“We remember the good times and the bad ones, forgetting that most times are neither good nor bad. They just are.”
It’s hard to find a prolific writer in the fantasy genre who is consistently putting out quality content in the way that Sanderson is: Almost every year his fans are treated to an ever-expanding universe of stories. The Way of Kings is the first book in his magnus opus series and it does not disappoint. It is a slow burning story with four central perspectives and a few extra ones sprinkled in that fill in details that the main perspectives don’t have access to. It is hard to describe the complexity of this story because this book is merely an introduction, even if it is over a thousand pages. Honestly, I think going in with very little information is best.. It is setting up a base for the series itself, not the first book.
I am appreciative of Sanderson’s harkening back to more traditional fantasy settings: I like being immersed in a world for a sustained amount of time and not be constantly greeted with violence. Don’t get me wrong, I love the grittiness of Game of Thrones, but sometimes I’m not in the mood to have my heart broken consistently (although Sanderson is capable of that as well). The allusions to other fantasy series such as Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy were fun as a fan of fantasy, because I liked finding the relationships Sanderson was drawing with other previously published work.
Sanderson is very good at easing his readers into the world without info dumping. He starts the action right away and then moves to the fallout. I spent the entire book trying to make connections between the prologue, which happens many years before the events of the book, and the contemporary time the book is written in. One of Sanderson’s greatest writing skills is that his characters feel real, which further validates the world that they live in. Kaladin’s anguish over the events of his life and where he has ended up in the story are some of the most poignant moments and showcase the wonder of Sanderson’s writing. Shallan’s wit and intelligence combined with her personality made me fall in love with her. Dalanar’s grappling with his moral and ethical understandings of the world differing from that of his King’s. Shez’s lack of agency even as he is one of the most powerful people in the world. All the perspectives worked together and complimented one another. I am also appreciative of the agency and complexity of his female characters. Shallan and Jasnah’s relationship with one another was a delight to read and I was intrigued by Navani from the moment she was first mentioned. Any woman who can make a lauded general and soldier quake in his armour is going to be a fast favourite of mine. Too often, especially in fantasy, abuse in various forms is used as a learning and character building moment. These scenes always feel lazy to me in the sense that it is a trope that is disturbingly overused.While Sanderson places his female characters in perilous situations, they grow through other means. Other writers please take note.
I am astounded by the complexity of the world Sanderson is building. The little nuances such as emotions and natural objects having a physical representation in the world as spren (think small little creatures that hold different shapes for different situations). Shallan is an artist and her perspective is rendered through an artist’s eyes meaning she notices the way light frames a landscape or the way a person’s face can be represented on the page. The social system, at least in Alethkar, is a social caste system based upon a person’s eyes. Light eyes are the rulers while the dark eyes are the ones who fulfill other roles in society. It is a remarkably simple way of organizing people, but the way the characters discuss the way it functions provides a good parallel to the way society is currently discussing how white privilege allows a person to have certain privileges in society that are not earned, but are attained just for being born with a certain skin colour, in the sense an arbitrary set of rules that people must abide by due to historical circumstances. Sanderson seems to enjoy these parallels as they appear in his Mistborn series, Elantris and the Reckoners series. The currency system is gemstones infused with stormlight provided during high storms, deadly systems of wind and rain that occur frequently in certain areas of . The currency is used for light as well since it does not flicker. I was captivated by the imagery it created and how much depth it brought to the world.
The one issue with this book was the pacing around the 700 page mark. It is hard to sustain a reader over such a long story, but it lulled just a little too long at this point. I recognize that there was set up needed for the conclusions and that there was more character development being done, but I was fatigued when reading. I just wanted to get back to the action. I think that it also came from sustaining four different storylines, in different places, as well as adding characters that only showed up for a chapter, but I am sure we will see again in the future.
Overall, this was a fantastic introduction to what will become, a massive fantasy series. Sanderson does not disappoint. If you like fantasy, complex worldbuilding, characters you can loathe and root for in the same breath, this book and this author are for you. I can’t wait to read the next installment in the series.