The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings is the first book in The Stormlight Archive, an epic fantasy series set in a troubled kingdom a few centuries after the Knights Radiant, a legendary force that fought against the forces of evil, abandoned humanity to themselves. Now, the kingdom is stuck in a stagnating war against the people who’d assassinated the previous king, while its highprinces squabble as they compete among themselves to claim the powerful magical weapons the Knights left behind.

The book mainly follows three characters: Kaladin, a slave; Shallan, a scholar’s apprentice; and Dalinar, a highprince and uncle to the new king.  Kaladin has training as both surgeon and soldier, but now strives only to survive and protect his crew as they carry bridges for the army while being shot at by enemy soldiers. Shallan manages to get apprenticed to one of the premier scholars of the realm, but her real goal is to steal from the woman in order to help her family. Dalinar wants to fulfill his brother’s wish of properly uniting their kingdom, but is beset by troubling visions which leave him wondering if he’s going mad. All three struggle both with accomplishing their goals, and with figuring out whether their goals are the right ones.

My reaction to this book is honestly a little mixed. The parts that I loved, I really loved. But the parts which dragged… really dragged.

The highlight of the book for me was definitely the characters, and especially Kaladin. All the characters are well-defined from the start, and most are instantly likable. In particular, both Kaladin and Dalinar have a very strong sense of justice and protectiveness for “their men”, and it’s fun to see how the same character traits play out for two characters so different in rank. Kaladin’s incredible willpower, humanised by his struggles with depression (as well as his burning hatred and distrust for the nobility) instantly made me adore him. I really enjoyed him training and chilling with his Bridgecrew, glaring at everyone higher up in rank than him, and basically hustling to keep his buddies alive.

My biggest problem with the book was just how long it was. I genuinely felt like the book could have been tightened up by a good ~400 pages and been all the better for it. Each of the three main characters has a main internal dilemma: Kaladin struggles between helping others or giving in to despair, Shallan struggles between whether to rob the scholar or not, and Dalinar struggles between whether his visions mean he’s going crazy and should abdicate in favour of his son or not. They also have smaller, generally external dilemmas: e.g. whether Dalinar should trust one of his old friends turned rival, or whether Kaladin (in flashbacks to his past) should become a soldier or a surgeon. All these issues are set up in the first 20% of the book, and then are mostly not resolved until the last couple hundred pages. The last bit of the book is thus extremely satisfying, but…

For a huge chunk of the middle of the book, I felt like very similar scenes played out with small variations as the characters waffled. This is definitely realistic – it’s undeniably hard to come to a decision and stick with it – but I felt that the characters were set up solidly enough that we didn’t need this much time on their hesitation. In particular, I liked Shallan from the start, but only started liking her plotline around 50 chapters in – which is a lot of chapters. It’s probably also why I liked Kaladin’s parts the most: his main struggle is with depression, which understandably can’t be cured by him simply deciding, “Yes, totally, I will live now.” Moreover, as his basic goal was just for him and his crew to live, it felt as though every chapter where they avoided death furthered it, unlike for Shallan and Dalinar.

To some extent, it thus feels like plot takes a secondary role to the very thorough worldbuilding, which I’ve only scratched the surface of in my first paragraph. This is my first Sanderson book, and he definitely lives up to his reputation: there’s multiple human and non-human races and each has its customs, religion, and history explored at least a bit; the magic system is intricate and imaginative, and is often used very creatively; and there’s plenty of hints about a much deeper and longer fight for humankind that our protagonists are not yet even fully aware of. If that kind of worldbuilding is your jam and you haven’t started The Stormlight Archive yet, you should really be running to your local bookshop/Amazon webpage ASAP.

For readers like me, who are not super into worldbuilding but still wanna know what all their friends are raving about, I highly recommend getting an audiobook. I found it a great book to listen to while crocheting: sometimes I could listen with just half an ear and still get everything I enjoyed out of it, and sometimes I’d put my yarn down and bite my nails over Kaladin’s crazy plans. I’m looking forward to doing the same for Book 2.

Recommended for:

  • Fans of worldbuilding
  • Fans of epic fantasy in a creative world (no Tolkien rip-off here!)
  • Fans of a very structured magic system
  • Fans of those hotblooded shounen anime (e.g. One Piece, Gurren Lagann)
  • People who wanna know whether Sanderson is Worth The Fuss
  • …Seriously, who into fantasy doesn’t know if they’ll like Sanderson or not by now who is this review even for

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