“THE WAY OF KINGS” – The WAY to write epic fantasy

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You need to be a certain kind of crazy to read a thousand page novel. You’d have to be even crazier to write one. And to write one worth reading? Crazy, but as I found out, not impossible. As of yesterday, I am finished The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson’s introductory book to his Stormlight Archive series. A week from now will be the four year anniversary of its original release date. What all fantasy fans are asking, and what I asked myself post reading, is what took so long? It wasn’t the sheer size of it. I’ve read The Stand. Twice. The uncut version, too. The fact that it’s the beginning of an unfinished series didn’t bother me. A quite long one at that. I’m in deep already with ASOIAF, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and The Lightbringer Series. What it boiled down to was one, lingering thought. I’m not totally sold on Brandon Sanderson.

To be fair, I had only read The Mistborn Trilogy (plus Alloy of Law). And while I enjoyed reading them, there was just something about his books that didn’t stick with me. I’m always in favor of darker toned fantasy books. Nobody will likely top George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Their work will stick with me forever. But Sanderson had two things distinctly going in his favor.

1. The man is a magic system savant. Allomancy was a joy to read about. Sanderson introduces his magic from the get go, but subtle enough throughout his book that you don’t even realize how familiar you’re becoming with it. It’s so in-depth and thrilling that I couldn’t help but yearn to experience it in real life, or at least in video games (wish granted?).

2. I want to know what happens next. His characters may be light, the prose not on the same level as Rothfuss, and in general not as violently graphic as the grim dark group, but damn he writes a fine story. Never once have I contemplated not finishing one of his books. Not even you, The Well of Ascension.

After four years of pondering, and a trip to Loncon 3 just last week, I decided to take the plunge. I really needed an epic fantasy to read. I wanted something gargantuan. Immerse me in a world, any world. Sometimes real life bears down on you hard, and in those times, it’s nice to be able to take a journey. I decided that journey would include Kaladin Stormblessed, Dalinar Kholin, Shallan Davar, and most importantly, Brandon Sanderson.

We are introduced to Roshar, the land full stone and plains, with a beautiful assassination. Really. Read the first chapter before you die. It’s one of the best action sequences I’ve ever read, up there with the first time we meet The Bloody Nine. The Assassin in White kills the king. This has a lasting effect throughout the world. Obviously. I mean, he kills a king. It severely changes the lives of a few characters we meet. One way or another, these people are put in positions of leadership. To the core, that’s what TWOK is about. Being a leader, or what it is to be a good leader. A decent person.

Kaladin questions the leaders surrounding him. LIghteyes. The Almighty. Himself. What constitutes being able to lead people? Can everyone be saved? Can you protect while killing? Our these leaders noble? What is nobility? Why does one keep failing? Failure. I can’t remember a character failing so many times as I have Kaladin Stormblessed. Sanderson does a wonderful job at building his story. We see him at multiple times in his life, witnessing him retreat into apathy, succumbing to so many personal blows. Kaladin must overcome so much, and not a page is wasted. It’s a long road for the young darkeye, but it’s the reason I’ll be meeting him step for step.

Ah, the honorable high prince Dalinar Kholin. The brother of the murdered king from the first chapter. All his life he’s been a military leader. He’s the Blackthorn, it’s what he does. But now that his inexperienced nephew is king, everything seemed to have changed. He’s been having wild visions during high storms, leading to rumors about his mental stability. He’s been reading, a hobby mostly used by women. The one who used to wreak havoc on the battlefield now talks of peace and an end to the war on the Parshendi, those responsible for his brothers death. The question comes up, is this man fit to lead us? Has old age crippled him? Will his weakness, in mind and spirit, lead to our city’s demise? The other high princes can sniff blood and they certainly go for the kill. Can Dalinar keep his honor while fending off these predators, domestic and foreign? It’s a joy to read and I suspect none were disappointed when the time for that answer came.

Shallan Davar is a princess who traveled to become an understudy to Jasnah, the dead kings daugther. Jasnah happens to be considered the brightest academic in all of Roshar. It would truly be an honor for Shallan to study with her as an apprentice of sorts. But is that all there is to Shallan’s story? She is torn between doing a duty for her family or actually learning from the smartest woman in the land. I’d have to admit her story arc was the least interesting to me. Although Sanderson does a wonderful job at writing women. Not that it should matter, women are people just like anyone else. You should just write PEOPLE. But far too often do I come across male writers who have trouble writing from the female point of view. Sanderson is just one of the best I’ve read at doing it.

Sanderson’s world building is in top form in TWOK. The Shattered Plains is so desolate, and so, well, epic. The creatures are described with such flourish that when pictures actually came up courtesy of drawings from the characters, they were spot on from what I had envisioned. Roshar is clearly a world hardly explored in this first book, but from what he did paint he did expertly. The cities have distinct feels, as well as the different races. It’s a dark, but beautiful world he’s created.

The only complaints I’ve read amidst the thousands of positive reviews are that it starts off incredibly slow. And well, yeah. The book is a thousand pages long. I went in knowing you need time to build up the world, acclimate to the magic, meet the characters. Just know that when you’re three quarters through the book you better have a clear schedule, because you’re not putting that book down for anything. When it kicks into high gear I couldn’t contain the goosebumps from coming. Especially a scene near the end, that had me cheering, crying, laughing, almost throwing up, all at the same time. Those who have read it know what I’m talking about.

Those moments are why I read. Especially fantasy. I love grim dark and all it has to offer. But there is a time and place for epic fantasy. Sometimes I need to throw on the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Who doesn’t get gooesbumps when Aragorn gives that speech to Legolas and Gimli? That’s why I read (and watch) fantasy. Those moments. And The Way of Kings delivers one of the all time “Goosebump Moments”.

I have a signed copy of Words of Radiance sitting in my room. It will be read. But I’m going to give it time. When I’ve read a great book I like to let it settle in for a while. This was the beginning of the journey that is The Stormlight Archives. And as they say, Journey Before Destination.

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