Like many others I had heard of Brandon Sanderson due to his assumption of the completion of The Wheel of Time. I then thought I would explore his writing to determine how someone I had never heard of before could have been selected to complete this epic work. Exploring his writing with the Mistborn Trilogy -The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages – made me start to understand why he was chosen for this work.
Reading The Way of Kings over the past week in a couple of late night marathon sessions has completed that understanding and made things imminently clear to me.
The Way of Kings starts with a prologue thousands of years before the main storyline. Detailing the Heralds and their battles it speaks to the time that the Heralds abandoned humanity and left them to their fate. Supernatural leaders, the Heralds had powers and weapons even greater than the Radiants that followed and although there were only ten, they were constantly reborn to fight and their times away from the battles and the light of humanity were not peaceful. Tortured yet reborn over and over, the Heralds were immortal but also fallible. Talenel was the last Herald left that kept to the Oathpact and in the prologue we learn that Kalak and Jezrien (the King of the Heralds) along with the other 7 chose to abandon him to it hoping that the Radiants would be able to contain “Him”.
Jumping thousands of years into the future and into the timeline of the story we are introduced to a enigmatic character – a mournful assassin and member of the tribe of the Shin. Dressed all in white he has been tasked with ensuring that the King of Alethkar is killed. This death (where we first get a taste for the power and magic in this kingdom) is what truly sets the story into motion as it is by this action that each of the other main characters are brought into the story and into contact with each other.
Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.
The World and Peoples
Roshar is a savage world. Tempests and storms of awesome power sweep across the lands and the changing seasons have not only affected the way man lives, but have also impacted the ecology of the land itself. Animals are covered in hard carapaces and shells, trees are able to retract their branches and the grass itself hides from the storms.
Cities are built to minimize the impact of these storms and shelter in the lee of mountains themselves and a common punishment for criminals themselves is to leave them to the “mercy of the storm” for judgement.
The Knights Radiant are no longer – after the fall/departure of the Heralds they were the last bastion of goodness in the fight against the Voidbringers and kept humanities laws and honor intact. With their betrayal and departure also, all that remains is the tools they used in their battles. Shardblades and Shardplate – mystical swords and armor that utilize gems and diamonds to function. Granting their wearer superhuman strength and abilities, the only way to defeat a wearer of these devices is through overwhelming force or if someone else is also similarly armed.
As such these items have come to be rightly prized throughout the land and battles and wars fought to obtain a single piece.
Surgeon, Son, Slave, Soldier, Warrior, Leader … Kaladin is all of these and many more. One of the primary characters in The Way of Kings, Kaladin is a disgraced slave at the start of the book and throughout the course of the story we learn how this son of a Surgeon became the man he is.
As a bridge carrier, Kaladin is on the front lines of the wars on the Shattered Plains and while he may not understand the purposes of the “Lords” around him, he knows that to survive he needs to be more than he currently is.
Kaladin is a tortured soul who has seen many that he loves come to harm but things are changing for him now and with a spreen that only he can see, Kaladin has a special gift and hopefully a different future ahead of him.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin – brother to the King assassinated by Szeth (the Shen Assassin dressed in White), he is trying to do as his brother commanded and is now reading a book called – The Way of Kings.
A guidebook to how leaders should behave and how they should act and treat the men under their command, this book is derided by the people of the world today as being overly provincial and out of date as well as somewhat heretical.
Dalinar is also being visited by visions, visions from the times of the Knights Radiant and the battles that they fought in. However these visions come to him in the midst of the storms and to all others Dalinar is simply mad.
Shallan … a scholar … and a thief. Shallan has journeyed across the world to learn from Dalinar’s niece – Jasnah. However her scholarly intentions hide a deeper and more sinister motive. With an almost supernatural ability and gift with regards to learning and drawing, Shallan is much more than she seems.
A 1000 page book, The Way of Kings (while a hefty and heavy read) does not feel that large at all and like all great books, this one leaves you wanting to read more!!
Unlike Jordan, Brandon Sanderson has not introduced a multitude of bit characters and competing story lines (not yet at least) that you need to keep track of to know what is going on. The primary “voice” of the story is through the eyes of Kaladin, Dalimar and Shallan (with some smaller sequences with Szeth) & each of these characters develop throughout the course of this one novel in unique and interesting ways.
Kaladin as a slave seems to have a bleak and downtrodden future, but his growth and the changes in his character throughout the course of this book made him one of my favorites and I was definitely looking forward to his chapters in the book.
Dalimar is probably my second favorite character with his sense of honor and attempts to do the right thing, not only because its in the book, but also because it seems to make sense to him now. His strength on the battlefield and the care that he shows his men makes him seem like a man you would feel good following.
Shallan – while currently not my favorite character – I expect that she will grow on me throughout the course of this series. Her abilities seem to compliment those that Kaladin demonstrates and her knowledge and learning will undoubtedly come in useful. With the fact that women on Roshar are the only ones that seem to be able to read and write, her part in this story is bound to be an extremely important one.
Overall I really liked this book. You can definitely see that there are some common themes from some of his other books and even other authors – for example his system magic here being based on gems and stones and in Mistborn on metals for example or even the whole part about Heralds being “reborn” to fight battles – very similar to the warriors born again and and again in the Wheel of Time series. However I think any good author takes influences from a multitude of sources and regardless of the “uniqueness” of the idea or not, its how something is delivered and here The Way of Kings truly shines. A hefty tome as previously mentioned, it is extremely well written and presented with beautiful illustrations and pictures throughout and there are no parts of the book that you feel could or should have been left out.
Mysteries abound in this book – chasmfiends and other creatures throughout the lands, the armor and swords that they use, the constant wars, the storms, the jewels, the loss of the Knights and the Heralds and the enemy they were in fact fighting. Magic itself while somewhat explained is also a mystery in itself as it seems there are things that some of these characters can do that others cannot – how are they able to do it, and why them? Was this something lost through time or is it simply a gift that needs training.
The Stormlight Archives – The Way of Kings … with Jordan’s Epic Wheel of Time finally coming to end (also thanks to Brandon Sanderson coincidentally) I was looking for a new series to fall in love with. I have found it here and can only say -Thank You, I cannot wait for the next one!