The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive Book One)
Written by Brandon Sanderson
Goodreads | Amazon
Published by Tor Books
Released August 31, 2010
“I understood in a moment of stillness. Those candle flames were like the lives of men. So fragile. So deadly. Left alone, they lit and warmed. Let run rampant, they would destroy the very things they were meant to illuminate. Embryonic bonfires, each bearing a seed of destruction so potent it could tumble cities and dash kings to their knees. In later years, my mind would return to that calm, silent evening, when I had stared at rows of living lights. And I would understand. To be given loyalty is to be infused like a gemstone, to be granted the frightful license to destroy not only one’s self, but all within one’s care.”
I’m just going to say it now, at the beginning: there’s not a single thing that I disliked about this book. It was marvelous in every regard, and I’m only disappointed in myself for not reading one of Brandon Sanderson’s books before now. Within this 1000 page novel, he has become one of my favorite writers and world-builders. It’s safe to say that 2019 will be the year where I attempt to read everything he’s written thus far.
The Way of Kings is the first book in what will eventually be a ten book series. As of this writing, only the first three books have been released, the other two being Words of Radiance and Oathbringer. There is also a short novella called Edgedancer that was released in 2016.
Fortunately, on his website, Brandon Sanderson has progress bars for what he’s currently working on, a feature that I wish more authors would do.
I actually saw this for the first time today and it made me very excited.
The synopsis of The Way of Kings is very complex, but I’m going to do my very best to accurately describe everything to you without spoilers. There are multiple points of view, but the main four are Kaladin, Dalinar, Adolin, and Shallan. Dalinar is a high prince in the kingdom of Alethkar and uncle to the king. Adolin is his son and heir. Their kingdom is currently engaged in a war with the Parshendi in a location known as the Shattered Plains, a rocky, cruel landscape with giant beasts making appearances. The Parshendi took responsibility for assassinating the previous king of Alethkar, and Dalinar’s brother, King Gavilar, which led to this long war.
In a kingdom that separates classes of people based on their eye color, Dalinar and Adolin are light eyes that are in possession of shardplates and shardblades. These are suits of armor and swords left behind by the Knights Radiants centuries ago and essentially make their wearers stronger and faster. Dalinar was once known as one of the most fierce warriors in the kingdom, but in his old age, there are rumors that he’s losing his mind and his ability to lead. Much of his story, and of Adolin’s, is coming to terms with whether or not he should step down and his fight to make the kingdom of Alethkar united.
Kaladin is probably the closest thing to a main character that we have in this novel. He’s a former warrior and surgeon’s apprentice who is a slave when we meet him. He’s put on a crew of bridgemen, arguably the worst commission a man can get. They literally carry large wooden bridges on their backs for miles and miles across the Shattered Plains. The lifespan of a bridgeman is remarkably short, and Kaladin’s story throughout the novel is his coming to terms with his new life and the people he finds himself surrounded by. Kaladin is my favorite character in the book, and I’m looking forward to where he finds himself in the rest of the series. I also loved the discovery of his father’s own kind of bravery that happens about halfway through the story. We essentially watch Kaladin grow up in this book in a non-linear way.
Shallan is not featured as much in this novel as I would have liked, but I have a strong suspicion that she will feature prominently in the second book. Shallan travels to Kharbranth, a major city in the kingdom, to become the ward of a heretic and scholar, Jasnah. Although she has ulterior motives from the beginning, Shallan finds herself enjoying the new world that she finds herself in. One of the most interesting aspects of her story is the training in ethics that Jasnah gives her, sometimes in quite a startling manner. So much of Shallan’s story is focused on her examining her own behaviors, and it’s very fascinating.
There’s also a mysterious character named Szeth-son-son-Vallano, or Truthless of Shinovar, and the fight scenes involving him are some of the most intense and beautifully written of anything I’ve read in any book. The way Sanderson writes the scenes, it’s so easy to see Szeth leaping from wall to wall, effortlessly throwing large objects at the people fighting against him. He has a unique power, and even towards the end of this novel we’re still left wondering about it. Those scenes are so breathtaking though. Szeth is another character that I’m sure we’ll see much more of in the next books.
The most amazing thing about this book is the world building. I’d heard prior to reading this that Brandon Sanderson was really talented in world-building, but I didn’t realize how perfect he would be at it. My biggest gripe in most fantasy novels is that the world isn’t fleshed out enough, and this is a complaint that cannot be made of this novel. The world was very complex and felt absolutely real. The biggest thing I noticed was that it really felt like a completely unique world. Even when fantasy books take place on a planet that isn’t earth, in many cases they still have very earthly features. That’s not the case with The Way of Kings. The world is wonderfully familiar and completely alien at the exact same time. Sanderson includes so much of the world, from landscape to food to flora and fauna that the world feels so complete that it’s almost difficult to believe that it isn’t real.
There’s also a feature of the book that focuses very heavily on the weather of this world, particularly highstorms, which sound like the worst thunderstorm you’ve ever been in multiplied by a factor of a hundred and featuring giant rocks being tossed around in the wind. To give an example of how bad these storms are, one of the punishments used in the war camps is to leave a person strung up outside during a highstorm, resulting in their deaths by the time the storms are over. The weather enthusiast in me loved reading about these storms and the fact that they could be predicted mathematically, and I want to know so much more about them.
“Nobody liked to be out during a storm, but sometimes you couldn’t avoid it. The things that walked the storms – perhaps even the Stormfather himself – weren’t nearly so deadly as the rocks and branches cast up into the air. In fact, the storm’s initial tempest of water and wind – the stormwall – was the most dangerous part. The longer one endured after that, the weaker the storm grew, until the trailing edge was nothing more than sprinkling rain.”
Sprinkled throughout the book are plenty of maps and illustrations, which made the book quite fun to read. I ended up bookmarking all of those illustrations to flip back to over and over again.
Overall, this book was absolutely perfect and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to read some epic high fantasy. Don’t be scared of how massive these books are – they’re pretty fast paced and keep you engaged the entire time.