Sunday, 15 January 2017
#CBR Book 1: "The Way of Kings" by Brandon Sanderson
Rating: 4 stars
We primarily follow the story of three people in this book, with occasional points of view from others to further shed light on goings on. The first (and in my opinion, most interesting) of our protagonists is Kaladin Stormblessed, a surgeon's son, turned army spearman turned slave. After numerous escape attempts, he ends up at the long-running war on the Shattered Plains, a desolate landscape made up of numerous rocky plateaus, requiring the fighting armies to have bridges to get across the chasms. Kaladin becomes part of the bridge crew of bridge four, and discovers that being a bridgeman is a near-certain death sentence, and bridge four is probably the place you'll get killed the fastest. But whether he is in fact Stormblessed, or perhaps cursed, Kaladin's experience is that those around him, the ones he gets attached to and tries to protect, die around him, while Kaladin is left, pondering his failures.
Our second protagonist is Shallan Davar, is a young noblewoman from a small estate whose lived a sheltered life and now needs to persuade the king's sister, notorious heretic Jasnah Kholin, to take her on as a ward. Shallan claims she wants to learn from Jasnah and become a scholar of renown like the older woman, but she's secretly planning an audacious theft, to save the fortunes and reputation of her entire family.
The third protagonist (and by far my least favourite, until 95% into the book when things turned considerably) is the king's uncle, Dalinar Kholin, one of the most famed warriors of his generation. He's been fighting the war on the Shattered Plains for six long years, trying to avenge the death of his brother, the former king, who was spectacularly assassinated after signing a peace treaty with the strange and savage Pashendi people. As the Pashendi claimed responsibility, the twelve brightlords of Alethkar have been fighting a war made up of countless minor battles against these people they barely understand, with twelve separate forces and strategies. With each new highstorm, Dalinar has visions, where he hears voices admonishing him and sees scenes from Roshar's past. He believes that their tactics are wrong, and that a change needs to be implemented. His nephew is young and relatively inexperienced and convinced that assassins lurk around every corner trying to kill him. But what if the visions are just delusions, and Dalinar is actually going insane?
About six years after I first put it on my TBR list and around five years after I bought the book (having first heard Mr. Sanderson talk about it at a signing at my local fantasy/comic book store way back in 2010), I decided to start off my reading year by reading The Way of Kings. A veritable brick of a book, it has taken me more than two weeks and I'm not going to lie, there were times when I questioned my choice. Sanderson's fantasy epic the Stormlight Archive is apparently going to be ten whole books long. Each of the books are also about three times the length of a normal novel, so there's going to be a lot of pages devoted to this story, and the page count here is not necessarily an advantage.
I really did like a lot of things about this book. I'm giving it four stars. I did, however, remember why I read maybe one or two epic fantasy books every few years now, rather than all the time, like I used to when I was a teenager. The massive page count is one of the things I did not like. It takes something like 500 pages for things to even start getting beyond the setting up stages. The book has three prologues, although my book twin on the internet, Narfna, has pointed out that at least one of them is clearly the prologue to the series as a whole and we therefore cannot expect to understand it at the end of the first book. Once upon a time, I used to love these intricately plotted, slow and dense stories, generally thinking the more pages, the better. The longer I got to spend in one world with the characters, the happier I was. Now I get impatient, and would very much like it if there is significant plot development before I've read more than a standard paperback novel's worth of pages.
Kaladin's story was good pretty much all the way through. Sanderson cleverly reveals Shallan's double-crossing motives early on, so the reader is interested in seeing exactly how she's going to outsmart and steal from probably the most powerful woman in the known world. Dalinar's storyline is like treacle, however. He worries about his nephew, he feels guilty that he was drunk when his brother was murdered. He's frustrated about all the petty infighting among the other brightlords. He keeps having confusing visions (I'm sure these are going to be very significant in later books, but right now, no) and generally pissing off everyone by being tiresomely noble, stuffy and judgmental. Every so often in his chapters, they have to fight some sort of giant beastie, or there's a battle against the Pashendi, but mostly, there is just chapters and chapters of boredom.
Sanderson is famed in fantasy circles for his world-building, and this book is no exception. Roshar, as this world is called, is largely barren, a world of stone, where powerful storms sweep the landscape and all cities have to be built in sheltered areas to withstand the forces of the highstorms. Very little grows, and instead of dogs and horses (although these do exist) there are crustacean creatures called chulls or axehounds. The only part of Roshar that seems to be similar to our own world is distant Shinovar, where they have horses and chickens and grow crops the way we would expect. The people of Althkar and other places in Roshar seem to use a type of magic to transmutate stone or metal into food. They can also turn rocky cliffs and caves into habitable dwellings.
As with all illustrious fantasy epics, there's always stuff in the distant past that echoes into the present. In the past, there were an order of famed warriors with possible supernatural powers, known as the Radiants. They either betrayed humanity or grew disillusioned and left them. There was something called the Desolation and the arrival of something called Voidbringers. Dalinar's visions seem to be from this past, and his niece Jasnah is trying to investigate them, but the reader is given very little and have to try to piece together understanding from fragments.
While the book took longer than I would have liked to really get going, once the plot really does kick off, I naturally didn't want to stop reading (this always happens). As the second book, Words of Radiance is supposed to be even longer, it's going to have to wait until I at least finish my first Cannonball, though. I just hope that there is more real action and less slow filler, and that Dalinar doesn't go back to being a boring old stodge.
Judging a book by its cover: Drawn by the legendary cover artist Michael Whelan, who has illustrated so many covers for decades, the cover gives the reader some idea of the rocky and inhospitable landscape of the Shattered Plains, showing one of the powerful brightlords with their legendary shardblades (that paired with special armor can almost make a warrior near-invincible). It's a really good cover, evoking a lot of the feel of the book. I can see why Sanderson was so excited to have Whelan do the cover.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.