The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
The Way of Kings is Brandon’s first volume in his new epic fantasy series: The Stormlight Archives. Released in 2010, it’s been 4 long years since my first read through but to properly examine the book we first need to get some perspective.
Ever since taking up the mantle of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time casual readers and critics a like have held Brandon to a higher standard than your average fantasy author. The author chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s legacy not only had to live up to the expectations of Jordan’s fans but also Jordan himself. The Wheel of Time has been arguably one of the most influential fantasy series this past century. The series established many “firsts” in epic fantasy story telling and significantly changed the way we look at high fantasy books today. While it is assuredly an honour to be chosen to finish the series by Jordan’s estate and publisher it is also a double-edged sword.
There is always a tendency to put an artist’s work on a pedestal after their death, raising their works to a standard far above the living. The same sentiment applies to wordsmiths and their trade. Jordan’s legacy has become and will always be the measure that new authors will be held against should they attempt the decades long, life’s work that is a true EPIC fantasy. As such because the Wheel of Time’s torch was handed to Sanderson our minds will always try to draw comparisons to Jordan’s early works, The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and others . Given the success of the final three installments written by Brandon it is safe to assume we can expect great things from the Stormlight Archive. With that perspective we can now begin to properly examine the Way of Kings.
The story is familiar, the main protagonist Kaladin is the typical man in difficult circumstances, placed their by forces out of his control. He is Brandon’s flashback character whom through his experiences we glimpse the politics and greater social structure of Roshar the world we explore. Quickly we shape in our minds the hard landscape of Roshar, plagued by fierce and deadly highstorms that erode the soil and force life from plants to animals to retreat protecting itself. Similar to the Mistborn Trilogy‘s Kandra and Kollos, we have the Aimians and Parshendi two non-human races 1 nearly driven to extinction and one used as tools. Where the Kollos are the ever-present threat maintaining order in the Final Empire, the Parshmen are the worker subclass that maintains Rosharan society. Again similar to Mistborn, magic is seemingly in the sole hands of the élite, Noble blood in the Final Empire and ancient magical relics of sword and armor in the hands of lighteyes (read: upper class Alethi). Still despite the familiarity the Way of Kings stands on its own merits, with a cast of characters never leave you bored.
The story has zero fat despite the impressive word count every page and paragraph adds to the characters, world, or plot in a substantial and meaningful way. The magic system is powerful but not broken allowing for some truly stunning and excited combat and climax…. Speaking of the climax, without spoiling the story, the story and events culminated better than any other Sanderson book I’ve read (Yes I’ve read them all). I absolutely could not put the book down those last 100 pages. It is moving, heroic, and completely changes the way you look at what to expect from the next books. As a book meant to build the world of Roshar for at least 10 installments and 10+ years of emotional investment it succeeds in spades. I am eagerly waiting for March 4th to arrive so I can dive right back in with the volume two: Words of Radiance.