The Way of Kings ★★★★

Normally, I’d tell you that if a book needs 1258 pages to tell a story, then that author has seriously overestimated the worth of his words. He needs a reality check, and an editor that will stand up to him. Any plot more than 400 pages long that can’t be broken down into a couple of volumes needs some serious work with a red pen. And a paper shredder. (More complexity /= a better story! But that’s a rant for another day)
Normally, I’d also tell you that most “high fantasy” isn’t my thing. Its usually over dramatic, over written, and fairly generic. They’ve got elaborate mythologies and powerful magics, and are chock-full of logical fallacies and lord of the rings parallels.

The Way of Kings seems to be one of the better exceptions.

In this epic tome of a novel, Brandon Sanderson has excelled at world building. His planet is one ravaged regularly by violet storms, which has created a whole ecosystem that seems to model creatures that live at the bottom of our oceans. At the slightest breeze, leaves curl up and withdraw into the branches of trees. The lightest of tremors or vibrations in the ground causes the grass to pull back into the stony earth. Soil is sparse, and crops difficult to grow in all but they most sheltered valleys.

Not only are the plants and animals molded by these “greatstorms” but the cultures of the people are too. Magic is done with the assistance of ancient devices that aren’t entirely understood, and strange gems that are pulled from the bodies of strange and terrible creatures. This planet is all full of creatures that are sort of physical manifestations of abstract concepts. These “creatures” are called spren. So if someone is injured, he attracts painspren. If an artist is inspired the air around him or her is filled with creationspren. Windspren, rotspren, gloryspren, alespren (seen only by drunk people, probably. Their existence has been theorized, but getting concrete proof is difficult since drunken notes are difficult to interpret.)

Much of the land is caught up in a war between two races of people, the Alethi and the Parshendi. The Alethi are a warrior race who find glory in battle and rank themselves according to their skill at fighting. Their society is broken up into two main divisions: the “lighteyes” are the higher society, Lord, Ladies the upper ranks of soliders, etc. “Darkeyes” are usually laborers, minor spear holders, and slaves. Very little is known about the Parshendi, except that they are accredited for assassinating the King six years before the main story.

The storyline follows three main characters (as well as a good number of secondary or one-shot characters). Kaladin is the son of a surgeon who has become a slave in the Alethi army (virtually a death sentence). He is paralyzed by the tragedies in his past, but still feels driven to save the lives of those around him. We flash back and forth between Kaladin’s childhood up to six years ago, and Kaladin’s life in the present time.

Shallan is a young girl who has never left her family estates, but must travel to a distant land so that she can talk her way into becoming the ward of a famous heretic and scholar. For she needs to steal the rare and magical device this scholar is studying and using to save her family from ruin.

Dalinar is a high-prince in the Alethi army. He was the brother of the past King, and now uncle to a young paranoid King convinced that someone is trying to assassinate him. Ever since his brother, the King, was killed, he’s started having strange visions during each highstorm. Visions that speak of a “True Desolation” approaching, and the need to “unite them all.” Dalinar is battling his growing dislike of all violence, with his need to support the current King and the war to keep his country together. His children think he’s probably going mad, he’s lost all the memories of his wife, his brother was brutally murdered, and a voice in his head is telling him that the world is coming to an end.

This book was 1258 pages long. One thousand, two hundred and fifty eight pages. Yeah… It took quite a lot of reading to get through it. Yes, it did drag a bit in the middle. And yet, I was impressed that with all that, I didn’t have to go back and remind myself what had happened three hundred pages ago. I didn’t have to sit there and create character diagrams just to remember who was who and where and what were they doing there again? For all its length, Sanderson kept the storyline very cohesive and memorable.

This book still holds many of the cliches I find annoying about most high fantasy. It has several unpronounceable names. Its title fills in the blanks “The _____ of/the _____.” It has swords that are six feet long, and deities of dubious character, and characters who believe they’re normal only to go out into the world and find out that they’re special and important and are going to save the world! And yet… It won me over somehow.

Sanderson also included fun sketches of various creatures that live on his planet, maps and diagrams of warzones and strange cities. They added a nice dimension to the story.

There is some great mystery going on of why the spren are the way they are, why the awesomely powerful shardblades were created by the ancient and unknowable Knights Radiant, why the highstorms only travel in one direction, why the Parshendi are driven to war with the Alethi, why the shattered plains are, well, shattered, why the voidbringers might be returning… Why why why and why can’t authors write any faster?

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