the storms.

In this world, rulership is dictated by the color of your eyes, and the most powerful wield magical swords and armor granting them enormous strength, as well as terrifying lethality. Even stranger are those peoples who can use the stored energy of the storms to alter the nature of reality around them. Sanderson is known for his attention to detail when creating complex magical systems, and that is no exception in this book. Those who have enjoyed his approach to magic and world building in his previous works will not be disappointed.

The Way of Kings is most definitely Sanderson’s most ambitious work to date. The world is so huge and rich with history that it’s hard to conceive of the amount of time he put into building it. This comes at a price though, as there is a steep learning curve for the reader in order to get a grip on the environment and systems involved in the story, so this is not a book for a novice reader of epic fantasy. However, if you stick with it, learning as you go, the payoff is most certainly worth it.

Of course, the heart of a story is bound up in the characters, and this book is no exception. As in his previous works, Sanderson’s characters are deeply textured and ultimately believable. The book follows four primary characters:

  • Kaladin: a surgeon who gave up everything to become a soldier, only to be enslaved.
  • Dalinar Kholin: a high prince who finds himself disgusted with war, obsessed with an ancient book, and plagued by visions, fears he may be losing his mind.
  • Shallan: a noblewoman who leaves home to study as a scholar, but whose real intentions are far from innocent.
  • Szeth, an assassin who wants nothing more than to die.

In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will simply say that as you follow these four over the course of this first book, you will introduced to a world at war, where cultures clash in a seemingly never-ending siege, where high princes claim to battle a shared enemy for honor and vengeance, but in reality merely compete against one another. You will see the price of this war, and will see the birth of true leadership amongst a people who had long since been betrayed by those meant to protect them. Each of the character’s stories within this book are self-contained, but the conclusion of each offers a tantalizing hint at what is come.

As with all epic fantasy, trying to boil it down into a few paragraphs is a futile endeavor, so my apologies at my ham-fisted attempts to do so. Trust me, the book’s quality more than makes up for my fumbling attempt to describe it to you. I’ve read it in hardcover already, and have now started listening to it as an audiobook, which at 45 hours for one credit is quite a bargain. I’m already catching details that I didn’t notice the first time through the book, and I’m enjoying it just as much as I did then.

In conclusion, here are the essential points to take away from this review:

  • The Way of Kings is startlingly brilliant and ambitious book, with a richly detailed world and remarkably textured characters.
  • If the rest of the books in The Stormlight Archive follow suit, this series is positioned to become one of the pillars of the genre.
  • I am jealous of the Brandon Sanderson’s raw talent and considerable skill.
  • I will continue to buy and read his books in the hopes of somehow absorbing some part of his dark power.
  • I should probably go feed the cat.
  • This is a really long review.
  • I can make lists all day.
  • Have you bought the book yet? It’s really great.

Seriously, if you are a fan of epic fantasy you really don’t have any excuse not to pick this book up. Go to your nearest bookstore and grab a copy. You won’t be disappointed.