Title: The Way of Kings: Part One (The Stormlight Archives)
Author: Brendon Sanderson
Genre: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, World-Building, Action, Adventure, Mythical, Alternate World
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”
In recent years, the genres of High and Epic Fantasy has gone through a resurgence in popularity and interest, and attracted more of a public and mainstream status and audience. Through film sagas like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and into television shows such as Game of Thrones, Beowulf and even the children’s favourite, Merlin, the sub-genre of High Fantasy has moved into public consciousness and shown off its talents of world-building, alternative realities, epic battles and mythical creatures.
I’ve always been a fan of fantasy novels, but apart from reading the obvious Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve never actually ventured into reading really high fantasy. But when I was sent Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance books (the third and the fourth books in The Stormlight Archives), and was intrigued by the back covers, I knew I had a new winter read on my hand. So I bought the first volume, The Way of Kings, and when I got this tome of a book of nearly 1,000 pages, I knew I was in for some serious world-building and character exploring.
(Quick sidenote: In the UK, The Way of Kings has been split into two halves, due to the absolutely massive size of the book. But without realizing it, I bought it in one complete volume of over 1,000 pages. This review will be on The Way of Kings in its entirety, rather than limiting it to having two reviews for both halves).
Roshar is a land of harsh climates, fierce battles and raging conflicts. The country is frequently decimated by fierce tempests, which have not only shaped the geography of the land, but also its people, and there are wars fought and won over the capture of territories, spoils, and pieces of weaponry known as Shardblades and Shardplates – which make the wearer near-invincible and impossibly strong. The narrative primarily follows three plotlines – Kaladin (the ex-soldier turned slave), Brightlord Dalinar (ex-war hero who is feared to be going insane) and Shallan (ex-noblelady who turns to crime and nefarious deeds to get her family back to a higher rank), and how they all navigate Roshar’s tempestuous landscape, torn warzones, fragmented cultures and spiritual beliefs. The novel also deals with the typical high-fantasy tropes of drawn-out battles with swords and weapons, mythical beasts, battles between good and evil and quests of high significance.
Now, like I’ve said before, the only high fantasy novels I’ve read have been Tolkien and George R.R Martin’s creations, so I really didn’t know how I was going to get on with these extreme levels of fantasy. But I was pleasantly surprised over how readable and enjoyable I found this book. Yes, it is very high fantasy, and at some points it can be fairly muddled and confusing – personally, I found the descriptions of the religious beliefs to be somewhat convoluted and appear to be too thought out and confusing – but for the majority of the time, I adored the world-building and the attention Sanderson put into his characters, and bringing the world to life.
The characters were readable and enjoyable, and I found as we moved through the pages, their backstories were unraveled slowly, so we could fully appreciate and see how they react to events and circumstances. I particularly liked Brightlord Dalinar, whose apparent insanity is an interesting read, as we see it from Dalinar himself, but also his comrades and family members. Shallan was also very interesting, as she had a lot of choices between good and evil to deal with, and her relationship with her tutor, the King’s heretic sister, Jasnah was one of intrigue and tension. The characters are also never put forward as being perfect, but flawed and entirely human in that respect. What I did find interesting was how social hierarchies were dictated by the colour of a persons eyes, and how ‘light-eyes’ were always higher up, no matter how good or bad this person was. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that particular story arc progresses during the rest of the books.
As in most fantasy series, there are a great deal of warzones and fight scenes. And Sanderson doesn’t disappoint with his descriptions of the battles. Yes, they are bloody, but not explicit. And with the addition of the Shardplates and Blades, the battles reach new heights of intensity and skill. Sanderson has also included layers of technology, magic, science and Other-ness throughout the story, so there isn’t really any point when anything seems too out there or farfetched.
So, did I enjoy this book? The answer is a definite yes. I have read another story by Sanderson called Steelheard, which I did find good, but I found this book to really surpass that. This has been an excellent attempt at high-fantasy, as he not only excels at world-building, but also at just giving characters a voice and storytelling. At some points it is a bit confusing, and the first third of the book isn’t the fastest moving, or most dynamic part, but all in all, I did enjoy it. Fans of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin should definitely read this. At the moment, I am reading the second book in The Stormlight Archives, and I’ve heard that this is going to be a ten-book series. And truthfully, I cannot wait.
But, let me know what you think! I’d love to hear feedback.
Sanderson’s website – Click Here.