Premise: Roshar is a land of savage weather, with highstorms that ravage the scarred land. The flora and fauna have adapted to such extreme conditions, with the plants learning to withdraw into themselves into hardened stalks and trunks at the slightest sense of changes in conditions and the crustacean-like creatures with protective shells. The people have adapted to these storms by building their cities on the sheltered sides of cliffs and within the cliffs themselves. It is under these conditions that men are at war for the gemhearts of the giant beasts of the Shattered Plains, the gems that can be formed into spheres to be used as currency. And once infused with Stormlight from the powerful storms, the spheres can be used to light their dwellings, power their Soulcasters that transform objects, and to give power to the powerful blades and armor left behind from the Knights Radiant.
Ages ago, the ten consecrated orders of the Knights Radiant protected the land by using these Shardblades and Shardplate to transform the Knights into virtually invincible warriors. But these weapons and the legends of their betrayal are all that remain of the Knights Radiant. They are known now throughout the kingdom for turning their backs on the people. But there are things about the Knights and the Voidbringers that have been kept a secret, and Jasnah Kholin, heretic daughter of the assassinated king, might be uncovering things about this history that will change everything and reveal the true cause of the war.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin, the late king’s brother, is a renowned man of honor. He commands an army on the Shattered Plains and serves to protect the king. However, when he begins having troubling visions of ancient times at every highstorm pointing him to an ancient book called The Way of Kings, his sanity is questioned, including by himself. And then there is Kaladin, who was going to practice medicine, but instead became a spearman to protect his brother. Losing everything he had and being put into slavery, he is now a bridgeman in another highprince’s army, carrying bridges to allow the soldiers to travel over the chasms in the Shattered Plains. The other spearman called him Kaladin Stormblessed, mostly because of his amazing ability to survive through brutal battles, and here on the Plains the other bridgemen begin to notice the same things about him. As each of the ten armies of Alethkar fight against the same enemy, Dalinar’s visions tell him to unite the kingdom of Alethkar. All he has to do is convince everyone that he’s not going mad.
Themes: One of the main themes in The Way of Kings is politics. There are the politics behind the hierarchy of people with light eyes ruling over those with dark eyes, along with the class levels. There are also the politics of war as each highprince jockeys for power and wealth, especially as they battle for gemhearts on the Shattered Plains. Sadeas plays this game well as he uses ruthless tactics to gain an advantage on the Plains and is ruthless with the other highprinces as well. The politics behind the assassination of the king is something that comes into question as we learn more about the assassin and the strange things going on that nobody quite understands yet.
Religion plays a large part of the story, as following the Vorin faith is an assumed thing for all of Alethkar. Jasnah, the king’s daughter and Dalinar’s niece, is considered a heretic because she doesn’t believe as everyone else does. And when confusing visions start to plague Dalinar with every highstorm, his sanity is questioned just as his brother’s did right before he was assassinated. The different regions and races also have different religions, from the Shin revering stone by not walking on it to the Parshendi’s battle tactics and their respect for their dead. Everything comes into question as the true history behind the land of Roshar and the Knights Radiant begins to be revealed.
Standing up for your beliefs and doing the right thing have a huge impact in the world. Dalinar abides by military regulations that no other highprince enforces, even when he is looked down on for it. And when his visions lead him to seek out the codes according to The Way of Kings, to live by honor, integrity, and to unite the kingdom, his sanity is even questioned. Kaladin has the same sense of honor in how he treats the lowliest of bridgemen, including the parshman servant that is assigned to his bridge crew. It is this integrity that leads him to put himself in the most danger to protect those around him and to put in extra work and spheres to help the injured that normally would have been left behind to die.
Pros: Sanderson’s world building is incredible. He includes everything I could think of and more in The Way of Kings: war, government, politics, religion, climate, currency, history, etiquette, flora, fauna, and so much more in this world. I especially like that the flora and fauna are different than what we normally see in fantasy in that they have had to evolve to survive extreme weather conditions. The magic system, like Sanderson’s Mistborn series, is magnificent and multifaceted, and as bit by bit is revealed about Shardblades, Shardplate, Surgebinders, fabrials, and more, my interest in the magic was continually refined, if not having my expectations confused tweaked to the point of wanting more answers. The characters development is good, especially when we get to see their perspectives in different chapters. I thought the contrast and comparison between Dalinar and Kaladin was especially poignant. Between the setting, interweaving plots, characters, and conflicts, The Way of Kings succeeds in just about every aspect of telling a great story. And though this is a long book, it didn’t really feel that long as it is packed with a lot of depth of plot, action, and new shiny magic.
Cons: My biggest complaint is that there was either too much revealed or not enough about the magic in The Way of Kings. We learned mostly about Shardblades and Shardplate, but then we get to see a bit of Surgebinding, where Stormlight is used to bind objects to each other. We get hints at other uses of magic, but no real explanation of what they are or how they relate to the other magics. In Mistborn each facet of the magic is basically revealed with each of the three books in the series, but in The Way of Kings we are given multiple things to chew on without enough clarity on all of them. Shardplate and Shardblades are seen in the battles on the Plains. Szeth and Kaladin show us some Surgebinding. But then we get glimpses of some things through Shallan and Jasnah, but no real insight into what it is the magic really does or how it works. I thought some of this could have probably been left out for the next book, especially considering the length of this one. At around 1000 pages, The Way of Kings is long, almost too long, especially for new epic fantasy readers. Probably due to the length, there were a lot of typos that should have been caught in editing, especially in the last quarter of the book.
Recommendations: Brandon Sanderson fans will do themselves well to read The Way of Kings. There was so much depth to the story, when I finished I felt like I had just finished drinking from a fire hose. Get ready to invest yourself into a real epic series, as the rumor is there will be at least ten books in the series spanning as long as 10-15 years from prelude to conclusion. For Wheel of Time fans, this is a series that is all Brandon Sanderson and not him picking up the source material of someone else. Here you will see his skill at world building and creating magic systems shine. I only hope that we don’t have to wait too long for each book and that they don’t all necessarily each have to be so voluminous to tell his already intriguing tale. The Way of Kings is a good start for those readers who plan on being in this for the long haul. Although The Way of Kings is long, I also expect the other books to possibly be as long, or potentially even longer.