The Way of Kings is a book of 1,0001 pages. I say this first because if you aren’t into reading a book that weighs more than you do, you’ll want to give this a pass.
The Way of Kings is a high-fantasty novel that takes place in
Westeros Roshar, a land that glories in war led by the leaders of the Seven Kingdoms High Princes who are currently locked in a lengthy battle campaign against the Parshendi. The ability to use magic stormlight has been largely lost over time but a few are able to perform incredible feats with it. Also a great unknown danger is looming, winter voidbringers are coming.
This is a book rich with world-building, enhanced further by lovely illustrations throughout the book. Many cultural details, flora, fauna, and points of history are woven into the story. It is not simply the middle ages redrawn with some Fantasy tropes mixed in. The chapters move through a rich cast of characters who are all stuck in various unhappy circumstances:
Kaladin: Unfairly cast into slavery, the noble warrior seeks freedom and redemption.
Shallan: Brilliant ward of Jasnah who has left her home and family to become a master scholar. And surprise many with a brutal betrayal.
Dalinar: The Blackthorn, military genius and Shardblade warrior, he is unable to convince the king and other High Princes of the futility of their ways.
Adolin: Dalinar’s faithful son and…uh….skirt-chaser. Seriously, his defining character trait seems to be that he can’t keep a girlfriend.
Jasnah: Leading scholar and owner of a rare and powerful Soulcaster – a mythical gauntlet that can effectuate any transformation.
Navani: Saucy old broad who’s had an eye on Dalinar since the way back.
Szeth: Powerful warrior whose ability to harness Stormlight makes him all but unstoppable. His code of honor puts his actions entirely at the mercy of whoever holds his oathstone.
Excellent illustrations drawn by Paper Pie.
By any measure this is an ambitious book which, according to Amazon, is the first in what is to be a 10 book series. Sanderson paints this world with the richness of detail that clearly puts him at the top echelon of modern Fantasy writers. He creates multiple character-arcs, each compelling enough to keep you looking forward to coming back to see what happens next. Although therein lies the challenge, for many many pages the answer to what happens next is, “Not a whole lot.” Almost all of the characters are stuck, unhappily, in their current circumstances and they remain stuck for the vast majority of those 1,001 pages.
This is a really good book. This is an enormous book. With some judicious editing this could have been an excellent 700 page book. As it was, it sagged like an old mattress in the middle and I definitely found myself wondering where the good parts were (answer: page 864+). The next book is supposed to come out in 2013 (amusingly its working title is the Book of Endless Pages) and while there is much to recommend The Way of Kings, I can’t say I’ll be racing to continue on with the series.