Commentary: The Way of Kings

Posted 5 March, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1)
By: Brandon Sanderson
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my copy

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

I first read this book in 2012 (review. Of all of Brandon Sanderson’s books that I had read to date, it was actually my least favourite. It still contained everything I loved about his writing and his storytelling but it felt dense, bogged down and stretched out at times that compared to his other novels, I actually zoned out at times. I thought maybe a re-read would change my opinion of the book; maybe there was something I was missing, maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a sprawling epic at the time. Anya then gave me the heads up late last year that she and another blogger were planning a Way of Kings read-along and thought now would be a good time to re-read the book, especially with the second volume in the series coming out shortly. And here we are 🙂 Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book!

This book is part of the A Year in Re-Reading: a 2014 Reading Challenge that I am participating in.

This time around I have a greater appreciation of the complexity of the world that Brandon Sanderson built for this series. Roshar is an insanely complex world populated by a myriad of different, unique, often times unusual societies complete with their own histories, cultures, traditions and religions. I find it hard to keep track at times! The religious orders in particular were pretty detailed, their devotions feeding in and highlighting the more philosophical, moral and thematic elements of the novel. Jasnah in particular is deemed a heretic by many (if not all) of these religious groups and their moral reasonings and structures of logic and belief are quite stark. Through these orders and the characters who believe in them, the reader finds him or herself amidst a philosophical discussion.

These themes and the complex construction of all these societies also fuel the larger storylines, namely the issue of the Heralds and the Radiants and the True Desolation that is to come. A slower re-read of this novel made me realise just how truly ominous this desolation is. It’s like the Ragnarok that ends all Ragnaroks, the war between Heaven and Hell before Last Judgment, that sort of scale. A lot of the events point towards this colossal event as well as the mystery of why Heralds abandoned the world and the Knights Radiants betrayed humanity: Dalinar’s situation gives the reader and the present company of characters a glimpse into that past and all of the characters find themselves delving into the current mysteries afloat in the world in their own way, while at the same time drifting towards each other.

And that’s the other thing about the main characters featured in this novel: for the most part they all share some common themes in their respective character journeys. Kaladin is a man who has skill and luck in battle but finds himself a bridgeman, the lowest of the low, with his past and his failures haunting him. Dalinar is a high prince who is honourable and level-headed but struck with an affliction of visions that may or may not be true. Shallan is an artist and a scholar torn between her duty to her family and her desire to learn. Szeth is the perfect assassin who regrets every single one of his kills. Kaladin and Dalinar in particular experience similar highs and lows over the course of their respective storylines before crossing paths, as though those similarities serves as another indication that their destinies are intertwined.

I still stand with my first impression from my initial review of the novel that as epic as this novel is, there are times when the story does drag a bit and could have been shortened. I’m not entirely sure how as now I understand why a lot of these scenes were left in the story (many of which either contributed to the themes featured in the story or to the ongoing character development taking place). Perhaps it really is a matter of preference of whether you’re more interested in one character’s storyline more than another or whether you enjoy reading segments about history or political discussion or battle sequences. Nonetheless I couldn’t help but think at times that the book could’ve been truncated just a wee bit.

Having forgotten most of the storyline while re-reading this book, can I just say that I may have punched the air when Dalinar finally laid it in on his nephew on how it’s going to be hereon out? 😀

While certain stories and questions have been answered, there are still many more questions that are left unanswered with regards to the True Desolation, the Knights Radiants betraying mankind, what’s up with Odium, what’s up with the Parshendi, what’s with those mysterious spren that Shallan can see and about the secret order that her father may have been a part off, how do Dalinar, Kaladin et al. factor into whatever’s coming, how does Wit fit in to everything…so many questions! Thank goodness the second book will be released in a little while 😉

Overall, I’m really glad that I’ve had a chance to re-read the book; it gave me a new perspective and understanding on what the book is about and what it hopes to achieve. There’s a lot of subtle plotting and discussion going on underneath the surface so a careful read is vital to really understanding Sanderson’s deft handling of the story. There’s just so many plot threads, it’s amazing how he’s managed to keep track of it all! So unlike before, I’m now rather psyched to get my hands on Words of Radiance (whenever that will be) and find out what happens to Dalinar, Kaladin, Shallan, et al. next 🙂

Rating: ★★★★☆

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2 Responses to “Commentary: The Way of Kings”

  1. You’re right: this is an incredibly complex read. You can’t speed through it at all you just have to take your time (like we did with the RAL) and let it all soak in. I can see it being to heavy for some people, especially those not accustomed to reading epic-fantasy. I think slowing it down, section by section was possibly the best way to read a beast like this.

    Anyways I was beyond pumped too when Dalinar laid into his nephew and all the mind-bending decisions he took around that time too! Oh and I can see how a re-read could be really beneficial – especially for noticing things you might not have picked up on the first time!

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the entire read – and I’m glad I’m not the only one who went all out and wrote a review despite having discussed every section at length during our read-along. It seems like the perfect way to wrap everything up 😀 I’m off to check out your first review for this now!

    • Thanks for dropping by my post! I will drop by yours sometime today 🙂 It was nice to reflect on the novel as a whole in a way that I wasn’t able to during the RAL, try and link things together, lol.

      Something that’s remained the same during my re-read from the first time I read it was how Dalinar’s storyline was my favourite. This time around I’ve come to appreciate what’s going on with Kaladin and Shallan a lot more (the first time around it was their storylines I felt that lagged heavily at times). Can’t wait for more bad-ass Dalinar in the next novel! lol 🙂

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