In my latest Brandon Sanderson venture, and my last fun project of the summer before lengthy graduate school reading lists, I tackled the Way of Kings. Visually daunting, I actually found the thick volume to be the perfect length, if not a few chapters too short. Needless to say, it was enjoyable in typical Sanderson fashion, particularly in the high quality I came to expect after reading the Mistborn Trilogy.
The format of Way of Kings is intriguing; since the book is the first volume in the Stormlight Archive, it is speckled with an archival theme, as well as the theme of a story spanning more than just the immediate plot. Case in point, the book opens with a prelude to the series, and a few thousand years later, the next chapter holds the prologue to the book. (Seven years later, the first chapter occurs, with another jump of a few months for chapter two, where the timeline stays fairly constant, minus a series of flashbacks leading up to the first chapter.) For its archival flare, there are drawings interspersed throughout the book. These drawings are taken from the sketchbook of a main character and work wonders in helping to describe the alien life, as this book does not happen on Earth, even though it is in a medieval setting. This authorship tactic enables a more natural telling of the story, as main characters do not have to think about the anatomy of every little creature just for the reader’s benefit. For example, a chull, a beast of burden, is very similar to a hermit crab the size of an ox, with no claws, and as docile and domesticated as an ox. This sketchbook method prevents the description from detracting from the storytelling.
One interesting aspect of Way of Kings is the use of flashbacks for a main character. His story line is deliberately withheld from the reader (and his fellow associates) throughout the story. Normally, I would absolutely hate this; the character’s life is defined by a tragedy, and I expected cliché-filled back-story to emerge, but to my pleasant surprise, Sanderson avoided the awkward storyline that might be given to Ross in Friends and actually made the flashbacks interesting, not awkward for the knowledgeable reader, and important to his character development. On numerous occasions, he avoids typical plot-driving clichés, making it all the more enjoyable.
Another authorship element that I found intriguing was the character perspective. Each section of the book has between two and four main characters whose perspectives rotate by chapter, with a few interludes between featuring a minor character for a short section. This refreshing method kept each character’s story fresh for the reader, even if seemingly running full-course merely halfway through the book.
No Sanderson book can be complete without a magic system. The magic system used in this book, however, is not heavily explored, but surprisingly, I did not mind– essentially, he used this thick book to introduce the series, and I got the distinct impression that magic would play a much heavier role in subsequent books, perhaps immediately, given the nature of the book’s slight cliff-hanger conclusion. Although the magic system is not explored in detail, it does play a prominent role throughout the story, although that role largely falls in the realm of subtle hints as the reader eagerly pieces together the story’s magic and mythology. While not doing it justice, the magic system involves the ability to adjust any object’s (or one’s self’s) gravity, as well as physical benefits of healing. (Although the open-ended conclusion to the book leaves open the possibility that there are much more options than introduced to the reader.) This is a majorly over-simplified version, however revealing more would violate my limited-spoiler intent.
While it is hard to compare a series containing just one book as of yet (book two debuts January 2014), this may be my favorite Sanderson work yet, although as the second and third Mistborn trilogies unveil, this opinion is certainly malleable. Sanderson continues his trend of offering very subtle plot-line hints throughout the story, without falling victim to the clichés that seem to heavily trend in this kind of plot in other authors’ attempts.
As is probably obvious from my ravings and faultless description (except perhaps that it was too short, or that the magic did not play a large role as it was merely introduced), this is a book well-worth reading. Do not let its size scare you off– it is well worth the read.