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REVIEW: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

REVIEW SUMMARY: Massive, fantastic, but sometimes overkill. Run to buy this book, but keep in mind that you will sometimes be mired in unnecessary detail.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Roshar is a fascinating land of strange cultures, animals and even plant life where magically-enhanced knights wielding fearsome Blades rule. Follow a thief, a highprince and a surgeon-turned-soldier as they go through the struggles of life to protect their family, hold together their kingdom and fight for what’s right on a path that is fraught with peril and leading to more.


PROS: Character, diversity, battle scenes, MAGIC!

CONS: Too much fluff, and too many extra pages added as a result. Book occasionally drags.

BOTTOM LINE: For those that like their books gigantic and epic, this is your book (i.e. Wheel of Time fans).

Magnificent and magnormous! I know, that word isn’t real, but then neither is this book. It is full of make believe. Crammed to the hilt, really. That is both good and bad.

I love epic fantasy. I truly do. The Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire are fantastic pieces. In my youth: the Belgariad, Mallorean, Riftwar Saga, The Foundation series and more were massive staples of literary enjoyment. The larger the series (and of course the books) the better. Brandon Sanderson’s new series: The Stormlight Archive promises to be HUGE. I’ve seen Sanderson grow in his writing and it certainly shows in this new piece of work. It does have its share of problems though.

First off, it’s 1008 pages long! That’s a lot to bite off in a first book, and worrisome for how long it may take to get through, but it read quickly (relative to its size) and I enjoyed almost all of it (except for the resulting neck pain from lugging it around each and every workday).

It starts with a view of the far past, where some truly epic foundation stones are set for a fascinating story in this alternate universe. Then you are pulled along on a grand journey that delivers.

Humanity lives in the strange world of Roshar where highstorms literally scour the landscape on a frequent basis, creating plant and animal life that is almost too hard to believe. Much of mankind is also strange: a myriad of races with a rainbow of skin, eye and hair colors. The distinct races and their different kingdoms are in fact too much. There is so much variety and such a large swathe of detail that the things that are most important occasionally get lost.

In this world, Stormlight is both an energy source for magically powered machines and a source of magic to be drawn upon. One of its most compelling uses is to power the Plate of powerful knights capable of astounding feats of strength and destruction. Despite the varied uses it is clear that few survive in this era that are true masters of the energies of Stormlight and there is more to come as Sanderson doles out the details of his magical creation.

Character is a strong point in this book, with some truly strong scenes of emotion and incredible trials. Like most epic fantasy, there’s a lot of them and three in particular: the thief, the lord and the surgeon-turned-soldier. Their conflicts are real, and they are complicated. Rarely do they make a decision that doesn’t have some sort of ramification. This gives great depth to the story and life. The world of Roshar has its problems and each of these characters are doing their part to try and make it a better place, each in their own ways. Each of them succeed as they fail, pushing themselves to their limit, ready to quit but persevering anyway.

One complaint is about an important reveal towards the end of the book. It is neither set up well nor convincing. I won’t say what it was, only that it was irritating reading it. It’s just one of those things that the writer forces upon the reader without ample reason and has the feel of a “darling” that needed to die (Writing Excuses reference). The perpetrator of this fallacy is both far too learned, and wise to make such a callous assumption. I can only hope there is a better reason in the next installment. But this is just one moment of annoyance amongst many of enjoyment. Many reveals in the book will have you reading with a jaw dropped halfway to the floor.

All in all, a worthy read for epic fantasy lovers that love expansive stories and huge books. There are moments of heart-wrenching emotion and edge-of-your-seat thrills. I might advise petitioning Tor for a wheeled version to make toting it around easier, or you can always get the e-book version, I suppose…

4 Comments on REVIEW: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

  1. I read slower than I did when I was in my teens and twenties so big honking series of a thousand pages per book make me think thrice about beginning them. I haven’t even caught up to the last two sub-series from Ray Feist nor have I read any of the Wheel of Time books. I’m not sure why I’ve shied away from reading long series but for some reason I have.

  2. Hi Paul,

    That’s one of the issues with this book. And I will be interested in seeing how well received it is. After all, a 1000+ page book as the first in a series?

    That’s insanity.

    Talk about confidence by the author and the publisher!

    They do have a few things going for them (but still…): Sanderson has built up a large devoted following, the 13th Wheel of Time’s near syncronous release, and Sanderson is well connected to the writing world and his fan base. Which to me means that word of the book will spread far and fast.

    As to holding you back from reading, I can understand. I had a long period where I was reluctant to pick up a new series. I had a very specific enjoyment factor that I was looking to repeat from prior books that I had enjoyed and was doubtful that another could fill that void.

    Problem with epic fantasy is that it is huge, so any investment in a new series is a large commitment of time.  I have recently realized that I missed a lot of good fantasy in recent years as a result, so I have begun to read more seriously again. I see that as a failing on my part and I certainly missed out on a lot of good fiction.

    I recommend to anyone to not worry so much about diving into something new. Just give it a try. You might like it. If money is an issue, then use that ever-present and wonderful thing called: the library.

    I pulled a Mur myself and have only recently rediscovered it (referencing one of Mur Lafferty’s recent podcasts).

  3. Todd Amelia Island // November 10, 2010 at 10:06 am //

    I must say great review …I am so far 3/4 of my way through this monster and am loving every page turn 🙂 Brandon has done an excellent job with this first installment. I really enjoy epic fantasy series with large books and many volumes! I have also read the GRRM’s a Song of ice & Fire and hoping we get a conclusion 🙂 , Robert Jordan’s (Brandon) Wheel of time and of course the Harry Potter books. I can’t tell you if this will rank up there with those yet but if I was a betting man i’d put my money on it. thanks Todd   

  4. Thanks for the comment Todd. Yeah, it has a lot of promise and has already fulfilled some. I think his biggest challenge will be in reigning in (as I noted) the extraneous bits. If he overdoes it too much he risks readers becoming bored with the series and lamenting it in similar fashion to the Wheel of Time. Yes, WoT is insanely popular, but I have heard many people that put down the books after a couple, when Jordan slowed the progress to a crawl. Sanderson doesn’t seem to ever suffer from that in his books, so maybe it is a non-issue.

    I hope Martin can finish the series out soon too. I’d love to read how it concludes, he painted such a rich tapestry of intrigue, kingdom in turmoil and conflicted characters.

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