Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review: Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

(This is a repost of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)

Hardcover: 1008 pages
Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0765326353
ISBN-13: 978-0765326355

Magnificent and magnormous! I know, that word isn’t real, but then neither is this book. It is full of make believe. Crammed to the hilt, really. That is both good and bad.

I love epic fantasy. I truly do. The Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire are fantastic pieces. In my youth: the Belgariad, Mallorean, Riftwar Saga, The Foundation series and more were massive staples of literary enjoyment. The larger the series (and of course the books) the better. Brandon Sanderson’s new series: The Stormlight Archive promises to be HUGE. I’ve seen Sanderson grow in his writing and it certainly shows in this new piece of work. It does have its share of problems though.

First off, it’s 1008 pages long! That’s a lot to bite off in a first book, and worrisome for how long it may take to get through, but it read quickly (relative to its size) and I enjoyed almost all of it (except for the resulting neck pain from lugging it around each and every workday).

It starts with a view of the far past, where some truly epic foundation stones are set for a fascinating story in this alternate universe. Then you are pulled along on a grand journey that delivers.

Humanity lives in the strange world of Roshar where highstorms literally scour the landscape on a frequent basis, creating plant and animal life that is almost too hard to believe. Much of mankind is also strange: a myriad of races with a rainbow of skin, eye and hair colors. The distinct races and their different kingdoms are in fact too much. There is so much variety and such a large swathe of detail that the things that are most important occasionally get lost.

In this world, Stormlight is both an energy source for magically powered machines and a source of magic to be drawn upon. One of its most compelling uses is to power the Plate of powerful knights capable of astounding feats of strength and destruction. Despite the varied uses it is clear that few survive in this era that are true masters of the energies of Stormlight and there is more to come as Sanderson doles out the details of his magical creation.

Character is a strong point in this book, with some truly strong scenes of emotion and incredible trials. Like most epic fantasy, there’s a lot of them and three in particular: the thief, the lord and the surgeon-turned-soldier. Their conflicts are real, and they are complicated. Rarely do they make a decision that doesn’t have some sort of ramification. This gives great depth to the story and life. The world of Roshar has its problems and each of these characters are doing their part to try and make it a better place, each in their own ways. Each of them succeed as they fail, pushing themselves to their limit, ready to quit but persevering anyway.

One complaint, is an important reveal towards the end of the book. It is neither well set up or convincing in its reveal. I won’t say what it was only that it was irritating reading it. It is just one of those things that the writer forces upon the reader without ample reason and has the feel of a “darling” that needed to die (Writing Excuses reference). The perpetrator of this fallacy is both far too learned, and wise to make such a callous assumption. I can only hope there is a better reason in the next installment. But this is just one moment of annoyance amongst many of enjoyment. Many reveals in the book will have you reading with a jaw dropped halfway to the floor.

All in all, a worthy read for epic fantasy lovers that love expansive stories and huge books. There are moments of heart-wrenching emotion and edge-of-your-seat thrills. 4 stars!

I might, however, advise petitioning Tor for a wheeled version  to make toting it around easier, or you can always get the e-book version, I suppose...

What did you think?


  1. I thought the book was great, but I was also disappointed in a few things. It seems like the more books he writes the more he adds to the length even when it's not all that necessary. I didn't think that as much in this one as I did in Warbreaker. I was hooked enough by the end though, will surely check out book 2.

    I'm curious which scene you're talking about, I thought that about a couple scenes. But I know people hate spoilers. You should message me on Twitter or something. Hah.

  2. Hi Robert, thanks for the comment. I don't recall that being much of an issue in Warbreaker. My issues with that book were mostly in the realm of character with some of the reveals lacking punch.

    Spoilers? I try to avoid them in the review itself, but I think in the comments it is fair game.


    The big reveal scene that came off as incredibly flat for me was where Jasnah makes the connection between the ash and fire references of the Voidbringers to the red and black marbling of the Parshendi's skin... That's just a ridiculous cognitive leap to me. It could have been set up much better, but just came off as a head-scratcher. Jasnah is a renouned scholar and should know much better than that.

    I also wanted to grind my teeth and grab a copy of The Song of Ice and Fire instead when I was reading some of the scenes with Dalinar and Sadeas. Sanderson managed to pull off that plotline eventually with the betrayal (which I will admit fooled me... *finger on forehead in shape of an "L"*), but up until then the back and forth between animosity and civility lacked a logical consistency and seemed like Sanderson just couldn't decide either.

    Despite its failings I'll side with you, it had me hooked enough to want to read a second book. I think if Sanderson doesn't up the ante though in quality, and keep his book better trimmed, he may risk losing readers' attention for something better.

  3. Looks like we had about the same thoughts on it, or close enough anyway. I did think the Parshendi revelation was kind of interesting, but I blamed their ignorance on the fact that they don't take their enemy seriously. When bridgemen are out-thinking the officers, you know you have a problem.

  4. That's an amusing observation. But I blame it on their arrogance.

    For me it came off as lackluster because as much as Sanderson plays up the Parshendi as vicious warriors, he also focuses on their human aspects. So how they can be the voidbringers of lore seems just ridiculous in the first place and the reveal lacks any punch or ring of truth.

    You sound like you'll go for book 2? I know I will. The book's problems were still heavily outweighed by its boons.

  5. Well the Alethi are nothing if not arrogant. Good call.

    The fire & ash thing did seem kind of sudden. It felt like, "Oh, you mean I should have been paying attention to that nonsense at the beginning of each chapter and I might have figured this out already?" Whatever.

    Yeah I'll pick up book 2 when it comes out. I'm curious to see where this goes. Mostly I'm curious to see if Shallan will die because I totally hate her. Ugh.

  6. Ouch. Well I don't think Shallan will be dying anytime soon. I think she'll go through a character arc that redeems her at some point. There is quite a bit more going on than apparent with her family. Seems like some sort of abuse occurred--physical or mental.

    I'm excited to see what happens with Kaladin, though I will complain about the handling of the reveal of his powers; which came off as awkward.


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.