Book Review: The Way of Kings
Before we begin, I have a disclaimer: this is the first Brandon Sanderson book I've read.* Yeah, I'm aware he's big in fantasy, and I'm also aware that most Sanderson fans recommend that newcomers read Mistborn first. I laugh in the face of convention, etc. But in all seriousness, The Way of Kings appealed to me more based on jacket copy and plot, so I decided to start here, with Sanderson's big hulking fantasy epic.
The Way of Kings takes place on Roshar, where powerful storms regularly ravage the landscape and nature has been forced to adapt. It follows three main characters: Kaladin, a former healer turned soldier turned slave, who discovers his leadership abilities (and magic) and struggles to protect his followers; Shallan, a scholar turned thief, who must steal a magical device to save her family from ruin; and Dalinar, a martial prince who keeps having visions and might be going crazy, even as he fights a war. Each will play a part in bringing back the Knights Radiant, the organization that used to protect humanity from evil until they broke their vows and disappeared - because evil is coming back.
That summary only scratches the surface of the events in this book. The Way of Kings is monstrous in size, a mammoth book of about 1,000 pages, and it brings all the complexity of plot you'd expect. I'm not sure it needs all of those pages, but it never bored me. I never struggled to get through a section, perhaps because I enjoyed all three of the main viewpoints (Dalinar and Shallan a smidge more than Kaladin, at least until he stopped being mopey).
Speaking of, if gray characters are your thing, you're not going to find them here. Dalinar, Shallan and Kaladin are all ridiculously noble at times, with Dalinar and Kaladin competing for the grand prize in honor. Sure, they have "flaws," but the flaws are really a backdoor for showing how amazing they are now. Dalinar used to be a dick, but look at how much he's improved as human being! Kaladin has a deep-seated hatred of nobles, but he's justified because look at all these terrible things the nobles do! Shallan is a thief and a liar, but it's all for good reasons and she really loves working with her mentor!
Yet somehow, despite that, I still enjoyed reading all three. The struggles and the choices they face are still relatable, and they don't always choose correctly (Kaladin has one massive screw-up that comes to mind). They're a great vehicle for discovering the world too, since they are learning about their history in time with the reader.
Let's chat about that for a moment, shall we? Damn, but Sanderson has built a world here. The flora and fauna of Roshar are so fascinating and so far outside anything you might find in another epic fantasy book. Sanderson has taken the time to consider how the structure of the world affects everything from culture to economy to language. Roshar practically leaps off the page.
Roshar is also confusing as hell. I'm going to need to read the book again, because I still don't understand half of the backstory (especially the stuff about the Heralds and how they relate to religion and the Knights Radiant). It didn't bog me down when it came to finishing the book, but it's unclear enough to bug me.
The plot is also massive and sprawling, stretching across half of Roshar. Despite that, the cast of characters remains tight and the actual plot threads are fairly simple to follow. Nothing happened that I found particularly surprising (mysterious, maybe, but not surprising). It's clear that the stakes are high and related to the larger Cosmere universe of Sanderson's books, even without me having read any of the other Cosmere novels.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed my first foray into Sanderson's work. I'm not going to say it blew me away, because it was missing a certain "wow factor" for me and the characters felt a bit too cookie-cutter. But I'm onboard to keep reading the series, and I've added Words of Radiance to my to-read pile.
*Unless you count the last Wheel of Time books. I don't, because that wasn't technically Sanderson's story, even if he put the words on the page.