The Way of Kings – Part One by Brandon Sanderson
|Book Name:||The Way of Kings - Part One|
|Release Date:||May 26, 2011|
In the UK, The Way of Kings has now been split into two halves. The first book focuses on the ‘build up’ of the novel. I think they got the cutoff point pretty much perfect, although you could never read Part 1 on its own (it would seem very anti-climatic).
The Way of Kings opens in a very mysterious manner. There has been some kind of huge war…bodies litter the ground…both human and monster. A powerful being heads to a meeting point; he is equipped with a six-foot sword and seems to be fairly confident in his abilities. When he arrives at his meeting place, only one of his expected nine companions are waiting for him. We find out that this being is one of The Heralds. These Heralds all wield mighty swords and even if they die, they are reborn to fight on their Gods behalf against voidbringers who look to destroy humanity.
The single Herald standing and waiting for our powerful being (also a Herald) tells him that they have decided as a group that they’ve had enough and no longer wish to protect humanity. They are going to leave their swords in the ground and disappear. The exact reasons we are not entirely sure of, but we know it has been a painful decision that they are convinced is for the planets own good.
So, that’s it…they are gone. Humanity is left alone to face danger on their own – well, sort of. We move 4500 years into the future. We witness an assassination of a King, that breaks a peace-treaty made just days prior and throws Roshar back into war. The assassin though is no normal being. He has a blade of amazing power and it seems not only able to cut through anything, but also to literally cut through a living creature’s soul! If the sword touches a living being, the limb it cuts instantly dies or should it be a slice capable of killing, their soul seems to instantly leave the body.
We then move five more years into the future and we see the triumphant leader: Kaladin the Stormblessed. Kaladin is a leader of sorts in a small Alethi squad, fighting a small an insignificant battle. Everyone around Khaladin knows he is destined for bigger things. He is destined to be promoted, to go on to the shattered plains where he will get his chance to fight in the more important war, the one where all the superior soldiers are leading an attack on the Parshendi force who killed their king 5 years ago. Everything certainly looks promising at this time for Kaladin.
Again we jump forward in time, and it turns out that our Stormblessed Kaladin is a slave. We don’t really understand why, or what has happened but he seems both physically and emotionally defeated. We find that after ten attempts of escaping a slave’s life – he has been made to travel with a slaving caravan. He was branded with a Shash glyph, which read “Dangerous.” It’s quite the fall for Kaladin and the only thing keeping him going is the Spren who seems to follow him.
Spren are part of an amazing world that Brandon Sanderson has created in this book. The Spren are mysterious and each reader will have their own ideas of exactly what they are. The way I would describe them are ‘living essences.’ There are perhaps hundreds of types of them, because almost every action seems to attract them. For example, the wind blowing will attract Windspren or drawing might attract Creativespren and a dying man might attract Deathspren. They seem to be invisible until an action draws them and then those close can see them. They have no intelligence and trying to touch one just results in them turning to mist. This one following Kaladin though is different. It seems to respond to him and eventually seems to be willing to communicate with him. To say more than that would spoil things but the Spren is certainly an interesting element to the story.
It is at about this point Kaladin’s dreams in a strange way come true. He arrives at the shattered plains, all-be-it in the back of a slave-cart. He wonders if perhaps his time has come; are they going to allow him to fight?
Of course not. Kaladin’s dreams are shattered when he realises that the army, that he fought so long to be part of, is going to send him into war as a bridgeman. A bridgeman is a member of around 15-30 men who carry long bridges that are required to cross the gaps between plateaus on the shattered plains. Quickly Kaladin realises that his job is to die. He has to carry these bridges with other men straight into the path of Parshendi arrow men. Every trip leaves a large percentage of his group dead. Kaladin’s instincts kick in and he realises the only way to survive is to treat this bridgecrew as a squad and he must become their leader.
We now meet Shallan. She is setting out on a dangerous mission. After having lived a reserved life under her father and brothers care, she needs to steal a holy artifact from a princess. The only way Shallan can see this possible is to get close to the princess…gain her trust and love. This is not going to be easy though because Princess Jasnah is barely willing to speak with children, let alone consider them as potential wards. Shallan’s story is one of planning, scheming and intelligent theft.
Whilst all this is going on, we can take a step back and look at those who are using Kaladin as a tool. The politics of this world are very interesting. Although the King supposedly rules over the world, it is evident he is not strong. He is the son of the earlier assassinated King, and underneath him all the different districts of the world are associated Highprinces These Highprinces all have their own armies and lead their own charges against the Parshendi. The main focus on the book in these terms is the following of a number of Alethi Shardbearers. These are men of the very highest level – men who lead the wars and have in their possession shardblades and also some shardplates. These blades and plates are given to only a very few select are similar to the blades mentioned earlier in that they can cut through peoples souls or almost any object. The plates can defend against almost any too. Dalinar, one of the shardbearers has been plagued with visions that call for him to ‘unite the high princes’ – a seemingly impossible task.
That’s probably enough about the story to get you started and understanding the epic scope of this first book. To tell you much more would make the first book un-enjoyable for.
The story is great. As already said, you can’t read this Part 1 on its own. It is not a book so much as half a book. Once you are done reading you will see why he needed it to be the 1000 page behemoth that it is. It takes that long for Sanderson to really get you understanding the characters, their motivations and what they are looking to achieve. I like the way that all three separate stories really interweave, and at times, you feel the characters are at arm’s length, although none really know of or see each other through this book. The other thing about the story, is because of all the interludes that feature characters we do not follow very closely (and the preludes at the beginning of the book), we know that these characters are destined for great things. And I can’t wait to see how they get there, because there’s still a long way to go (nine more books so Sanderson says!).
The world that Brandon Sanderson has created is beautiful and terrifying. Everything in the world seems to live and breathe – from the Spren through to the moving plants and interesting creatures that inhabit this place, it’s certainly vivid in detail. Not only is there rich description, but Sanderson has included a huge amount of pictures that are actually Shallans sketches. It is something rarely used in an epic fantasy, but surprisingly, it really works. What I love is the way we see the pictures after the description in most cases and this results in your imagined images being proved either completely wrong or correct. The maps do the same thing. They appear after an area is described. The map of the shattered plains especially is wonderful.
Characters are lovable, possible to relate to, you really feel for them. You actually miss them when you skip to another character and you wonder what they are doing. It’s a really strong book.
So, any criticism? I guess a few people will say ‘it feels a lot like Mistborn’ and in some ways it does. There are the upperclass/lowerclass, similar magic system/hierarchy (just a few chosen ones), the main character who just doesn’t care anymore until they find an army to fight with them and a world plagued by storms that stop them travelling too far, similar to the mists in Mistborn.
However, I think when you read a bit more about Brandon and you find that his work is all connected. His stories are all connected. His magic system is connected and some characters even cross-over the worlds. Which makes it more acceptable. Perhaps the one problem I had with Mistborn was that the characters were hard to love. This novel feels far, far grander in scale than Mistborn. You can almost sense the evolution in Brandon as a writer and this raises an interesting point. Sanderson actually wrote this book in 2002/2003, before he wrote Mistborn – although he did heavily edit and rewrite it before release. The storyline came though before Mistborn, so why do I think The Way of Kings has a better storyline? Well, Sanderson has told us before in his blog that when he tried to ‘write towards the market’ he slipped and killed his stories because simply put, his ideas are not what ‘the market thinks they want.’ They break rules. Mistborn was his attempt to write something for readers and although it is a great series, those parameters held Brandon Sanderson back. He didn’t unleash his potential because there were constraints there. This is what Sanderson does when the gloves are off and I can’t wait to see more from him.
So, to summarise: last year people called this ‘The Modern Epic Fantasy to Watch’ and I have to say that I agree. With a world of trilogies or series that seem to take forever to come out, Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is exciting. I think we can pretty much guarantee that Sanderson will bring a book out about once a year. As we said in our interview with him, he doesn’t get writer’s block and he is a consistent writer. This is a series that I truly believe will be one of the great fantasy series we remember in 50 years time, without all the stigma attached to it for taking too long or going downhill. Sanderson proves his skill in this book and I think it confirms peoples questions as to whether Brandon Sanderson is a good writer or a great writer. He’s certainly great and there’s more to come too!