Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (2010) by Brandon Sanderson is the first book of the Stormlight Archive. As stated by himself, Sanderson has first published several other novels before pushing forward the great epic series he wanted to write when wanting to become a writer. As known, Brandon Sanderson was chosen to complete the Wheel of Time series and with his name now firmly established he could publish the story the way he wanted it. As I have read his previous novels and liked them I decided to go for the hardcover edition for a change. This was no bad choice as the first book has been set up in a very nice way with many drawings added to it.

Those who have read a bit about the background of Brandon Sanderson (as I did) will know that he was originally inspired by the Wheel of Time series that he is now allowed to complete to become a writer. It is then also not that surprise that the main theme of the Stormlight Archive is similar. A dark power is returning, invocating an apocalypse, and mankind is not prepared. For epic fantasy this is a common theme, so there is nothing to criticize about that. With this theme it is always the way it is presented and how it will unfold that draws the readers. Everybody knows approximately how the Wheel of Time series will end, but not the details and the events and for a story that is what is most important.

Sanderson is certainly not trying to mimick Robert Jordan, even as he has been writing the final books of the Wheel of Time at the same time as The Way Of Kings. He presents us with a number of original cultures with their own traditions and beliefs and languages. He created similar things in his previous books, but this time it is far more extensive. If I have to compare with Jordan he scores a big winner here, especially as he presents these cultures far more naturally without repeating himself. Many fantasy writers ignore subtle details as different languages (although it’s not something that is always required), but in my opinion it enriches the story. The societies of his world a quite different also because the world he has built has very different circumstances than Earth, creating its own flora and fauna. In this way one is immediately presented with a strange surrounding and the reader has to pay attention from the start. There is no standard introduction before the story gets started (besides a typical action-packed prologue).

One thing that is certainly different from his previous books is the pacing. It is much slower. Sanderson takes the time to tell his story. This does not mean it is longwinded but the development of the different storylines is quite detailed. The Way Of Kings is a massive book, but the writing style, as I am used to from him, is smooth and never bothersome or annoying. I call it a solid writing style. He does not play with words or uses complex or lyrical phrases. It also does not draw a special atmosphere which some special writers have. This is something he lacks, but it is not a requirement for a writer in my opinion. He doesn’t add something extra with the way he is writing, but he also doesn’t lessen it. The story is what holds the book and in the case of Sanderson that is sufficient. In that sense he is similar to Robert Jordan (as I perceive it) and maybe that is a reason why he was chosen to complete the Wheel of Time. As he is a fan of Jordan, it is not strange that he picked up certain things from Jordan’s writing style for his own.

In the book there are three main characters and a decent number of side characters. This limits the amount of viewpoints, but also allows more space to spend time with the characters.  There is quite some excellent character development and as the pacing is slower Sanderson has the time to do so extensively. It certainly improves the general quality of the story. I noticed a peculiar resemblance of the main characters to those of his previous novel, Warbreaker. Although the developments and characters are quite different, I couldn’t help but recognize that the roles were similar. An inexperienced naive young woman stepping into the outside world, a man in a place of power but lacking respect and trying to find a purpose, and a man who is outlawed but trying to achieve a greater goal. No spoiling here as they are presented at the start of the book. This is certainly no point of critique. There will always be similarities to the characters one creates. Each writer will have some favorite type of characters and will obviously be drawn back to them. Some writers do their best to have very different characters, others stick to what they like.

Those who have read the previous work of Sanderson will know that he is very good at crafting original and well developed magic systems. This is also the case in this book. Of course there is still plenty to explore as we are only at the first book, but he sets it up well.

The story itself develops itself well. I expected it to go certain ways but the twist was that the twists kept the story on a straight line and that was surprising itself (you will understand what I mean with this once you have read the book). I certainly enjoyed it a lot, and I felt this book managed to clearly rise above the level of his previous books. I had certainly no regret buying the hardcover version and I will do so also for the next volumes. I do hope he can improve even further because I could still note there was space for this. I am not sure to which other fantasy series I can compare the Stormlight Archive too. The next books may tell. It will probably not be among my lifetime favourites, but the Wheel of Time isn’t that either.

The book does have some minor flaws. Overall this a very good written fantasy book. I named a number of winners previously but they also allow room for weaknesses.  The slow pacing makes that there isn’t that much actual development of the greater storyline. Of course plenty happens, but these are minor events. To me, a book of a 1000 pages should have plenty of dramatic development, but this book doesn’t have that much of it. They are mainly minor and with so many minor ones one could have cut some short or skip some. It also presents an obstacle for the next books. Will the pacing be similar of will events speed up? Of course this depends on the overal timeline and development of the story but one can ask if it is necessary to spend so many words on it.

This slowness is partially caused by the elaborate development of the characters. This could have been described in far less words. One really does not need to go into length to obtain the wanted development. A good writer can do plenty of development with few words. The development was nowhere boring or repetitive, but it felt a bit too extensive once I had reached the end of the book.

Throughout most of the book Sanderson also includes a series of flashbacks of one of the main characters. Although they provide some background, they were the weakest and a somewhat dull part of the book as you already had some vital information of where things would lead up to. The flashbacks formed a sort of mini-story, but were far too extensive. They could have been incorporated in the story as dialogue or some really short inserted flashbacks and not as separate chapters.

Overall there were plenty of parts that could have been cut of the book without much harm. Writers often complain or state that a lot gets cuts during the regular process, but to me it seems that Sanderson managed to keep a lot in. Without it the pace would have been higher which would certainly have strengthened the book. Now it was a nice extra reading as like one would have when watching an extended version of a good movie.

Fans of Robert Jordan and Sanderson’s previous books will certainly love this book, and I do certainly recommend it to any (epic) fantasy fan as well.

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