I finished the Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and these are my thoughts. This is going to be an even more incoherent review than usual, be
warned. I’ve split it into plot, characters, world building and flailing, which
seemed like sensible categories.
Ostensibly this is about a useless war in a continent, I guess, named
Roshar. Roshar is split into countries, and the country of Alethkar is at war
with the Parshendi, on the Shattered Plains. The book focuses mainly on three
people, Kaladin, a former soldier, currently a slave, Dalinar Kholin, a High
Prince of Alethkar and the king’s uncle, and Shallan, a young woman who is
trying to train under a heretic scholar; Jasnah, who is the king’s sister.
Shallan is sort of separated from the rest of the action, but since she is
around Jasnah she is obviously affected by the war.
The story follows Kaladin and Dalinar as they go through the war on the
plains and their internal struggles. It also jumps back in time and shows how
Kaladin ended up as a slave in the army of another high prince Sadeas. The war
has been going on for like six years, since the Parshendi killed the previous
king, Dalinar’s brother, and it seems sort of pointless.
Shallan tries to become the ward of Jasnah to train under her and to
find a way to help her family. She becomes more and more pulled into Jasnah’s
world and her love for learning.
According to Sanaa from Inkbonesbooks on the YouTubes each book in this
long ass series will focus on one character, although they tell the stories of
others as well. So while we get multiple perspectives there is one “main
character.” For the Way of Kings this is definitely Kaladin. He is the guiding
star through the book. Kaladin is a slave who used to be a soldier. He is a
bridge runner, which basically means he and his crew of about 30 guys, carry a
bridge onto the plains and put it over chasms so soldiers can get to the
battle. Which is the most horrifying use of people I’ve ever read. Kaladin is
young, I think he’s about 21, and tough and he’s strong, and he is just an
excellent main character. He has a long, and very interesting back story, and
he has an interesting purpose. And I loved his backbone and his refusal to back
down. Kaladin is just great. He has this moment where he wobbles and almost
can’t go on, and the way he fights his way back is impressive and almost heart
breaking in a way. It seems so exhausting.
Shallan is, I think, 19 years old. She is from Jah Keved, one of the
other kingdoms, and she goes after Jasnah to try to help her House after her dad
basically shafted them. She is a scholar in training and artist, which is a
feminine art in Roshar. She is tougher than she seems at first. She is shy and
careful and introverted, but she is also willing to do whatever it takes to
help her family, which is very impressive. Shallan is a badass. It’s hard to
explain her badassery, because she isn’t a huge part of the book. I hope she’s
a bigger part of the next books. I really love her. There’s this reveal about
her dad that is subtly hinted to through the whole book and when it was
revealed I was both surprised and also going: I knew it. Because this book is
Dalinar Kohlin is a high prince of Alethkar, and he’s the uncle of the
king. He is also known as the Blackthorn and is known to be this absolute
badass on the battlefield. He is currently feeling sort of uncertain because of
how the war is going and he is losing some faith in himself. He is having
visions and he is unsure what to make of them. His struggle was really
interesting, to see this weathered and well-known prince sort of brought down
by trying his best to do what he thinks is best for his country and the war. He
is said to be the most, or possibly only, honorable lord in Roshar. He’s so
honorable that I wanted to punch him, like, be pragmatic and smart at some
point in your goddamn life Dalinar! Although some of his appeal is that he is
Sanderson is incredible at building worlds. He’s an incredible writer. I
don’t think this is the best place to start with Sanderson. It is really
complex, and complicated, and if you’re not used to fantasy or Sanderson I
think it’ll be hard to follow along. You have to be able to just roll with it
and deal with the fact that you won’t get everything and that for a while it’ll
be very incomprehensible. You just have to power through that. It does become
easier, and the story is interesting enough to keep going no matter if you
don’t really get everything. Also, the characters don’t necessarily get
everything either, so we were all confused.
The world Sanderson builds is extremely complex, with weird traditions,
like women having a freehand and a safe hand, which they keep covered at all
times, for no explicable reason. I don’t get it, but I’m intrigued. The men
aren’t supposed to read, which is an incredibly interesting mechanism. It gives
women power over men in many ways, because they have access to knowledge that
men don’t have, but at the same time all the men in the book expect women to
read to them, there is no way they wouldn’t, so in many ways it also gives men
power over women. Since only women are supposed to read and write they have to
be clerks and readers to men, or society would collapse. It’s truly
fascinating. It’s such a weird constraint to put on your book, and I love it.
The magical systems are complicated and confusing. The most interesting
is the use of shard plate and shardblades, which are pretty much impossible to
explain, but they’re armor and swords that are basically magic and basically
just belong to one person. That was a shitty explanation, but it’s hard to
explain. You sort of have to read it.
Shards are an important aspect of religion and magic this series.
Another important aspect is storms and Stormlight, which I won’t even attempt
to explain, it feels very ethereal and inexplicable, like the Force. You can
use it to do things, like speed up, or get stronger, if you have that ability,
also like the Force. Not everyone can use Stormlight. I would like to formally
apologize to Brandon Sanderson for my horrible comparison. Like he’d ever read
this. The country of Roshar is ravaged by high storms, the timing of which can
sort of be predicted and they are bad enough that if you’re caught outside in
one you are pretty likely dead. The seasons only last for weeks, the opposite
of A Song of Ice and Fire now that I think of it.
I love Sanderson’s writing. The writing is just so good and engaging,
and I didn’t really care that I didn’t get what was going on for a while. I’m
so very, very excited to read the Words of Radiance. I would flail more, but I
don’t have the words. It’s so good guys.