I recently finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings,” or the first book in his planned 10 novel series, the “Stormlight Archive.”
I’m going to try to keep this review fairly spoiler-free, so I may gloss over a few plot points to keep certain events unrevealed. So don’t take my lack of details as a full representation of all story elements, they’re just meant to provide context for the review.
As you might have gathered from the book’s cover, “The Way of Kings” (or tWoK for short,) is an epic fantasy novel set in the mystical world of Roshar. Roshar is like many a fantasy worlds; it is populated with various opposing kingdoms, countries and races. It doesn’t feature the genre staples (at least not yet,) so there are no elves, dwarves, orcs, pixies, gnomes or whatever else comes to mind for ‘standard’ fantasy races. There are two primary races featured in this novel, humans from the kingdom of Alethkar, and the Parshendi, a race that the Alethi believed to be savage and disorganized, but more on that later.
The world is fairly well fleshed out and imaginative, it doesn’t stray too far from common tropes in fantasy; it’s set in a time period comparable to Earth’s middle ages, there are the aforementioned different humanoid races, magic exists but is wielded by a select few, nothing really unheard of there. Yet this shouldn’t be seen as a mark against the story, after all, any fantasy reader will be familiar with such ideas, making tWoK easy to get into for most readers. It does a decent job at being different enough to not feel totally derivative, for example the crustacean nature of most of the fauna in the story. It doesn’t go crazy in an attempt to separate itself from fantasy conventions. Overall the background is easy to understand and features enough of a hint of spice to make it interesting to fans of the genre.
The story is largely told through the perspectives of three characters; Kaladin, a soldier-turned slave, Shallan, a young scholar from a weak political family, and Dalinar, a noble lord commanding an army at war. The three characters’ different backgrounds all offer different styles and pacing, which is a good thing considering the 1,252 page length of tWoK. However it can be difficult to see what the connection is between the principal characters, until the last 100 or so pages. Also there are times when certain characters tend to just drop for a hundred or so pages, most notably the absence of Shallan for a good chunk in the middle of the story.
This perhaps leads me to my biggest critique of the novel: the pacing. A 1200+ page book is a tall order, even for fans of epic fantasy, and unfortunately there are times when this book seems to be padding out scenes way longer than necessary. A large chunk of Dalinar’s story is a perpetual back-and-forth dilemma that really begins to drag. Readers will read the same problem being addressed several times before any hint of a revelation or conclusion is dropped.
The characters are for the most part well rounded; none of them feel like a one dimensional placeholder, their goals and actions are quite feasible to the reader. Most of the side characters get enough depth and time to have meaningful mini-arcs that really work well to dispel some of the monotony of the aforementioned troughs in the story. There are some predictable and not so predictable betrayals that occur, yet they make enough sense to seem realistic to the reader.
Despite all this, readers will still feel the book’s length at times, though those who persevere will find a satisfying conclusion, and an enticing look at what will be coming in the second book.
Overall, The Way of Kings is a good read for fans of fantasy books; the world is interesting and the characters within Roshar have sufficient depth to be worth the time to reach the end of their respective stories. However, because of the book’s length I’d probably not recommend it to people who are not big fantasy readers, especially since they could easily read two to three books in the same length of time to read this weighty tome.
Arbitrary numerical rating: 7.5 / 10