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The Way of Kings: The Stormlight Archive #1    by Brandon Sanderson order for
Way of Kings
by Brandon Sanderson
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Way of Kings is the first in a grand new epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archive, planned to cover ten books. Brandon Sanderson already has the excellent Mistborn trilogy under his belt, as well as Elantris and Warbreaker. He was chosen for the challenging task of completing Robert Jordan's celebrated Wheel of Time, and has made a seamless transition. So I opened The Way of Kings with huge anticipation. I was not disappointed.

The story is set in Roshar, a stony world of raging, perilous highstorms. A prelude introduces heroes who have fought successive Desolations for centuries, dying and returning again and again. Now, all but one of them (whom the others abandon) have had enough. They deny their Oathpact and hope the cycle might be broken. What does it all mean? Are they the Knights Radiant whose ultra powerful Shardblades and Shardplate will be treasured and fought over?

This first book (which is quite a tome) follows two main characters forty-five hundred years later - Kaladan and Shallan. Sanderson is very hard on Kaladan Stormblessed, whom we first see as a canny and caring squadleader on the battlefield and then meet again after he has been branded and sold into slavery - flashbacks gradually reveal how this came about.

Kaladan, who studied under his father as a surgeon, always tries to defend the weak, but is shattered by successive failures. Ready to give up, he encounters the magical windspren Sylphrena, who gives him new hope. After he is sold to the Alethi king's army, Kaladan ends up on the bridge crew of Highprince Sadeas, who uses such crews as cannon fodder.

There's an apparently unstoppable assassin, Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, who is obliged to follow the orders of anyone who holds his Oathstone. Szeth is used by others to kill kings and cause 'Confusion and pain such as the world has rarely known' - why? When he slaughters Alethi King Gavilar on orders of his Parshendi masters, Gavilar gives Szeth a message for his brother, Brightlord Dalinar Kholin, that 'he must find the most important words a man can say', a quote from an ancient book, The Way of Kings.

That king killing starts the war between Alethi and Parshendi on the Shattered Plains that Kaladan is forced to join. Dalinar is plagued by visions of Knights Radiants during highstorms and wonders if he is going mad, as do those around him. The visions exhort him to unite his people because 'The Everstorm comes.' But when he tries to follow the visions, he is betrayed.

Shallan Davar's family is keeping her father's recent death a secret, for fear of his creditors. Shallan hopes to become the ward of Dalinar's niece Jasnah, renowned as a scholar and heretic and holder of a powerful Soulcaster - Shallan needs to steal it to replace her dead father's broken one and restore her family's fortunes. She catches up with Jasnah in Kharbranth. Repeatedly rejected, she finally persuades the scholar to take her on. And though her theft initially succeeds, Shallan too is betrayed.

Sanderson brings together Kaladin and Dalinar - each inspired by the ancient oaths, 'Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before Destination' - in a resounding ending to this first episode of what promises to be an inspiring epic series. Will the Knights Radiant stand again? Guess we'll just have to wait for the second book to find out. Hope it's soon!

Audiobook Review:

Macmillan Audio's rendition of The Way of Kings is an unabridged reading in two voices (Kate Reading and Michael Kramer), taking 36 CDs and 45.5 hours - perfect entertainment for fantasy fans on a long car trip!

I often find audiobook productions lacking when a lead female role is read by a male narrator, so appreciated the fact that Kate Reading handled Shallan's and Jasnah's sections of the story. Both she and Michael Kramer do an excellent job of the narration, nicely distinguishing the varied characters in differing tones and accents.

Even if you've already read the book - and especially if you loved it as I did - I recommend listening to the audiobook as I find it gives a renewed appreciation of the story's nuances. Somehow I pick up different details through the ear than through the eye.

But whether you read, listen, or enjoy both formats, The Way of Kings makes a rousing start to Brandon Sanderson's grand new epic fantasy. Those enjoying his completion of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time can now look forward to another engrossing epic with The Stormlight Archive.

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