Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, The Stormlight Archives: three series that have defined the fantasy genre.

Tolkien introduced us to the world of magic, magical creatures, and fantasy heroes and sucked us into the adventures of a few brave men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits. Robert Jordan proved that grand, sprawling worlds populated by a variety of characters could come together in one epic series that went from humble beginnings to world-saving ends. Now, Brandon Sanderson ups the ante with a story on a breathtakingly grand scope.

The Way of Kings has it all: (Editor’s Note: some light spoilers below)

  • Politics, with all its gossiping, intrigue, and backstabbing (literally!)
  • Military action, with heart-stopping battles, daring feats of bravery, and heroic sacrifices
  • Character drama, from the lowest soldier to the most powerful men in the kingdom
  • Magic, very likely one of the most unique magic systems ever written
  • Breathtaking scenery, from the Shattered Plains to the library of Kharbranth to the gemstone-filled Shadesmar

The story follows for POV characters: Kaladin, a surgeon-turned-soldier-turned-slave; Shallan, a young artist with an extraordinary ability and a dangerous secret; Dalinar, a Highprince leading the war efforts against the Parshendi “monsters”; and Szeth, an assassin who killed Dalinar’s brother, the king, and sparked the war between humans and Parshendi.

The story switches between these characters smoothly, giving us the various insights into the world at large.

Kaladin is a character driven by a desire to protect, and that desire is what lands him in the “slave” company of Bridge Four. His story was my favorite, as there is something innately noble about the way he seeks to shield others from danger and harm. Plus, there are all the typical colorful characters that make military novels so enjoyable.

Shallan’s story is far more political and intellectual in nature, given her desire to become apprenticed as a scholar to the cleverest woman in the world. Though I didn’t enjoy her POV chapters as much, they were necessary to flesh out the story—and she becomes much more important as the novel progresses.

Szeth’s chapters left me a bit confused pretty much until the end. He goes around killing people using his magical Honorblade, but it wasn’t until the final chapters that I understood his purpose and relation to the other characters.

Dalinar’s were the most fascinating for me. Dalinar’s growth through this story is driven by The Way of Kings, an ancient volume of theology and philosophy that causes him to question his people’s warlike proclivities. He and his sons are among the most powerful people in the kingdom, yet his reluctance to battle and his desire to find other options to end the war (like diplomacy) are an interesting dichotomy that make for an interesting story. Of course, the fact that he starts having visions of the past and the long-lost Knights Radiant also kept me hooked.

This is not the kind of story you can read in one sitting, nor should you try. The Way of Kings is an epic tale in every way, from its characters to its stakes to its world to its magic system. Grand battle scenes flow smoothly into slow moments to build its characters, and mind-boggling worldbuilding meshes seamlessly with a fascinating magic system.

This novel should be slowly absorbed and digested thoroughly in order to obtain all the hidden gems that make Brandon Sanderson worthy of the title “Master of Modern Fantasy”.

 

5 out of 5 stars.

 

Andy Peloquin is the author of the Queen of Thieves series, as well as several other fantasy works.

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