Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings is doorstopper epic fantasy. I think I need a new category for a size above "doorstopper". Doorbarricader, maybe. This volume is book one of "The Stormlight Archive", which Sanderson projects to be a decalogy. Book one weighs in at a thousand pages. This is going to be long. You have been warned.

(I actually didn't know this was going to be a decalogy when I started it. I might have given it a pass if I had. It's just as well that I didn't know, because I did enjoy the book.)

In the doorstopper fantasy tradition, the book has a number of different viewpoint characters. Many of them only appear during the vignettes between the different parts the volume is broken into. Most of the major viewpoint characters are in the same general geographic area for most of the book, so it's not the dizzying frequent transcontinental jumps that, say, Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" provides. It does, however, give a bunch of history lessons in the form of visions for one of the viewpoint characters.

Also, it has both a prelude and a prologue. I am just saying. That this is the kind of book that needs both a prologue and a prelude.

The prologue and the prelude both establish certain mysteries central to later events. If you are hoping that the next thousand pages will explain these mysteries, you will be disappointed. Just so you know. You get a bunch of tantalizing hints and quite a lot of 'I'm not sure if this is a hint, or a red herring, or a reinforcement of twenty eight previous hints'. Who knows? MAYBE IN BOOK SEVEN IT WILL COME UP AGAIN.

Aside from being very long, the novel is also pretty grim. My favorite character is Kaladin. I can tell Kaladin is Sanderson's favorite too because Sanderson abused him way more than anyone else. There are various points early and in the middle of the book where it looks like Kaladin might get killed, and I'd give a grim cackle. 'Noooo, you're not going to die, Kaladin. The author is not nearly done torturing you yet.' If you are the sort who thinks that authors are usually too nice to their characters and more suffering would improve every story, you should be pretty happy.

The set-up -- and this is pretty obvious even from the prelude -- is that the humans of the world are embroiled in various pointless bloody conflicts, while some nebulous but horrible threat that they are basically in no way prepared to face is coming for them.

All grousing about tortured characters and series length aside, I enjoyed this book a great deal. As usual with Sanderson fantasies, the world has an interesting magic system -- actually, what appears to be three or maybe four of them, although I wouldn't be surprised if later novels presented a Unified Theory of Magic that made them one. One of the styles of magic is simple-but-flexible, with a primary use in combat. It allows the character who is a master of it to do some of the most cinematic fighting I have ever read in a book. If you have ever wished for a book where it made absolute sense for a guy wielding a gigantic sword to be kicking ass against dozens of enemies at once, this is your book. Most of the book is not about fighting, but the combat scenes are impressive when they come.

The less-clearly defined magic system is transformation, mostly of inanimate objects into another form of matter -- eg, turning a rock into air or a clay cup to a metal one. Then there's Old Magic, which gets little more than a few passing mentions, and some other magic tricks that it's not clear how they fit into the first two, but they generally look like they do. The book's climax abides by all the clearly-defined limitations of character's abilities, and uses them in novel-yet-logical ways as part of the resolution. With Sanderson, this almost goes without saying, but I feel the need to point it out because it's one of the things I love best about his work. He always sticks the landing.

The book also has a reasonably satisfying conclusion in other ways. Yes, there's lots of stuff to do in the sequels and there is no sense of a happily-ever-after. But the reader is not left dangling off a cliff, or feeling like the characters are basically in the same place they started. Enough major issues were resolved that it felt like the conclusion of a book, and not that it just stopped. The Way of Kings is not my favorite Sanderson novel ever (my favorite is probably still Elantris), but it's a solid 8.

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