The Way of Kings is the first book in an ambitious new ten-book fantasy series, The Stormlight Archive, by established fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson. And what an opener this is.

Anyone who has even a cursory interest in fantasy literature can’t have missed Sanderson’s entrance into the scene over the past half-decade. After breaking into the scene with the stand-alone novel Elantris in 2005, Sanderson went on to publish the three-book Mistborn series.

I wrote of that series after finishing it that it was one of modern fantasy’s best trilogies. And I felt at the time that it highlighted one of Sanderson’s strongest traits as a writer: His ability to plan. When you finish the final Mistborn book, you walk away stunned that Sanderson had referred to and explained events right in the first pages of the first book in the series in the closing chapter of the third.

It is also this ability to plan that Sanderson has brought to his other major fantasy initiative to date: Finishing Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, following the author’s untimely death prior to its conclusion.

It’s hard to imagine a more sprawling and complex fantasy series than the Wheel of Time – or a more accessible one. Fantasy fans commonly compare reading the series to being addicted to crack cocaine. But as I wrote in my review of Sanderson’s first step in completing the series, The Gathering Storm, Sanderson’s planning and writing skills are up to the task of giving fans a satisfactory closure to Jordan’s masterpiece.

I mention all of this to help a reader to understand what they are picking up when they buy The Way of Kings.

This book is nothing less than Sanderson’s first step in attempting to equal Jordan’s masterpiece The Wheel of Time. With The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson is taking his first, masterly step into a journey that will likely take him more than a decade to complete and will see his name listed alongside Jordan, Tolkien, George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb in the pantheon of fantasy greats.

Yes, this book is that good.

In The Way of Kings, Sanderson is taking the planning and writing skills he polished through the Mistborn and Wheel of Time series and applying them to a stunning new and massive canvas.

The Way of Kings primarily follows three characters.

The first is a mysterious young warrior named Kaladin, who gave up a promising career as a surgeon to join the military in search of honour and glory. But his vision does not come to pass, and he passes into slavery, fighting every day for the right to survive.

The second is a man on the opposite end of life’s scales. Dalinar Kholin is a ‘brightlord’ – one of the rulers of the kingdom of Alethkar, and the commander of a brother army to the one in which Kaladin finds himself enslaved.

The third main character is Shallan, a young woman with remarkable drawing skills who successfully apprentices herself to one of the most renowned scholars of the land. But although she does truly enjoy her studies, Shallan has another underlying motive in mind for getting close to this scholar – one on which the fate of her family rests.

The world in which the stories of these three – and many, many other characters – take place, is a complex one. It is a world in which magic abounds, but as in Mistborn, it is magic that has more than a hint of the technological about it. Magic that has rules and systems governing its operation.

Sanderson’s world is also one in which – as in Mistborn – the past is enshrouded in mystery. Nobody is quite sure what or who the mysterious Knights Radiant were, but their relics – magic swords and armour – continue to be used by modern day people. And rumours of a faceless evil banished in the past continue to haunt and inform the present.

Storms shake the land, and there are daily reminders in The Way of Kings that the world it describes is not Earth. There are tiny magical beings everywhere – dubbed ‘Spren’, arising whenever certain emotions or energies are felt. Gloryspren, for example, manifest as golden lines springing up around someone who has just won a great battle. And Windspren flow around with the wind and play tricks on people.

If it seems already as if there are more than a few shadows of the ideas that Sanderson explored in Mistborn present in The Way of Kings, that’s because there definitely are.

Sanderson’s new series shares much structurally with his old one. The author loves mysteries, and at the heart of his storytelling ability is his habit of gradually revealing the meaning behind tiny details in his world. The experienced fantasy reader can pick up the hints he leaves littered throughout his work as to the true nature of everything in his world – and look forward to the inevitable stunning revelations Sanderson doles out like clockwork.

The magic system in The Way of Kings is similar to that of Mistborn, as is the combat. The mysterious past shaped by clataclysmic events, the true nature of which is not yet apparent, is also similar.

And yet all of these ideas are enhanced and magnified for the bigger stage of The Stormlight Archive. They are grander, and fill the heart and the head more than they did in the limited world of Mistborn.

Sanderson’s greatest problem, it is already apparent, will be the same one that Jordan experienced in The Wheel of Time. Sanderson will need to set boundaries around his world-building power, so that when he gets to book five or six of his mammoth series, his plot doesn’t become bogged down with the need to resolve dozens – nay, hundreds, in the Wheel of Time – of complex plot threads.

But we won’t need to worry about this for a while yet.

If there are criticisms of Sanderson’s work, they may be that The Way of Kings could be tighter. The book does seem to repeat some scenes that do not add much in the way of plot or character development; this is a problem for all three of Sanderson’s major characters.

There is also a sense that The Way of Kings is definitely an introductory volume in The Stormlight Archive series. Sanderson kicks off the book with a fast-paced action scene that introduces the reader to the fantastic magic system in his new world; but then spends most of the rest of the book avoiding such awesome displays of action and power.

And yet, it’s hard to criticize the author for doing so. Sanderson rightly needed to leave much to the future so that he could let the sense of anticipation grow throughout this first book and also through his series – he had to hold things back so that he could reveal them later on.

The best way to describe Sanderson’s work for a fantasy reader is to say that it is tremendously satisfying to read. You know what you’re in for and you feel comfortable resting in the hands of an absolute master.

By the time The Way of Kings is complete, much has been revealed about the world in which it takes place, and about its key characters. And yet, it is apparent that the book has only begun to sketch the outlines of a very complex and beautiful picture which will only be complete more than a decade hence.

I read The Way of Kings in a week – staying up late to do so. At almost exactly 1,000 pages it’s a massive tome – and yet I had to devour it all. After that week, however, I am now terribly conscious that I must wait another year, 18 months, or even more (panic!) for the next book to come out.

With some reviews of fantasy books, it is clear that the author has certain strengths that will appeal to certain readers but not others, so a critic such as myself can offer only a partial recommendation – or, more rarely, no recommendation at all.

With The Way of Kings this is not so. The Stormlight Archive is a series that, like Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings epics, every fantasy fan worth their salt must read and be familiar with. This will be one of the giant series that will help shape the entire scene. Take a week off work now and go and buy The Way of Kings. You won’t regret it.

Disclosure: The Way of Kings was sent to this author as a review copy by Sanderson’s publisher

19 Responses to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings: Review

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I have to say, it definitely could have been tighter. The first three chapters were largely useless, in the grand scheme of things.

  2. John Doe says:

    Finished reading this book, unbelievable how over hyped this novel is, the story comes to a grinding halt after page 47 and doesn’t pickup until about 643 pages later. Will tax even the most experienced readers. For such a long book it was shallow and barely provided characters and situations that a reader could immerse themselves into and connect with, Over extended scenes(Kaladin and Bridge Crew 4) that went nowhere, each character is stuck in a set piece for hundreds of pages with nothing happening that pushes the story forward until the very end of book( alround the last 200pages). The ending is definitely not worth the time investment.

    • Renai LeMay says:

      Are you sure we were reading the same book John? I loved it.

    • Greg Sango says:

      John Doe

      I have to agree with some of your observations. Bridge Crew 4 was rather long and drawn out and I can’t see where it really added all that much to the story line. I will continue to give it my best attention though. Interesting observation about the “643″ pages. Want to read a page turner get Kevin Anderson’s “Saga of the Seven Suns” six books but a story I fell into and never wanted to come out of.

      • John Lamb says:

        Afraid I have to disagree there. I personally loved every page of this book, including the Bridge 4 scenes.Your interest clearly lies not in the story, but in the action scenes.
        (BTW, Kevin Anderson is horrible. His writing style resembles that of a newspaper. )

  3. Til G says:

    Thanks for this review, i am now heading out to buy it. have enjoyed all his work to date and need something good to read, i will let you know what I think soon.

  4. Mark says:

    I’ve never been much of a fan of Sanderson’s work – I’ve always felt he was trying to be to clever.

    But I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the rest of the series.

    Great review.

  5. Robby Cantu says:

    In total agreement with this review! I guess you just can’t please everyone, i.e. John Doe. But that’s okay as long as Brandon keeps pumping out books of this quality, I’ll be pleased as punch!

    Strengths: great world-building, good character development, and an unbelievably heroic & satisfying climax (Go Kaladin Stormblessed!).

    Weaknesses: its length (although I love LONG books) and the fact I have to wait for roughly two years for volume II! [edit: Brandon says the following volumes will be shorter in length, between 250K-300K; TWOK=400K]

    Interesting note was the quality of presentation TOR went through to present this book. The cover art, inside cover art, and text art were magnificent! You can tell TOR is taking care of its new master! Way to go!

    • Renai LeMay says:

      Hehe yup agree with all of this. However, I’m pretty happy with Brandon Sanderson right now — he’s given me two Wheel of TIme books and The Way of Kings, all in about an 18 month time spread — now THAT’S customer service :) I just wish George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss would get off their ample behinds now …

  6. Kevin Fisher says:

    This book definitely satisfies. I think its one of the better fantasy books I’ve read in a couple years.

    My two gripes: Dalinar’s storyline was a bit slow at first (mostly because Sanderson used Dalinar to explain world politics and such) and the Shin assassin was completely unbelievable to me. Though the reluctant killer is a popular archetype, I can’t think of any real person who would behave that way. The closest I can think of is a suicide bomber, and the suicide bomber WANTS to kill as many people as possible.

    Can anyone give me a real life example for the “reluctant killer” that can help me wrap my head around this character? I suppose insanity is a decent explanation, but honor? Really? (I can think of a reluctant killer I liked: the antagonist in the movie, Serenity, but the whole oath stone thing really just breaks the believability of this character for me.)

    Still, with that said, these are minor gripes. The storyline of the three main characters captured my imagination.

    • Renai LeMay says:

      I agree with respect to the Dalinar storyline.

      I think the Shin side of things is most comparable to the way the Japanese approach things — that all-encompassing viewpoint. For example, it was reported after World War II that many Japanese committed suicide, being unable to bear the dishonour to their nation. I see a similar singlemindedness in the Shin culture.

      But most of all — and as SFF writers remind us constantly — human beings are capable of becoming or doing anything, given the right circumstances. We are the most flexible animals on Earth, and I think Sanderson is reminding us of that fact.

    • John Lamb says:

      I wonder if Shin, like the Parshmen, have some kind of mystical origins?

  7. The Way of Kings is brilliant.

    Sanderson takes his own approach to magic – and as with Mistborn, it feels fresh and interesting. It very much reminds me of JV Jones, and the way she manipulates the supernatural in her own special way. The concept of Shards – and their widespread usage and complete misunderstanding is beautiful; you can feel him warming up to something huge. I particularly like the summoning aspect, because it transforms the swordbearer into a mystic (in the ability to appear harmless at first glance).

    I think I like Sanderson because I tend to skim over visual details more than I should. I scour out for plot lines and developments, and I feel he writes in a manner that encourages me. This is especially true when you read the The Gathering Storm (and you compare it to Jordan’s).

    He is also one of the most transparent writers I’ve seen. He regularly blogs on anything and everything related to writing. Instead of breaking the illusion, it actually makes me understand and admire him more. Although, I will confess there are times I feel as though he betrays his hand; there are times I feel where he is too obvious in stating that something is important.

    I didn’t have any problems accepting the “reluctant killer”. There is clearly a lot going on behind the Truthless, and I was prepared to accept it, assuming that it will make more sense going forward. He pushes a similar theme with Kaladin also – killing doesn’t mean not caring. However, I confess it’s a little more bright and sunny than Martin, which is one thing I love about the Song of Ice & Fire (honour seems to mean a lot to Sanderson).

    One thing that did bother me, were the deaths by Shardblade. Most characters accepted them on blind faith, but I would have thought there would be more recoil to them, seeing as how potent they are. I would have thought there would be an incredible fear about them – especially from the devout (perhaps that is to come).

    All up – a stellar book. If only we didn’t have to wait a decade. Though he *is* very prolific, even his detractors have gotta give him that.

    BTW – Would love to see JV Jones on the list of reviews if you ever get a chance. The Sword of Shadows epic is brilliant – if only it wasn’t spiralling out of control.

    Justin

    • Renai LeMay says:

      +1 to this whole post, I agree with most everything you’ve said here. I tried J. V. Jones years ago and got nowhere — but maybe worth looking into again — I’m a much moe mature reader these days, so may be interesting.

  8. Loved this review of yours :)
    the book is really incredible, I’ve read it in 3-4 days 2 of which i had to go to work as well :)
    and Brandon is really something. I’m sure come time and he’ll get a looot more popular and well know.

    • Renai LeMay says:

      Cheers! To my mind, he’s probably the best modern fantasy writer currently writing. This is partly because of the quality of his writing and the effort he puts into it, but also his prolific nature. He is writing so much at the moment, including two mammoth series — you have to give the guy kudos. He is incredibly ambitious.

      I loved the Mistborn series as well — may go back and read it again one of these days.

  9. Pete G says:

    Wow, I loved it! Didn’t even notice any slow bits.
    Saga of the seven suns- ah, mate. I really enjoyed that also, BUT, not for very long- it became dull and silly with nothing more happening. I guessed practically everything after book 3 (which was around the 1000page mark).
    You need bit ‘fluffy’ bits in between- it’s what gives it some reality and the story credibility in the long term (I think so anyway).
    My only critique would be that I had hurt my back and had to lie flat to read most of this- great forearm workout, but absolutely knackering! Keep up the good work Brandon!