James's Reviews > The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
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's review
Aug 04, 10

Read in August, 2010

The first entry in Brandon Sanderson's previous multi-volume work read well as a standalone novel, and to a degree I was expecting The Way of Kings to follow suit. As the first book in The Stormlight Archive, a series planned at 10 books long, part of me was dreading being sucked into another neverending series by this book. Well, the bad news is that this is very much a Book One. That said, I'm very much looking forward to reading more.

Stylistically, this is clearly a Sanderson work. Like Elantris and Warbreaker, the story is split into three distinct threads, and you will spend most of the book speculating on how they will all come together in a big climactic finale. Oddly, that doesn't quite happen. Oh, the three storylines intertwine and relate, as do several substories presented as "interludes" between sections of the book, but we'll have to wait until later in the series for the grand plan to come together.

The lack of complete resolution is my only serious criticism of the book. It's not that I expect the first book of a long series to fully resolve things, but based on previous experience (specifically Mistborn), as well as some of Sanderson's blog comments, I was holding out some hope. In many ways his novels are mysteries, but for the reader rather than the characters - what will happen next? How will it all end? And while The Way of Kings offers a fair share of resolution, including a fantastic climactic scene, it doesn't come together as much as I had hoped.

What the book does accomplish is establishing solid characters in a very interesting world. Sanderson is as fond of his magic systems as ever, but with a long series to explore them, The Way of Kings acts more as an introduction to the world of Roshar and its quirks than a full exploration of it. There are many supernatural forces at work in the world, and here we see ancient items of power, old abilities reappearing, and the development of magical technology. Sanderson has said that this book is intended to be somewhat analogous to a beginning to the Wheel of Time's Age of Legends, and that shows.

The world itself is an interesting character, despite being the type of world I'm disinclined to like. I prefer more Earth-like worlds than the ones wracked by some disaster that changes the very ecology (a la Mistborn's). Roshar is constantly scoured by massive storms that leave the land barren, replacing common animals with odd crustaceans and the like. My usual complaint with such worlds, that the differences in the lives of such a world's inhabitants are unknowable and any comparison seems forced, still applies. But despite that, it all works. Partially this is due to the primary setting of the Shattered Plains, an interesting array of plateaus and chasms that makes me want to see a Stormlight Archive RTS made. More than that, though, are the sketches of world elements throughout the books, which are made even more interesting by the fact that they generally come from the text of the novel itself. (This is an especially impressive feat considering the advance copy I read is lacking around half of the illustrations.)

The story features many of Sanderson's usual elements. Religion is present and certainly effects the world, though it's not quite the focus it has been in some of his previous works. There are the obligatory religious debates, but they are kept to a minimum and it is implied that the answers will direclty relate to the long-term plot of the series. The main characters are noble - if you're looking for flawed anti-heroes, you had best look elsewhere. They certainly have demons, and are far from perfect, but when it comes right down to it they all carefully consider the best path and then follow it. There is a fairly positive aspect to most of the inhabitants of the world - even the cruelty and betrayals are at least justified in the minds of those who perpetrate them, making the characters seem more real (but perhaps a bit too idealized).

As I mentioned, the book is divided into sections interspersed with interludes. These interludes tie into the story indirectly or give you information about the world in general, and are short enough that they don't detract from the main plot. The book's structure in general is very nice - everything from the art inside the book to the section title pages makes the book seem somehow more solid. Of most note is the short final section, which picks up on several unresolved threads and manages to build an incredible amount of excitement for upcoming books. You won't know exactly what's going on by the final page, but you'll certainly hunger for more.

All in all, The Way of Kings is an enjoyable read, but I need to read further books in the series before I can be sure how I feel about it. Sanderson's stories are structured in such a way that it's hard to really judge them until you know how (and whether) it all came together, and that simply hasn't happened yet. There is a lot of potential, and he hasn't let me down in the past, but I'm not quite ready to anoint The Stormlight Archive as the Next Big Fantasy Series just yet.
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