Credit: Image from Tor.com.
I think I will run out of positive superlatives when I write about the experience of reading a Brandon Sanderson book. Most recently I just finished The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive) and I’m still reeling.
What a book! This is the kind of manuscript wherein the reader faces two strong conflicting forces – the careful discipline to read slowly to savor every bit of the story as it unfolds, and the compulsive urge to read faster to find out what happens next. And there’s that all too familiar dread that the book is running out of pages, and just when the story gets really, really good. The book is massive 1,007 pages, and yet it feels too short.
Brandon is extremely skilled in creating fully realized magic systems, with a complete set of rules (not yet fully revealed in this first book) that despite its fantasy origins, somehow seem logical in their application. I believe that’s his strength as a fantasy writer, and what sets him apart from other writers in the genre. In this book, he just outdid himself. I particularly loved the currencies being charged by Stormlight and Soulcasting and the idea behind Fabrials (where technology meets magic). Of course, there’s Lashing (a bit reminiscent of Allomancy in Mistborn) and the Shardblades and Shardplates.
But it goes beyond that. In TWOK, his character development is definitely above par, and he explores pretty universal themes such as brotherhood and family, achievement and talent, religion and culture, race and class systems, language and the role of stories, courage and cleverness, hunger for power, struggles for survival and overcoming overwhelming odds. Despite the fantasy setting, the stories delve into emotions and machinations, relationships and situations, virtues and vices that very human, and therefore very relatable.
And of course, there’s the artwork, which is plainly superb. I was fortunate to receive an ARC through a Goodreads raffle (it did not have the same amount of artwork). I realize it does enrich the worldbuilding and the storytelling, as it provides the reader with a much-appreciated visual element, and Brandon discusses this in a recent podcast on Writing Excuses.
My only very minor quibble would be some of the interludes. Only because sometimes they feel like interruptions to the main story lines (Kaladin and his bridge crew, Dalinar and Adolin, Shallan and Jasnah, and Szeth). It does show, however, the expansive world imagined by the author. And from my experience with Brandon’s previous work, I have to trust that these will come to play in future chapters and in future books. When I read the annotations to Mistborn and Warbreaker on Brandon’s site, I do realize that much thought and effort is devoted in the placement of these chapters and interludes. No words are wasted.
I cannot wait to read the next book of the Stormlight Archive, though I hear it might not come for another year or two. From what I read in reviews and forums, I’m not alone in this. I do believe that this first book barely scratched the surface of the stories that can come out of Roshar. The last few pages (Epilogue, Ars Arcanum), as well as the symbols and maps on the inside covers indicate that there’s more in store for us eager readers.
Mr Sanderson, may you live long to write more books and tell more stories and reveal more worlds. I’ll probably be one of the first to click “Pre-Order”.
To anyone who hasn’t read any of Brandon’s books, do yourself a favor and pick up the Mistborn Trilogy. The best thing about that series is that it’s finished (no waiting!). Elantris is also a good pick because it’s a stand-alone book.
My guess is that soon enough you’ll be a fan too.
<a disclaimer: this mini-review is by an unabashedly avid fan of Brandon Sanderson’s work – The Mistborn Trilogy, Elantris, Warbreaker, Alcatraz, and his continuing contribution to the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. A bit of bias might be expected.>