I long for the days before the Last Desolation.
The age before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. A time when there was still magic in the world and honor in the hearts of men.
The world became ours, and we lost it. Nothing, it appears, is more challenging to the souls of men than victory itself.
Or was that victory an illusion all along? Did our enemies realize that the harder they fought, the stronger we resisted? Perhaps they saw that the heat and the hammer only make for a better grade of sword. But ignore the steel long enough, and it will eventually rust away.
There are four whom we watch. The first is the surgeon, forced to put aside healing to become a soldier in the most brutal war of our time. The second is the assassin, a murderer who weeps as he kills. The third is the liar, a young woman who wears a scholar’s mantle over the heart of a thief. The last is the highprince, a warlord whose eyes have opened to the past as his thirst for battle wanes.
The world can change. Surgebinding and Shardwielding can return; the magics of ancient days can become ours again. These four people are key.
Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is his most anticipated novel yet, in large part due to the success ofThe Gathering Storm. While novels in the fantasy genre are often driven by dual elements of “sword and sorcery,” Sanderson seems to be trying to transcend the stereotypes. His a world that is less and less fantasy and more and science fiction, where the magical has been stripped of much of the mysterious and brought down to earth by quantification and explanation that might better be attributed to science than to fantasy. And yet, it just makes the world more magical and exciting.
That said, don’t get me wrong—The Way of Kings still contains the classic elements of epic fantasy. It is a world full of powerful lords in unearthly armor, magical swords that cut through steel, flesh and rock, deadly assassins that kill with magic and steel, and mysterious omens, prophecies, and visions, and the battle is very much between good and evil for the destiny, if not survival, of all. But the world Sanderson creates is so alive and vibrant, suffused with the fantastical, if explainable, that one can’t help but sense echoes of science fiction in his descriptions. He creates a world ravaged by storms so powerful that even grass hides in the rocks, animals have evolved to some form or another of crustacean, and only the condemned are left outside during a storm. Rather than dragons, basilisks, and gorgons, we see creatures that might better follow Darwin’s theories and observations. They fit the environment, are a product of the environment, rather than of fanciful daydreams.
The plot of The Way of Kings is just as full and developed. Opening at a breakneck pace, Sanderson cuts to the chase with almost textbook efficiency, and within pages we find ourselves at the center of a mystery. Sanderson builds his characters in careful balance with the action, pushing both together for a well balanced combination of both heart and action. We feel for the characters as much as we enjoy the plot. There is scheming, double-crossing, revenge, redemption, and pain, as well as triumph. Further, his pacing is generally good. Just as we begin to see the threads of plot coming together, new clues, events, and hints are beginning to appear, and we realize that we have only begun to crack the surface. He does tend to jump around a lot, utilizing extensive flashbacks for one character, and this distracted me quite a bit. One or two, would have been ok, or just one to develop the back story, but it was repeated and extensive, and it was distracting.
Despite attention to a thorough and wide reaching plot, it is this thoroughness that brings me to my one gripe, minor though it may be. Even when compared to other epic fantasy novels, Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of King’s clocks in at above average page length at over a thousand pages. While Sanderson is effective at writing both action driven and character driven scenes, the middle of the book seems to drag, if only for a short time. This would not be so much of a problem, except that the novel is a thousand pages long. Sanderson tells a good story, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been possible to tell it a little better if he had shortened some of the back stories of his characters. And The Way of Kings is just the first in a ten novel series. I look forward to the next, with the anticipated title of The Highprince of War, but I hope that they are more tightly written than this first.
[Previously published at Walker of Worlds]