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The Way of Kings

19 September 2011 by superlative

I recently finished reading The Way of Kings, book one of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, so I thought I’d write a short review of it.

I first came across Brandon Sanderson when I read his Mistborn Trilogy. I’d never heard of him before, but the books were marked with a ‘Staff recommend’ sticker in Waterstones and so I thought I’d give them a go. I absolutely LOVED them and think they’re a great series of books, and I’m really looking forward to the fourth book he has written set in the Mistborn universe that is due out later this year. I’ve also since learnt that Sanderson is quite famous for his work on completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but I’ve never read any Jordan so that doesn’t mean a lot to me (it might to you, if you’re a fantasy buff).

The Way of Kings is quite a mammoth book to pick up if you haven’t read any Sanderson before. It was originally published in two halves because it is so huge, but the edition I was bought combines the two into a hefty 1008 pages. Even at that length though I didn’t find it heavy going, and I think that’s due to the way it is structured (divided up into distinct parts and interludes) and the three separate story arcs that run through it. There are three protagonists, and each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of them. I suppose that is partly why the book is so long, because there are three stories to be told, but it certainly stops you getting bored with any one arc, and at times it makes you desperate to read on when something exciting happens but the next chapter switches to a different character.

One of the things Sanderson does well and has received acclaim for is what some people call ‘secondary creation’: the art of creating a detailed world with a rich history to set your story in. In both The Way of Kings and the Mistborn books, this also involves creating novel systems of magic, both of which really are unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. They take a bit of getting used to when you pick his books up, but once you have accepted them and learnt the terminology they aren’t distracting and make for some very exciting action scenes.

The Way of Kings is very grand in scale at times, with large battles and a good deal of politicking between rival houses of noblemen, but also manages to focus down onto some believable, sympathetic and troubled characters. In that regard you get the best of both worlds, as it has an epic feel intertwined with the personal and emotional journeys of three individuals.

If I had to make a criticism of the book, I’d say that it is quite frustrating and cannot be read as a standalone novel. It really is the first of a series, and you’re left desperate to pick up the second book straight after the first to find out what happens. Unfortunately it hasn’t been published yet, and I’m not sure how long I’ll have to wait before I get my hands on it.

My other key criticism is of the combined edition I read, which contains by far the largest number of typographical and grammatical errors I’ve ever seen in a published novel. It’s almost as if it has never been proof-read, which seems bizarre given it must have come out after the publication of the two individual volumes. Gollancz, the publishers, should be ashamed of themselves, because although the errors aren’t a barrier to understanding what’s going on, they are distracting and disruptive to the flow of the narrative.

I haven’t said very much about what happens in the story, but that’s because I didn’t want this to turn into a summary, and so much happens in the book that it would be hard to stop it doing so. You can read the product description on Amazon if you want to get a flavour of the content. I recommend The Way of Kings very highly if you enjoy fantasy novels though, and particularly if you enjoyed his Mistborn books. Of the two, I’d say the Mistborn novels are stronger, but The Way of Kings is only the first in the series and I’ll be very keen to see where he takes it next.


7 Comments »

  1. Chrispey says:

    Good to know, both for another series to check out (two actually) and for the fact that in spite of myself I’m 3.5 books into Robert Jordan and it’s good to know that it’s a good author who’s taken up the mantle. Seems like his writing style is quite similar which should help. If you like those and haven’t read them I’d say you should check out Game of Thrones, it’s quite the step up from Robert Jordan at least but in a similar style, politics, battle, intrigue, kingdoms rising and falling, but similarly has very real and relatable characters.

    My favorite fantasy is also my favorite book series period. The Kushiel Legacy (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen and Kushiel’s Avatar). A spiritual courtesan raised as a spy marked by one of her gods to feel pleasure in pain. It’s first person with one protagonist, beautifully written with engaging characters whether good, bad or in between and the magic is barely magic but more spirituality. The main characters battle wits and wills to bring down/save the kingdom. If you’re a fantasy lover check it out, it’s a very different take on the genre.

  2. superlative says:

    That sounds amazing! You had me at ‘courtesan raised as a spy’. I’ve never heard of them before but I’ll definitely check them out!

    I’ve just started Game of Thrones, prompted by everyone going on about the new TV series. I hope it’s as good as everyone says it is. I’m not sure how many books there are in the collection, so it might take me a while, but now I really want to read your Kushiel Legacy ones so I might mix them up a bit. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Helen says:

    Game of Thrones is book 5 in a planned series of 7. I’ve not read them, just dropping by with info!

    1008 pages is quite an achievement. I think the longest book I’ve ever read was Ken Follet’s Pillers of the Earth, or Salisbury by same author, both over 800 pages. A Kindle might have helped with those tomes.

    Fantasy is pretty much the only genre I’ve not read anything in, more for lack of recommendation than anything else. I’ve not even read any Terry Pratchett, despite everyone at school reading them. What would you recommend to get someone started on the genre?

  4. Helen says:

    Wait, that’s wrong. GoT is book 1 of 5 in a planned series of 7. Sorry. Long day.

  5. superlative says:

    Having just read the Count of Monte Cristo (another thousand pager, and in French) this felt relatively easy going.

    I’ve read most of the Discworld novels and they are quite good. Pratchett is very different to most of the other fantasy I’ve read though, because he writes so much comedy into it and all the rest of the fantasy I’ve read is serious. His books do make you laugh out loud though! You might enjoy the ones with Granny Weatherwax in, because she’s angry and glares at people. The Susan Sto Helit/Death ones are good too.

    I’m not sure what else I’d recommend. Tolkein is obviously very good and very famous, but the Lord of the Rings might take a bit of ploughing through. I’ve never actually read them all myself. The Hobbit is good; you could read that before the film comes out?

    Other than that, I’d recommend Sanderson’s Mistborn novels very highly. I like that they have a female protagonist, as they don’t feel as testosteroney as books with a big burly hero on a horse.

    The Earthsea Saga by Ursula Le Guin is also very good. I read them as a teenager and they probably helped get me hooked on the genre. I remember loving the atmosphere of the Tombs of Atuan – she makes wandering around in a pitch black labyrinth surprisingly exciting.

  6. superlative says:

    Oo, also, His Dark Materials is AMAZING and I can lend it to you if you want, as is the Abhorsen trilogy of books by Garth Nix, which I also have. I think both of those two sets of books are technically ‘teen fiction’, so they’re quite a light read, but they’re excellent for any age.

  7. Helen says:

    Are you saying I’m angry and glare at people? Well observed.

    Good recs, thanks! Will add to my post MA, world war one free reading list. I have in fact read His Dark Materials and had forgotten, I suppose I technically labelled them under Children’s Literature rather than Fantasy. They were great.

    I’ve heard of Le Guin so might try her and Pratchett first.

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