Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 1007
Release Date: August 31st, 2010
Series: The Stormlight Archive, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars
“And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take?” This sentiment is echoed multiple times across THE WAY OF KINGS, the sprawling epic fantasy from Brandon Sanderson. It’s been quite some time since I’ve dived into this genre; about five years since GAME OF THRONES and a decade since THE WHEEL OF TIME. As a result, it took me a while to re-acclimate to the pacing, which fully embraces a variation on the ethos stated above – if you enjoy the journey, does it matter where you end up? Although at times I wish the path had been less meandering, THE WAY OF KINGS was a trip worth investing in.
At its heart, THE WAY OF KINGS follows three characters. Kaladin, a soldier betrayed into slavery, sentenced to the most dangerous front-line duty possible in the war raging on the Shattered Plains. Dalinar, a highprince commander in the same war who is increasingly struck by vivid visions of events thousands of years ago, forcing him to question the war he helped start. Shallan, a young woman with a troubled past, who seeks an apprenticeship to one of the most revered scholars in the land – but only as part of a desperate scheme to save her family. Though other characters momentarily step into the spotlight, it is through the eyes of these three central leads that we explore the world of Roshar, a land cursed with deadly storms that also provide the magic of this world: stormlight.
THE WAY OF KINGS is absolutely rich in world-building and characters. You’ll see very few familiar flora and fauna in these pages. Crustacean-like chull pull carts instead of oxen, the grass pulls into the ground rather than let itself be trampled upon, and seasons come and go at whimsy instead of a steady progression. I was fascinated with the economy of Roshar. Gems infused with stormlight make up the currency of the various nations, but they also are the primary source of lighting. A character may dump a small fortune into a glass bowl to use as a temporary light source without a second thought.
The characters themselves are full of pathos and equal measures of self-doubt and self-assurance as they wrestle with the twist and turns of their lives. Kaladin’s fight to regain a sense of purpose in the face of overwhelming despair hooked me into the book initially, curious to see what made this man tick. But by far my favorite was Shallan, her quick tongue and inquisitive nature far more engaging than the war maneuverings in the Shattered Plains.
This leads me to where I struggled a bit with the book, and that was the somewhat glacial pace the plot moved at at times, particularly when the narrative turned to the war. Sanderson takes his time developing his characters, putting them through the wringer to mold them. THE WAY OF KINGS truly does feel like the first act of a much larger tale (and indeed, this book is the first installment in a five book arc, out of total planned ten books). Two-thirds of the way through, I still wasn’t entirely sure where any of the threads were going, and it certainly didn’t help that my favorite Shallan disappeared for a considerable stretch of time. The story ends on a hell of a conclusion (I finished the last 100 pages in one sitting, wrapping at 1 A.M.), including a climactic battle, powers unlocked, and a couple bombshell revelations. But although some threads paid off, the story didn’t feel remotely like it had reached any kind of conclusion. This book is just part of the path, not the destination.
If you have no trouble settling in for a long, slow-burn read, I highly recommend THE WAY OF KINGS. If you want a quick tale with a conclusive ending, this is not the read for you. This is a story that rewards patience and the willingness to immerse yourself in this world for a good, long stretch. To me, the ending truly made up for the slower parts; one moment with Kaladin actually made me want to stand up and cheer. I will definitely continue on with this series, though after I’ve had a chance to prepare myself to abandon all other books for two weeks!
Parting Note: I’ve been assured by multiple people that Shallan is the true star of Book Two, WORDS OF RADIANCE, so I am highly looking forward to that!