Review: “The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1)” by Brandon Sanderson

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publication Date: August 31st 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Format: eBook
Find it on: Amazon, Goodreads

Synopsis

I long for the days before the Last Desolation.

The age before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. A time when there was still magic in the world and honor in the hearts of men.

The world became ours, and yet we lost it. Victory proved to be the greatest test of all. Or was that victory illusory? Did our enemies come to recognize that the harder they fought, the fiercer our resistance? Fire and hammer will forge steel into a weapon, but if you abandon your sword, it eventually rusts away.

There are four whom we watch. The first is the surgeon, forced to forsake healing to fight in the most brutal war of our time. The second is the assassin, a murderer who weeps as he kills. The third is the liar, a young woman who wears a scholar’s mantle over the heart of a thief. The last is the prince, a warlord whose eyes have opened to the ancient past as his thirst for battle wanes.

The world can change. Surgebinding and Shardwielding can return; the magics of ancient days become ours again. These four people are key.

One of them may redeem us. And one of them will destroy us.

From Brandon Sanderson-who completed Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time-comes The Stormlight Archive, an ambitious new fantasy epic in a unique, richly imagined setting. Roshar is a world relentlessly blasted by awesome tempests, where emotions take on physical form, and terrible secrets hide deep beneath the rocky landscape.

Speak again the ancient oaths

Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore. The Knights Radiant must stand again! 

From Goodreads

Review

TLDR; a fantastic, twisty epic fantasy book filled with character evolution and great world-building. Well worth it if you can get through all the setup 😉

This is one of the largest fantasy books I’ve read in a very long time (hello Islandia). I ended up loving so many things about this book, but it took me a while to get there. Since it’s a hefty book (over a thousand pages), the fact that it took me about 40% of the book to feel comfortable with the various characters, contexts, and plot arcs means around 400 pages in I started to really love it. It was certainly a commitment, but once I hit a stride the reading became much more enjoyable. Embracing the rotating character viewpoints chapter over chapter enabled Sanderson to move the needle on each in parallel, and while it multiplies the amount of setup you have to read through in the beginning you get double the return on your investment later. The format unlocked the potential for so many great plot twists and turns towards the end of the book (which completely sold me on it by the time I finished!).

While the world-building was a bit difficult to get through, it really was high quality writing. Descriptions were robust enough to envision the landscapes and provide that immersive fantasy experience you pick up this book for. The magic systems, however, are something else entirely. Spren, voidbringers, radiants, lashing, and shardblades oh my! Of all these lashing completely turned my world upside-down (ha). The idea of being able to expend energy to essentially change the direction of gravitational force is certainly novel, but opening with a fight scene using it in the first few chapters was very confusing to me initially.

I really loved the concept of ‘spren’ in the book, which are what I’d describe as beings that appear in response to high energy physical or emotional changes. (For example, flamespren around a fire, antisipationspren around soldiers heading into battle, rotspren around a wound, windspren floating on air currents.) To me they added a great element of both whimsy and depth. Imagining playful elemental spren in nature was charming and relaxing, while more complex spren such as those more closely entwined with mankind added foreboding, drama, or another layer of meaning in certain scenes.

Character-wise my favorite by far was Kaladin, who I would describe as a soldier at heart with a complex past. My second favorite would have to be Shallan, a dishonest young woman confronting a series of difficult moral decisions for possibly the first time in her life. A close third is Dalinar, an experienced warhero and adviser. Each of them have very disparate story progression, and elicited some attachment from me throughout their development. There are many, many other characters introduced, but by far these top three were the most impactful and stood out from the crowd.

Really the only slightly negative thing I have to say about this book at all is about the amount of setup towards the front of the book, but as previously mentioned it’s critical to all the great individual story twists and cross-character plot intersection points later on which made this book so memorable. I’m in the middle of another book right now which has similar amount of setup but not nearly the same amount of payoff and it’s just not the same. Sanderson did a masterful job crafting the many stories in The Way of Kings and I’ve already bought the next in the series to keep going. For those considering taking a leap into fantasy and intimidated by the length, I’d say start with a smaller standalone book but definitely circle back to this one later once you have a small footing in the genre!

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