Sanderson entered the fantasy scene in 2005 with his novel Elantris and went on to write one of modern fantasy’s best series, the Mistborn trilogy, as well as completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, after the author’s untimely death. The Way of Kings is the first book in a proposed ten-book series, The Stormlight Archive and sets the foundation for a truly epic fantasy series in the Jordan tradition.
The story of the Stormlight Archives takes place in the world of Roshar. King Gavilar ruler of Alethkar, one of Roshar’s largest kingdoms, is assassinated on the eve of a treaty between the Alethi and the Parshendi. This act erupts into a raging conflict between the Alethi and the Parshendi, which becomes known as the War of Reckoning. Elhokar, the son of the assassinated king, pursues the Parshendi to the Shattered Plains, where brutal weather has left the rocky landscape desolate and barren. However, in order to attack the Parshendi’s camp, the Alethi army will need to brave the savage highstorms.
As with most epic fantasy stories, The Way of Kings audiobook has many inter-woven stories, which are told through the viewpoints of several characters. Let’s examine the major players in the story.
Dalinar Kholin: an Alethkar highprince and Shardbearer that commands an army at the Shattered Plains. Dalinar was once a great warrior that helped his brother King Gavilar conquer the ten princedoms and reunite Alethkar. Dalinar’s disposition soon changed after the king’s assassination. He blames himself for his brother’s death because he was too drunk to go to his aid. Dalinar adopts the Alethi Codes of War, which his brother was keen for him to follow. The first code, Readiness states that “an officer will be prepared at all times for battle. Never drunken on wine, never without his weapon.”
Dalinar is a close confidant of the current king, Elhokar and adopts a siege strategy in an attempt to overcome the Parshendi. However, during the fight against the Parshendi, Dalinar loses the “thrill’ of battle and begins to question the fighting. Dalinar is also plagued by visions of the Knights Radiant and the Day of Recreance, the day when the Knights Radiant turned their backs on mankind. These visions guide Dalinar’s decisions causing those around him to doubt his sanity.
Kaladin: a former apprentice surgeon, Kaladin threw away a promising future in order to enlist in Amaram’s army and protect his brother Tien. Tien is killed and Kaladin is betrayed by Amaram, who steals Kaladin’s Shardblade and Shardplate and sentences him into slavery.
Now a prisoner of the army of the Highprince Sadeas fighting on the Shattered Plains, Kaladin serves as part of a bridge crew, whose job is to place portable bridges, allowing the Alethi army to cross the vast crevices on the plains. This is a perilous task, as bridgemen are basically arrow-fodder for the enemy and chances of survival are slim. Despite his impossible situation, Kaladin’s natural leadership surfaces and he rallies the other bridgemen together. In an attempt to protect them, Kaladin teaches the bridgemen to carry the bridge as a shield against the hail of arrows. However this tactic costs Sadeas the battle and Kaladin is left outside during a highstorm as punishment.
Kaladin’s section of the story is the most compelling. Brandon Sanderson gives us his early years in flashback, allowing us to really get under the skin of this character. Kaladin is an archetypical hero who has been dealt a very bad hand in life, yet this doesn’t brake his determination. Kaladin’s defiance of his enslavement will have you rooting for him all the way.
Shallan Davar: a young artist whose family has fallen on hard times, Shallan journeys to Kharbranth to become the ward and student of the scholar Jasnah. However Shallan’s motives for studying under Jasnah are more duplitious than they first seem. Shallan really seeks to steal Jasnah’s Soulcaster, a fabrial which harnesses the power of Stormlight. Shallan successfully steals the artifact, but is unable to use it because of the Soulcaster’s inability to transmute. Shallan soon discovers that not only can she Soulcast without the need of a fabrial, but that Jasnah can do so as well.
Szeth-son-son-Vallano: Szeth is the mysterious Shin assassin in white, who hates to kill and weeps when he does. Szeth is condemned to obey whoever holds his Oathstone, a dark rock that signifies ownership in the Shin culture. Szeth’s Oathstone passes from person to person, making him obliged to kill for each of his masters, though he cannot take his own life. He is responsible for the assassination of King Gavilar at the behest of the Parshendi at the start of the story. He is the owner of a Shardblade and seems to possess knowledge of the lost Radiant art of Surgebinding.
The Magic of Stormlight
Sanderson excels at creating magic systems and this book is no exception. In The Way of Kings we get magical weapons and armour known as Shardblades and Shardplates. A Shardblade is an ancient sword that was first used by the Knights Radiant and can easily cut through steel, stone and flesh and a Shardplate is a magical set of armor that not only protects its wearer, but also enhances their strength.
The highstorms that ravage the entire continent of Roshar, also provide Stormlight, an energy source which can be contained inside of gemstones or by individuals know as Surgebinders. Stormlight allows Surgebinders to perform Lashings, giving them the ability to control gravity and bind objects together. Stormlight contained in spheres is also Roshar’s main form of currency.
The Way of Kings is Sanderson’s best work to date. With Roshar, he creates a complex and well thought out world steeped in a mysterious past, with a fascinating magic system and characters you genuinely care about. Sanderson’s pure narrative skill during the beautifully crafted battle scenes, especially those featuring Kaladin and the bridge crew, will simply have you enthralled.
The audiobook’s narration by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading is also excellent and manages to bring every line to life. At over 45 hours, The Way of Kings audiobook is a lengthy listen, but don’t let that put you off, it’s well worth the time investment and by the end we promise you’ll be wanting more.
The second book, Words of Radiance is due to be published in 2014, so this is the perfect time to jump on board what is certain to be a landmark fantasy series. Highly recommended.