Fantasy, philosophy, politics, action, compelling characters. In my later days of teen-hood, I realised that this was, for me, my holy formula. All the ingredients necessary to create the Perfect Book. I found this in the A Trial of Blood and Steel series by Joel Shepherd, and in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but never in my life has a book left me so viscerally and profoundly satisfied in the way (heh) that the Way of Kings has.
I was first introduced to Brandon Sanderson through a friend who recommended me Warbreaker. I remember the first two things about his writing that I was deeply impressed with: his detailed world-building (including a unique magic system), and complex characters. I witnessed this once again in Steelheart (which I still haven’t finished, much to my own dismay), and now here, in the first book of the Stormlight Archives. They say that three time’s a charm, so I guess it would be appropriate for me to say that Brandon Sanderson is a master.
And he has now become one of my favourite authors.
First, to get some downsides out of the way. They’re honestly just nitpicks, because when it comes down to it, I think this novel is a masterpiece.
- Overwhelming introduction. There is a lot of noun usage throughout the book but it’s most confusing in the beginning when you’re just starting out. Desolations, Shardplates, Voidbringers … it’s enough to make your head spin. Granted, I haven’t read a high fantasy book of this magnitude (over 1,000 pages!) in a while. It was only until the very end of the book that I had a good grasp of most of the concepts, except maybe for Desolations. I’m still unsure what that is exactly…
- Awkward wittiness. Some of the lines by Shallan and Wit come off awkwardly and almost a little forced. For Shallan this mostly happened in the beginning of the book but flows much better when she starts to use the logic that she’s learned in tandem with her wit. For Wit, the awkwardness happens in a feast scene, where he greets Brightlords and Brightladies with insults.
Now for the positives!
- The characters. Where do I even begin? The characters are definitely the highlight of this book. One could even argue that this first instalment was less about plot and more about developing the characters that will be central to this saga. I mean, this is going to be a 10 book series. That requires commitment. Fortunately, Sanderson has given me a reason to care, a reason to stay. The two standouts are Kaladin and Dalinar.
Kaladin, the surgeon’s son, spearmaster, slave, bridgeman … and maybe something more. What I love most is how Sanderson uses flashbacks to layer his story and shows us how he came to be the person that he is. Though often drenched in misery, Kaladin’s arc is perhaps the most satisfying as you witness him navigate both his internal and external conflicts towards a climax that is the most blood-pumping, triumphant, exhilarating moment of my reading life. It had me looking like an idiot, squirming in my seat, thinking, “my life will never be the same again.”
Dalinar Kholin, Highprince of Alethkar, warrior, bearer of visions. His most endearing traits are his introspection and steadfast conviction in the Alethi Codes of War. On many occasions, I found myself thinking, “this world doesn’t deserve him.” Because he is good. Just so good. He bears the burden of guilt and visions with the kind of strength that could carry the world.
The moments with him that were icing on the cake? His interactions with Sadeas. I’m a complete sucker for friends-turned-rivals-turned-frenemies storylines, especially as it was it an effective way of showing how the same goal can be achieved through two very different, and sometimes disastrous means.
- Philosophy and ethics. I feel this is very much the backbone of the novel, the driving force behind the characters and their motives, and something that I soaked up with great relish. The Immortal Words, The Way of Kings, the Alethi Codes of War … they all serve to highlight the “ideal” of mankind. To embody the qualities of honour, service, and integrity in everything that you do. The book is pretty much an exploration of a world where those ideals are lost, and in the broader sense, the fight that is needed to regain those ideals.
- World-building and unique magic. I love that the highstorms shape this world. How both flora and fauna have adapted to being ravaged by it’s brutality, how it’s used for power, and how it’s used to infuse currency. While I haven’t read a lot of high fantasy it really has the feel of being unique. Most have come off a little too Tolkien-y for my taste (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) so this definitely was a breath of fresh air. I especially love how the Surges have foundations in science. After all, fantasy is just advanced science, especially when the rules are broken. Those two factors give the book a sense of realism.
- The interludes were also a very welcome and refreshing addition to the novel as it added a layer of information on the world of Rokhar. The story becomes more real in this sense, more rounded, because you’re given a view of the life of characters outside of the main conflict of the novel.
- The slow burn. I love me the slow burn. Give it to me bit by bit. I know a lot of people may be put off by the pace but please, I’m telling you: give this behemoth a chance because the slow burn pays off in a way so satisfying that it had me physically shaking at three in the morning. At around the 80% mark, it becomes one helluva ride and culminates in an epilogue that made me feel with great certainty that I had just witnessed the beginning of an epic saga that will be one for the history books.
Read it. Buy it. Give it to your best friend because your best friend deserves the best.