**THIS IS A SPOILER FREE SYNOPSIS/REVIEW GIVEN AS MY OPINION ONLY**
I’d like to start off my synopsis and review of this book by stating that I am not an avid reader. It takes a lot to really hook me into a story, at least in book form. My wife loves to read and is always encouraging me to participate in the activity, so after receiving a recommendation from a friend to read Way of Kings, I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m very glad that I did. This is a large book and in order to discuss it properly, I’ll be diving into a few of the different concepts that I find to be important. I will, however, refrain from any spoilers.
First off, this book is considered to be an “Epic Fantasy”; part of the Stormlight Archives series which, I believe, Sanderson has stated he intends to be 10 books in length. Currently there are two books published and available: Book 1 – The Way of Kings, and Book 2 – Words of Radiance, with the third installment, titled Oathbringer due out this November. I would further classify this series as a “Medieval Fantasy”, as there are castles, knights, magic, beasts, so on and so forth. I’ve read both books but will focus on just the Way of Kings here.
The story all takes place in the fictional world of Roshar; a supercontinent with dozens of nations and kingdoms scattered throughout. One ever-present theme in this world is the power of nature. Many parts of Roshar are frequently battered with severe storms. The more powerful storms are called High Storms and are so brutal that men can be killed by staying out in them. Even cities, without the proper defenses, may be damaged or destroyed. Many of the environments discussed in the book have been transformed because of these High Storms. The High Storms also infuse objects with “Storm Light” (hence the name of the series), which powers many of the devices and magic throughout the tale. Sanderson did a great job at making his world unique and immersive, as the imagery, at times, transported me to a truly alien world, filled with strange life and environments. Right from the start there are interesting creatures, plants, insects, and people that populate this world. There are also thirteen different races of people in Roshar, many of which have different appearances, languages or dialects, cultures, and religions. While all of that may seem incredibly daunting, it isn’t. These things are introduced at a good pace, as to not overwhelm the reader with these new concepts and ideas. If I can make it through this book, anyone can…and I feel that you’ll want to finish this book upon diving into it!
I must describe the major religion in Way of Kings because it plays a very important part in the setup and overall story. The main religion in several of the major kingdoms is Vorinism, which teaches people that they are to choose or discover their “calling”, usually their greatest talent, and perfect it so that after their lives have ended they can perform that talent to assist in a grand battle to reclaim heaven. According to the Vorin religion, certain people are chosen to lead others. These leaders are those born with light colored eyes. Anyone with dark colored eyes is considered inferior or subordinate to the “lighteyes”.
Another tenant of Vorinism states that long ago there was a military organization known as the Knights Radiant. The order was extremely powerful and possessed incredible abilities. This group was founded by ten deities and together they protected mankind however, as time passed the order crumbled and was lost. In the present time, people often speak of this order and there are many tales and rumors associated with it. Most people speak of the Radiants as traitors, heroes that turned their backs on mankind, though there are a few who feel otherwise.
Now that I’ve touched very briefly upon Vorinism, as well as the Knights Radiant, I’ll return to the setting of the story.
The main locations in the book include: The City of Karbranth, The Kingdom of Alethkar, The Kingdom of Jah Keved, and the Shattered Plains, though the bulk of the story occurs in just two of these locations: Karbranth and the Shattered plains. The story does make mention of several other regions and provides some interludes that allow us a glimpse into other parts of the world through the eyes of some different characters.
The core story in Way of Kings is told in alternating chapters, each from one of the main character’s points of view, they are: Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalanar (some other character’s points of view are captured in certain places in the book but to avoid spoilers, I’ll stick with the main characters).
Kaladin is a young man plagued by the things he’s witnessed, and weighed down with guilt. He’s been labeled as a disgraced soldier and branded as a slave. He is being carted off to the Shattered plains, an unforgiving landscape of plateaus surrounded by deep fissures, where a war is ongoing between the Alethi and the ill-understood Parshendi people. He is assigned the duty of being a Bridgeman, whose job it is to race ahead of the advancing Alethi armies and place mobile bridges over the fissures to allow them to cross. The other, less-spoken of, purpose of Bridgemen is to draw the enemy’s attention, and arrows, away from the more valued light-eyed soldiers on the field.
Shallan is an aspiring scholar and artist from a privileged, though lower ranked, house in the smaller Kingdom of Jah Keved. She is very intelligent and quick-witted. She undertakes a journey to seek out the prominent scholar, and Alethi Princess, Jasnah Kholin, to become her ward…though she also has some ulterior motives.
Dalanar is an Alethi Brightlord and brother of the king. He is also known by the name “Blackthorn” for his military might and prowess however, he is now entering his senior years and his thirst for battle is waning. On top of that, he is beginning to have strange hallucinations. Others in the kingdom believe he is going mad and question his authority. His sons remain faithful to him but secretly question his sanity as well. As a war rages, Dalanar struggles to make sense of his visions – is his mind truly breaking, or is there another meaning behind what’s happening to him?
The character growth and development is truly fantastic in this book! Every single one of the characters is interesting, deep, and dynamic. As the reader, it’s easy to understand how the events in this story shaped, or are shaping, these characters. There are many different reasons as to why they act the way they do and Sanderson does a great job at explaining it all clearly. I admit that upon re-reading Way of Kings for my second time, there are parts of this tale that seem to plod along however, everything is necessary to further build and develop the world and its characters. I never once found myself thinking “why is this in the book”.
While each character has their own goals and motives, the overarching plot of the book is about unraveling the mysteries of past and present world events in order to understand what is coming. History makes mention of so called desolations that occurred and wreaked havoc upon the world and mankind. There is also prophecy of an Everstorm (similar to a High Storm) that is coming. As the characters study and learn more about the world, and themselves, more details about these threats are revealed.
The Way of Kings is a rather long book, at 1007 pages. If you’re more a fan of quick, fast paced, action-packed stories, then this book may be a bit of an adjustment for you. There are wonderful action scenes but these are frequently broken up by plot and character development, as well as world-building…which is understandable, as this is the first book in a 10 part series.
One reoccurring theme that I personally felt the book was portraying over and over, was that of honor. It seems an almost cliché theme anytime knights are mentioned in any tale but this book takes it to a whole new level. There are certain characters in this book that want to be honorable, not for any glory or title of themselves, but for the betterment of society, or the world itself. Some of the characters in this book live by certain codes (or proclaim to). It’s interesting to see which characters truly follow the codes, while witnessing others completely disregard them or mock such ideals. Upon finishing this book, I felt inspired by this theme and thought about ways that I could be more honorable. It probably sounds silly…but the fact that an author could get me to do that is, I feel, quite impressive. I honestly found myself asking the question – “How can I be more like [such and such character] from Way of Kings?” I was moved at how some of the characters had such an innate desire to be just and honorable people, it truly is a beautiful theme and message.
The deep and meaningful themes, the unique and strange world, the dynamic and relatable characters, the surprising twists, these things are what hooked me into continuing my reading. Upon finishing Way of Kings, I was excited to start Words of Radiance. Upon finishing both books, I went on to try two or three other books but none have captured my attention the way the StormLight Archives did.
As a personal side note to anyone who may find such information helpful (because I look for this kind of information about books and can never find it anywhere) – this book is extremely decent. I would have absolutely no problem reading this alongside any member of my family and I actually recommended this book to my dad to read. You won’t find any inappropriate love scenes and I believe there’s only a couple instances of foul language but I can’t remember if it’s in the first book or the second book but even then, the words used are among the more tame swear words. I personally feel that it is a great skill possessed by Mr. Sanderson, to be able to tell such a lengthy tale and portray such great emotion without the use of inappropriate scenes or language…bravo!
I would highly recommend this book to anyone; but if you’re a fan of fantasy or medieval tales, you really owe it to yourself to read this series! It really captured my imagination but also had a lasting impact on me in real life…which is crazy.
Out of a spear, a sword, a Shardblade, and an honor blade…I would rank this book an Honor Blade! And if you have no idea what some of those things are….go read the book! :-p
– Colton Walker
Sanderson, Brandon. Front Cover Photograph of Way of Kings. Wikipedia, Stormlight Archives 15 June 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stormlight_Archive