It is hard to review a book when you are already a third of the way through the sequel for it. That’s how Sanderson’s books are, for me. They’re fun, fast, delightful reading. This is my second time through The Stormlight Archive, and I’m reading them with just as much fun as I did the first time, around a year ago.
The Way of Kings is the first in a series of ten books planned. I had expected it to be a trilogy, and for the new book coming out this October to be the last, but, since starting writing this review, a quick Wikipedia has disabused me of that notion. (Note: I wrote this review in July. The new book, Oathbringer is out!) Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that - this book is 1250 pages, and the second isn’t any smaller. Brandon Sanderson finished off the long-winded Wheel of Time series when Robert Jordan passed away, so he’s an old hand at epic fantasy. There’s a trick to it, he knows; just write. It doesn’t really matter what you write, as long as it is captivating and there are some bones of a story and a cool setting, and maybe some swords or guns or cool monsters. It’s not meant to be high literature, just fun reading on the weekend.
Which sums up Way of Kings pretty well, I think. It follows a few main players in a war on a foreign world: Dalinar, an old general wrestling with growing old and becoming a prophet; Kaladin, a young spearman with a troubled past and a desire to just not be stuck in the shit situations he keeps getting into, and to not have everyone he loves die (pretty noble, really); and Shallan, a girl who needs to save her family and become a scholar, stat. The world is fun. Hurricane-like storms rake the surface of the world clean every few days, and the main plant life could have crawled out of a large tide-pool. How humans ever evolved on Roshar is beyond anyone’s guess. There’s also spirits of emotion and thought which occupy everything - windspren, rotspren, gloryspren - which appear as things happen or around interesting events. It’s a fun world to inhabit. Did I mention the suits of armor that work like low-tech Iron Man suits, with swords that are ten feet long? Because those are there too.
For over a thousand pages, the vocabulary is not hard, and the writing is more akin to someone telling a story around a fire than it would be an author at a desk writing belles-lettres. Excepting some technical terms concerning armor, I only picked up two new words this reading - bescumber and cymatics. But I think Sanderson knows his audience well.
“I have kept a journal since I was a child,” Shallan continued, “in order to practice my writing skills.”
“Congratulations,” Jasnah said. “Should I need someone to write a treatise on their stuffed pony or give an account of an interesting pebble they’ve discovered, I shall send for you.”
I’m very tempted to write this essay and send it along.
There were some redeemable moments amongst the Days-of-our-Lives cum Lord-of-the-Rings plot. Most of these were around Kaladin - he is a wonderful example of how to get over depression through clever thinking and turning an advantage out of anything. Some come from Hoid, though, the King’s Wit. It’s a role similar to a joker. The thing is, Hoid is in other Sanderson books - he seems to wander across worlds and through series. (This is intentional - at some point, Sanderson intends to combine them all together). Aside from his wit:
“No, no assasins yet,” With said, amused. “I guess I’ve already got too much ass sass of my own.”
There are some more clever moments.
“I’ve many [names].” The man shook Kaladin’s hand. “I began life as a thought, a concept, words on a page. That was another thing I stole. Myself.”
I like that. It’s an irony with the author.
“It means what you want it to mean,” Hoid said. “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. Too often we forget that.”
Also good. Not too novel, but good. Other good moments in the book come from Dalinar - call me old fashioned, but I love reading about generals who used to be skilled and are now trying to philosophize. It reminds me of Sun Tzu. (Also, one of the characters in my own novel is very similar).
“And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take? I declare that no accomplishment has substance nearly as great as the road used to achieve it. We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. Our callused feet, our backs strong from carrying the weight of our travels, our eyes open with the fresh delight of experiences lived.”
“In the end, I must proclaim that no good can be achieved of false means. For the substance of our existence is not in the achievement, but in the method. The Monarch must understand this; he must not become so focused on what he wishes to accomplish that he diverts his gaze from the path he must take to arrive there.”
“The finest defense of character is correct action. Acquaint yourself with virtue, and you can expect proper treatment from those around you.”
“It is time for us to fight,” he said, voice growing louder. “And we do so not because we seek the glory of men, but because the other options are worse. We follow the Codes not because they bring gain, but because we loath the people we would otherwise become. We stand here on this battlefield alone because of who we are.”
I like this sentiment, and, after hundreds of pages of swashbuckling, occasional drama, and teenage angst, it’s nice to have some motivational refreshments.
I like Sanderson. He did a good job with The Wheel of Time and the Mistborn series, and The Way of Kings stands up to a second, fun read. It does read like a video game, but that’s OK. It’s not, so I don’t feel so bad sitting down for four hours in the evening and getting on with it.
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