Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: The book that promises everything...

Book Review: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive)


 

Rating: A- 9.0 / 10

Buy, Borrow or Pass? Buy this book.
If you are a fantasy fan, this book deserves to be on your bookshelf next to Tolkien, Jordan and Lewis. If you are not a fantasy fan or if you only read short stories, then you may want to pass on this book. Although it is spectacular, it is 1000+ pages. For most fantasy fans, I would assume this to be a good thing.

You can find the Amazon review here: Zero Angel's Amazon Review; I try not to rehash things between different reviews, so feel free to check it out--I hope you find it helpful!

Quick Review
Brandon Sanderson has created a book and world that is one of the most interesting and apparently fleshed out creations that I have ever read. I have never experienced a world that felt so connected and alive with supposed history and relationships between kingdoms that date back beyond memory.

I say "apparently" and "supposed" because a lot of the information is only hinted at. This book promises us the answers to all of the questions that it raises, but by the end of the novel, there are more questions unresolved than questions answered.

This leaves you having read the longest "tease" ever created (at over 1000 pages, although some of that is front matter and back matter). Still, like any foreplay, this book is exciting and will take your breath away. Also, it is important to note that although over 1000 pages long, the book never felt drawn-out (with the possible exception of some flashback chapters).

By the time I was over halfway done with the book, I was reading it at a breakneck pace as I did everything possible to reach the, I assumed, inevitable climax.

(In this regard, Sanderon's prose helped immensely as it never detracted and actually lent itself to being speed-read.)

The climaxes included in the book are stunning and satisfying in their own regard, but I will warn you that as satisfied and filling as they are, you will be left craving more.

This would not be such a powerful negative if the remaining nine (!!!) planned books in The Stormlight Archive were available, but none even have a release date. The next book being released by Sanderson is The Memory of Light, which should finish off the Wheel of Time series. This puts Book 2 no earlier than January 2013 (and I would be surprised at any release date before Summer '13).

If you can tolerate the anticipation, then this is a must-read novel by one of the forefront fantasy authors of today. 

In-depth Review

Plot: There are actually two plots to The Way of Kings.

Or I should say, there are actions that occur and we witness, and then there is the actual plot behind the actions that is only hinted at through visions by several characters.

The action is superb when it happens, and there are a few moments where you will be compelled to let out a whoop of triumph or of sheer joy.

The action that we do see concerns a war being fought on the Shattered Plains, where lowly bridgemen (lower than slaves) are sent to their deaths to bridge the innumerable chasms between mesas in order to reach magic crystals that promise wealth to the generals of the human side. We see this war from a couple of different perspectives, namely, a bridgeman and a general. The non-human side of the Parshendi remain closed off to us, and no one in the book is aware of their motives. Hopefully, Sanderson knows.

I won't reveal the mystery plot, but not because I want to save you from the spoilers. Rather, I don't feel that the mystery plot was revealed enough to even comment on it other than in wild hypotheses--which I will refrain from.

Characters: I found myself loving all of the "main" characters, although that is no doubt partially because I find myself biased towards "good" characters. The characters that we view the story from all want to do good, but in different ways. There is the good towards mankind that is honor and duty; the good towards the helpless and the weak that is charity; and the "good" that comes from doing what needs to be done for one's family.

One character only is not portrayed as being "good", but I challenge that this is even a character in this book. The character has no choice but to follow the orders it is given, and we even see the revulsion that the "it" has for its orders--so it is a good thing also, although not a "character" in my opinion.

I could not get enough of Dalinar, the general. He follows the old code espoused in the eponymous The Way of Kings, and this makes him into a "Lawful Good" character. You see that before the events that drove him to the book he may have been at best "Chaotic Good" and quite likely "Chaotic Neutral", and it is interesting to see him find honor in doing what is right, and to create duty for himself and his son.

Kaladin on the other hand is the true main character of the novel. His is the only storyline that has any sort of great climax and partial resolution. We meet his character briefly near the end of his personal Act 1 (of the traditional 3-act structure), then pick up with him in his Act 2 and are stuck learning all the information we missed over the course of the next 700 pages of the book in flashback chapters. If this sort of thing bothers you, then you are probably normal. It is a tease inside a tease, done only so that we are invested in the character and want to learn about his boring bits.

The climax of Kaladin's Act 1 is very well done and quite exciting. To be fair to Sanderson, the only way I can imagine relating all the information and development of Kaladin that he did with the flashbacks is by having a prequel story.

Shallan and Jasnah's chapters, on the other hand, are more often boring than interesting, They seem to attempt to build tension and possibly interject some horror elements as well, but in this foreplay, Sanderson feels more often clumsy than adept. Were it not for the timelines, I would almost wish Sanderson went the route he had with Kaladin. The end of their chapters would be a very good beginning, and I have high hopes for Book 2 from them. Luckily, their chapters are few and generally far-between.

As I hinted at before, Szeth appears to be a non-entity. Were it not for us getting to glimpse his thoughts, he would appear to be a mindless golem--albeit an acrobatic one.

Final Thoughts:
I do love this book. When I first read it a few months ago, I immediately went back and read the last few hundred pages over again. I love the ideas in this book. I love Kaladin and Dalinar. I even love the setting and the history that Sanderson has shared with us.

At the end of the day though, I feel like I have not even started The Stormlight Archive. When will the main plot begin? When will we get more than hints and glimpses at the "enemy"? When will the characters come into their own? This first novel felt more a brief look at the characters than anything resembling what we need from a complete story.

The resolutions, if you can call them that, are almost all personal resolutions and climaxes. If you think about the story, then you are left realizing that what you did was watch all of the characters begin their journeys. Was it a great beginning? It was fantastic! But it was just a beginning.

This book's final rating is completely dependent on what Sanderson chooses to do with this beginning. If he fumbles, then it is possible that this book may not be worth it on its own. If he knocks it out of the park, then The Way of Kings will go down as one of the greatest novels ever written.

With all of my hope and expectation as under control as I can manage, I consider The Way of Kings to be one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read and I can say assuredly that I will re-read this 1000 page epic novel far more than many of the 300 page stories on my bookshelf today, even if Sanderson does fumble with his follow-ups.

Finally, from everything we have seen from Sanderson so far, I remain cautiously optimistic about that out-of-the-ballpark result with The Stormlight Archive as a whole. Here's hoping!