The Way of the Kings:A Stunning, Fabulous Magnum Opus by Brandon Sanderson
I had heard of Brandon Sanderson a while back, the Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy skimming the outer edges of my “maybe-to-read-in-future” list. I never really went back to visit whom all I had missed out on that list. But with the Wheel of Time series getting a shot in the arm, Tor bringing in Sanderson to revive this series and bring it to a satisfactory completion, the author shot to international limelight. Suddenly people all over were sitting up to take note of this young prolific talented author saddled with this enormous task of completing what is considered, an epic that defined the genre in the 90’s.
I got my hands on a juicy seven-chapter freebie on Kindle of his steampunk-ish novella set in the same world as Mist Born, but set ages later – with the introduction of guns but with similar systems of magic, called the Alloy of Law. Crackler. I was sold on his ability to spin a yarn and spin it engagingly well. Then I read the Legion – Read my review here. A brief but very very promising look at the immensely talented Sanderson’s genius. And finally, I rectify this mistake of not having read a full length novel of his – with this magnum opus, a product of his fertile imagination, where Sanderson really breaks loose and shows us glimpses of his true potential.
The Way of Kings is the opening chapter to Stormlight Archives, an ambitious massive ten-book series that will most probably prove to be a seminal piece of genre fiction of our times. If the first book is any indication, Sanderson’s got quite a huge task in front of him. and we have got to give it to him – the rate at which he churns out stories is simply staggering. In addition to the last three books of the WoT, he also has spun numerous novellas, including the forthcoming highly anticipated foray into YA Fantasy, first book called the SteelHeart.
But let’s come back to this book, the Way of Kings. What a fantastic opening chapter for an epic fantasy series. It is E-P-I-C in every sense of the word. In Roshar, the world where the story takes place, we have one of the best secondary world created rivaling Middle-Earth and Westeros – Exquisitely detailed with a rich history and a delightfully original magic system (oh by the way, apparently none of Sanderson’s books are complete without the mention of his Magic system – usually very detailed and well laid out) The intricately plotted storylines spread across three to four main protagonists starts off on a furious note and the pulse pounding action that kicks in pretty early ( right from the word go, the prologue itself) doesn’t let up until the end – kicking up to dizzyingly high levels by the final few chapters. Reading this book was an experience I cherished, transported into this wonderful world of Roshar, completely invested in the future of all three main characters.
Okay I probably need to rein in and go a little structured here. So here’s the byte-sized version of the plot:
The world of Roshar is a pretty cruel place to live – A rocky landscape continuously lashed by High Storms where even the plants have adapted to the harsh environments by growing exo-skeletons and learning to withdraw from danger. The world is split across different kingdoms and majority of book one concentrates on the Kingdom of Alethkar. Alethkar is ruled by a King but in reality is splintered and each of the ten HighPrinces individually fight and scrabble for their own selfish needs. Society is divided into the light eyed nobles, the upper classes and the dark eyes, the lower class.
We are thrown headlong into the story with three different (phew!!) prologues following three seemingly unrelated incidents. Well hang in there. It’s tough reading ( maybe not as bad as “Gardens of the Moon, but pretty damn close!) but the action pouring out of those initial prologue itself set the tempo for the book. The third prologue has an assassin murder the King of Alethkar. It’s shocking, it’s brutal and raw and it is delicious bait for us to get sucked into this wonderful world of HighStorms and assassins and light-eyed princes with black treachery in their hearts and dark-eyed slaves who have hearts larger than the King himself.
The events of the prologue are what sets the story rolling. At least, of direct import is the third one following the murder of King Gavilar. The Alethi pit themselves in a never ending war that has been going on for the past six years with their neighbours, the Parshendi, the little-known savages on whom the blame of the assassination falls.
The main story set five years after this murder gets played out through the eyes of three main POVs – Kaladdin, a slave with a heart of gold, Dalinar Kholin the only light-eyed High Prince in Alethkar who can think outside the petty squabbles or the war, deemed to be a man who lives by the older Codes and Shallan, a high born noble who wants to be a ward of the best known historian in the Kingdom of Alethkar.
Clearly, Sanderson is setting Kaladdin up for larger grander things. The rise of a slaveboy, I can picture that. A trope that has been probably explored myriad times before but how Sanderson approaches and sets this up is pure gold, exquisite. Kaladdin Stormblessed is clearly going to be immortalized up there on that grand pantheon besides Rand’Al Thor or Aragorn son of Arathorn. He clearly is going to be one of the best protagonists you are going to be reading about. While book one belongs to Kaladdin who has the best evolutionary arc in terms of character growth, Dalinar Kholin the Blackthorn gets some fist-pumping action scenes and is a tortured soul who strives to be the only man who wants to do the “right” thing. We have seen this character before. Perhaps what makes Sanderson’s version special, is the ability to spell out the beautiful legends and history of this land through the visions granted to Dalinar. Shallan, the third main character is a bit boring, frankly. She has her own agenda and is here to study under the world’s greatest scholar who conveniently happens to the King’s sister, Jashan. And Sanderson cleverly sets up for bigger things to follow through for the rest of the books in both their characters, I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of both of them in the subsequent books.
It’s a fairly long read but never does it get tedious. The tension keeps building through out – be it the fate of the slaves in the war camp where Kaladdin becomes an inadvertent leader or the war between PArshendi and the Alethi, punctuated by the backstabbings and treachery between the high princes or the terrible discovery by Shallan about secrets of this world teetering on the verge of a huge apocalypse. The glorious hand-drawn pictures that gives us glimpses into the strange but wonderful creatures of Roshar were a pleasant add. The magic, oh my god, a lot of thought has obviously gone into it. There are two types – the Lashings that primarly focuses on using the planets gravitational forces and manipulation of the same to one’s advantages and the second one, Soul Casting is a little more hazy and less explained. But am confident Sanderson has given this a lot of thought as well and is just waiting for the right timing to let it roll out.
It all comes together beautifully like an expertly woven tapestry sewn up of individually brilliant designs coming together to form a masterpiece. There are lots of the puzzle that is yet to shape up – questions like who are the Knights Radiant Heralds who abandoned the humans, Who the hell is Wit, a travelling storyteller – clearly Sanderson’s “shaved knuckle in the hole” to be unleashed in the later books perhaps? And most of all, who is Szeth, a character to whom most of the interludes refer to as the Assassin in White who cries and weeps while he kills and harvests souls with his terrible sword? The most frustrating is the “interludes” between different parts of the narrative – seemingly random characters going on about their lives? Mysteries abound, but it still remains an awesome testimony to what Sanderson is truly capable of, A narrative that is poignant and exciting beyond measure. The tension is ratcheting up to unbearably high levels as the whole world is probably going to swan dive into some kind of a prophesied apocalypse, that Sanderson refers to as the Last Desolation.
Journey before Destination – part of an important tenet in the book holds true for pretty much the entire book reading experience itself. Being just an opener in a ten-part series, there are no answers present here. But what it does is give us an amazingly epic world that one can never tire of.
I cannot wait for him to give us the next installment. This book leaps straight to the top of my Best Reads for 2013 list and an assured place on my All Time Fabulous Reads. Brandon Sanderson, I salute your ambitious sweeping ground breaking vision. Five stars and richly deserved. Everything that I look for in an epic fantasy packaged to perfection and flawlessly delivered.