Brandon Sanderson, the man known for finishing Robert Jordan‘s epic Wheel of Time series, has put out a tome of his own. It is massive, though not unwieldy; it is exciting and absolutely worth the time that it takes to wade through the expansive depths in The Way of Kings.
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure.
Above is the most concise summary of the book–a feat in itself, as the novel stands at just over 1,000 pages–but I’ll add just a bit more. It is split into 5 parts, divided by 3 sets of Interludes, which are somewhat mostly vignettes of events occurring elsewhere in Roshar. The novel begins with a horrible murder of a king by an assassin in white, and then follows Brightlord Dalinar, the murdered king’s brother; Kaladin, a man who must sink to the lowest point of existence in order to find himself and his true calling; and Shellan, a girl with devious intentions who goes under the guise of one who seeks knowledge, but she finds out that she truly desires that which she pretends to care about.
This was an absolutely brilliant book. I’m really rather stunned at how much I loved it. The last bit of epic fantasy that I read was from George R.R. Martin (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords), but the mature content prohibits a wider audience. This, however, is entirely appropriate and truly fantastic. From the plotting to the characterization to the intricately detailed world-building, this is a masterpiece. Or, should I say, the first installment of a masterpiece, as The Way of Kings is the first in The Stormlight Archive series.
I really grew to care about each of the main characters, fully investing in them, despite what seems like impossible circumstances. Sanderson’s characterization is pitch-perfect–his characters are not perfect (though not depraved as in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire). Dalinar reminds me of Eddard Stark, as he is noble to a fault. Kaladin perseveres through horrific treatment as a slave, but he struggles with his own personal demons to become a symbol of hope for all in the novel, as well as for the reader. Shellan is great in that she’s torn about her feigned purpose and her hidden goal; she’s young while trying to sound smart, which comes across in many awkward “debates” with other characters. She doesn’t know when to stop, and I found that very real, as I know people like that. This is a tightly-plotted, character-driven epic which blew me away.
The world of Roshar is intricate and lush, filled with things we know and things we don’t. It is a world regularly ravaged by devastating Highstorms. It is a world tenuously held together by a new king who has not fully earned his crown. It is a world on the brink of a devastation the likes of which no one living has ever seen. A system of magic pervades everything, using gems which are infused with Stormlight, allowing the wielder–if properly trained–to utilize special powers, greater strength and stamina, to potentially transmute the elements, or even to walk on walls. These stones, or armor and shardblades (which also make use of the infusion of Stormlight) are highly coveted, and the nation of Alethkar is at war for their possession, under the guise of vengeance for the late king’s death.
Finally, throughout the book, Isaac Stewart, Ben McSweeney, and Greg Call have added sketches and illustrations to highlight many of the strange things characters come across, as well as battle plans and other bits of illumination. That was a greatly appreciated touch that reminded me of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.
Rarely have I stayed up until 2 in the morning to finish a book. My friends will tell you that I’m pretty much an old man who goes to bed early. However, the last third of this novel kept me absolutely hooked, and I just couldn’t stop. This is certainly a time commitment, but it won’t feel like it. Read it, enjoy it, and eagerly wait with me for its sequel.