This week I’m doing something a little different. I’ve invited my husband, David, to write a joint review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings with me, so you get a bit of a different perspective.
Rabia: I hadn’t intended to read The Way of Kings–at least not yet. For one thing, it’s the first book of a projected 10 (ten!)-book series. Book 2 has not been written and won’t be out until 2013 at the earliest. I’m a late adopter when it comes to series, because a) I am impatient and b) I forget things. Since I don’t want to end up like GRRM’s teeth-gnashing fans, I stay away from series that aren’t complete, or close to complete. Secondly, The Way of Kings is HUGE. It has a prelude, a prologue, several interludes with characters you see only once, and over a thousand pages. Forget the whole series–just reading book one is a big commitment.
So why’d I read it? Because my husband did, loved it, and told me I should read it (which is not something he does lightly). And it’s also written by Brandon Sanderson, author of the wonderful Mistborn trilogy. I know this guy can write a good story. I also know he doesn’t want to leave his readers hanging, so I’m willing to follow along for the decade or so(!) he needs to write this series.
David: I have to start with a confession. I’ve actually never read this book (cue gasps of shock and confusion). On the other hand, I’ve listened to it four or five times now. (Had you going for a moment, didn’t I?) My lovely wife got me the audiobook for Christmas, and I do a lot of driving, which gives me plenty of time to listen. Of course, The Way of Kings is a large book; it takes up 36 CD’s–almost 80% the size of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (46, for those playing at home). They used two narrators, and generally used them well. The only problem is that the narrators apparently didn’t consult with each other on how to pronounce High Prince Sadeus’s name; since he’s a fairly important character, this was rather jarring.
One of Sanderson’s greatest strengths as a story teller is the amount of effort he puts into the world building, and this really shows in The Way of Kings. A minor example: most of the world is battered periodically by high storms, and the plants and animals have evolved to deal with this–except for the plants in Shinovar, which is protected geographically. So, for instance, the plants in most of the world retract when someone draws near, so they’re constantly walking on rock; the grass in Shinovar, however, stays in place, and the Shin people feel that it is profane to walk on rock–which puts them at odds with pretty much everyone else. Small details like that abound, bringing the world to life. Of course, since this is the first book in a series, not all of the details are explained–but they’re there (unlike some series where details appear only in later books, making it clear when the author thought of them!).
Rabia: I’m glad David brought up the worldbuilding, because it’s the reason why–for such a big book–not much happens in The Way of Kings. The world is a character in and of itself, and Sanderson reveals it layer by layer. Because it is so alien, he needs to take a lot of time to show it to us. He does it skilfully, weaving it into the action, and by the end I felt both immersed in Roshar and knowing that there are great swathes of it still unrevealed.
Most of the story is told through the eyes of three POV characters: Shallan who embarks on a dangerous deception in order to restore her family fortune; Kaladin, a surgeon-turned-spearman-
David: I have to disagree with Rabia’s statement that “not much happens”. The three main characters don’t do much travelling–Shallan spends almost the entire book in the city of Kharbranth, while Kaladin and Dalinar’s stories are mostly on the Shattered Plains–but physical location is pretty much the only thing stable for all three of them. This is a fairly strong contrast to the Lord of the Rings, where there’s a lot of physical movement, but the characters change slowly, if at all (think about it: does Aragorn undergo much of an arc? He’s a great warrior and leader throughout the trilogy; all that really changes is that he gets more people following him). I won’t go into details–for those, you really ought to read it yourself!–but none of the three main characters end the book with the same worldview as they start with.
I would like to note one other detail: as much as I like the story, the actual book is a work of art in its own right. The maps, the artwork throughout, every detail has clearly been carefully crafted to make reading this a truly unique experience. I hope (and assume) that they’ll continue this throughout the series, and I look forward to owning them all. These books are what traditional publishers need to produce if they want to give readers reason to buy the original, rather than (or in addition to) the e-book or audiobook formats.
Rabia: Since I always have to have the last word (sound familiar, David? ;)), I want to point out that the ending of The Way of Kings absolutely delivers–and then some. There are several like-a-punch-in-the-guts revelations, questions answered, and more questions raised. Sanderson manages the difficult task of wrapping up this book satisfactorily while setting the stage–and raising the stakes–for the sequel.
If you like epic fantasy, you should definitely try this book. In hardback, since having the map is really useful for keeping track of everything!