Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is a book that rewards the patient. At 1,001 pages, it’s huge, a doorstop. The book moves slowly until the last 200 or so pages. But those pages are so utterly glorious that they make up for any drag in the previous 800. I didn’t get to bed until after midnight last night because I just could not stop reading. According to his blog, Sanderson has been working on this book for over a decade and it shows in the detail. Chapters featuring characters that aren’t part of the main narrative contain hints to the world’s history, mythology, culture, even linguistic drift. Some readers might be willing to sacrifice some of that detail to make the narrative move faster, but I read them avidly, looking for clues to what happened in the 4,500 years between the prologue and the rest of the book. This book violates a few rules from the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam, but this book is so well done, so interesting, and so original that I didn’t care.
The book follows the adventures of two main characters at first. A third is added later. The first characters, Kaladin–a spearman turned slave–and Shallan–a scholar, don’t even meet. (This is not a spoiler. You might like the book better if you’re not waiting for them to meet.) It’s almost like reading two books at the same time, though they’re set in the same world. Kaladin’s story was, for me, the most interesting. It had pathos. It had warfare. It had endurance. Though Kaladin has his character flaws and a tendency towards depression, I really bonded with his character. He’s a hero in the Aragorn mold: reluctant, but honorable. Shallan is harder to like because she doesn’t seem as courageous as Kaladin. She’s a terrific expository character, however. Reading her sections fill you in on important history in such a way that it doesn’t sound like exposition. The third character, Dalinar, is proper and honorable to a fault, but he develops into a wonderful character by the end. They all seemed so real.
After a short interlude in which a king gets assassinated in spectacular fashion, we meet the cast in the middle of a war that’s been going on for six years and appears to have no end in sight. Dalinar and Kaladin are on opposite ends of the hierarchy, giving different views of the Alethi war effort. The way this culture fights is pigheadedly wasteful. It’s more like a bloody tournament than a war. There’s no strategy, bizarre objectives, and no one seems to want it to end except our male protagonists. Shallan is far away in a city with a massive library, studying to become a scholar while secretly plotting a way to restore her family’s fortunes.
This short summary might lead one to ask why it took Sanderson over 1,000 pages to tell the story, but the book is stuffed with battles and intrigues, dreams and visions. The interludes give the reader glimpses of what’s happening in the rest of the world. As I read them, I got a picture of a world that appears stable on the surface but that is starting to fracture. At the end of the book, you learn that some characters are deliberately upsetting the balance. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that the plot really started to move in those last 200 pages. Okay, one more thing. There is a battle sequence at the end that is on par with the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The battle and the ending were so good that I almost wanted to start reading the book over again so that it wouldn’t end.
This little review* doesn’t do justice to this book, but I don’t think I can say how much I like it without resorting to atrocious hyperbole. The Way of Kings was the best book I’ve read all year. It might be the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read. (So much for avoiding hyperbole.) The only downside is that I have to wait a minimum of two years to read the next one. Mr. Sanderson, I’d tell you to hurry up and write, but I know better. Books this good cannot be rushed. So I’ll be patient and wait for my reward.
* I don’t know why I call these reviews. They’re not systematic at all and I don’t really do plot summaries.