The Way of Kings is the first book in The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson. It was first published in 2010. After reading Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and his work in finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, I decided it was time to dive into Sanderson’s own epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archives. Stated plainly, this book was awesome, and a great first book in a series. The following is a spoiler-free review of The Way of Kings.
The world is Roshar, and the image above is the map on the inner cover of the book. What sets this book apart from other epic fantasies is that the map above is from a time period thousands of years prior to the events taking place in the book. The map shows a time period of great prosperity in the world, and as the story unfolds, you begin to understand the changes and degeneration that has occurred throughout the centuries. The book does not provide a map of the current time period, and this forces the reader to try and fit the puzzle pieces together to figure out where current places are located. For example, many of the main characters in the story are from the nation of Alethkar, but as you see in the map above, Alethkar is not there. However, there is a kingdom called Alethela. Knowing anything about history on Earth, you may be able to deduct that the nation of Alethkar is a descendant of the Kingdom of Alethela. Little nuisances like this really make this world, its peoples, and its history come alive.
In addition to the history of Roshar, the climate, terrain, flora, and fauna are all unique. Roshar is commonly besieged by highstorms that always blow east to west. These storms are violent and tumultuous, and they contain enough force to blow large boulders through the air. Because of these common storms, most of the land has no topsoil, and the plant life has evolved to become quite hearty and in some ways mobile. Grasses and vines are able to react to stimulus and retreat into the earth when threatened, and other plants, such as tress, can fold their branches. Additionally, the animal life is mostly crustacean based. Giant crablike creatures, called chulls, pull wagons as would a horse/ox/donkey on Earth. People keep axehounds as pets, which are like weird alien hybrids of a dog and a crustacean. Like the plant life, the animals have evolved hearty shells to protect against the highstorms. Another unique element is the seasons are unpredictable and do not follow a regular pattern like on Earth. For example, Roshar may get two weeks of winter followed by three weeks of spring, and then a few weeks of autumn. It appears that the seasons shift at random and only last a few weeks typically.
Probably the best aspect of this book is the characters. There are approximately six viewpoint characters that could be considered main characters, but for me, there are three that really take center stage, Kaladin, Dalinar Kholin, and Shallan Davar. In the eastern regions of Roshar, society is split between those with lighteyes and those with darkeyes. Lighteyes are the nobility class and darkeyes are the peasant or laboring class.
Kaladain is a darkeyes from Alethkar who struggles between whether to becoming a surgeon like his father or a soldier. Things do not go quite as planned for Kaladin, and his decision is unexpectedly forced upon him. Growing up in the second nahn, the second highest caste for darkeyes, he later finds himself at the lowest of low in society. Despite his circumstances, Kaladin constantly survives when others do not. What is so special about him? Is he cursed? Is he stormblessed? His journey is awesome, inspiring, and perhaps the best story line in the book.
Dalinar Kholin is the uncle to the king of Alethkar, Elhokar Kholin. He is tormented by the death of the prior king, his brother, Gavilar, because he was drunk on the night of Gavilar’s assassination which occurred six years prior to the present story line. Ever since Gavilar’s death, Dalinar has vowed to live by the old Codes of War of Alethkar, a code of honor and discipline. Dalinar is a lighteyes highprince of Alethkar and military man at heart living in a nation whose people believe war is the highest calling. However, Dalinar has started to have intense visions during highstorms, and these visions are making him second guess the propriety of war. The visions are also hinting at a greater threat to all of Roshar to come. Dalinar is a great character to follow because he is an honorable man, but his strength also could be his weakness as others would likely try to take advantage of him because most believe his visions are just signs of him going mad.
Shallan Davar is a female lighteyes in her early twenties from the nation of Jah Keved, which borders Alethkar to the west. Shallan is traveling to the city of Kharbranth in an attempt to become the ward of Jasnah Kholin, sister to the king of Alethkar and daughter of Gavilar. Jasnah is renowned as one of the worlds leading historical scholars, but she is also considered a heretic because she is an atheist and does not subscribe the Vorin religion. Shallan has a dark secret relating to her reason why she wants to become the ward of Jansah. Is Shallan’s heart good or bad? Will Jasnah’s secrets change Shallan? You will have to read to find out.
The main plot is told through these characters. All three of these characters are in different ways receiving warnings of a cataclysm on the horizon. It is not clear what is to come, but it appears stories long forgotten or dismissed from the distant past may not be stories after all.
The heart of the magic system is stormlight. Stormlight is an energy that is created during highstorms, and the energy can be absorbed into various precious gems, such as rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. These gems infused with stormlight are mundanely used for lamps and currency, but they also power various devices, namely shardplate and fabrials. Shardplate is plate armor infused with the power of stormlight. Shardplate makes the wearer stronger and faster and the plate itself is much stronger than steel. Fabrials are devices that use the power of infused gems to alter the states of matter and energy. Fabrials can change wood to stone, create food from another material, radiate heat from a hearth with no fire, and many other amazing things.
The beginning of the book introduces the reader to the basics of the magic system. The book begins with the assassination of King Gavilar Kholin. The assassin has unique abilities of which the king and his protectors are unaware. The assassin is a surgebinder. He is able to breath in stormlight to enhance his strength and speed, but being a surgebinder also allows him to alter gravity as it pertains to himself and other objects. Surgebinders can make up down and down up or sideways up or down, allowing them to walk on walls and ceilings. They can do the same things with objects or people. It appears that this is a lost magic to the present world.
Lastly, there are shardblades. Shardblades are typically wielded by those with shardplate, but not always. Shardblades are bound to the current wielder and are summoned to the wielder at will, forming out of thin air. Shardblades can cut through virtually any material. However, when they touch living flesh they move as if through air, and instead of cutting, they instantly kill if the strike is close enough to the center of the target. For example, if a sharblade cuts through a leg, it will kill all nerves and use of a leg, but the person would likely not die. But, if the shardblade struck the trunk or head of a person, the person would instantly die.
I am giving The Way of Kings 4.5/5 stars, and if I could give fill out 4.999 stars I would. This book basically is a 5-star book. The only thing that prevents it from getting 5 stars is the numerous typos and grammatical errors in the book, which I just cannot understand how so many got published. I have read several other books written by Brandon Sanderson, including the Mistborn trilogy and his books in The Wheel of Time series, and none of these books had this amount of typos and grammatical errors. Perhaps the blame goes to the editor. I just do not know.
Nevertheless, Sanderson is a fantastic writer, and he created amazing characters. I love the characters in this book. They are all multidimensional, and their motivations are real and tangible. The world of Roshar is unique, and Sanderson reveals and holds back just the right amount of history and lore to entice the reader, while at the same time giving the reader the desire for more. As soon as I finished this book, I was eager to read the next book in the series.