“The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archives” by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, 2010)

Way of Kings
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During his teenage years, when Brandon Sanderson was in college working on his writing and looking to make it as an author, in the back of his mind a story idea formed and began to germinate and develop and become more and more complex.  Over a decade later, with Sanderson firmly established as one of the most important, bestselling fantasy writers being published today, he has now turned his story idea that was a dream into a reality in The Way of Kings, the first book of the Stormlight Archive.

Epic fantasy story aside, the book itself is a work of art: beautiful maps on the inside covers, further maps and illustrations and drawings throughout the lengthy book as relates to the story, illustrations for each chapter title, and a captivating cover by artist Michael Whelan.  Another part of the dream come true for Sanderson is the allowance of the publisher Tor to publish a book weighing in at 1008 pages; it indicates Tor has full confidence in the book and in Sanderson.

Sanderson begins the book with description into the important history of this world.  Long ago there was a mighty war between the Voidbringers and the knights known as Radiants who used a special kind of armor known as Shardplates and their weapons were the unstoppable Shardblades – “A Shardblade did not cut flesh; it severed the soul itself” – but then the Radiants turned against mankind and abandoned them, leaving their armor and weapons.  We turn to the present day, thousands of years later to the Shattered Plains: a harsh and horrific landscape where armies battle the enemy for domination, with the goal of securing more Shardplates and Shardblades.  Then there are the Chasmfiends, great, destructive, terrifying beasts that they also fight to kill, for deep within their crustacean bodies lie the priceless gemhearts.

Our story focuses on two characters.  One is Kaladin, a young man in his twenties who has seen much of life already.   Raised by his surgeon father to become a brilliant doctor, he instead turns to the life of a warrior, with hopes of getting his hands on a Shardblade, and soon sees his fair share of death and bloodshed.  Now he is a slave, for reasons unknown, with little to hope for in life.  He soon becomes a member of the bridge crew, a group of slaves whose job it is to carry a giant, heavy bridge across great distances and to lay it across the chasms to allow the soldiers to cross and attack the enemy.  Kaladin becomes part of bridge team four, which is renowned for losing the most lives each time it races into battle.  Kaladin finds a unique luck on his side, as he manages to continue to survive, and then chooses to work for his team, train them, create survival tactics for them, and he discovers something he thought he’d lost for good: hope and his will to live.

Then there is Shallan, a young woman whose family has fallen on hard times after the death of their father.  The family is in possession of a Soulcaster, a unique magical device that can essentially create just about anything out of nothing, only now it is broken.  However, Shallan has a plan: to become the ward and student for Jasnah Kolin, sister of King Elhokar of Althekar, with plans to replace Jasnah’s Soulcaster with her own; her only problem is she has no idea how to use it.

While a thousand pages may have been a little too much for Sanderson to tell the stories he wanted to tell in this first volume of the projected ten-book series, as some story lines drag a little before something happens, Sanderson has nevertheless done what he does best: created a truly unique fantasy world that at times feels as complete and complex as our own.  There is the class system of eye color with darkeyes, who are looked down upon, and lighteyes who are the only ones who may bear Shardblades (though there are hints that this is not set in stone).  There is the important religion of the Vorin which most of the known world follows, which tells of the struggle between the Voidbringers and humanity; while some other religions are hinted at; and then there is Jasnah Kolin, an atheist and decreed a heretic, who is a most unique and fascinating character.  A number of interludes throughout the book help to introduce some minor characters to explore some more of this overwhelming world, such as Szeth-son-son-Vallano, who is an assassin from the land of Shinovar, possessing a unique magic to flip gravity around.  And then there are the spren, which are spirits that seem to be caused by or drawn to specific happenstances and emotions, such as fear, pain, music, rot, and glory to name a few.  Little is known or understood of the spren, other than they exist, while Kaladin finds himself befriending a specific spren that seems to be evolving.

One would think that much could be told in a thousand pages, but Sanderson has literally barely chipped slivers off the mighty iceberg of The Stormlight Archive, but considering he has the penultimate Wheel of Time book coming out in November at almost 900 pages, Sanderson has certainly proven that he can get a lot of good quality writing done when he needs to, so fans shouldn’t have to wait too long before the next mighty volume in this terrific new series is released.

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Originally written on October 7 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.