As one of the biggest releases of the year in one of the only genre's that count, The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive Book 1) [US] [UK] comes out tomorrow (in the US) and the word that normally comes to many people's minds is... hype. Does it live up to the hype? Well, let's see...
King Gavilar has been killed by an assassin in white and Alethkar's forces have been battling for years against the Parshendi on the Shattered Plains, a not-too-distant land filled with giant chasmfiends and valuable gemhearts, to right the wrong done to their king.
Kaladin is a warrior who dreams of fighting with the rest of the soldiers of Alethkar on the Shattered Plains, but quickly becomes embittered especially when he is sold into slavery and becomes even worse, a bridgeman. In other parts of the world, we follow Shallan on her quest to become the ward of not only the most famous scholar in the world, but also the sister to the king.
While taking the word "doorstop" to new levels, The Way of Kings is surprisingly fast paced. It's a thousand pages that reads like only a couple hundred, but this is also because the reader gets sucked into a world all it's own.
Brandon Sanderson does an impressive job of creating an epic story while only focusing on a few central characters. The epic-ness, however, does suffer somewhat (not a lot) because of this. The main p.o.v.'s being Kaladin, Shalan, Dalinar, and Adolin, but there is hardly ever a time when it is not one of these outside of the interludes.
Kaladin is disenchanted (to say the least) with the world, with honor, and especially with lighteyes. He tries his best, but still leads everyone who follows to their deaths. If I had to say there was a central protagonist, I'd have to go with Kaladin and I'm glad of that. His were my favorite chapters, but not by much.
Shallan is a quick-witted lighteye from a smaller holding in the empire, but she's on a mission to save her family with some ulterior motives than those aforementioned. Her chapters were always fun to read, what with her tongue that gets her into or out of lots of trouble.
Dalinar Kholin and Adolin, Dalinar's son, are on the Shattered Plains fighting the interminable war against the Parshendi. The only house to hold to the Alethi Codes of War in a society that sees war as a competition, they have become somewhat outcast. These chapters were always full of debate on what it is to be a leader. What is it that makes one honorable and why? Always happy to go back to the Shattered Plains.
Sanderson is definitely spoiling us with his inventive magic systems and The Stormlight Archive is no exception to his arsenal. Believability keeps up with inventiveness and we have a character unto itself.
Almost immediately, in the prologue, we're introduced to Lashings, which isn't a magic that is used very often throughout the rest of the book, although it's implications are great and have me more than a little excited for the next volumes in the series. With Lashings, the user is able to essentially turn gravity on its head for either the user or the one it's being used against. Lots of potential here.
Next, the magic we see throughout the majority of the book are the Shardblades and Shardbearers. A Shardblade is an ancient weapon used by the Knights Radiant and a Shardbearer is one who wears Shardplate, the only thing that can stand up to a Shardblade. One who kills a Shardbearer is able to inherit that plate and weapon. I can never get enough of these guys.
There are other systems that are mentioned such as Fabrials and all of the systems depend to some degree on stormlight, so one could make the argument that they're all of the same magic.
While the characters and magic are amazing, Sanderson tells a great story that shows what it is to be honorable, to lead others, and to find one's humanity even in the midst of inhumanity.
The Way of Kings is an opening to a series that is much more vast than what we've seen so far. This is, however, one of the drawbacks, that it is an introduction. There's a lot that I still have questions about, but I must say that this introduction does it's job well.
So, does The Way of Kings live up to the hype? With my vast credentials at judging such a thing, I'd have to say it does. The only real drawback is we have to wait a few years to get the second volume as Sanderson is planning on (rightfully so) finishing The Wheel of Time first.
4.5 to 5 out of 5 Stars