Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings”

A Must Read 300Since the Christmas shopping season is upon us, I figured it’d be a good time to pick up a newer series and see if it is worth getting someone as a gift. The Way of Kings is the first entry in The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. Just starting out in 2010 with several planned books, this particular series has been on my “to watch” list for quite awhile, since Sanderson has proven himself to be a very capable fantasy/sci-fi writer in the past. Now, I’ve finally got my hands on it. The question is, how does book 1 hold up?

The Way of Kings, in typical epic fantasy fashion, follows a huge host of characters across an entire world, so narrowing down a central plot is somewhat difficult. As far as main characters go, there are three principle characters that steal the show (though most Point of View characters will undoubtedly be extremely important by the end of the series). Szeth is an assassin with a great burden. Forced to obey anyone who holds a particular stone, he finds his skills in battle are much desired, and demand for his services will take him all across the world, with his work taking place on the political stage. Another storyline follows Kaladin, a peasant who, due to personal insult, has a particular disdain for the noble, wealthy, and powerful. Over time, he finds himself caught up in a war that will reveal more about himself than he ever thought possible as he struggles to keep himself and his allies alive. Finally, Shallan represents the opposite end of the class spectrum. Shallan is a young noblewoman who is desperate to save her family’s land. Her scheming soon lands her in some dangerous political waters, and she discovers a common bond between her and our other protagonists.

If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is. And this is just a fraction of the character interactions and plotlines being thrown around. There are some good and bad points to this. Sanderson’s actual worldbuilding is phenomenal. In fact, The Stormlight Archive has one of the coolest backstories I’ve ever read. The religions and cultures are all excruciatingly detailed, and it aids in character development. The downside is that in covering so much width of a plot, there isn’t a ton of depth. The Way of Kings is clearly a novel all about setup. Unfortunately, that means our big payoffs are down the road. Don’t expect this to be a book you can just pick up and run through. The terminology alone is staggering. Imagine diving into The Lord of the Rings if you had never seen another piece of fantasy storytelling. I mean this in the best possible way. While there isn’t a lot going on in a “grand scheme” sense just yet, the individual storylines are compelling, and the series shows a great deal of promise. Everything in this books screams “Classic in the making,” but we will just have to wait to see what the next few books bring to decide if the wait is worth it.

Ultimately, if you aren’t a fan of fantasy, this series won’t win you over. In fact, the character names alone will probably turn you off. But, if you are looking for a series to grab your attention and make you want more, then this is the book for you. The action and imagery is brilliant, the characters are unique, there’s a fascinating political and social commentary running in the background, and the story promises much more to come right up to the last page. If you are getting a friend a book and any of the above appeals to them, then The Way of Kings should be on your shopping list. I hope you enjoy your time in Stormlight, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up book 2, Words of Radiance.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor