Review: The Way of Kings

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the release of The Way of Kings, the first installment of Brandon Sanderson’s new epic, The Stormlight Archive.  I’ve had a bunch of other stuff distracting me since then, but this week I’ve finally put some time aside to read through it.  And it did take all week.  This is an enormous novel, 1000 pages in hardcover.  Howard Tayler called it “the best argument you’ll have all year to get an e-reader, because you HAVE to have this book, but you might not be muscular enough to carry it around.” I’m going to disagree with that conclusion.  Get the real novel.  A digital display just won’t be able to do the beautiful, detailed illustrations in between some of the chapters justice.  But he’s right that you have to have this book; it’s the Must Read Novel Of The Year if you’re into fantasy literature at all.

If you only buy one novel this year, get The Way of Kings. If you have to choose between this and the new Wheel of Time book, Towers of Midnight, which Sanderson is also writing, (he’s the one who got chosen to finish The Wheel of Time when Robert Jordan died,) get The Way of Kings. The complex, alien world he’s created here will draw you in like no other.  This is beyond ordinary, garden-variety awesome; this book is where Sanderson graduates from Master to Legend status as a creator and populator of fantasy worlds.

The only contemporary work I’ve seen that can compare to it, that can evoke the same epic majesty and scope yet still be populated with deeply human characters that you can recognize and care about, and bring you to the same powerful level of catharsis when the climax the story’s been building to all along finally arrives, is David Farland’s The Runelords.  I don’t think there are any other fantasy authors around who can hold a candle to Sanderson and Farland.  Certainly none that I’ve read.  Robert Jordan managed it once, at the battle at the end of Winter’s Heart, but these two can pull it off consistently.

The world of Roshar is ruled by highstorms, intense rainstorms that sweep across the land on a regular basis, (a few times a month at least,) devastating anything that’s not protected.  They’ve long since scoured the soil from most of the surface, leaving a landscape of bare bedrock and an ecology of plants that grow in stone, forming rocky shells that they withdraw into when the winds pick up.  The highstorms are apparently fueled by magic, and specially-prepared gemstones left out in a highstorm, if you can keep them from blowing away, will become infused with stormlight, the mystical energy that fuels all magic, from simple fabrials used to heat a room, to Soulcasters that transmute one element to another, to the legendary Sharblades and suits of Shardplate that turn an ordinary warrior into a superhuman avatar of destruction capable of holding battalions at bay singlehandedly.

Rohar was long ago abandoned by both the Heralds, its protectors, and the Knights Radiant who they left in their place.  They told the people that they had finally won, that the Voidbringers were finally defeated and the cycle of Desolations at an end.  Thousands of years have passed in relative peace and prosperity, and scholars are slowly beginning to approach the ability to recreate the lost arts of ancient magic.  But we slowly begin to see that all is not as it seems.  Another Desolation is coming, and mankind is ill-prepared to confront it…

…and if I say much more, it’ll spoil things.  Suffice it to say that despite its intimidating size, The Way of Kings is well worth the read.  It’ll draw you in from the beginning and not let you go until you’re finally through to the end.  Even the brief interludes will hold you as they shift the focus away from the action to reveal tantalizing tidbits about the nature of the world.  Definitely worth every minute.


Also, on a completely unrelated note, I can’t help but wonder where country group Lady Antebellum got the title for their latest single from.


  1. noz says:

    While I agree with you that Sanderson is really great at fantasy I think there are some who are just as good: E.g. Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, and Terry Goodkind. And I would suggest Gene Wolfe’s Shadow & Claw. But that isn’t really fantasy though in the beginning it seems like that. Compared to Wolfe IMHO Sanderson’s books seem a bit simple. Don’t get me wrong here, I really enjoyed Sanderson but Wolfe’s books have more depth, layers, references, thoughts and questions etc, while you can still enjoy a great story without noticing all those details. But in the end it all depends on personal preference 🙂 I’ll definitely get Way of Kings and I’m looking forward to it, thanks for the review! Oh, and if you like good sci-fi then you should check out Dan Simmons’ (e.g. Ilium or Hyperion), Ian Banks, or Alastair Reynolds. PS: I read Wheel of Time until Knife of Dreams but most of the time it was just to finish what I started and so I could know how it all ended. The endless repetitions of phrases, gestures, landscapes, metaphors where sometimes really annoying. Nevertheless of course I’ll have to read the final books by Sanderson.

  2. Mason Wheeler says:

    Well, I’ll have to check some of those authors out. But not Terry Goodkind. I don’t understand how anyone likes his work. The stories he tries to tell range from just plain stupid to disgusting and abhorrent, and the way in which he tells them reveals that the man simply cannot write. Half his main characters are outrageous Mary Sues and the other half are equally outrageous moustache-twirling villains, and even without the ridiculous political overtones, the plot just doesn’t make any sense. The only way The Sword of Truth is at all interesting is if it’s read as a meta-story about the author intentionally using The Wizards’ First Rule on the audience. (Try it sometime. It’s a very interesting experience.)

    I know what you mean about The Wheel of Time getting repetitive. It’s an amazing story, but it would probably be about 30% more amazing (and finished by now) if there was 30% less of it. But The Gathering Storm really got things back on track, and I’ve got no reason to think Sanderson won’t bring the series to the amazing conclusion it deserves over the course of the next two books.

  3. François says:

    1000 pages, first of a 10-part series! aargh!
    I usually like to start a series when it’s all written. To avoid the “left-in-the-middle” or the “going-to-nowhere” traps.
    And also because I don’t like to wait for the next installment.
    Guess I’d have to wait…