Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)

Sanderson is a genius at the art of world-building and creating unique yet consistent systems of magic, and The Way of Kings is absolute evidence of his mastery. Humans are the main characters here, but far from the most interesting. Spren are spirits of a sort, described as concepts given physical form by our collective subconscious. Most wildlife is crustacean based, such as the giant crab-like creatures that act as oxen. Plant life is also unique; the land is ravaged on a regular basis by powerful and deadly storms, so the flora has evolved to pull into the ground or stones during a gale to protect themselves. Finally, the Parshendi are the antagonists (of a sort) being at war with the humans, and they are a bit of a mix of humanoid and crustacean. Magic is called surgebinding and is a collection of several different abilities all powered by the storms. For example, one form can affect gravity and adhesion, another can transmute objects from one thing to another. There are magic items in this world as well, including indestructible swords that can be ordered to appear and disappear by their wielder and armor that regenerates when damaged. All fascinating, and all just a backdrop to a gripping adventure.

My biggest quibble with this book is its length—over 1200 pages. While I dearly loved the peek into the world in which it is set, several passages and quests could have been shortened or left out entirely without harming the overall narrative. That said, once the story gets rolling it is quite good and many characters are both complicated and quite witty. One line uttered by an academic researcher especially rang true: "Proof that one can be both intelligent and accept the intelligence of those who disagree with you? Why, I should think it would undermine the scholarly world in its entirety." While referring to academia in the novel, one could easily (and sadly) apply it to the divisive political system in our world today.

This is the first in a series of twelve novels, only three of which have been released to date. Luckily there is an actual conclusion here; plenty of loose ends and setups remain for future episodes, but there is an actual denouement and resolution, not just an abrupt pause in the action waiting for the next book like some authors seem to enjoy. If the other eleven books are of a similar length (and in general, fantasy epics like this tend to get longer, not shorter) we are looking at some 15,000 pages of material to read. While daunting, I find myself eager for the next entry, Words of Radiance.

First Sentence:
Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, wore white on the day he was to kill a king.

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