REVIEW: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

With Rhythm of War being released on 17th November 2020, I decided that now would be a perfect time for me to do a re-read of The Stormlight Archive, which begins with The Way of Kings. As I originally read these novels before I started reviewing, this time I will jot down a few thoughts about my reading experiences. I remember having a great time reading these novels, but other than the characters and certain key events my memories are foggy at best.

The Way of Kings by Brandon SandersonIn The Way of Kings, we mainly follow three characters. Kaladin, a former spearman who now bears a brand noting him as a dangerous slave. He seems to survive when all around him seem to perish. Shallan, a clever and witty young lady who is an amazing artist and wants to save her family’s reputation. Finally, Dalinar Kholin, a fifty-something-year-old Brightlord and warrior who follows the codes of honour and loyalty, and has started having mysterious visions.

There is an ongoing war against the Parshendi, caused by the assassination of King Gavilar, Dalinar’s brother, five years ago. Now, battles and skirmishes take place across the Shattered Plains and in The Way of Kings, we begin our journey into a unique and well-realised fantasy world that features deep histories, legendary armour and weapons, and sprens of many types.

I found I enjoyed The Way of Kings most when I was reading Kaladin and Dalinar’s sections. Kaladin is arguably the main character of the series, and to add depth, we are privy to flashbacks of his formative days. These tend to be well-timed and relate to current happenings. For example, we’ll witness a scene where a twelve-year-old Kaladin is helping his surgeon father, and this shows why present-day Kaladin is able to assist his fallen comrades with medical knowledge in a following segment. During these flashback moments, we begin to understand why Kaladin has ended up in his current predicament and why he has no love for lighteyes, or any men of high rank.

Dalinar’s sections are shown through the Brightlord’s eyes, but also sometimes from his son Adolin’s, and his sister-in-law’s, Navani. They are mainly current-day scenes, dealing with politics, the fact that his nephew the King fears assassination awaits him too, warfare against the Parshendi, and differences in ideals amongst the highprinces. The ideals that Dalinar holds dear are those of honour and the writings that are read to him from the old tome The Way of Kings. Since he has started listening to these words, during highstorms, he has started having visions. He doesn’t know when or where they are set, if they are real, who the messages are from, but many around him are starting to worry for the Brightlord’s sanity and stability in his role.

“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.”

The Way of Kings by Brandon SandersonShallan is one of the most interesting characters, yet what happens to her here, although undeniably intriguing, feels secondary, and doesn’t have the same urgency or focus as Dalinar and Kaladin’s moments. It seemed to drag occasionally and I had to stop myself from rushing it. She finds herself wanting to become the ward of the so-called heretic and scholar, thirty-four-year-old Jasnah Kholin, Dalinar’s niece. If I hadn’t read the following books and didn’t know what happens, my assessment would be that Sanderson uses The Way of Kings to set the groundwork for these two and I think they will become extremely important to the overall narrative going forwards. Through these two we are slowly introduced to Soulcasting, which you could call one of this world’s magic schemes. Another magic scheme relates to the titular Stormlight, but I won’t discuss that further as it is great to find out more about it organically. It seems that all, excluding one character, seem to know nothing about this latter, thought mythical sort of magic, and it gives the wielders some incredible powers and capabilities.

Sanderson has filled The Way of Kings with many varied and memorable characters. In addition to the main players already stated, notable standout mentions go to the members of Bridge Four who go on an amazing transformation during this book. These include Rock, Sigzil, Moash, and Teft. Another player I should mention is the mysterious and riddle-weaving Wit. I’m not an expert of Sanderson’s Cosmere, but Wit may be a character that transcends some of the author’s series. He has an extremely memorable scene with Kaladin and a flute-like instrument, and I’m extremely intrigued to see what part he will play in the overall story arc of The Stormlight Archive.

“This man was extremely talented. The odd melody he played was alien, almost unreal, like something from another place and time. It echoed down the chasm and came back; it almost sounded like the man was playing a duet with himself.”

I went into my re-read of The Way of Kings with The Stormlight Archive firmly planted in my top-five fantasy series of all time. The re-read hasn’t diminished my experience at all. There is truly something enchanting, majestic, and magical about this series. My only minor negatives are that this is a true doorstopper of a read at 1118 pages, there seemed too many very similar Kaladin flashback moments, some of Shallan’s sections dragged, and I seemed to rush the interludes (apart from Szeth’s). With reference to the latter, I believe I actually skipped the interludes on my first read to get back to what I considered as the real meat of the tale, so my reading habits have improved slightly. The ending is phenomenal, featuring a betrayal and a huge battle, excellent showdowns, and a meeting and resolutions that I desired and were extremely well-realised.

“At times, it seems to me that to be human is to want that which we cannot have. For some, this is power. For me, it is peace.”

Although I may unfairly only be rating this 9/10, there is something truly spectacular on show here. I believe that in fifty years time, The Stormlight Archive will be revered and alongside Malazan Book of the Fallen, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Realm of the Elderlings, it will be used to show what the finest authors in this generation of fantasy when at the very top of their game could achieve. This series is always one of my first recommendations for someone wanting to try adult fantasy too so if you haven’t started this series yet, now is a perfect time.

Read The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

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James Tivendale

James reviews fantasy books, is a pretty good pool player and likes the musical Hamilton.