The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Writing: 4 Characters: 4 Plot: 5
Worldbuilding: 5+

An astonishingly spectacular book! So many superlatives! This is not my typical reading material – my son has been trying to get me to read this for two years (literally) but I’ve been dragging my feet (it is REALLY long). Still, once started I was completely sucked in and could not put it down (luckily I’m retired and have plenty of time).

You could say Sanderson’s books are like Game of Thrones without all of the sex – but I found more interesting differences. While there is plenty of action and political intrigue, there were strong themes of leadership, righteousness, nobility, morality, and living by a code of ethics in the face of multitudes who are not. Sanderson has invented an entire world in meticulous detail from descriptions of the geography to the minutia of daily life in the multiple cultures that populate it. Entire histories and the mythologies that predate the written history are embedded in the current issues facing the characters. These highly complex sets of cultures, practices, and codes are delineated through individual stories so you absorb the culture by becoming part of it.

We follow three major characters tackling their own problems, all of which are part of the larger context of a world on the edge of disaster. Kaladin – with exceptional skills for soldiering and healing but somehow marked with a slave brand and trying to survive as one of the lowest classes of men – those who carry bridges for soldiers to use to cross large chasms in battle. He is driven by a desperate need to protect, but continually faces odds that don’t allow him to do so. Shallan is a young girl sent to steal a Soulcaster from the King’s sister, Jasnah, in order to save her family’s fortunes. However, she falls in love with scholarship and the burning questions on which Jasnah is focussed (in this world, men are warriors and women read and write and are the primary scholars!) Lastly, Dalinar is a high prince and the epitome of the noble warrior. He is beset by disturbing visions that make others assume he is losing his mind. He is proud, honest, and strives to live by a strict code of conduct that values life. These characters learn and grow throughout the story, something I find rare in typical adventure tales. The three stories weave together to explore what is happening in the world and how it relates to the mythologies of the past and the forebodings of the future.

I felt bound to the characters in this book and cared about them. The novel’s end provided closure (no cliffhangers) and yet set up the next in the series beautifully (there are five planned, three available now). Fascinating and skillfully described lessons on morality, ethics, and leadership via character’s reflections on their own struggles with these concepts. Some of the scenes literally made me cry because of the power of the nobility they expressed. I will say that there were too many battle scenes for my taste and I did have to skim some of them – carefully because within the battle scenes there was a great deal of character exploration and strengthening. But other than that, a top read for me. I need to catch up on some other reading first, but then will leap into book two…

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