The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson
Published: Tor Books (Aug 31, 2010)
Posted: Goodreads (Jul 21, 2016)
(5 / 5) (5 / 5) 🙂
TL;DR – This is a long review of The Way of Kings. The novel features an in-depth and heavily detailed world complete with excellent characters and strong story. The character development, political climate, and magic system are all noteworthy. The review should be relatively spoiler free. TWoK is a true masterpiece and an excellent start to an intriguing series. 5/5 and highly recommended!
The Way of Kings is the first installment of The Stormlight Archive. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Everything in The Way of Kings is large-scale: the decent page count, the level of character depth, intricate and original world building. Kings has it all and it’s well crafted. Brandon Sanderson’s magnum opus redefines what good fantasy is all about.
Roshar. Devastated by conflict, storms, and warfare. Under the watchful gaze of three moons: violet, blue and green. The climate is decidedly red with blood.
Roshar is a world with vibrant plant and animal life, most of which has adapted to periodic highstorms: devastating meteorological phenomena that destroys the land with dreadful regularity. Life on Roshar is active, multicolored plant life is shelled or otherwise fortified. Plants are heavily reactive, moving of their accord.
The 17th Shard and Coppermind wiki is filled with the author’s details on every form of life mentioned. All animals, minerals and plants have their own backstory. The novel itself reads fluidly regardless of the rich world. Unlike other fantasy novels, Sanderson doesn’t bog down the narrative with huge dictionaries or unwieldy backstories embedded in active scenes. Everything is well described within the confines of the novel but are also detailed enough for further fan research.
There are many races and nations, each with their own social values and political systems. From the warlike, dominant Alethi and their capital of Alethkar, to the fair skinned and peaceful Shin of Shinovar, a society where warriors are lowly servants. The dominant religion is Vorinism, a faith split unto many Devotaries, spiritual but with a strong focus on jobs and life’s work. The storyline’s tension is the social, political, and religious climate on Roshar.
Much of the novel takes place in Kharbranth, the City of Bells, a beacon of trade where religious Ardents mix and mingle with politicians. Another large portion takes place on the desert-like
Shattered Plains where an inhuman race of savages fight endlessly with the well-organized Alethi, a pointless war, conflict for conflict’s sake. The novel is filled with political posturing, military battles, Mistborn-style action, loveable people and places, and an unparalleled epic fantasy feel.
The main characters are Dalinar Kholin, a veteran Alethi commander, Shallan Davar, a young artist and thinker, and Kaladin, a soldier-turned-slave.
The storyline revolves around the main characters but also features a number of great secondary characters (such as the morally conflicted Shin slave-assassin, Szeth). Despite a lifetime of service, Dalinar’s sanity is called into question. Instead of high praise, the expert spearman is forced into slavery and physical toil. Shallan’s story focuses on her time training with the scholar Jasnah Kholin, Dalinar’s niece, a heretic in a city of religious Ardents. The characters – both main and secondary – have their own desires, motivations and secrets.
The novel is split into multiple books, each with sections and chapters. The focus of the narrative generally features the exploits of 3 characters at a time. Unlike other works like Wheel of Time, Stormlight doesn’t let large amounts of time pass between character points of view. Sanderson manages to tell multiple stories interwoven to form a surprisingly tight narrative. This also helps develop primary and secondary characters in a plot-aware way.
The metastory is simple enough: The Everstorm approaches and Roshar will forever be changed by a Final Desolation. Can humanity lay down their arms and fight against the coming end times or will they mimic their homeland, forever in flux and conflict? But there’s so many stories going on in TWoK that you’ll easily forget that it’s part of a larger work.
Stormlight, a mystical force of spiritual energy produced by Roshar’s highstorms, is used for everything. From lighting hallways to powering magical artifacts known as fabrials, the devices are commonplace, from heating tubs to transmuting one material into another.
The magic system ties into Roshar’s environment and its mythology, based on 10 Heralds of the Almighty, fierce warriors of ages past. At one level you have Shardbearers with Shardblades, large swords that take 10 heart beats to summon that can sever a soul or easily lay waste to nonorganic material. At another level you have semi-rare Soulcasting (magical transmuting) with fabrials and physics-bending Surgebinding. There’s also at least 16 types of magical spirits known as spren! If confusing, Sanderson’s familiar Ars Arcanum in the postscript aides the reader along the way with helpful notes.
What I really loved about the magic in The Way of Kings is that Surgebinding borders on legendary and Sanderson handles it slowly, playing the long game. While magic – at some level – is ever present on Roshar, epic power isn’t as prevalent straightaway as it was in Mistborn. It’s more faithful to character growth. While we meet a Surgebinder early on (in the first chapter), at least 60% of the novel is built around everything else. This makes TWoK extremely plot-centric, focusing on character development and story instead of flaunting cool magic. But there’s also plenty of cool magic, too!
Each and every character mentioned fits Roshar perfectly. They’re all somehow touched by the world’s Stormlight, all conflicted, all exhibiting dualities and inner conflicts. Each a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. The character depth and progression is unparalleled. While Kaladin starts as a Kelsier-figure, he soon shifts into something more complex. His role in Bridge Four was award winning. Shallan starts as a slightly annoying youth but soon becomes one of the most complex female leads in fantasy since Sarene in Elantris.
If you’re a fan of Sanderson’s Cosmere, you’ll instantly recognize the King’s Wit. His appearances and lines are some of the best in the book. Stormlight practically is the prime focal point of the cosmere: if you’ve enjoyed the meta-story in Mistborn or, more specifically Mistborn: Secret History, you owe it to yourself to learn more about the author’s mysterious universe.
The Way of Kings has a strong conclusion in its own right and provides hints as to what the reader can expect in subsequent volumes of The Stormlight Archive. While the novel’s length is liable to scare off some readers, I promise you it’s worth the ride. Rich world with excellent storytelling and characters. An instant classic. 5/5
Preferred Format: Kindle & Audible
Amazon X-Ray feature and the Cosmere Kindle Fictionary pages combine information from the Coppermind & Stormlight Wiki, Wikipedia, 17th Shard, as well as the Shelfari of old. X-Ray, while not as informational as the Fictionary pages, is helpful in providing an interactive histogram of the novel’s content. I supplemented my reading by simultaneously listening to the audiobook read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. While slight revisions of The Way of Kings were made after the audiobook, Kramer & Reading were both excellent.