Brandon Sanderson - The Way of Kings

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Do you like books that address male and female characters and perspectives? Which may even challenge some forms of thinking? You'll like Sanderson.

I found Brandon Sanderson because Robert Jordan died. Which is a somewhat maudlin way of making sure I say thank you to Robert Jordan, because while I enjoyed the Wheel of Time series, Brandon Sanderson has quickly vaulted into place as one of my favorite authors. Essentially, Jordan died leaving his large and sprawling series unfinished. Sanderson was chosen by Jordan's wife and a team of editors to replace Jordan. To my mind, Sanderson did his best to turn Jordan's work into a triumph, and some say his additions even refreshed the series. Which led me to The Way of Kings. 

Sanderson is, as a writer, possessed of two qualities which I've seen in both his Mistborn series and in this book, subtitled as the first entry in the Stormlight Archive, which Sanderson claims will be a ten-book series. The first quality is his ability to build worlds - he can become incredibly technical in his very plausible descriptions of a completely different world and society. The second quality is his ability to focus on characters and their emotions to the extent where the technical description seems like an exciting appendix to the tale, not an overwhelming stumbling block. The first quality can be very common in science fiction and fantasy. The second? Not so much.

Synopsis

Imagine a world where storms run rampant across the surface, destroying the land. Imagine a world where female scholars examine gemstones filled with lightning and use them to manipulate the laws of physics. Imagine a world where the color of your skin isn't as important as the color of your eyes. Imagine men and women who can fly like angels and dance on the head of a pin, special creatures called Surgebinders. This is the world described by Sanderson, and the characters who show us this world are (largely) Kaladin and Shallan: Kaladin a former soldier, now a prisoner, despairing of redemption and hope itself; Shallan an impoverished noble with a knack for art seeking a way to return her family to good fortune. When the country of Alethkar is plunged into war thanks to an assassination, these characters find themselves and their lives embroiled in far larger concerns than their own immediate needs.

Kaladin is a soldier trained to be a doctor, and one of his special skills is being able to help the soldiers he leads. In the beginning of the novel, Kaladin has been imprisoned with Bridge Four, a crew of likewise prisoners designated to place bridges on the field of war, over which the army can walk. Obviously, setting these bridges is more than somewhat dangerous, and many of the prisoners with him, die.

At the same time, Kaladin seems to be beset by a spirit, called a spren in the books. This is no ordinary spirit, though, as it quickly shows a personality, then a name. This spren spends time encouraging Kaladin's best qualities - his commitment to his men, his honor. The rest of the novel is arguably an unpacking of Kaladin's history and emotional state which takes place as Kaladin turns Bridge Four from a crew of almost-criminals into a team of elite soldiers - and begins to show unique abilities.

Shallan is a completely different personality, but also someone showing signs of dealing with abuse and the trauma of many different situations. As the novel begins she's a noble whose family has lost all of their assets, and is seeking the attention of another woman, a scholar named Jasnah with a reputation for atheistic beliefs. She wishes to be trained and become Jasnah's prot├ęge, or so she says; in truth, she covets Jasnah's Soulcaster, a device which apparently allows individuals to Surgebind and perform miraculous acts. By stealing this device Shallan hopes to restore her family's future - until Shallan turns out to to be able Surgebind herself.

Between both of these lives are woven many others, but particularly one antagonist - Szeth-son-son-Vallano, not a Surgebinder himself, but somehow given Surgebinding abilities to become a powerful assassin. A person to fear indeed, but not the motivator of his own actions - for, as it is made clear early on, Szeth is a servant to whoever holds his Stone, and should his Stone pass to another hand, so too will his mastery and control of what is possibly one of the most powerful destructive warriors on the planet.

Review

I'll stop there, after setting up the story. I want the rest of it to be a surprise. That's just the beginning, and the rest of the novel is equally rich and enticing. I think you might make the reasonable claim that Sanderson gets way too wordy. Certainly there's a lot of exposition in this book!  personally loved every word of the book and felt that Sanderson has a fantastic writing voice which gulls, informs and drags you on through adventure after adventure.


I haven't even mentioned Dalinar and his son Adolin, or Navani, or the gorgeous artwork which decorates so many pages of the book (done by Shallan, as we come to see.) And that artwork is vital. Because thoughout the book, we're introduced to another character - the world of Roshar itself, and it's a fantastic walk through a fantastic world. If you love alien worlds, fun characters, and having your imagination stretched, this is the book for you.

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