It was a treasure. Men traded kingdoms for Shardblades. The handful of darkeyed men who had won them lived forever in song and story.
But the thought of touching that Blade sickened him.
Born to be a soldier and trained as a surgeon, Kaladin has been betrayed by the lighteyes who rule among the Alethi. Now he serves in slavery, running bridges ahead of Highprince Sadeas’s army, an occupation so dangerous it is reserved for deserters and criminals. More than a plan of escape Kaladin needs to find the will to survive, for himself and the men on his crew.
Highprince Dalinar, Shardbearer and war leader, has committed himself to the teachings of an ancient book called The Way of Kings, setting himself and his army as an example of discipline for the rest of the Alethi forces in their war with the Parshendi. His influence with the king and other highprinces is being eroded, however, as he pushes to end to the lucrative war at the urging of a series of startlingly realistic dreams. Has he been cursed with the power of prophecy, or is he simply losing his mind in his old age?
The girl Shallan seeks a wardship under the great scholar Jasnah, the king’s heretic sister, but her eagerness to study masks a darker agenda. In the wake of her father’s passing, Shallan’s family is depending on her to execute a spectacular and dangerous theft in order to preserve their status and financial security.
These characters and others move through a complex, richly imagined landscape, ravaged by violent storms and plagued by war. Throughout the world of Roshar these men and women are catching vague glimpses of an approaching darkness, and hopefully finding clues on how to prepare for its coming.
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The Way of Kings is the first in Brandon Sanderson’s ten-volume epic fantasy series, “The Stormlight Archive.” Followers of Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” or George R. R. Martin’s “The Song of Fire and Ice” may be rolling their eyes in the face of another author’s all-too-ambitious plans. I suspect, though, that there has never been a fantasy writer better positioned to successfully pull off this kind of project. With the benefit of hindsight on the last three decades of writing in the genre, having firsthand experience wrapping up “The Wheel of Time” following Jordan’s passing, the odds seem to be stacked pretty well in Sanderson’s favor.
He also continues to be one of the few mainstream fantasy authors who realizes how limited the genre’s vision has been thus far. In studying anthropology and doing a fair amount of world traveling, it’s easy for me to be frustrated by Tolkien wannabes whose imaginations don’t even come close to matching the real world in its diverse landscapes, peoples, languages, and cultures. The Way of Kings isn’t completely outside the box—it still hits the mark for traditional epic fantasy—but Sanderson’s also playing in new territory at the fringes of the genre, producing something refreshingly new.
The book is long, splitting the time amongst a handful of viewpoints. In comparison with Sanderson’s one-shot novels and shorter series, the pacing The Way of Kings is much slower. Like any long series, it can be a challenge as a reader when your favorite character vanishes for long stretches. Still, no scene, character, or conversation is wasted in indulgent exploration of the fascinating setting without advancing the plot, and the various story arcs dovetail nicely in a spectacular conclusion. I highly recommend The Way of Kings.
My grade: A-