Throwback Thursday – The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings Cover.jpg

Publishers: Tor Books

                       Macmillan Audio

Publication Date – 31 August 2010

 

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday I will be reviewing one of the best pieces of fantasy fiction from the last decade: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  I listened to this book for the first time earlier in the year and have been seeking to review it for some time.  However, I just finished reading the latest Brandon Sanderson book, Skyward, which I will be reviewing next week, and decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to finally get a review of The Way of Kings together.

Brandon Sanderson is one of the best writers of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, with several iconic series created by him.  These include the Mistborn series, the Wax and Wayne series, the Warbreaker series, The Reckoners series and his latest book, Skyward, which serves as the first book of his new Skyward series, just to name a few.  Perhaps the biggest indication of how highly regarded Sanderson is the fact that he was the author chosen to finish off Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time series of fantasy books, generally considered one of the most important fantasy series ever created, and the second bestselling series since The Lord of the Rings.  Following Jordan’s death, Sanderson put several of his series on hold to write the final three books in the Wheel of Time series, finishing off these epic fantasy novels with the help of Jordan’s notes.

The Way of Kings is the first book in Sanderson’s most iconic series, The Stormlight Archives, an epic fantasy series set in gigantic fantasy world.  The Stormlight Archives is a massive series from Sanderson with at least 10 books currently planned.  The first three of these books have already been released, with a fourth planned for 2020.  Each of these books is a massive undertaking to read, each totalling over 1,000 pages.  I chose to listen to The Way of Kings in its audiobook format, read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading.  At over 45 hours in length, it does take a while to get through, but it was well worth it for the epic adventure within.

The Stormlight Archives is set within the world of Roshar, which has seen much chaos and bloodshed and is constantly beset by powerful storms, known as highstorms.  Centuries ago, a recurring event, known as the Desolation, unleashed the demonic Voidbringers upon the lands, devastating all before it.  To counter these creatures, the legendary Knights Radiant were formed.  They were powerful warriors with magical powers who wielded the epic magical armour and swords known as Shardplate and Shardblades.  After years of fighting, the Desolation was stopped and the Voidbringers defeated.  With their task complete, the Knights Radiant abandoned their weapons and disappeared.  Centuries later, when the main story is set, these events have become myths and legends, with many doubting that they ever existed.  However, the remaining pieces of Shardplate and Shardblades have become valuable commodities to the warring nations that have sprung up since the end of the Desolation, as they allow normal men to become the mightiest of warriors.

The main story of The Way of Kings begins with the assassination of the powerful King of Alethkar, Gavilar Kholin by Szeth-son-son-Vallano, apparently on the order of the Parshendi, a recently discovered race of humanoids who Gavilar was seeking peace with.  This killing results in a war between the Alethi and the Parshendi on the Shattered Plains.  After years of fighting, the war has mostly stymied, with neither side gaining a significant advantage, as the two armies compete for magical resources on the Plains.

This book has three distinctive main plot lines that lie mostly unconnected throughout the course of the novel.  The first plot follows the brother of the slain King Gavilar, Dalinar Kholin, and his sons, as they serve the new king on the Shattered Plains.  After years of fighting, Dalinar has grown weary of war and the competitive and caste based Alethkar way of life and attempts to find solace in the ancient book The Way of Kings, a volume that his brother became obsessed with before his death.  Questioning the merits of his people’s current ways of life, Dalinar attempts to find a way to unite the squabbling highprinces in a final strike against the Parshendi, while also dealing with visions of the past that affect his ability to lead.

The second plot line follows Kaladin, a former solider to an Alethi lord.  Kaladin was betrayed and has been sold into slavery.  Transported to the Shattered Plains, Kaladin is forced to become a bridgeman, carrying the heavy bridges into battle that the armies require to cross the canyons and broken landscape of the Shattered Plains.  Bridgeman have low life expectancies and are usually targeted first by the Parshendi in the battles that dominate the plains.  Determined to survive, Kaladin attempts to form his unit of bridgemen into an effective team in order to minimise casualties in each battle.  But the lord he serves has no interesting in having his bridgeman survive, and Kaladin must utilise newly discovered magical abilities if he is to keep his unit alive.  A part of this storyline also follows a younger Kaladin and shows how he gained his skills and abilities, and the events that resulted in his enslavement.

The final storyline follows Shallan Davar, a minor noblewoman and scholar who seeks the patronage of Jasnah Kholin, the current king’s sister, who is Dalinar’s niece.  While Shallan succeeds in becoming Jasnah’s apprentice, she is really plotting to steal an item of great value from Jasnah that will ensure her families survival.  But as she makes her plans, she finds herself embroiled in a series of plots while also uncovering her own powerful magic.

In addition to these three main storylines, there are a series of interludes that help build up the world in which The Stormlight Chronicles is set, while also briefly introducing a number of characters who are likely to become major players in future volumes of this series.  Each interlude also features an extended sequence that focuses on Szeth-son-son-Vallano, the assassin forced to kill King Gavilar, as he finds himself controlled by a mysterious organisation that appears to be behind many of the books more mysterious events.

Quite frankly, there is so much going on within The Way of Kings.  Not only are there several substantial storylines that combine together into one massive and captivating overall narrative, but Sanderson also creates a massive and detailed new fantasy world with significant history and character backstories to form the basis of this massive series.  It is actually quite amazing that Sanderson has managed to combine so much together into one book without it getting away from him, but The Way of Kings is proof that it is possible.

Without a doubt, the most impressive thing about The Way of Kings is the sheer amount of world building that Sanderson is able to cram into one book.  There is so much that forms the basis of The Stormlight Archive’s universe, from its magical based technology, to the iconic weapons and armour, the unique battle tactics, the creatures found within, the caste system based upon eye colour and this world’s history.  Every different nation appears to have its own unique and fascinating culture, all of which come into play within the plot of the story in some way or another.  For example, the Shin culture results in the character of Szeth-son-son-Vallano becoming a servant to whoever holds his Oathstone, while the Alethi culture produces quite a lot of backstabbing and conflict due to the competitive nature of its citizens.  There are some really fun cultural details added into these world cultures, such as women being the sole scholars of this world, while men do not even learn to read, or several cultures requiring all the women to wear gloves on one hand.

In addition to the culture, the world of Roshar is pretty impressive in itself.  One of the most distinctive and defining features of Roshar is the continuous gigantic storms, known as high storms, that devastate the land on a regular basis.  As a result, the people have had to adapt to these conditions, and there are a number of interludes where the protagonists have to shelter for periods from the storm.  I loved the way that Sanderson was able to come up with a range of impacts that these destructive storms would have on this world, such as the way that plants would grow and become reactive in response to constantly being hit by storms.  A large portion of the story is set around the landscape known as the Shattered Plains, which, as the name suggested, is a shattered landscape made up of a series of massive canyons and gaps between plateaus, haunted by giant monsters and prone to flash floods during high storms.  There are a number of massive battles and smaller explorations occurring in this landscape throughout the book, and it serves as a distinctive background which quite a number of fantastic plot points build up around.

All of this world building is quite incredible, but it is also impressive in the way that Sanderson has linked this world to some of the other series he has created or is currently planning to create.  This shared universe, known as The Cosmere, is made up of a number of worlds where some of his fantasy books are set.  The books in The Cosmere share several characters who travel from world to world, as well as some overarching themes and plot points.  For example, some of the chaos that the characters explore is the result of a massive conflict that affects all the books within The Cosmere universe.  There are several aspects of this explored within The Way of Kings, and it results in some interesting storytelling.

In addition to the massive world in which this book is set, Sanderson has filled The Way of Kings with a series of incredible storylines.  I really enjoyed each of the storylines, as each of them added something different to the book.  The storylines that focused on Dalinar Kholin and his family provide the reader with large-scale battles and a deep look at the culture, history and lifestyle of one of the main nations on Roshar, while also exploring the mystery of the disappearing Knights Radiant.  The storylines that are mostly told from the point of view of Shallan Davar are a bit slower paced, but contain an intriguing storyline of research, teaching, ethical deliberations, various plots and even a planned heist of a magical item.  Without a doubt however, my favourite storylines focused on the Kaladin and his attempts to turn his bridgemen into a cohesive unit.  These storylines contain some great scenes of comradery, friendship and training, while also allowing for some intense and clever battle sequences.  The storylines focusing on Kaladin’s youth were among my least favourite in the entire book, but they were still intriguing as they allowed the reader to see how Kaladin gained his complicated personality, his hatred for the world’s noble class and his determination to save lives.  In addition, I have no doubt that all that backstory will serve an important part in a future book in the series.  All three of these main storylines, as well as the shorter stories contained within the interludes, come together perfectly to form a complex narrative that interweaves subtly for most of the book.  While there are some brief mentions or crossovers for the majority of The Way of Kings, Sanderson does not focus too much on bringing these characters together until the very end of the story.  This allows Sanderson to set up each of these main characters and their associated minor characters in more detail, and allows them to be defined on their own terms.

I really loved how each of the main point-of-view characters within The Way of Kings is incredibly complicated.  For example, Dalinar Kholin is a person who spent years becoming the most feared warrior in the world.  Nicknamed the Blackthorn, his skill in battle and bloodlust helped unite Alethkar under his brother’s rule and he was considered the epitome of Alethi warrior culture.  However, after the death of his brother, Dalinar is weighed down with guilt, and his desire to follow ancient codes of conduct and the teachings of The Way of Kings causes him to doubt everything he previously knew.  Szeth-son-son-Vallano, is a killer without peer, but he is not in control of his own actions, due to becoming Truthless.  Forced to obey whoever holds his Oathstone, Szeth is constantly forced to kill for a rotating string of masters, and he despairs at the death he deals around him.  Finally there is Kaladin, a man so full of regret and despair for the friends and family he has lost, he is constantly drawn to the brink of sanity.  He is brought out of his stupor by his desire to help the men on his bridge crew and his relationship with the spren Syl, and is a fantastic character to follow, especially when Sanderson spends time simultaneously examining his past and previous tragedies.  Each of these storylines also features a huge number of intriguing side characters, and the reader can get quite attached to a number of these, especially the members of Kaladin’s bridge crew, who unfortunately have a short life expectancy.

Those people who like a healthy dose of action with their incredible storytelling will not be disappointed with The Way of Kings, as it features an incredible number of battles and warfare throughout its various storylines.  There are so many different and unique action sequences throughout this book for the reader to enjoy, and the inclusion of the epic magical weapons and armour, Shardblades and Shardplate, in many of these scenes provide some truly awesome moments.  There are a number of fantastic large-scale battles throughout the book, often with the character of Dalinar leading the charge.  However, I always quite enjoyed the sequences where Kaladin and his bridge crew are forced to carry a massive bridge at the front of the army.  These scenes are always extremely intense as the bridgemen come under intense fire and many die in the attempts to cross the gorges that make up the Shattered Plains.  As the book continues, Kaladin and his crew experiment with a number of different techniques and strategies to try and stay alive during these assaults, with varied and intriguing results.

While all the above scenes are pretty epic, nothing can top the sequences where Szeth-son-son-Vallano unleashes his full potential.  Szeth has unique magical abilities and wields a powerful Shardblade so is quite a powerful opponent, even against Full Shardbearers (those wielding both a Shardblade and Shardplate, essentially indestructible warriors).  There are two great scenes where Szeth unleashes his abilities against his opponents.  The first time is one of the best opening scenes in fantasy fiction as he storms the palace of King Gavilar, taking out a number of opponents with his abilities.  Quite frankly, if this scene were to be the first thing that was shown in an adaption of this series, it has the potential to be one of the most epic opening moments in movie or television history.  This is actually topped later in the book, when Szeth falls into a trap against one of his targets, who utilises a number of Shardbearers against him.  This scene is great not only because it has a number of additional opponents for the assassin but because Szeth unleashes his full rage when he realises how many people his opponent has sacrificed to trap Szeth.  All of these action sequences are fairly epic, and are enough to make any action junkie extremely happy.

At this point, I have not had the chance to read any additional books in The Stormlight Archive, mainly as I have not had time to dive into such a big book with so many other great reads coming out this year.  That being said, I fully appreciate how much of a great introduction to this series The Way of Kings is.  It sets up so much of the universe and starts each of these major storylines and introduces several fantastic main characters.  I have no doubt that future books in these storylines will be awesome, and I really appreciate how well Sanderson introduces his series.  I fully intend to read the next books in this series soon, and my goal is to get through the second and third book in The Stormlight Archive before the fourth book is released in 2020.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Way of Kings and have to say it was an incredible way to enjoy this incredible book.  The publishers utilise two separate narrators, Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, who split the book between them.  Kramer reads the chapters told from male characters’ point of view, while Reading does the same for chapters told from a female characters’ point of view.  Both of these narrators are pretty epic and do an amazing job portraying their various characters and bringing them to life.  I would mostly recommend using the audiobook version of The Way of Kings because I find it helps the reader remember all the insane amount of information, detail and lore that the author has crammed into this book.  I also loved the way that the narration dragged me into the centre of some of these epic battles, and it is definitely one of the best ways to enjoy The Way of Kings.

Overall, The Way of Kings is an incredible piece of fantasy fiction and really lives up to the hype.  This is the perfect book to start exploring Sanderson’s work, and readers can expect a massive read, chock full of intricate and detailed world building, intense and unique action and a series of outstanding characters.  This is some of the best fantasy fiction you will ever read.  Clear out your calendar and make room to read this book.

My Rating:

Five Stars

One thought on “Throwback Thursday – The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

  1. Pingback: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson – The Unseen Library

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