Review: The Way of Kings

Posted: August 31, 2010 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Epic Fantasy

From the very beginning you know THE WAY OF KINGS (Amazon) is a novel by Brandon Sanderson — you would know it even if his name wasn’t imposed over a Michael Whelan cover. Sanderson has made a name for himself through his imaginative magic systems, and TWoK is no different.

He starts with the pacing set at a sprint. Following a series prelude (yeah, there is a prelude, then a prologue), we are put right into the action of things with a mysterious assassin, Szeth. Right from the onset of the novel we get hints of political intrigue, and of shadowy organizations pulling strings like puppeteers. What it seems to us is that Brandon is trying to start faster than his previous novels. His habit has been the slow burn in pacing followed by an explosion of craziness. Not so much here. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Really it will depend on your personal taste.

Ah but we get ahead of ourselves.

TWoK is a hard book to summarize. The worlds that Brandon creates are always well envisioned. Effort is made to make them stand-out. That said, there is usually a bit of familiar in them. The best way to describe the world in TWoK is to say it feels like a rich sea floor…but without the sea. Huge storms ravage the surface of the world of Roshar regularly, and that surface has adapted to them. Plants and animals retreat into hardened shells for protection. Cities themselves are built only where there is a measure of safety. There is a very alien feel to it all, and for the most part, Brandon makes it vivid and easy to visualize. It also helps that there are some seriously incredible sketches of the various creatures of the world come to life. We love interior art work.

As for the plot itself, we’ll give you the basics without spoiling the details. War. Lots of wars and battles that are treated almost as competitions, and an excuse for personal gain. For greed. It becomes quickly apparent the level of stagnation that pervades the armies through these motivations. Brandon does seem torn throughout the course of the novel. At times the story is purely setting based, and yet at others it focuses exclusively on the characters. A smoother blend may have been nice, but really this is just a quibble.

Characters. We know Brandon, and we know how much effort he puts into making characters unique and likable. While not quite as good as his MISTBORN trilogy (Amazon) — yet, the characters in TWoK are pretty solid. Kaladin is a promising general on the rise who ends up a slave. Dalinar is a commander of one of the various armies fighting for honor and riches, but he has begin questioning the motivation behind it all while suffering vivid dream-visions of the past. Shallan is an artist whose goal is the theft of a priceless magical conduit. All-in-all, they are great characters. Except…

Look, we like shades of gray. There is none of that with the main characters. They are all good guys, regardless of some of their misleading attitudes and actions. We just wish there were less black-and-white characters in his novels. This isn’t really a major criticism, just more of an observation. Brandon’s characters in TWoK tend to go pretty emo as well (if we are honest, it caused some facepalm moments). Either that, or they are tough as nails. There isn’t a lot of in-between. Most people won’t have issue with this, but we felt we should bring it up. We ARE honest after all. It’s our third best quality.

As we mentioned earlier, the pacing starts out at full-speed. It serves its purpose in hooking the reader—and it does that extremely well. Things are crazy early on. We get assassinations, epic battles, solitary heroic feats, dramatic failures, terrifying situations and awesome magic. We get all of this FAST. There is a full book’s worth of awesomeness in the first third of the novel (which we guess is the actual size of a normal novel…TWoK is a 1000+ page behemoth). The issue with this? The middle third of the novel. When you start the novel with a peak, and end it with one as well, there is bound to be a valley in the middle. That middle 400 pages, while extremely interesting, can drag for less-than-patient readers…especially when that first part is so fast and breathtaking.

As we mentioned, this is the first book in a series. A BIG series. Ten books big. As a result, there is a lot of set-up here. It is done as well as can be, but it is very noticeable that we are embarking on a long, long trip. Our personal hope? That it is broken up a bit like Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series. What we mean is that the first few books become effectively a trilogy or quadrilogy. Then two more sets of three. Reading a straight ten book series feels daunting. Not knowing the end until at least 2020? Yikes! Again, just being honest.

We don’t want to make it seem like we are bashing TWoK. We aren’t. These issues are pretty small-time, and won’t matter a bit to the very large majority. So we’ll end with what we DO like. We love the learning curve. This has a much steeper one than any of Sanderson’s prior novels. We like authors in the fantasy genre to challenge us, and to make us think for ourselves. Now this isn’t quite at the Erikson Learning Curve level, but it is still fairly high. We can’t stress how happy we are that Brandon is doing this. We’ve been begging him since ELANTRIS (Amazon) was released to go this route.

THE WAY OF KINGS, Book One of the Stormlight Archive, is a fantastic opening entry in a truly epic (in every sense of the word) fantasy series.

TWoK is also better than his previous novel, WARBREAKER (EBR Review). The writing is better, the story is better, and the characters are better. In our opinions, of course. Which are fact. Really, we liked this better than ELANTRIS too. TWoK is right there with his Mistborn Trilogy. We haven’t read a Brandon Sanderson novel we didn’t like (a trend unlikely to change over the next decade or two), and the Mistborn trilogy is high on our list of GREAT books. So when we say TWoK is almost (juuuuuuuust below really) as good as MISTBORN, it is a compliment. High praise indeed. And this was just the first book. This series has a HUGE amount of potential. This could very well turn into one of our favorite fantasy series ever by the time it finishes.

Brandon’s chapter leads, though always great, are freaking awesome in TWoK. Once you get to the end of the novel, suddenly they take on a whole different meaning. This is how chapter leads should be done. We’re not sure where they have been done better. Ever.

We love the clarity of the action sequences. The Bridge Crew scenes (especially the first few) are gripping, chaotic, and terrifying. The Shardblade duels and battles are artistic and flashy. Everything truly has its own unique flavor. While the very end seems like it is a little less than it could have been, the final section of the book (originally conceived as a series of epilogues, but now its own section in the novel) is fantastic. It really is a moment where, as the reader, you say, “Oh crap. Everyone is soooooooo screwed!” Love it (in truth, it may have been Steve’s favorite part…other than the Szeth scenes).

THE WAY OF KINGS, Book One of the Stormlight Archive, is a fantastic opening entry in a truly epic (in every sense of the word) fantasy series. Every reader of the fantasy genre should buy this book immediately. Fans old and new will enjoy all 1000+ pages, and will be anxiously awaiting the sequel. We sure are. Of course, we’ve already been waiting for the sequel for a year now… ‘cause you know, we did read this last year. As Nick is fond of saying, “Neener neener.”

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: Not really. Made-up oaths and such.
  • Violence: YES!! Have we mentioned how much we love Brandon’s action sequences?
  • Sex: Noppers


  • Dragen says:

    I pre-ordered it a long time a go, and just got the mail from amazon that it's sent. Cant wait!!

  • duskschaser says:

    Haven't seen the actual novel released, but I noticed one thing: My ARC has no glossary or index…I find myself wondering if things will be explained indirectly through situations or offhand comments later on, or if I will be left stumbling until the end in an Anne Bishop/Black Jewels Trilogy type of way.

  • Danny says:

    I have to say, this book supplies the character development and intensity that the first two of the MISTBORN trilogy. with the next book in the series, it will easily be the best set ever written, beside maybe Lord of the Rings. and this is just the first 2 books!

  • Gian says:

    Finished reading this book, unbelievable how over hyped this novel is, the story comes to a grinding halt after page 47 and doesn't pickup until about 643 pages later. Will tax even the most experienced readers. For such a huge book, it felt shallow and barely provided characters and situations that a reader could immerse themselves into and connect with. Over extended scenes(Kaladin and Bridge Crew 4) that went nowhere, each character is stuck in a set piece for hundreds of pages with barely anything relevant happening that pushes the story forward until the very end of book(alround the last 200 pages). The ending is definitely not worth the time investment.

    • Xhojin says:

      Gian is crazy….or 12 and has no attention span.

      This book is quite good. The pacing while relaxed is never boring. When physical action isn't happening emotional action is. The characters are well developed and undergo change through the book.

      The worldbuilding is very good, and provides an enjoyable unique place to visit.

      So far, and it's early to claim this with only one book out, I'd rate this series up there with the other greats of the genre. Hopefully my expectations are met with the future books.

  • Dracomax says:

    Honestly, I kind of feel this book is suffering from “Robert-Jordan_itis” the disease wherein too many POV characters slow the story to a crawl.

    Each character was well done, and interesting in their own right, but the problem was that just as I would hit a flow of narrative for one, and start to really get into it, the POV would switch. Not only does this slow the plot down, but it makes it hard for me to read at the speed I normally read at.

    • @Dracomax – I see where you are coming from. The longer I think about this novel, the more I think “Man, wish this would have been trimmed down.” I think it would have stream-lined it a bit and made it stronger. But hey, whatever. Overall I was still really impressed with it as an opening novel in an epic series.

    • Brentus says:

      @Dracomax – Maybe it was because I had just read WoT 1-12 right before this one, but I thought it could have used even more characters. But I think that Robert-Jordan-itis, like anything Robert Jordan, is a good thing.

      • Dracomax says:

        I think that it's something that can be taken too far.

        I love the WOT series, but books8-10, which most people I have talked to generally consider the worst books “because nothing happens” are weaker, because the cast of viewpoint characters expanded to the point that the plot slowed to a crawl.

        In addition, it provides a discontinuity when the viewpoint is switched too often, often without any connection that makes it flow.

        sometimes it can be done well(Towers of Midnight seemed to work, so I admit, there are excpetions, and part of that is going to be personal taste) but I really think it can't work well in a first book, because for it to work, most of the viewpoint characters need to be developed and cared for in the reader's mind before you start moving away from them every 10-15 pages.

        Using Wheel of Time can be used as an example. Consider the plot as a tree. the first book, Eye of the World, had the first half to the first third as a continuative narrative, which introduced its characters and gave you time to get to know everybody involved in a way that you cared. this is the trunk of the tree. it has to support everything that comes after, so it needs to be strong and consistant.

        After the party splits, you have 3 branches coming off of there. Each branch is important, but because you have three branches, they are each at best only about a third as large, narritively, as the trunk. not only that, but there is a lot more space between them. any given point in the book is like a cross section of the tree–when there are multiple POV characters, the space between them is distracting, and makes it more difficult to cross between them, so rapidly moving back and forth is not only distracrting, but in many cases, a little confusing–it makes it more difficult to grasp the plot as a whole.

        Each time you spin off a new viewpoint character, the plot becomes more diffuse, and it becomes more difficult to move between them and keep a narrative thread going that the readers can follow. the branches get thinner, but they cover more space.

        The problem with way of kings is that Mr. Sanderson tried to start his narrative tree with 3 viewpoint characters. While this can work, those characters plot threads need to wind and braid in and out of each other–they need to strengthen each other, rather than pulling apart.

        This book, IMHO does not do this until near the end. this makes it a hard book to get into, and makes the story much weaker than it should be. It introduces frustration(just when I'm starting to get a handle on a character, and get interested in their story, we leave them. That makes it difficult to maintain a level of excitement about the book)and obfuscates what actually seems like an interesting story.It also doesn't help that the three viewpoint characters also have completely different tones and almost genres. One is a war story, with quite a bit of action, another is almost a spy/theft piece, and the third is a political piece. because they are so different, flipping between them at a breakneck pace also gives mood whiplash. Any of them could have stood alone as a decent book, but together, they just don't quite work in the way they were written.

        • Brentus says:


          Ah, I see what you mean. It didn't bug me as much as it did you, but it may explain why I found viewpoint switches to be disconcerting sometimes. I'm not sure if there would have been a better way to handle it, since the story needs to have all these threads going at once, and the lines that merged did so in the right place story-wise. But the way it isn't a WoT-like branching is harder to get into, which is probably what people meant when they said it had a high learning curve. It's a tradeoff that goes with the story; Brandon couldn't just introduce the other characters as they meet one main protagonist, since that happens late or not at all, and only after much has already happened to them. We get a wider view of the world this way, but the downside is that it has the disadvantages you pointed out. Hopefully as the series goes on, this will be less of an issue as the plotlines have more time to mingle.

  • Jonah says:

    I have not read much fantasy in the last 20 years, mostly science fiction and other fiction. My reading has taken a new lease of life recently with audio books and cycling to work.

    I would probably not have considered this book apart from the fact that it was on offer (OK, I am a cheapskate), and if I had had another book available I probably would have started that instead. That said, I did start this book, and nearly gave up in the first couple of hours of listening (did I say I do audiobooks?) because it was so confusing. I honestly thought until several hours into the book that I had started in the wrong chapter. But gradually the world became clearer to me, and so did the plot. Am I alone in being annoyed about the way writers (and especially film makers, but that's another thing) try to confuse their audience by chronologically disjointing their story? I have not yet finished the book – just started part 5 – but have finally reached the beginning, so to speak.

    That said, I have persisted, and the story has grown on me. I will certainly continue, and I guess I will read (listen to) any following books in the series. I might even see what else the author has written, if I ever run out of stuff to read. Is that glowing praise or what?

  • Deidre says:

    I read this book in a week, absolutely loved it, loved the flashbacks and insights, is very professionally written yet still so easy to read and be able to picture everything – actually feel what the characters felt, I was hooked! I can't think of anything I wouldve wanted omitted (perhaps one of Kaladin's 'despairing' moments, MAYBE), but I appreciate long books, and this was an absolutely fantastic one. Instant favourite, cannot wait til the next 9!

  • Damocles346 says:

    What I'm wondering is why the review says that the characters are too crisp and clean. Right there at the end we see a pretty hardcore grey (if those can exist) character step out of the woodwork, and you know he's going step out and fart moral grayness all over our cast of little angles. I think Brandon did a masterful job of setting that up.

    • @Damocles346 – The main reasoning being that we haven't seen enough of the character to determine where his morality is. Until we see more of the character in future novels, I don't think we can judge. I loved that setup, but we'll see how gray/black/white he really is in future installments. I really wouldn't be surprised, based on Brandon's prior novels, to see this guy end up morally bad instead of gray.

      • Damocles346 says:

        Fair enough. I did enjoy the review in case I left a sour taste in your mouth. And, having just discovered your site, will probably be back to visit more often. Very well put together little hobbit hole this is.

  • NdrwFrnkln says:

    I thought this book was mediocre. The writing was bland, the characters had no depth (except for Szeth and Shallan), even most of the action scenes were not exciting to me. Sanderson took my breathe away in his installments of the Wheel of Time, and I was literally moved to tears by The Gathering Storm. I don't know where that author went, but the same man did not write Way of Kings.
    All that being said, the world that he has created is very interesting. And I thought the end was very cool.

    • Unknown says:

      I guess I can't really empathize with you much, but I will say that Brandon had 11 books of character development (SLOW character development) to go off of when he wrote tGS. It was brilliant, but I don't think tWoK was worse at all. Brandon is known for a generally slower start to his books, and I think the same thing will apply to the series. I think the future books will only pick up the pace and also he will have his past character development to build off of, allowing him to write even better incredibly emotional/action-y scenes, like the one found in Veins of Gold.

      Also, at whomever may be worried about the plot lines getting too split up, Brandon lived through WoT and I'm sure his memories of that will dissuade him from splitting the plots up too much. =D And like I said above I think the future books will pick up pace and also some seemingly extraneous plot lines will be consolidated.

  • Underman777 says:

    I keep looking for the next novel I loved the TWoK's as a starter but 10 books? I totally agree that WoT is getting a bit of WTF with the charators dragged along like the lovely sin of sloth, I'm just thinking this 10 book serie's is a big ask… I like the mist born because the end was in sight from the start and it wasn't going to plage me like a perianal septic abcess. Here's to hoping

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