On the phone with my dad the other day, I had the hardest time describing this book. I mentioned that he would like it and was foolishly unprepared for him to ask “why?”. Hopefully, I can do a better job here! The main draw of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – though it caused me such consternation to explain – is its dynamism. Classic fantasy archetypes are introduced and immediately turned on their heads as characters reconcile with the world around them. It is palpable just how much Sanderson has read and pondered the fantasy genre and its world-building; the result is a striking tapestry of interwoven lives set against the dramatic and magical background of Roshar.
At its opening, we have three main perspective characters. Kaladin – an archetypal Chosen One who rather loathes those doing the choosing), Dalinar – a storied veteran and general attempting to turn peacemaker and politician, and Shallon – a sunny and clever noblewoman with incredibly dark secrets. My trouble when talking to my dad was explaining further without giving the game away! Over the course of the novel, Kaladin must try and reinvest in being alive, Dalinar must adapt his gifts to a very unfamiliar battleground, and Shallon must balance her needs and the trust of those around her. The secondary characters are nothing to sneeze at either! My personal favorite is Adolin Kholin, Dalinar’s son who somehow manages to be a narrative foil for his father and Kaladin!
For all of its innovations and subversions, The Way of Kings knows when to bring in the classics of an epic. Some of the most important items in Roshar are the mythical Shardblades and Shardplates, ancient magical swords and armor. These things are incredible, think ephemeral blades that cut like lightsabers, coupled with Iron Man-esque suits that allow for vivid and cinematic athletics (gorge jumping, stopping a giant monster with your bare hands, you name it!). It also features a hard magic system – something with clear rules and expectations. However, a lot of magical knowledge has been lost, and we follow along with Shallon in particular discovering the lost art. Even the forces that govern the world of Roshar itself are a mystery at first. The land is routinely swept by devastatingly powerful Highstorms, but no one know where they come from beyond legend. Well, until things really get going near the climax.
Brandon Sanderson has posted the aptly titled “Introduction to Sanderson’s Laws” on his blog, and this book particularly speaks to rule 1: “an author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.” And the slow build of understanding couples beautifully with character development and the plot buildup. It’s the synthesis of these tools, characters, and plot that really makes this book worth reading.
Speaking of plot, perhaps the best bonus detail about The Way of Kings is that – despite being a satisfying stand-alone novel – it kicks off a ten-part series! There is a good payoff here while still allowing hooks to be set for the sequels. Books 1 through 4, plus a lovely intermediary novella, are already out as of 2020, and the fifth book (intended to conclude this first phase of the series) is slated for release in the Fall of 2024. So, plenty of time to immerse yourself in the growing and changing world and get excited about the grand mid-finale!
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