The Way of Kings

Despite it being a holiday weekend I feel like I got less done than I do on normal weekends. On the other hand, the book I read this weekend was over a thousand pages long (1001 not counting the appendix), which is a bit more than I usually read in a day and a half.

Brandon Sanderson‘s new book (The Way of Kings) came out last Tuesday, but considering the length of the book I figured I was better off waiting till I could spend all day reading so I wouldn’t stay up all night before a work day. As it turned out I didn’t need to worry about that for probably the first half of the book since it wasn’t hard to put down (it was good, but paced slow enough I wasn’t rushing through it), but by the end there wasn’t a chance of me taking a break. By Saturday night I was far enough into the book that I kept putting off going to bed for one more chapter till 2:30 in the morning and was late to church, so waiting till the weekend wasn’t the perfect strategy for managing that. I very much enjoyed the book, but I haven’t yet read a Brandon Sanderson book that I didn’t enjoy.

Brandon Sanderson has written a couple standalone fantasy novels (Elantris and Warbreaker), the Mistborn trilogy, and a young adult series (Alcatraz) that I haven’t read. He was also chosen to finish writing the Wheel of Time story from Robert Jordan’s notes and has finished the first two of the last three books (only one is already published).

I’ll try to keep this spoiler free. If you want to know the plot you should read the book.

Way of Kings is the first book in the Stormlight Archive, which Amazon claims will be 10 books but I thought was planned to be fewer than that. Considering how epic fantasy stories tend to go, the planned number of books is probably just a lower bound anyways, and we won’t know how many books the series is until the last one is being written. On the other hand, my understanding is that each book is going to focus on different main characters, so depending on how rigidly that’s planned out it might be kept to the planned number of books (though books could be published in multiple volumes or other characters could get viewpoints I guess).

I felt that the book stood on its own fairly well in terms of ending in a decent stopping point. In terms standing on it’s own by explaining everything it was perfect, but it’s the first book in the series so everything you’re expected to know can be gotten from this book. I don’t consider the ending to be a major cliff hanger, but it definitely left me wanting to read more of the story.

It’s the most bold start to a series that I can think of in terms of giving a broad view of the world, and it followed three plot lines (the way I counted them, with interludes ignored and flashbacks counted as the plot thread of the character they were about) which also is quite a start. Compared to what the Wheel of Time has become that’s not so much, but The Eye of the World at least started with limited plot threads and just followed characters that started together and were going to the same place. Of the three plot threads in WoK, two largely happened in the same area, but the third was mostly independent.

The book was split into parts with a few one-off viewpoints between most parts. Those interludes did a lot for the world-building by showing glimpses of other parts of the world, but most of them had little to do with the plots of the book (at least not as far as we see the main threads in this book). Several of the interludes were rather humorous though: in what other world can a character call the grass retarded and be able to justify the claim?

There were only two sets of “magical” abilities revealed to any degree, and while both were important in places neither was a focus for most of the book. Magical items, on the other hand, were fairly common and heavily used by some characters. Most of Sanderson’s magic systems are very well and rigidly explained (which is part of what I like about them), but for the first book in a series leaving most in mystery is expected. That wasn’t entirely the case with WoK, but I thought the balance of what was explained worked pretty well. I will be rereading parts of the book in an attempt to pick up more of the systems now that I’ve finished it, since I always miss some details the first time through, especially when I’m pushing to the end.