Brandon Sanderson is probably the current king of fantasy. I know most people will automatically think of George R.R. Martin simply because of the phenom that was the Game of Thrones show, but Martin hasn’t published a book since 2011. If you ask anyone plugged into the fantasy space who the best fantasy writers are currently, Sanderson’s name will come up 100% of the time.
The Way of Kings is the first step into his epic fantasy series called The Stormlight Archive. This series has long been on my list, but starting a new fantasy series is a commitment. I finally found the time and took the plunge.
Not a lot happens in this book, yet it’s over a thousand pages long. I say that both as a compliment and a criticism.
It’s a criticism because that is a lot of pages to develop a plot, but the plot doesn’t really go anywhere in this novel. It feels like all set up. If I look back on it now, I can count on one hand the major plot points. Over a thousand pages, that doesn’t feel like enough plot. Most of the story is focused on setting up future installments, that is evident. Sanderson asks so many questions in The Way of Kings and sets up so many intriguing possibilities. The plot, sparse though it may be, hooked me for sure.
So that’s how it’s a compliment: not a lot happens in this book, and I still loved it. Despite the lack of major plot, I was so engrossed and engaged with this book. I wanted to keep reading. This is a plot with not much development and yet I still couldn’t put it down. Sanderson did something right with that.
I wish I knew more leaving this book, though. Sanderson sets up so many questions in The Way of Kings and I get that it isn’t the point to answer them all in book one. This is a slowly developing series and this is the very beginning. I get that. But, after committing over a thousand pages into my brain, I wish I knew more. I don’t understand almost anything about the major questions in this. I don’t think anything was answered. I wish I got more out of this book, honestly.
But, it did make me super eager to read the next one, so I guess Sanderson knows what he’s doing.
I loved most of the major characters. They felt distinct and important with differing roles to play within the universe. Sanderson used typical fantasy stereotypes in some of his characters (Kaladin mostly, who is a spitting image of Kelsier from Mistborn). But Sanderson also subverted those stereotypes and enhanced them when he needed to. He didn’t rely on them like some authors are prone to do.
With fantasy book characters, most of them need to fit into the world in such a way that you understand their purpose even if they don’t yet. All of the characters work that way in The Way of Kings.
I love Dalinar Kholin. I love the perspective of this man struggling with these visions. What do they mean? Can they be trusted? And also seeing him navigate a volatile and brutal political system while dealing with these issues. Such interesting dynamics and Sanderson develops them well. Also love Navani for some of the same reasons.
I found myself kind of bored with Shallan’s sections. Sure, her sections were intriguing because of the questions proposed, but I never expected those questions to be answered so I wanted to get back to the Kaladin or Dalinar sections.
I liked Kaladin, but he’s not super unique as a character. Sure, he’s deep and nuanced and developed, but not unique. He’s Han Solo with a more upfront heart. He’s Kelsier with less reputation. He’s Aragon. He’s that typical battle-heartened, beaten-down rogue with a heart of gold and a savior complex. I always like that character, so I liked Kaladin, but Sanderson isn’t breaking new ground with him.
Szeth is the most interesting character in this book by far. I’m so interested to see where that character goes.
Honestly, the worldbuilding is my biggest disappointment in this book. Only because I know what Sanderson is capable of and I don’t think The Way of Kings lived up to that.
For most of the book, we are in two locations. One of them is literally a desert. The other is a library. While there are clearly signs that Brandon Sanderson developed a deep and rich backstory for this world, full of people groups, cultures, and religions that are distinct and rich, we don’t see too much of that. We see a lot of the political system of one nation and that is all.
Granted, this is book one. There will undoubtedly be more development as the series carries on, but with 1,000 pages I wanted to see more. The nuggets of culture building glimpsed in this book mostly left me confused. I wanted a better understanding of the characters’ thought process, instead I got confused with the history and religion of the realm.
I found myself disappointed with the world, but it isn’t bad by any means.
All things considered, The Way of Kings is a fantastic first book in a fantasy series. It sets the stage and drew me into this world. It left me desperate to know more, which is what you want from a first book. It showed me a complex world, but only gave me a small taste.
I wasn’t as in love with the world as I wanted to be. My favorite fantasy stories take me out of this world and fully engross me in a different one and I didn’t experience that with The Way of Kings. But it made me a promise that I might in future books. After reading the first installment, I’m eager and excited to read the rest.
I’d give The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson a 4 out of 5.