The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

July 7, 2012 at 13:24 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, War and Politics) (, , , )

9/10

This book was particularly difficult to rate. There are parts of it which are exciting, original and lively; expertly-written fantasy and fascinating characters with penetrating depths to their vivid personalities. However, the book does have some serious problems to it.

It is a very slow book, and much longer than it needs to be. Like other novels setting up long, multi-volume sagas, Sanderson can be excused in part for both the claudicant start and for the length, but he fails to write much more than an introduction in a thousand pages. There are two main story arcs, but neither of them are finished at all, and neither of them have nearly enough closure to justify the stilted pace of the story.

“According to legend, the Shardblades were first carried by the Knights Radiant uncounted ages ago. Gifts of their god, granted to allow them to fight horrors of rock and flame, dozens of feet tall, foes whose eyes burned with hatred. The Voidbringers.”

-The Way of Kings

Many of Sanderson’s action-oriented passages feel strongly like descriptions of the mechanics of a video game. Notable examples include his (admittedly deeply interesting) shardbinding magic, or the manner in which characters draw stormlight from spheres. The shardplate (a rare and highly-sought suit of regenerating armour, whose pieces can only be shattered by powerful weapons striking the same plates repeatedly) is one of the more awkward examples. This is a strange and distracting feature in the book. Perhaps in the future this influence from video games (and particularly game mechanics) will find its way into more books and become expected. Here it feels out of place, which is a shame, as these aspects of the story are central to the plot.

Sanderson should be commended for his fluent writing and easy style, and also for his creativity and vision in moulding a detailed and rich world without at any point reverting to dry or encyclopaedic prose. His heroes and villains alike are delightful (if not particularly complex) and he balances a clever line between being willing to make tragic sacrifices and avoiding cheap pathos at the expense of a high and unnecessary body count.

“‘Tell them,’ Kaladin continued, voice firmer, ‘that it won’t end here. Tell them I chose not to take my own life, and so there’s no way in Damnation I’m going to give it up to Sadeas.'”

-The Way of Kings

He initially has a noticeable problem with introducing his characters solely through narration: this character, he tells us, is known for being incredibly witty and intelligent. This character is brave and noble. For the reader, there is no incentive to believe him, and it takes a while before he settles down and actually demonstrates his characters’ attributes rather than explain them. He is also a master of the anticlimax: several of the painstaking reveals at the end of the book are released with a fanfare of trumpets, only to fall disappointingly flat. Several of his more intriguing mysteries are explained in an offhand way, and are considerably less exciting than he initially promises.

For readers of modern fantasy, this book is one of the freshest and most exciting in years. It compares very favourably with Patrick Rothfuss’ recent series, in length, complexity and creativity. The Way of Kings ends up with a more coherent, a more memorable, and a more vibrant plot, with a clearer sense of direction than Rothfuss. There are obvious teething problems that will hopefully be addressed in future volumes, and the book could easily have been some three hundred pages shorter without sacrificing content or depth. But it is easy to digest and an effective and exciting entry to a series that will hopefully go from strength to strength. It is difficult not to forgive its inadequacies, and readers are guaranteed satisfaction.

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