“The means by which we achieve victory are as important as the victory itself.”
It’s that time of year. Brandon Sanderson is releasing Rhythm of War next month and it is time to refresh my mind. These are behemoth novels and a reread gives me a reason to write an official review. So here we go, The Way of Kings book one of The Stormlight Archive. Get ready for a lot of quote action.
Sanderson writes fantasy that is rife with death and destruction, but the tones manages to stay hopeful and uplifting. You know that people will die, battles will be fought, but we never feel like doom is inevitable. Whatever the opposite of grimdark is, Sanderson is that. I guess he reminds me of Robert Jordan in that sense. There’s good and bad but the bad doesn’t constantly overwhelm the good. It’s just has this vibe of wholesome reading, which is wild to say because Sanderson doesn’t shy from killing off our favorites. Stormlight is definitely some of the darkest reading you’ll get from Sanderson. Especially as the story progresses, we get more layers of this very emotive storytelling that will wrench your heart in two. I ended this novel with tears streaming down my eyes, even though I’ve read it many times. Sanderson always knows how to pack a punch in the last 20% or so of his books.
“Was there no hope for men? They killed those they should have loved. What good was it to fight, what good was it to win, if there was no difference between ally and enemy? What was victory? Meaningless. What did the deaths of Kaladin’s friends and colleagues mean? Nothing. The entire world was a pustule, sickeningly green and infested with corruption.”
If Rothfuss is the lyrical prose King and Hobb is the emotional storytelling Queen, then Sanderson is the Worldbuilding Wizard. Nobody builds a world like him. The fact that Sanderson can create these awe-inspiring worlds and these intricate magic systems while consistently putting out multiple books a year simply makes him a genius. I die for eloquently written fantasy. Though Sanderson has his eloquent moments, that’s not what I associate him with, he is all about the experience of being in his world. It is immersive and unique. His story arcs for Stormlight are especially gratifying and wondrous. I know whenever I’m in a book slump that Sanderson will cure it. I never struggle with his books.
“Just because I do not accept the teachings of the devotaries does not mean I’ve discarded a belief in right and wrong.” “But the Almighty determines what is right!” “Must someone, some unseen thing, declare what is right for it to be right? I believe that my own morality — which answers only to my heart — is more sure and true than the morality of those who do right only because they fear retribution.”
Sanderson, being a deeply religious person, often has themes of religion in his books. He is always having his characters question religion, defend religion, lose faith, regain it. Being the exact opposite of a deeply religious person, I have never felt like Sanderson is preaching at me through his work. That can really turn me off from a an author. He supplies questions and seems to understand wholeheartedly why others can’t take solace in faith, but he also showcases why many people do. It seems as if he has a deep respect for people of all mindsets. The smartest person in this series has no faith, while some of the most terrible people in here have faith. Some of the best people in here have complete faith while others are more shaky. God(s) play a huge role in this series. Sanderson’s novels are all about humanity coming together to defeat evil plaguing the world. It’s about honorable people standing up to destructive forces, taking in those with apprehension and honing their unique skills for the common good.
“Somebody has to start, son. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow.”
Speaking of characters, Shallan starts off rather irritating. Her “witty” retorts seem forced. Sanderson falls prone to his famous dad jokes in this one, where he (and in turn, Shallan) seems rather self-satisfied with her cleverness. Thankfully as the series goes on, I know this tones down and I end up really liking Shallan. I will say, I loved her defense of herself to Jasnah. It takes a lot to do this as Jasnah is rather intimidating and formidable. Jasnah is one of my favorite characters and she’s intelligent without trying, important without peacocking. Shallan has always fought to prove her worth, as a result of her childhood, and she it comes off as her being a show off. I think that contrast of her with Jasnah shows how young she really is. The irritation I feel with Shallan’s personality dims when I think of her circumstances.
“I will protect those who cannot protect themselves,” he whispered.
Kaladin’s story starts off with such force. It immediately pulls me in and his journey unwraps layer by layer, in heartbreaking but captivating bursts. Sanderson was like, hey how much can I DEVASTATE the readers while keeping them invested in the story when it comes to him. Luckily, Kaladin is so honorable that it is easy to want to continue his story. He’s truly as honorable as they come. Dalinar and Adolin are lovely additions as well. Dalinar is older and wise, his honor stemming from years of experience and regret. I couldn’t help but think of Hamilton’s “Ten Duel Commandments” while he was drawing his Shardblade. Adolin has a sense of honor deeply imbedded as a result of his father’s guidance, though he keeps a streak of confidence (which can veer into cockiness) that offsets his humble moments.
“A man’s emotions are what define him and control is the hallmark of true strength. To lack feeling is to be dead, but to act on every feeling is to be a child.”
Tarvangian is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever come across. There’s so much more to him that originally meets the eye. Same with Wit. These two characters are done splendidly and this is only the beginning. I won’t say more, as it will only spoil the journey.
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. Too often, we forget that.”
Finally, the magic systems and societal norms. Obviously, there’s shardblades, shardplates, the Knight’s Radiants. You’ll learn about those quickly but also in pieces. There’s a lot to unpack with the magic system here. Also, Sanderson feeds us the barest hint of the Old Magic in this installment and the people that have sought it, and it’s truly woven into the story exquisitely. Every paragraph you read in this series hums with the bits and pieces of this magic system, revealing itself at every turn, of the Cosmere, of the rise and fall of civilizations. It’s breathtaking and a lot to wrap your head around. The societal norms are so funny and shed a bit of insight on how ridiculous our ideas of modesty can be. The pinnacle of modesty is whatever has been passed down through generations. Women in this series clothe and hide their “safehand” aka their left hand as a form of social propriety. It is very scandalous if a man sees your safehand. As ridiculous as it sounds… cultural norms are what we make them. Also, systemic bias is heavily employed in this series. The people with Light Eyes get treated better, more satisfactory living, higher wages, and outstanding opportunities. Reversely, Dark Eyes are treated poorly, given low paying labor jobs, put in camps that almost positively ensure their deaths, aren’t privy to the same opportunities as Light Eyes. Sanderson manages to nod his head at all of these social issues that are conducive to real life (if you extend the thoughts to where they are due) while keeping you immersed in the story. It doesn’t feel like Sanderson is pushing and political or moral views on you but he uses his novel to expose oddities in our real life. Why should a person’s eye color determine their worth? Skin color? Heritage?
Well, that’s enough blathering from me. This series is awesome, to the deepest connotation that the word applies to. No doubt it will go down as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. This is Sanderson’s “BIG ONE” and though I believe ten novels are scheduled, you can tell from the first few that we are in deep. The Way of Kings is just dipping a toe into the Cosmere, into The Stormlight Archive. Enjoy! Savour it.
“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.”