The land of Roshar is a harsh place of stone because of regular storms, known as highstorms, that ravage the landscape. The flora and fauna have learned to retract into the stoney ground and the animals have developed hard shells to survive this continent. The people have learned to live and build their lives around these storms. Not just storms ravage this landscape, but war as well, and that war will be the beginning of an epic story that will weave characters and kingdoms together.
The summer is nearly upon us and you may be asking yourself, “Is there a great book out there that I could get lost in?” Well, my friend, you are in luck! That book is The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings is the first book in a projected ten book fantasy epic called the The Stormlight Archive, and when I say epic, I mean epic because the first book is over 1,000 pages long! Brandon Sanderson, well known for many fantasy and sci-fi series like the Mistborn trilogy or Reckoners series, has become a household name in the world of fantasy literature. The Way of Kings has been on store shelves for a few years now, but if you haven’t heard of it or are unsure you are ready to take on such a massive story, then let me be the first to tell you that this book is worth the journey!
Violence: Standard fantasy violence, such as sword fighting, duals between nobles, large-scale battles, and brawls. Most of these scenes are not gruesome, but when Sanderson feels it is necessary for the plot, he will add more description to violence, but those moments are rare.
Sexual Content: Brandon Sanderson is famous in the world of fantasy for being a “clean” author in regards to sexual content. I would argue this almost true for The Way of Kings as there is no sex or descriptions of sex to be found. However, some of his characters will occasionally ogle each other and state how attractive they find this or that feature, male and female alike.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Many of the characters drink wine and some get drunk on occasion.
Spiritual Content: Sanderson creates several different fictional religions in this series and most of his characters follow them in varying degrees. The primary religion of the main characters is Vorinism, which is a monotheistic faith and is the closest thing to a Judeo-Christian religion, but it is still entirely fictional. Religious practices drive the culture of the societies present in the story. The people do not just practice their religion, but live their religion in their daily lives. It reminds me of the Roman Catholic Church of medieval Europe.
Language/Crude Humor: Very little, there are some swear words, such as d*** and h****, but most of the swear words in the story are reinvented swear words like, “Storms!” or “You stormin’ fool!”
Other Negative Content: The story of The Way of Kings primarily takes place around the Kingdom of Althekar, which is a standard medieval feudalistic society. With that type of society comes many of the issues we often associate with medieval societies, such as slavery and elitism. One of the primary characters is a slave and Sanderson doesn’t pull any punches on how challenging life as a slave can be. For example, some of these slaves consider suicide as an escape from their difficult lives.
We also see elitism among the nobility of society (known as “light eyes”) as they often look down upon the lower caste of society (known as “dark eyes”). It goes the other way as well, we see dark eyes judge and reject some light eyes for no other reason than they are in a different caste.
Positive themes: I have read several Sanderson books in my time and one thing I have always appreciated about his characters is their struggle to overcome personal demons and the evil that bears down upon them. The Way of Kings is no different as we see his characters carrying significant baggage, but ultimately overcome their struggles to help others. For example, one character rallies a group of slaves into a brotherhood that looks out for each other, while a separate character chooses to give up one of his most precious items for those who are far below him in society.
I will jump right out and say it, The Way of Kings is excellent and it is one of those rare books that I got lost in the richness of its world and characters. I tend to read around 10 to 15 fiction books a year and while many of them are good, it’s rare when I stumble across one with such a well-developed world and story that I’ll try to grab any five minutes I can just to read another page or two. Is the story perfect? No, but it is well-executed and I will be one among many to say that if you enjoy fantasy with deep characters and an extremely well-developed worlds, then I would highly recommend picking up this book.
The story kicks off with the Kingdom of Alethkar at war with a group of people known as the Parshendi after they assassinated a very prominent individual in the kingdom. The lords of Alethkar (known as “highprinces”) have descended upon a region known as the “shattered plains” to fight these people, and by fate or coincidence, our characters seem to be working their way together in a story that soon begins to appear much bigger than just a war of revenge.
The World of Roshar
I’ve seen a variety of unique fantasy worlds, but the one Sanderson created in The Way of Kings is by far the most creative. The story takes place on the continent of Roshar, which houses several kingdoms and empires with their own rich and well-developed history. Sanderson does a great job of not just creating kingdoms, but also cultures that transcend the borders of these countries. For example, the story revolves around characters from Alethkar and Jah Keved, two different kingdoms, but they share a common culture, history, and religious faith called Vorinism. I won’t dive into the intricacies of Vorinism or the other cultures present in the book, but it proves that Sanderson took the time to think through how each of these kingdoms and countries have their own background, but are also connected by a common history.
Many of the leaders of these kingdoms, especially Alethkar and Jah Keved, possess Shard Blades and Shard Plates and a central story element to The Stormlight Archive. These magical weapons and armor provide the wearer/user with almost god-like powers. The holder of a Shard Blade and Shard Plate is nearly invincible to conventional weapons on the battlefield and the owner of these weapons/armor are held in high esteem within society. The Shard Blades and Plates were originally the tools of an ancient order of knights called the Knights Radiant who had protected the world from an evil known as “the desolation,” but alas… there are no longer any Knights Radiant, so all that remains are their weapons and armor in the hands of the nobility. The fall of the Knights Radiant is a huge plot element to the story and one that will take more than one book to unpack.
Roshar is also unique in respect to its environment. Roshar is a “harsh” place to say it lightly, as there are frequent storms called “highstorms.” These storms ravage the landscape and the people of Roshar rarely survive them without shelter. The continent has molded itself around these highstorms, such as the flora receding into the ground to protect itself, animals have adapted by developing hard shells (or they retreat to caves), and the people have built their homes to withstand these storms. They are not every day, but frequent and consistent enough that the people tend to know when they are coming.
One final thing on the world and I’ll move on… everything revolves around “stormlight.” Stormlight is energy or power contained within gemstones, which are used as currency, a light source for the wealthy (they glow) and to power gem encrusted gloves that can be used by the priests to change the form of anything, such as turning dirt into corn or food; there are entire cities built whole by this method! Stormlight had also provided power to the Knights Radiant who needed them for their unique powers.
Big world, huh? I was just barely getting started, but do not be intimidated; Sanderson does a great job of walking you slowly through the world. He will reveal information as you need to hear it, and it will start to come together as you move along.
Heroes of The Stormlight Archive
Now, the story itself revolves around a multitude of characters, but zeroes in on three in particular. The primary characters are Kaladin, a young dark-eyed ex-soldier from Alethkar who somehow found himself enslaved; Shallan Davar, a light-eyed young woman from the kingdom of Jah Keved who seeks to re-establish the prominence of her family’s noble house and the tutelage underneath the famous scholar Jasnah Kholin; and Dalinar Kholin, a highprince and uncle to the King of Alethkar who often has visions of his role in the major events to come.
These characters all seem distinctly unconnected and not terribly interesting, but their stories slowly weave together and become deeper as the narrative progresses. The characters at first fell into the typical fantasy molds: Kaladin is a low-born who is young and angry at the world for his lot in life. Shallan is a young dreamer who desires to be a scholar. Dalinar is a good and noble leader of the people of Alethkar. We’ve seen these character types before, but it doesn’t take long to discover there is far more to these characters than meets the eye. They each have a history of pain, hurt, guilt, and tragedy. We see Kaladin battle with depression and suicide, Shallan struggle with her identity and guilt, and Dalinar contend with the ghostes of his past. I won’t say any more except that Sanderson has created some very rich characters with deep backstories.
Each chapter switches from one character’s POV to another or it jumps into a flashback of a particular character. Every book in The Stormlight Archive series will focus on one character’s backstory and how they became who they are now. The Way of Kings focuses on Kaladin’s past, and we see his journey from the son of a surgeon to a man enslaved. I often dislike flashbacks in a story because I feel like they derail from the narrative, but Sanderson actually does it really well by making those flashbacks interesting and helping the reader connect the dots between the past and the present. I always looked forward to flashback chapters about Kaladin because it helped me understand his pain and bitterness towards the upper class of society, but also why he values brotherhood and comradery. Kaladin is one of my all-time favorite characters in fantasy/sci-fi largely because of those flashback chapters.
I really enjoyed how Sanderson took characters that have struggled in life and made them into characters who are vital to a story bigger than themselves and their struggles. Is not our own story in life the same? We all come from different backgrounds and have different struggles in life, but God tells us that our lives are part of something greater and that our past does not define who we are now. The events that took place in our past, whether by our own choice or by those forced upon us, all have a role to play in the plan that God has for our lives. God may actually use those struggles for His greater purpose, just as Sanderson used the struggles of these characters for the greater good of the story. Just like Sanderson’s characters, our lives matter to advance God’s story and we get to be a part of something bigger than our individual pasts.
Sanderson is more than a world and character builder, the man can write a great and witty narrative. Conversations are rarely dull as his characters spring to life when they speak. Sometimes you can just feel the happiness, confusion, or pain in a character’s dialogue. They can be a little long at times, but for the most part, they are enjoyable to read.
His action scenes are pulse pounding! I rarely get on the edge of my seat when I’m reading, but his action scenes are just intense. I’ll fly though pages when he gets into an action sequence and in one particular moment, my hair stood on edge! They are well done and diverse, you will get a full dose of epic battles and one-on-one fights with Shard Blades! This may be my one major complaint about the book: that there were not enough of these epic fight scenes!
Overall, The Way of Kings was a fantastic opener for an epic series. Sanderson is well known for creating great characters and huge worlds, and appears he didn’t pull any punches in The Stormlight Archive. I have no doubt this series will sit among the fantasy greats and will be read by fans in the years to come.
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+ Rich setting and world
+ Deep characters
+ Fun and engaging action sequences
+ Strong dialogue
+ Fairly clean
- Not enough action sequences
- 1,000+ pages can be a little long for some readers