“The stormwall approached, the visible curtain of rain and wind at the advent of a highstorm. It was a massive wave of water, dirt, and rocks, hundreds of feet high, thousands upon thousands of windspren zipping before it.” ~Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Tor, 2010
Re-readability: Again and again and again—foreshadowing and Easter eggs galore
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Pete
This is a book that I attribute with getting me back into the fantasy genre, and I’m only just now returning to it. I have always read fantasy, and I’ve always enjoyed it, but this is the book that reminded me that epic fantasy can be wonderful. It’s huge. It’s the first book in a ten-book series. There are dozens of characters, a complex magic system, several countries and races, and completely bizarre worldbuilding concepts. This is a fantasy book for anyone who wants to sit down and immerse themselves in a colorful, unusual world filled with heroic characters that will feel like your best friends by the end of the story.
If you have never read a Brandon Sanderson book, I recommend this as the place to start—but with a few caveats. You have to be very willing and interested in reading a 1,200+ page story, and you have to be comfortable with a lot of weird words like “shardblade” and “Parshendi” in addition to complex worldbuilding. There are many much shorter Sanderson books that could give you a good taste of his style—like Warbreaker or Elantris—but I think this is the best place to dive in.
The Way of Kings is the first book in Sanderson’s ambitious Stormlight Archive series. It takes place on the planet Roshar, which is inhabited by diverse people as well as spirits called spren, who are drawn to the emotions of humans. There is also a massive storm that sweeps over the globe every few days, causing massive destruction—but infuses gemstones with energy and light.
The kingdom of Alethkar has been at war with the race known as the Parshendi for six years—ever since the Parshendi assassinated the king of Alethkar. Most of the fighting takes place at the Shattered Plains, but the war has turned into more of a contest of gathering riches for the various highprinces of Alethkar.
Dalinar is one of these highprinces, but he believes in returning to an older, more honorable way of life—one that the legendary Knights Radiant supposedly adhered to.
Kaladin is a slave who has lost everything. He is assigned to a “bridge crew”—a group of men who must carry bridges into battle to help armies cross the plateaus of the Shattered Plains. He has few reasons to live, but a strange windspren gives him the shred of hope he needs to keep going.
Shallan is a woman with a mysterious past who seeks to become the ward of the scholar Jasnah Kholin—but Shallan’s motives are not as simple as they appear.
This book is a slow burn. This is essentially a 1,200-page introduction to a series, so it is by no means fast paced. The three protagonists interact very little, though their stories ultimately come together. On my first read, it took me until about the halfway point to get hooked. But I can assure you that if you enjoy the characters and the world, the payoff is well worth the initial hurdle.
Having read the rest of Stormlight, I was overwhelmed by the amount of foreshadowing and little tidbits that Sanderson drops in the first book. I answered many questions, but I ended the book with far more. Most of Sanderson’s work is connected, and I noticed a few recurring themes and characters from his other series.
One thing that I think Sanderson does particularly well is tell a complex story that can be enjoyed on its surface level. You can dig deep and track the background characters and the more complex ongoings on Roshar—or you can simply enjoy the struggles and adventures of the protagonists without worrying about the background stuff. His writing is simple and sometimes plain—but his characters are deep, and the world of Roshar is the most vibrant and believable fantasy world I have read.
I adore this book and love its slow buildup to a fantastic finale. It’s certainly not for everyone, but I doubt many fans of epic fantasy will be disappointed.