Brandon Sanderson’s latest work The Way of Kings is the beginning of a long epic called The Stormlight Archives. Its publication has been awaited eagerly by Sanderson himself and because of the things he wrote about the book also by me. One of my favorite authors publishes a huge epic fantasy book with nine more books to come and the book itself is illustrated with about twenty full-page drawings — where can I place my order?
Roshar, the continent on which the story takes place, is battered by the elements. Every now and then brutal Highstorms sweep across the land, an almost massive wall of wind, water and stone carrying away everything not tied down and some things that are. Seasons change in a matter of weeks with no predictable order or duration. In this hostile environment no animals and plants as we know them can survive; plants resemble stony anemones and most beasts are akin to our crabs and other shellfish. Since flora and fauna are so different from ours the interior artwork is very important as it depicts exactly what I had problems imagining.
The land’s inability to provide a stable platform for human life left traces in the several societies. In the most widely spread culture, Vorinism, trying to predict the future is considered heresy. The most favored method of executing someone is to submit him to Stormfather’s will, that is leaving him outside during a Highstorm. Since fighting for survival is part of everyday life in the eastern countries where Highstorms are worst, fighting in general is a fundamental part of society. When the Alethi people cannot fight outsiders they fight among themselves.
Needless to say that Sanderson has constructed a very detailed, strange world I cannot even begin to describe appropriately. There is magic, of course, there are different kinds of spren, little ghost-like creatures that are drawn to certain events or emotions, there is a multitude of cultures and a long history of war and betrayal that is only partly known to most people, there are weird prophecies made by people just before they die and much, much more. My personal favorites are little, unimportant things like Vorin women covering and never using their left hand or one people who pray to their real god’s jealous brother in order not to upset him. These little things make Roshar come alive.
Sanderson uses only a handful viewpoint characters. That enables him to give those very deep stories since the book is so thick. The main characters are Dalinar, the straight-forward Highprince and legendary general that doubts his own mind while he has to lead a war, Shallan, the girl that needs to steal from the women she wants to apprentice herself to, and Kaladin, the charismatic and caring young surgeon who has for some reason become a slave. As you can see they all are driven by inner as well as outer conflicts; that creates a lot of momentum during the book despite not much happens on a larger scale for most of the time.
Exactly the lack of hard, measurable progression might be reason for critique for some, that is the same people that dislike certain Wheel of Time volumes because “nothing happens”. I do not share such sentiments; I like that Sanderson takes at least this whole book to carefully introduce his main characters and to slowly start the course of events and discoveries that will lead to greater milestones later on. And he does so masterfully, perfecting a balance of wonder, mystery and suspension; The Way of Kings is never boring. I enjoyed it on many levels and am eagerly awaiting the next volume. Too bad it will not be out for at least two years; I will wait gladly if this is what it takes to write books as gorgeous as this one, though.