Brandon Sanderson: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive 1)

I don’t actually remember how this book ended on my “to read” list, whether it was someone’s suggestion, a Goodreads plug or Amazon’s recommendation. Regardless, I read the book without having any idea who Brandon Sanderson is or what the book was about.

The way of Kings is an epic fantasy novel, the first part in a series that, according to Wikipedia, might be ten books long; no other books in the series are out yet. It stands reasonably well on its own, plot-wise, so the serialization shouldn’t necessarily put you off. The first novel, at least, is quite long. I read it on a Kindle, and in this particular case a print version might be better; there are maps and drawings that did not reproduce well on the e-ink screen.

The book is a bit confusing at first; there’s a time-shift, and a number of separate characters and threads are introduced. Some of them also keep switching to historical flashbacks for extra complexity. The world is pretty unique — broadly fantasy medieval, but the cultures, animals, geography, plants and indeed the entire cosmology are different from our world. This could be risky, but in the end I felt like Sanderson did a good job at making this alien world seem real, and stimulated my imagination in trying to envision the various things described.

The world, and plot, are deep and multi-layered. The first novel generally just introduces the reader to the tapestry, and few of the story threads are concluded or secrets revealed. For whatever it’s worth, this didn’t bother me as much as I would’ve expected. The characters remain a little artificial, but interesting. There’s a main protagonist of sorts, and the story follows his trials and tribulations. There is a lot of death and misery, but unlike in Robin Hobb’s books, there is a point to it, and the characters grow through the story. Still, in balance, it feels at times like a bit of an angst-fest, though of course the fate of the world hangs in balance. The story runs well, and I wasn’t tempted to skim.

This all sounds somewhat non-committal, but I actually really liked the book. Whereas Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles are exquisitely crafted, down to every word, the Stormlight Archive is in too much of a hurry with too much to tell to spend that much attention on everything. And yet, when I speak of one I instinctively contrast it with the other. There’s just something properly epic in The Way of Kings to elevate it to a level above your run of the mill fantasy novel. Sanderson has set himself some ambitious goals, and he delivers.

If you like your fantasy epic, if you love complex and unique new worlds and magic, if you enjoy the clash of armies and the fight between good and evil, I can easily recommend The Way of Kings. Personally, I’m going to rate it four out of five.

Oh. Turns out that this Sanderson fellow wrote the final book in the Wheel of Time series, except that his book ended up published in three volumes. That explained a lot.