Review From User :
I'm running out of superlatives.
Seriously, after praising The Well of Ascension as a reader's dream book, I was worried. What would I say if The Hero of Ages was better Even finding the perfect GIF for that book didn't solve the problem - because soon enough, there'll be The Alloy of Law, and I still haven't read Elantris.
And then this book came along.
Now, I'll admit that I took my sweet time. About six months, off and on, actually. For a lot of that, I wasn't sure what I was getting into. There were flashes of the sort of brilliance and depth I've come to expect from Sanderson, but it was nowhere near as fast-paced and engrossing as Mistborn: The Final Empire, and it took even longer for me to get interested than it did for Warbreaker. Part of that comes from how little time I dedicated to it. On a good day, I might get through a single chapter, and I could easily go a week or more without reading any at all, simply because I had other books at hand. And part of it comes from the fact that this book is, quite simply, ridiculously dense. There's a payoff, yes, but that didn't come for me until past the halfway point, and until it hits you're struggling under the weight of names, places, religions, histories, and even ecology.
After that point, whatever it may be for you, things start to... well, not to make sense, necessarily, but to be confusing in a perfectly acceptable fashion. You know enough about the world and the characters to start going with the flow and trusting that eventually, all will be revealed. Even if 'eventually' isn't in this book.
You see, at a certain point, you realize that Brandon Sanderson has never really demonstrated his writing ability before. He reminds me of a scene from The Princess Bride - the swordfight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black on the cliff. You've seen it, right You remember the moment when Inigo switches hands in the middle of the fight and - even though he's been fencing beautifully up until that point - he seems to get even better
(I wanted a GIF, but couldn't find one.)
That's what Brandon Sanderson has just done. He's been holding out on us all this time and here, finally, in this massive masterpiece, is a glimpse of what he's really capable of. Warbreaker is a great piece of work. The Mistborn trilogy managed to balance serious themes and reconstructing tropes of fantasy. I've no doubt that Elantris is, as well, a fantastic novel. Well, The Way Of Kings is going to redefine epic fantasy, and that is that.
I'm guessing this book is going to be compared to one more than all others: The Eye of the World, the first entry in the Wheel of Time series. Now, I've read the first three WOT books, and I'm not a huge fan. They weren't horrible, and maybe the rest of the series changes things, but I found them dreadfully predictable. Anyone who didn't know that Rand Al'Thor was the Dragon Reborn by a few chapters into the first book wasn't paying attention. And the worldbuilding - don't get me started. Suffice it to say that Jordan ripped some things off and didn't even pretend to hide it.
You cannot imagine how relieved I was to find neither of those problems here. Oh, sure, it was slow for a while, but it was never predictable - well, except for one bit at the end, where there was only a single solution that kept one character alive and allowed personal growth in another, but it was so damned awesome that I really didn't mind. In fact, it was one of my favorite scenes.
And as for worldbuilding... well. This is what will make it or break it for a lot of readers. If you don't like worldbuilding, there's no way around it: don't even try. You've gotta love it to love this book. But if fantasy that is literally built from the ground up appeals to you, buy this book right now. The worldbuilding is the backbone of this novel and oh, what a strong thing it is. Even the ecology is stunning! The basic concept is pretty simple: on a fairly regular basis, the world of Roshar is scoured by incredibly powerful 'highstorms'. Being outside in one is a death sentence. That life even exists in this place is amazing, but it has clearly adapted. Plants retract into the rock or bend over to avoid the full brunt of the gale. Animals have thick, crustacean-like carapaces. It's a savage place in many ways, and yet so clearly filled with beauty and wonder - one has only to look at the gorgeous sketches sprinkled through this book to see that. Now, I'm a biology nerd, so I'm biased, but I loved this concept beyond all expression.
The mythology! Holy shit, the mythology! I can't even - gah. The fact that the first of three prologues (yes, there are three; suck it up because they're all awesome) is set 4,500 years before the rest of the book should hint at how incredible the mythos of Roshar is. I hesitate to use the words 'epic' or 'sprawling', because they're kind of cliche, so instead: it's fragmented. One of my developing pet peeves in fantasy is the idea of the bajillion year-old prophecy that has somehow been retained without a word being changed, despite language shifts and translation errors and disasters and this and that and the other thing. That is not the case here. Shit Went Down in the past but no one really knows what happened. Did the Knights Radiant betray humanity Well... maybe. But they don't even know what the Radiants were in the first place, so that's kind of begging the question. And oh, by the way, the first prologue seems to indicate - possibly, maybe, there's an off chance - that instead of the Radiants being the betrayers, it might have been the Heralds. Who are still revered by the religions of Roshar. Hmmm. I do believe I've spotted a Sanderson theme here - the fragility of religion. We'll see how it develops.
But anyhow, I was raving about the mythology. Right. I can't say too much, though, because a lot of it is revealed very very slowly and carefully and frankly, I'm not sure how much I even understand yet. So maybe I should move on...
Okay, how about characters. No doubt you've heard that this book has loooooooads. Believe that. It's true. Don't worry about it, though. There are four that you really need to know: the three protagonists (Shallan, Kaladin, and Dalinar) and Szeth-son-son-Vallano, who doesn't get nearly as much page time but is at least as important as any of the other three.
Here's the rundown:
Shallan is a young woman with more than a few secrets who, for less than honorable reasons, desperately needs to get apprenticed to Jasnah Kholin, a famous heretic and scholar. She's got a deep love of learning and a keen wit, which makes her an enjoyable protagonist just because she's fun to read about. Her internal conflict and her naivete make her more interesting and give her depth, and her relationship with Jasnah is fascinating and complex.
Kaladin is a slave in a war-camp, son of a surgeon, who's hit rock bottom. He is also my favorite, and the one I can tell you least about because every bit of his character development plays into the larger plot. What I can say is that I was afraid he was going to be Kelsier the Second, and he was not - the critical difference being that when Kelsier was faced with a setback, he got angry; when Kaladin is faced with one, he breaks down. Not only does this make more sense, given Kaladin's age, it makes him a little more sympathetic since he's less inclined towards "KILL THEM ALL" speeches.
Dalinar is the king's uncle, and he's seen better days. Once a famous warrior, he's now suspected by many to be losing his edge, if not outright insane. Strange visions haunt him, as does the guilt of failing to protect his brother, the current king's father, who was assassinated several years ago. He's caught in several wars, both political and violent, and doesn't seem to want to fight any of them. Dalinar did the most to shed light on the history and mythos of Roshar, though even that wasn't much, and sometimes his sections were boring... but not too often.
Szeth is the man who killed Dalinar's brother, though not for any reason of his own. He's essentially a human tool, even a weapon in the hands of someone who knows his capabilities, and the brief scenes with him in them seem inconsequential until near the end, when it all builds into something that will no doubt fuel the next several volumes. All I'll say about Szeth is that I feel really, really sorry for him.
There are, of course, a bevy of supporting characters. Shallan's brothers; Jasnah; the priest who tries to convert Jasnah through Shallan; Kaladin's fellow slaves and the family he left behind long ago; Dalinar's two sons, Adolin and Renarin; his brother's widowed wife, Navani; the young king, Elkohar; the king's other adviser, Sadeas. And more. Many of the negative reviews mention the one-shot characters who appear in the 'Interlude' sections as useless fluff, but I respectfully disagree. Part of their virtue is for worldbuilding, but no doubt we'll be seeing more of the characters and areas they introduce later in the series, and as far as I'm concerned that makes them worth it.
IT'S TIME FOR THE JASNAH KHOLIN APPRECIATION SECTION!
I am an atheist. So, it would seem, are a lot of fictional characters, if only because their author hasn't bothered to create believable religions in their world at all. You get your standard Christianity rip-offs, the evil flesh-eating cult or two, and maybe some basic Greek-style polytheism or the occasional animist. Main characters, it seems, very rarely have a defined relationship with religion, which I often read as atheism by default. And that's fine. I'd rather slot a character into my personal default than go through something ham-handed like the discussion of faith in Eldest. If the writer doesn't want to include religion in their worldbuilding, that's okay. It's hard to do right and can ruin everything if done wrong.
Brandon Sanderson does it right. We know this already - from Mistborn, if you've read nothing else of his. Think of Sazed, always able to list off another faith and explain their beliefs in a perfectly plausible, tolerant manner. Think of the way a religion cropped up around a brutal tyrant. It's part of the world and it works.
But just because he can do religion right doesn't mean he can do atheism right. It's hard for people who hold one belief strongly to create detailed, well-rounded, authentic characters with directly contrasting beliefs. Fantasy gives a level of removal from that problem, but it's still there: how can you write someone if you can't see from their point of view
I don't know. I honestly don't. Sanderson does, though. Jasnah is a very believable atheist, and she can argue her points eloquently and intelligently, as befits someone as renowned for intelligence as she is. I was so, so worried she was going to be a strawman, set up just to be knocked down by TEH TRUTH ABOUT GAWD but she wasn't, she wasn't, she wasn't! and I cheered, a little bit, in my head, because she was so awesome. I love the way she thinks. I love her intelligence, her devotion to research, her snappishness, her ideas about justice. I love the idea of this strong, beautiful, powerful, confident, courageous, wise, good-hearted woman. Oh, she's flawed, but despite that - or maybe because of it - she is a celebration of what it means to be female.
Particularly worth noting is this conversation, after Jasnah and Shallan go looking for trouble, find it, and Jasnah obliterates it:
"That was horrible," Shallan finally said, hand still held to her breast. "It was one of the most awful things I've ever experienced. You killed four men."
"Four men who were planning to beat, rob, kill, and possibly rape us."
"You tempted them into coming for us!"
"Did I force them to commit any crimes"
"You showed off your gemstones."
"Can a woman not walk with her possessions down the street of a city"
"At night" Shallan asked. "Through a rough area Displaying wealth You all but asked for what happened!"
"Does that make it right"
Victim blaming: addressed, debated, PUT IN ITS PLACE, and then later framed in the context of one of the themes of the book: justice.
She is the kind of character that makes me think, I wanna be like her when I grow up.
END JASNAH KHOLIN APPRECIATION SECTION.
Now... the plot. Well, it's not fully hatched yet. It kind of pupated for the first 400+ pages, which is fine, really, because big plots need big expositions. When it gets going, it's properly high-stakes and awesome.
The shifting focus can get frustrating, just because at the end of a chapter about one character, all you want is to know what comes next - but then you read the next chapter, which is about someone else, and you finish it wanting to know what happens to them and almost having forgotten about the other one until you get into their chapter and get absorbed again and, well, it keeps repeating. I'll admit, I flipped ahead sometimes to skim the first few paragraphs dealing with whichever character I was most worried about and find out a bit of what happened. This was particularly prevalent in Part Three, which alternated only between Kaladin and Shallan right as really important, exciting things were happening to them both. And being without Shallan's narration for all of Part Four was difficult, even though what happened to the others was still intensely interesting.
I can't say too much about the climax because, of course, that would give away tons and tons of important information. I will say that it was what cemented Kaladin as my favorite - in particular, that he had a serious badass moment when he was all:
and everyone, even really high-ranking people, just did it because he is really that awesome.
Oh, and about twenty pages from the ending, we get a little more Shallan, which is when Sanderson decides is a good time to drop a tremendous reveal on us. My experience of it went something like this.
Never fear, though, because it's not a nasty cliffhanger. Indeed, the various plot threads are wrapped up pretty satisfactorily, with plenty of room and impetus for a sequel. It's a complete book, not the first half/third/tenth of one. Thank goodness.
There are going to be nine sequels to this, right And if I guesstimated correctly, we'll be waiting at least two years for the next one. Hopefully it won't be much longer. But anyhow, nine sequels.
And to those of you who didn't like this book and maybe think I'm crazy to be showering it with praise, that's your problem.
There's a part of me that thinks if you don't like this book, maybe epic fantasy just isn't the right genre for you, because this is epic fantasy at its best. But, you know, whatever floats your boat, I guess. You can call it bloated and boring all you like. I will be over here eagerly awaiting the next one and crossing my fingers that Sanderson goes on tour soon.
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