Book Review: The Way of Kings

I’m going to kill Brandon Sanderson. I purchased “The Way of Kings” a ways back, and started reading it. My initial reaction was kind of ho-hum; it was okay but not spectacular. But it’s 1200 pages long. And once I started, I had to read the whole thing. And I just started liking it more and more the longer I read it. Why am I going to kill him, you ask? Because it’s only book 1 in, what I guess, is a coming series ten books long. Another “Wheel of Time” type series. And the first book was 1200 pages! I’m supposed to read 12,000 pages of story! Good God, no! Although, silly me, I probably will because I like the story. Even though I may be dead by the time its finished.

Well, on to the review.

The story involves a number of subplots. It’s a little too complex to condense into a review; there’s just too much going on. There’s an assassin going around killing everybody. There’s a scholar/thief desperately trying to help her family. There’s a slave, who’s at the nadir of existence and struggling to find meaning, hope, and strength. There’s a high prince who’s trying to save his kingdom. Those are the major players; all their stories interweave in an intriguing fashion. But like I said, I won’t even try to elucidate on the story itself any further.

So, on to the strengths. Sanderson incorporates some philosophical ruminations in his work, and I like that. I was a philosophy major in college, and I enjoy the intricacies of philosophical discussion. Sanderson’s work isn’t quite the same thing as wading through Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” or Plato’s “Gorgias,” but it is still enjoyable. I also find myself agreeing with much of Sanderson’s world view (or what I think is coming across through his books). Particularly concerning the nature of nobility. Yes, the bulk of nobles are greedy, soul-sucking dirtbags concerned only with power and wealth, but there is the occasional truly noble individual aspiring towards higher ideals. Like Elend Venture in the Mistborn series, and Dalinar Kholin in this series (the name of the series is “The Stormlight Archive” by the way). It’s just so easy to disparage everyone who has wealth and power because, well, they have wealth and power. It’s nice to see that there is the occasional jewel sparkling in the slime. I just happen to like that. Also, Sanderson has once again invented a cool “magic” system, and again, I’m not sure I want to call it magic. It’s clever and cool and makes the world unique.

Weaknesses. I’ve previously mentioned this on my blog, but I think Sanderson is almost too creative for his own good. He’s created an alien world that is so different from the Earth in so many different respects, the reader has difficulty keeping track. I read the whole book, and I still don’t know how many moons his world has. He mentioned several in passing, but not often enough for me to really figure them out. He’s got a different calendar, with different names for the days of the week—I think his week may be of different length, too. The weather patterns on the world are different as well (although, that’s kind of cool). He’s got different kinds of plants, animals, and material for clothing.  Although all that is logical—it would be silly for another world to divide it’s year up into 52 weeks of seven days named Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc…–it can leave the reader bewildered. I mean, the logical end of such thinking forces one to give your alien world a completely new language, because they certainly shouldn’t be speaking English. But at that point, who wants to read something that’s unintelligible. The key is to strike a balance. Sanderson’s got 1200 pages to work with, so by the end, I was kind of used to the “rockbuds” and “cremlings,” but other basic things still escaped me (days of the week and moons among them). So, over all, I would weigh that against the book. Additionally, the enormous size of the book, is a point against it. I enjoyed the book, but I will probably never read it again. And the fact that he plans for nine more, I find almost disheartening. Finally, the plot… I don’t want to give away too much, but someone significant dies at the end of the book. He’s used that before, and I assume he’s tying it into his other books and series, but… really? It’s starting to get repetitive at this point.

Of course, despite my complaints, I intend to keep reading the series.

Overall, I’ll give the book four, maybe even four and a half stars. Good read. But long.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 7/29/2012.

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

10 responses to “Book Review: The Way of Kings”

  1. Bats says :

    I read this about a year ago. I remember at the end of the book it was revealed that someone from Kaladin’s past died. I wasn’t surprised because all the flashbacks were leading up to it. Was that the plot twist at the end of the book or was the plot twist about something else? There’s always a plot twist in Sanderson’s fantasies. I agree it’s become a somewhat formulaic or signature trick. But I can’t remember what the exact wist was about. LOL. The whole book was about discovering a whole new world, so maybe if there was a plot twist, I saw it as just another one of the surprises the book had to offer.

    I agree that the creation of this whole new world was somewhat of a weakness. My main criticism is that the details stuck out as being homogeneous. I don’t think a culture or society that is in touch with other modern countries, in such a huge world, can be so one dimensional. The only way a culture can be that one dimensional if it they’re an isolated tribe in some corner of the world. By drawing such defining characteristics, there’s little space for cultural diversity.

    Although it was described over and over that Brightness Shallan wore only one sleeve, I still don’t know why it was culturally significant. There a princess, a slave, and barbarians (the “black” people). Of course only Kaladin, because he’s the hero and was formerly enslaved, recognizes their humanity. Yet the Parshendi all awed by his prophecy-fulfilling godlike warrior brilliance. Really, why can’t there be at least one person who isn’t awed. He doesn’t have to be a “bad guy,” but the perspective is so one-sided. I liked Kal, but I felt like I was beaten over the head with the religion symbolism (chained martyrdom in the storm, etc.).

    Still, it was an entertaining book and wanting to know what would happen next kept me turning the pages.

  2. debyfredericks says :

    This book almost sounds more like a college assignment than recreational reading. Try something by Jim Hines.

  3. Eric Storch says :

    I enjoyed Sanderson’s Mistborn series (including Alloy of Law) and was considering reading this, but I had no idea on the length. That is probably going to stay my hand for the time being because I just don’t have the time or energy to devote to such an undertaking.

    Nice review. Thank you.

  4. Shawn says :

    I had no idea what I was in for when I picked up this book. I never read the Wheel of Time series and I’ve never read anything by Sanderson before. To be honest, I only bought this book because the book store accidentally put a 30% off sticker on it and I recognized Sanderson’s name as the guy who took on WoT.

    In fact, the longest series I’ve read was DragonLance (6 books). I do not count Salvatore’s work because you could read them out of order and they would still make sense.

    I have to agree with most of your review but I would actually have to take your list of weaknesses and add it to the book’s strengths. It also took me a while to feel real comfortable with Sanderson’s alien world but I was so drawn in that it did not register as a noticeable irritation.

    To Bats: I do agree with you that the religious symbolism was a bit daunting at times but I overlooked it because I so loved Kaladin’s struggle and I was genuinely shocked when he refused to claim the Shardblade that was rightfully his.
    As for your homogeneous statement, I must disagree. I think the Parshendi being viewed as inferior by the Alethi only because they were arrogant and ignorant of the Parshendi. The Parshendi on the other hand seemed to be more aware of past and prophecy, for lack of a better term. Besides, the Alethi judged their class system according to eye color, much the same way people once judged it according to skin color (among other ridiculous things).
    I took this as Sanderson conveying the ignorant, arrogance that blind racism can have on not just people but entire societies. I could be wrong but I believed somewhere in that behemoth of a book Sanderson mentioned or alluded to the idea that the Alethkar would be stronger were they not so divided by class.

    Whoo! Sorry. That’s all. My major gripe with it was that it was so darn long! I really think that just as wonderful and amazing a story could have been told in a shorter length. I will be eagerly awaiting the next in the series.

    • Bats says :

      Shawn–

      I thought the cultural and racial descriptions weren’t very deep. It’s as if Sanderson took one trait and repeated it over and over as if it were the only trait that defined that people or nation. As a writer, I don’t think emphasizing one character idiosyncrasy as a distinguishing trait is enough to make that character well-rounded. But fantasy novels are generally plot-driven and not character studies. So, what I perceived as flaws in the narrative didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book. It was long, but it was an easy fast-paced read, and I kept turning the pages to find out what happened next. I actually read it in three days, but that’s probably also due to the fact that I had the time since I’m on disability.

      Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading Stormlight 2, though I will wait for the price to drop when it releases on paperback. Hopefully, Kindle will match the paperback price. Reading the huge tome in print gave me back, neck, and shoulder pain. LOL.

      • Bats says :

        Eh, I think I am overcritical. Sanderson is very good at what he does. He and Patrick Rothfuss are my two favorite male fantasy writers atm. Rothfuss publishes more slowly than Sanderson, but he writes more rounded characters and with a more literary style imo. Two different writers and styles, but I like them both.

      • atoasttodragons says :

        So many writers, so little time…

      • Shawn says :

        Yeah, that was a heavy tome to lug around. Especially the hardcover. As for the price, the bookstore I got it at accidentally had a 30% off sticker on one of the books and I took advantage of it. Some people might say it makes me a bad person. I say it makes me poor. LOL

        I agree that the cultural and racial descriptions were not very detailed. In fact, I think he could have spent a little less time on the history of the world and more time on present cultures and peoples. As for distinguishing only one idiosyncratic trait, is that not how racism often works?

        Just by browsing through YouTube comments (it is an ugly place in case you have had the pleasure of not seeing it), I see so much racism focused on a single, nondescript issue that does nothing to describe the entire culture of whatever peoples they are attacking.

        But still, I have to go back and once gain agree that I think he could have spent more time on present cultures. It was as if he wanted to save everything else as a surprise for the next book. I certainly hope they will not all be that long.

        (I would just like to add that I did inform the clerk of the discount mistake so they could make sure there were not any others mistakenly marked.)

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