Thursday, September 28, 2017

#CBR9 Review #19: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Coming in at 1001 pages (before the appendix of magic theory and other information, of course), The Way of Kings may well be the longest individual novel that I’ve ever read. But it’s just the first in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Which is apparently also tied together with the worlds of Sanderson’s other series (including the Mistborn universe, the first trilogy of which I read earlier this year and loved). And honestly? That’s… a lot. It seems pretty complex and while you don’t necessarily need to read all the series and know all the connections in order to enjoy the series, I just can’t even fathom how one would begin to create such an expansive universe with so many connections and the theories behind it all. That’s super impressive! But, let’s just focus on this one novel here, shall we?

The Way of Kings introduces us to the world of this epic fantasy, which has within it what appears to be the two main factors of any epic fantasy: focusing largely on three major characters, as well as many many minor ones. The three major characters’ lives are connected in some way or another, though not necessarily directly, but I’m sure they will all converge at some point in later novels:

First we have Dalinar Kholin, High Prince of Alekthar, a nation which is warring against a people known as the Parshendi, after the assassination of Dalinar’s brother who had had an interest in the Parshendi people. Dalinar is facing what many think to be a deteriorating mind, but really it is that he is having visions from some kind of mythical being. Dalinar seeks to join the other high princes to work together in the war against the Parshendi, yet has great difficulty doing so and fears betrayal from one camp or another.

Secondly, we have Kaladin, who had once been a solider in the Alethi wars, but was betrayed and made into a slave. He now lives as a bridgeman, who are essentially seen as disposable men within the war, forced to run bridges across plateaus and face the first arrows of any siege. Most bridgemen don’t last long, but Kaladin is touched by something special (and with the help of a little Spren/fae friend) finds the strength to join his bridge crew together into a group of men who want to do more than just survive from day to day or bridge-run to bridge-run.

Finally, we have Shallan, who is not directly related to the wars, but seeks to study with a noted scholar named Jasnah, who is a niece of Dalinar. Shallan does yearn to be a scholar, along with her natural talents with art, but is also on a mission for her family, to steal what is known as a soulcaster from Jasnah: soulcasters are just one of the magical elements in this universe, which are able to transmute one substance into another. Yet while Shallan studies, she comes intertwined with the politics surrounding Jasnah, and also begins to uncover power of her own and senses the coming of something dark. Shallan’s role in this first novel is not as major as the other two, but I can see her coming to play a much bigger role later on, as she uncovers more information about the strange figures and beings she seems to sense all around her, an omen of coming dread and danger in the land.

Much like in Sanderson’s Mistborn universe, there is magic and fantastical elements, but there is also a set of rules and logic to the magic that makes it seem very well thought out and makes sense. I didn’t quite understand everything, but it was logical enough to not get too caught up in it or confused. That’s kind of my feeling about the entire world presented here, actually: there’s a lot going on, so it definitely feels like a full and complete world, but it’s not super bloated to the point of confusion. I mean, there were some names and places I didn’t remember from time to time, as it is indeed a lot of content and very expansive, but I wasn’t quite as lost as I get in some other epic fantasy worlds. The only nitpick I may have about this is that there were some “intermission” parts between main sections of the book that had different characters and locations, some of which were interesting and seemingly important, but others seemed to be quite extraneous. I understand that it’s a part of the worldbuilding, but they still came across as just filler that wasn’t necessary, and in a book this long, well, maybe they really didn’t need to be included at all at the risk of overstuffing the novel’s contents.

Overall, I did quite enjoy this first novel in the series. I may take a little break before hopping right into the next one, as it did take me quite a while to finish and it felt like I was dragging along throughout the middle sections (I did in fact read and finish something else while still in the midst of this one), but ultimately it was an intriguing read that left enough unsolved and set up for the next installment that I am interested to continue.

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