The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson
So I’m still on my Cosmere bender, having started with The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) in October. Eight books – now nine, after finishing this one – later and… I’m still blown away. Sanderson’s skill, his worldbuilding, his character development…! There’s not enough praise I can heap on these books.
Six years after the murder of King Gavilar, the Alethi kingdom is still at war with the mysterious Parshendi. With each highprince fighting on the Shattered Plains for his own glory and to earn Shardblades and Shardplate, the original purpose of the war – revenge for Gavilar – has slowly faded from their minds. For Brightlord Dalinar Kholin, however, the war isn’t his only challenge – strange storm-induced visions order him to reunite the highprinces and kingdom.
Slave Kaladin Stormblessed has just been sold to a new master, Brightlord Sadeas, who also fights on the Shattered Plains. Ordered to run as a bridgeman, the lowest of soldiers who are responsible for carrying chasm-spanning bridges into battle, the darkeyed Kaladin is lost. His faith in lighteyes has been shattered, he’s lost everyone he’s ever cared for, and he’s not expected to survive in his new role. But when mysterious things begin happening to Kaladin, he comes to learn that his part in the world is greater than he ever imagined.
Far across the sea in Jah Keved, Shallan Davar seeks out the scholar and heretic, Jasnah Kholin. Shallan’s father’s recent death has thrown their family into chaos as debts are being called in and a strange group begins making threats on the Davar family. Jasnah holds the key to the survival of Shallan’s family, but will Shallan be strong enough to do what she came to do?
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Once again, the first book of the Stormlight Archive opens on a new world with new characters and a new system of magic. Roshar, a world of rock and stone, is probably the harshest of the cosmere worlds I’ve read (although Mistborn’s Lord Ruler era was pretty bad). The plants are rocklike, the animals are rocklike, and harsh highstorms can destroy anything in their path. Even rainwater has a sediment-like material (called crem) in it. As harsh as the world is, however, the peoples of Roshar have learned to survive.
The magic on Roshar is different as well. It’s not fueled by metals like in the Mistborn books. It’s not powered by breaths and color as it is in Warbreaker. It’s not even fueled by drawing Aons, such as in Elantris. No, magic in the Stormlight Archive is powered by… ta-da, Stormlight. A glowing power that is contained within gemstones which people trade as currency or use to light a darkened space. At this particular point in time in The Way of Kings, individuals who can harness Stormlight and use it are basically myth. Those who once held that power, the Knights Radiant, fell ages ago after abandoning mankind.
I think what I’m enjoying most about the magic of Stormlight Archive is that the magic truly has its limits. Very few people can use it. This means that not everyone is the same magical threat to each other; however, it makes those who can use it very dangerous to everyone else. And it truly is limited – you had to have Stormlight-infused spheres with you in order to Breathe in the Stormlight. Once those spheres are dun and the Stormlight has been spent, the user is out of power. Finally, since the ability to use these powers has, for the most part, been lost, no one is a true powerhouse using the abilities granted by Stormlight. Well, except for Szeth, but his full backstory hasn’t been told. Yet.
The Way of Kings is told through several POV’s. For the most part we hear from Shallan, Dalinar, and Kaladin. There are a few chapters from Szeth’s perspective, and those serve to explain the chaos he’s being ordered to sow throughout the lands. There are a few other perspectives we hear from, mostly between the parts in which the story is told. I enjoyed reading Kaladin’s sections the most. He had the greatest character development, in my opinion, but that’s also because we’re introduced to him when he’s practically at rock bottom – mentally, emotionally, and physically. The reasons behind his beaten-down state are completely valid, and he doesn’t just overcome his struggles in one event. Undoing as much harm as was done to him takes quite a bit of time. Dalinar’s POV was my second favorite. Brother to the murdered king and also known as The Blackthorn, Dalinar faces an entirely different kind of struggle. He’s the first to realize that the “war” is just being taken for a game among the other highprinces – even the current king, Elhokar, has been sucked into this game. With each vision that Dalinar sees in the highstorms, he becomes increasingly convinced that he must do something drastic to change the tides of war and unite the kingdom. But against and in preparation of what… he has yet to know. And finally, Shallan. The secluded daughter from the Davar family, Shallan has struck out on her own with the intent to steal Jasnah’s Soulcaster, a powerful object which can transform one substance into another. The Soulcaster is the only item that can help save her family, but Shallan’s worldly inexperience proves to be her first obstacle because in order to get close to Jasnah, Shallan must become her ward and assist with research. I can understand how Shallan’s lack of experience lends to her indecisiveness and frequent confusion (and it was gratifying to watch her grow as a scholar), but I just felt like there wasn’t enough to her as a character. Obviously, this is only book one in the series, so I’m hoping that Shallan develops further as the plot progresses.
There was something captivating and relatable about this new story in the cosmere, despite it being fantasy. Several times around reading, I found myself almost using “spren” in a sentence – and I did say “flamespren” aloud at one point to people who hadn’t read these books, and boy, did they look confused. Sanderson’s command of words is magnificent; despite introducing so many new terms and people and ideas, the words flow so smoothly that after a while, you hardly realize that you’re immersed in a new world while creationspren crowd about you.
Yes, I’m still dying to really learn about Hoid and what his purpose is in the cosmere, and I’ve been told that it will come in the next books. Well, it better come soon because his storytelling and world jumping is absolutely baffling to me.
There’s so much more I could get into, and I haven’t even started on my theories for what I hope will happen in the next books. But that would keep me from starting on the next book. “Journey before destination;” well, I’m greatly enjoying the journey that Brandon Sanderson’s books have taken me on, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
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Speak again the ancient oaths:
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.
and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.