Review - Way of Kings

Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

Summary: 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. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
[Summary from GoodReads]

I’ll start out saying – this book is amazing. And the more I think about it, the more my mind just spins with the awesomeness. I could go down a checklist of all the great things about it: interesting, well-drawn characters; a complex, but not overwrought, plot; excellent pacing; world-building with depth and plenty of detail; and vivid, descriptive writing. At 1001 pages, this book is a commitment, but completely worth it.

Way of Kings is the first in a new fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson, so as you would expect there’s a lot of introducing going on in this book. Sanderson hits you with not just multiple characters and their multiple storylines, but a brand new world. At first, it was a lot to take in; for the first few chapters I’ll admit I found myself thinking a lot of “what is going on??” But a lot of that was me trying too hard to “figure things out.” Once I just sat back and read – and let myself get carried away in the story – things started falling into place. It was kind of like the first few weeks after moving to a new city – at first, everything seems confusing and strange and you don’t know how to find anything except maybe the grocery store. But then all of a sudden things look familiar and you can get around pretty well.

Like I mentioned at first, the pacing of this book is one of its greatest strengths. There are so many characters and storylines going on, but I never felt like Sanderson was leaving information out, or shoving exposition in my face. At the same time, the writing is tight – no scene felt superfluous. Even if I didn’t see the connection at the time, I could tell that it would mean something later. And the action scenes! I generally have trouble with action scenes in books, but these were great. I was practically flinching in a few of the fight scenes.
Like many high fantasy books, good versus evil is a kind of overarching theme. And the book touches on themes of honor, loyalty, human dignity, war, violence, morality, absolute truth, hope, desperation….there’s a lot going on in there! But nothing seems preachy or too philosophical. Like I said, every discussion or character musing is relevant to the story and action.

I could probably go on and on trying to describe more of the plot(s) or characters, but I don’t think I could do it justice without writing pages and pages. I will say one final thing – by the end of the book, I wanted Dalinar to be my favorite uncle, Jasnah to be my friend, I was rooting hard for Shallan and I had a big crush on Kaladin.