Stormlight Archives #1. Author: Brandon Sanderson.
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.
The Way of Kings is dreadfully aggravating in oh, so many ways. First, there’s all the questions, right from the beginning. We have backstory, but never enough to satisfy our curiosity; history, but never from a trustworthy source; even the most well-informed characters really don’t know just what happened in the past to bring about the present state. Second, there’s the epic scope. The story goes back and forth between two far-separate places and three distinct points of view, throwing in a few extra view points here and there just to whet the curiosity. The separated storylines keep interrupting each other at the most interesting parts, drawing out the suspense. And I’m not even going to go into the sheer frustration of the cliff-hanger ending.
In all honesty, the hardest part of reading Way of Kings is living your life around it – because I guarantee you’re going to need to eat, and probably sleep, before you finish, and how on earth is one supposed to do that? The second hardest part is keeping everything straight, because there’s a lot. Sanderson keeps the info-dumping to a minimum, but there’s just so much detail to the world and importance to the histories and intrigue in the separate story lines that you almost need to be taking notes.
The two main storylines focus on Shallan, a scholarly young woman with a plenitude of secrets, and the Shattered Plains; on this second location the story splits further, between Kaladin: a surgeon, soldier, and now a slave, and the nobles above him: the king, his father, his closest advisors.
Shallan, with her sassy attitude, genuine love of learning, and shadowed past, provides our best source of information on the customs, magic, and past of the setting. She’s trying to convince a renowned scholar to take her on as an apprentice, at first a ploy to bring her close enough for a planned theft… but soon, as she gets to know the scholar and realizes the true opportunities and learning she could gain, she begins to wonder if she can go through with it.
Kaladin, a slave on the Shattered Plains, is perhaps the most complicated character here. He kicks his fellow-slaves out of apathy, drawing them together under his leadership and giving everything he has to keep them safe; but his internal fight is even harder, as he struggles against depression, failure, and a growing cynicism. It seems like everything he tries to save ends up dying, and he’s not sure trying to save anyone is worth it anymore. He’s one of my favorite characters ever. There’s a ton of character growth going on, and despite a scarring past and brutal treatment he constantly fights for life and hope, both for himself and those around him.
Then there’s Brightlord Dalinar, King Elkohar, and all the nobles around them. Elkohar is young and paranoid, Dalinar’s not sure if he’s going mad or receiving revelation from God, and the armies are splintering around them. They’ve been fighting the parshmen for so long their men are forgetting why they’re out here, slipping into laxness and internal strife.
By the end of the book Sanderson’s beginning to shade in the connections between storylines, but they’re not all the way there yet. There’s been massive revelations, yet the past and the future remain just as hidden – it’s really not an end. Just a stopping-point between this book and the next.
Sexual content: Teasing about a man’s “tangled courtships”. Some kissing. Women wear clothes with “plunging necklines and open sides”. Character sees an incident in the street, where a man drags a woman out and threatens to hurt her. When he is stopped by another man, the woman explains that she’s a prostitute and he had refused to pay her, then grown angry at her comments.
Language: 30 d***, 15 derogatory names.
Violence: Extremely high – too high for specific instances to be tallied. Multiple characters are fighting in an on-going war and there are constant battles through the book. These are fought mostly with swords, although archers take a fairly heavy toll in character-death as well. Multiple beasts are killed. There is also a rarer POV character who is an assassin, and who kills quite a number of characters in a fairly bloody manner throughout the story.