Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called 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 makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
“Life before Death.
Strength before Weakness.
Journey before Destination.”
I finished this book a few days ago, but have been struggling to write a review. As I’m sure some of you know from my Twitter account this was a reread for me. The first time I read The Way of Kings I enjoyed the overall plot and story, but felt overwhelmed and the middle section felt a lot like work. This second time around I really enjoyed it! The problems I had the first time around weren’t so prevalent because I already knew much of the world and could just relax and enjoy the ride. However, because of my mixed up thoughts on this one I decided to do something I’ve never done before and do my review as a list of 4 pros and 1 con. I hope you enjoy.
Pro – The Characters
In my opinion, one of Brandon Sanderson’s biggest strengths is writing compelling characters. The amount of named characters in this story is vast, but the main 3 POVs will be the ones that I will focus on; Kaladin Stormblessed, Shallon Davar, and Dalinar Kholin.
Kaladin is a fantastic character. We get a lot more character development from him than anyone else in this book because we are able to see his back story through interlude chapters. The struggles Kaladin goes through including emotional turmoil, physical suffering, and betrayal after betrayal were what made Kaladin so interesting to follow. Sanderson does a good job of showing a realistic view of someone who is broken. From what I’ve heard from others who have experience with it, Sanderson does a really good job of going through the mindset of someone with depression. Even though I’ve never gone through that I could feel Kaladin’s emotions. Could somewhat understand his thinking and the rational behind it. All it did was make me root for him all the more. Kaladin also has a really great heart to protect those he cares about and is incredible with a spear. He is a truly complex and deep character. I really like Kaladin and his POV chapters were almost always ones I looked forward to, especially the present day ones.
“Once, Kaladin would have been quick to go help, but something within him had changed. So many people he’d tried to help were now dead. It seemed to him—irrationally—that the man would be better off without his interference.”
Shallan Davar is a compelling and interesting character in her own right. I have to be honest, I was often reluctant to start Shallan’s POV chapters. This wasn’t because she isn’t a good character in her own right. As I said earlier, she very much is. However, I just felt like her story line in this one was not as interesting as Kaladin’s or Dalinar’s story. More on that later.
I like Shallan. She is often witty, but awkward. Often shy, but blunt. Confident, yet somehow insecure. I know Shallan is the character that gets her backstory in interlude chapters in the next book so I am excited to be re-introduced to that and to see more clearly why she is the way she is in the present day.
Dalinar is a High Prince of the kingdom of Alethkar. Another POV character that is sometimes haunted by his past, Dalinar is having visions and is not sure if he is going mad or if there is something more to it. As the story progresses we are able to see Dalinar for the truly good person that he is. Sanderson shows the struggle of going against the grain as Dalinar becomes more and more convinced that the way that Alethkar does things is wrong and that there is a better way of living. Dalinar is also an incredible warrior. He is the best of his country and possibly the world and is called the Blackthorn by both friend and foe. It was really easy to root for Dalinar. I know his backstory is throughout the interlude chapters in Oathbringer and I am really excited to dig into them when I get there!
“If I should die, then I would do so having lived my life right. It is not the destination that matters, but how one arrives there.”
Sanderson does a really good job of making you care about his characters as the story progresses. Towards the end when everything is going crazy I was continually turning the page to see what happened next and to make sure each of my already beloved characters were okay. I also wanted to give a quick shoutout to the many non main POV and side characters as well. Adolin Kholin, Syl, Jasnah Kholin, Szeth Son Son Vallano, and the members of Bridge Four were especially brilliant. Sanderson managed to make each named character unique or interesting in some way and that is a feat in and of itself.
Con – Pacing
Sanderson is known for what fans of the Cosmere call the “Sanderlanche,” the climactic action that occurs at the end of each Sanderson book. Typically the road to getting to the Sanderlanche is not talked about as much because the “Sanderlanche” payoff at the end is so epic and amazing that the rest is forgotten. As I said above, the first time I read The Way of Kings I had quite a struggle with the pacing, especially in the middle 600 -700 pages. I didn’t notice it nearly as much the second time around and I know this will not be a con for some people, but there is quite a bit of time during the middle of the story where the plot continues to progress, but at a very, very slow pace.
I will say that I was into both Kaladin and Dalinar’s POVs enough throughout the entirety of the story that their chapters during this time never felt like a problem for me. However, there was some reluctance on my part reading Shallan’s chapters. Now don’t get me wrong, there were some important things that were shown and hinted at throughout Shallan’s POV. However, it also sometimes felt like it was the same scenes of Shallan studying, worrying, drawing, talking to her mentor, sometimes talking to Kabsal, and then it just starting all over again in her next chapter. There wasn’t much progression in Shallan’s story until the aforementioned Sanderlanche started happening with around 150-200 pages left. This lack of progression not only slowed the pace down quite a bit inherently, but also honestly made for some boring chapters at times.
“Brightness…I believe you stray into sarcasm.”
“Funny. I thought I’d run straight into it, screaming at the top of my lungs.”
Pro – The Worldbuilding
The Way of Kings is the very definition of epic. The world of Roshar is so vast and detailed. This is one of the things that I changed my opinion on during my reread. I still think there are a few interludes that were not really necessary for the story, but overall the magnitude of this world and its story needed most of what Sanderson writes here. I don’t really have complaints in this department this time around except that it would have been nice if there was just a bit more showing and less telling. Overall though, wonderful worldbuilding.
Pro – The Magic System
I love how everything that happens in this world is tied into the prevailing high storms that occur frequently. The way people go about their daily lives, religion, what is used for money, and especially the magic system. I’m not going to go into it much because it would spoil some things, but suffice it to say that the magic users can somehow harness the energy of the highstorms to gain different powers depending on what class of magic user you are. The magic system lends itself in an amazing way to battles of course, but there are also many practical ways the magic can be used. I always enjoy a magic system that takes into account that the powers can be used for so much more than just war.
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”
Pro – Plot
Although the pacing of the plot was a problem for me at times, the overall story is fascinating. The plot is full of intrigue, mystery, and a decent amount of action. Oh boy does Sanderson know how to write action. You can feel the incredibly high stakes of the conflict that is surely coming, especially in Dalinar’s POV. It is a plot that is complimentary to the world in its epic proportions with foreboding of possibly devastating events occuring in future books.
Overall, The Way of Kings is a really good first entry. If you don’t mind slow build ups and you like beautifully intricate worlds, fun magic systems, and likable characters, I would definitely recommend this to you. However, if you prefer a more fast paced plot and small to moderate worldbuilding this may not be the series for you. One caveat to that last bit. I am typically part of the latter group that likes worldbuilding to be just enough to understand the story and characters. However, I must say that going through this reread has made me appreciate what a skilled author can do with a wider, more complex world. Not only that, but Sanderson’s pretty direct writing style makes it easy to digest in my opinion. Ultimately, I definitely recommend this if you have even the slightest desire to try it out.