I will preface this review by saying this kind of writing used to be my jam. I inhaled massive high fantasy series in high school and college, exclusively reading Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Mark Lawrence, Patrick Rothfuss, and GRR Martin. But then I joined CBR and started reading more widely. I fell out of love with the war-heavy, white male centric doorstops and found a new home in magical realism and the glory of a one-book wonder. Aside from rereading Tolkien, I’ve had a hard time returning to worlds that make up their own biospheres and religions to retell the hero’s journey. But Brandon Sanderson’s gotten rave reviews here, and he’s one of the only pillars of high fantasy I hadn’t read.
After years of one-shot novels and enjoying intense, but quick trilogies (looking at you, Holly Black and Maggie Stiefvater), I wondered how I would feel about my old stomping grounds. My book exchange partner generously bought me The Way of Kings this past holiday, and as intimidated as I was at the brick of text, I gave it a shot.
The Way of Kings follows several titular characters as they struggle to figure out when exactly the end of their world is arriving and why. Kaladin is a solider seeking freedom from his political caste system while trying to keep his men alive, Dalinar is a high prince suffering from strange visions who’s trying to keep his brother’s kingdom from falling to ruin, and Shallan is a young woman searching for the answers to save her family’s dynasty while also coming to grips with her own future’s possibilities. Intertwined throughout their stories is a mysterious assassin in white, killing kings and dignitaries and stirring chaos. Set against the backdrop of a world at war, all the characters find themselves swept up in the strange and inexplicable magic of their world as they try to survive.
Full disclosure, I almost dnfed this 3 times. Not because it wasn’t well written, the writing is excellent, and as I got into it, Sanderson’s ability to suspend about 20 different plots all at the same time is just short of masterful. The cast of characters is enormous, but so personal and intimate, and he reveals his magic and plot turns expertly and creatively. But immersing myself was hard, at least for the first hundred pages. It made sense towards the end why he chose to do what he did, but trying to understand everything from the magic to the biosphere to the religions to the characters themselves was much more difficult than I ever remember in my past. And maybe that’s because I’m older now and my imagination isn’t as elastic as it used to be. Or perhaps it’s because I was mentally editing and kept asking “why do we need this chapter? What are these five pages of description supposed to be doing? Are you writing this for the story, or because you find this personally interesting?” Most of it made sense towards the end, and I nodded to myself about my questions being answered, but there were many places where I found myself skimming to get to the important parts and heavily questioning how it was adding to the story. It could have been about 300 pages shorter with some attentive edits and the effect would have virtually been the same.
However, by the middle of the book, I was totally hooked and couldn’t put it down and spent two days sitting on the couch speed reading to figure out what was going to happen to my favorite characters, and I got to re-experience that magical feeling of being so entranced that I became obsessed. So in the end, it was a great book and even though I promised myself I wouldn’t be getting into anymore thousand paged series, I have already ordered book 2 from the library.