Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

There really is a reason epic fantasy is called epic fantasy. Everything's elevated to a grander scale that requires a vast amount of imagination and creativity: the people, the story, and, above all, the world. Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy writers, and, at the urging of a fantasy-loving friend, I decided it was time to journey my way through the huge tome of "The Way of Kings", the first installment in "The Stormlight Archive", which promises to be a thrilling series.

It has been centuries since the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant left humanity to fight for itself. Only their Shardblades and Shardplates remain: mystical swords and armour that lend incredible power and near-invicibility to ordinary men. Wars were fought for them, and won by them. One such war rages on the ruin landscapes of the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that has lost all meaning, where ten separate armies fight a single foe, he struggles to save his men and hold onto the one thing that keeps him alive: hope.

What makes Mr. Sanderson's novels so mind-blowing is the sheer amount of thought and creativity that goes into them. In the "Mistborn Trilogy", you had Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemalurgy. In "The Rithmatist", you had, well, Rithmatics. In "The Way of Kings", Mr. Sanderson has created a whole other world of the Radiants, with skills like Soulcasting--the ability to change the matter of substances to transform them into other objects--and the Three Lashings: gravitational change, binding, and giving an object a gravitational pull. Not to mention the Shardplates, which gives the wearer some souped up superpowers, and the Shardblades, summoned by the warrior in ten heartbeats and able to kill enemies with a slice. Can you spell mastermind? You can see from a glance how much has gone into the world-building in "The Way of Kings", and, to make a long story short (and trust me, this was one heck of a long story!), everything is simply mind-blowing.

Of course, a world isn't complete without the people to inhabit it. The novel is split into five parts, with interludes in between. Each part is told from the point of view of Kaladin, the novel's main hero, as well as from those of either Shallan, Dalinar and Adolin. What I've always admired about Mr. Sanderson's protagonists is that they're never these otherworldly, super mighty people. Instead, they're pretty ordinary in every aspect except for their strength in character. Kaladin is only nineteen-years-old, but already struggles with the guilt he feels over the deaths of those he loves, including his younger brother Tien. The way his character develops as he loses hope and rises again to fight, and learn what is the right thing to do, is so believable every step of the way, and he is truly a relatable character you can't help but admire for his strength and willpower. Shallan, Dalinar and Adolin are all admirable as well, for different reasons. I especially liked Dalinar, who's the moral beacon in the novel, all full of honour and righteousness, even if he has to face disrepute for it. There's so much more that can be said about the characters, and all I think I can squeeze anymore into the review is how subtle and believable their development is throughout the story.

The plot of "The Way of Kings" is, of course, interesting and chock-full of intrigue and wonder. One thing that did hinder it a little was the fact that it did get a little dull in the middle--it was just too long! I think if those parts had been condensed a little more, it would've been more striking and engaging, not to mention more fast-paced and even more intense. Nonetheless, the storyline of the novel evokes action and emotion equally skillfully, while at the same time allowing the author to set up the world and introduce his characters as well. Things get especially exciting in the very last part of the novel, when humongous, world-shattering revelations are revealed and it left me with my jaws dropped and heart thumping! Talk about a cliffhanger. Now I can't wait for the second novel. And that's when you know you've read a great book.

Overall, Brandon Sanderson's "The Way of Kings" is a spectacular first installment to what promises to be a thrilling, awesome fantasy series, with enchanting world-building, believable yet heroic characters and a clever storyline. I highly recommend this novel--and any of Mr. Sanderson's works--for any readers who are seeking a great fantasy book, and I can't thank my fantasy-loving friend enough for introducing me to his writing.

Rating: 4.5/5

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