It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. Maybe it’s even been as much as a month. I’ve needed some mulling time. It is a huge book, not To Green Angel Tower huge, but then little is nowadays, but longer than a lot of what I’ve read for a while.
My lasting impression is of a book I really enjoyed but if I were to look back, it’s taken me 4 months to read, so it’s hardly a page turner (although admittedly life has got in the way). Sanderson is getting a reputation as a chap who is extremely inventive when it comes to devising magic systems, and this is borne out well here with the use of Stormlight for various super natural purposes being well thought out and coherent.
The world itself is rock and crustacean based, a legacy of regular super storms that wrack the land. Some mention is made of attempts to journey across the sea to the source of the storms but it’s obvious that this has been unsuccessful perhaps because it will be a quest in a future volume or because it’s an easy way of explaining away how and why the storms happen. Hope it’s the latter because in fantasy you don’t have to explain everything.
There’s a handy Wikipedia section on exactly how the magic system works, I’d suggest you read it if you’re interested, I’ve certainly got no desire to copy it out for you!
The book follows 3 (possibly four if you include the Shen Truthless chappy Szeth) intertwined characters, with plenty (and I mean plenty) of flashbacks that show how they’re in their current predicaments. Much has been made of the unnecessary background in some of the reviews I’ve read, padding for want of a better word, but to be honest Sanderson has built a world that’s different enough from the usual fantasy fare to benefit from the extra detail.
Action is dealt with exceedingly well, even if, as I mentioned in a previous post, it does veer towards the computer gamey at times- specifically I’m referring to the lashings and changes of orientation they confer on Stormlight users. The chapters with fights in speed by as fast as anything I’ve read in recent years, it’s just the rest of it that tends to plod.
For example, I’m currently reading Against All Things Ending by Stephen Donaldson. I’m 106 pages in and none of the characters have made it outside of the hollow that the previous book ended in. Apart from the odd pause to look up a particularly obtuse word Mr D. has used (he’s kept me on my toes for over 20 years you know), it hasn’t seemed like it’s taken any time at all. In comparison, some of the chapters of The Way of Kings, particularly on the Shattered Plains with Dalinar, or with Shallan at the Royal Library, seem to take an absolute eternity and whilst building tension (half of which you can only spot in retrospect), they do not flow as well.
Perhaps there is a really dynamic book two thirds of the size trying to get out, I don’t know, but again I’m drawn to another Donaldson comparison. I recently commented on one of the WoT forums when a poster complained that one volume wasn’t enough to finish the story, and that the Last Battle itself would take most of the book. I pointed out that the entire titular Illearth War in the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant took around 10,000 words from sight of the Ravers army to it’s destruction by the Forrestal at Garroting Deep. Donaldson gets a reputation for linguistic bombastic-ness, (is it a word? It is now!) but he can also be brief. I don’t think Sanderson can be brief.
The three main protagonists, Shallan, Dalinar and Kaladin, each have their own revelations during the course of 1,007 pages in hardback, some more earth shattering than others, but overall I have to say that by the end of this doorstop, things have progressed enough to make me satisfied.
With the final Wheel of Time book due early next year and another Mistborn novel in the pipeline, I’ve no idea when the next Stormlight Archive novel is due, aside from the authors tentative hope of a late 2012/early 2013 release but even for a writer as prolific as Sanderson, I can’t help but think we’re in for a wait. Just not a GRRM style wait