Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The Way of Kings
Brandon Sanderson has a gift for world building in his writing. Well, he also has a gift for witty banter, clever plot developments, believable characters, engaging stories, and fascinating magic systems, but let's focus on the world building for now. I've had my fill of elves and goblins and apparently so has he because I've yet to read a book of his that has any of the traditional fantastic characters. In The Way of Kings, it's a world populated by different races of people, some more colorful than others. By colorful, I mean some have blue skin, some have super long white eyebrows and some have marbled black and red skin. In the country of Alethkar, the nobility is determined by eye color, the lighter the better. Dark-eyed people make up the working class. The nobility have swords and armor that are remnants of an ancient warrior group called The Radiants, and all of their major wars and even minor skirmishes are in pursuit of these swords and plates. Men who possess Shardplates and swords are called Shardbearers and are very hard to defeat, though it is possible and the swords and plate have passed hands many times over the centuries. The ancient Radiants used the weapons to defeat the evil Voidbringers and protect mankind, but they are no longer used for such noble purposes.
The world is afflicted with regular hurricanes, called great storms, that occur every few weeks. The seasons are very short and unpredictable. Because of this constant barrage, the flora and fauna have both had to adapt. The animal life is made up of animals with hard shells, like giant crawfish and clams. Being able to draw into their shells keeps them safe during the worst of the storms. Even the trees and plants are able to draw within a shell to stay safe, which is kinda bizarre. The ground is scoured and barren due to the fact that no soil can stay put with winds like that constantly blowing. There are other parts of the world that are more like the world we live in, but the residents of Alethkar think it's mythical and have a hard time believing anything could be different from what they know.
Our cast of characters includes Kaladin, a dark-eyed slave who was once an apprentice surgeon and then soldier. He is now a bridge carrier for a lord's army, a ranking that means certain death and reserved for the most disposable men. Kaladin has a sad past and the unnerving ability to stay alive even in the most dangerous situations. His past is slowly revealed and we get to watch him change his bridge crew into more than just disposable workers. His dealings with the nobility and his superiors in the army were so frustrating though, since the way their aristocracy is set up is so stupid. Sanderson is good at making me frustrated on behalf of his characters.
Another character I loved was Shallan, a minor noble from a small nation whose family has fallen on hard times. Her only hope is to become a ward of the princess Jasnah Kholin, sister to the king. She's a famous scholar and heretic and becoming her ward would put her in a position to save her family from destitution. Shallan is an amazing artist with a photographic memory and many of the illustrations in the book are from Shallan's notebooks. Shallan is fascinating because you think you know what is motivating her and then Sanderson surprises you. What happens with Shallan towards the end of the book knocked me for a loop. If I had written this book, I would have been giggling with glee at my deviousness, so I like to imagine Sanderson chuckling as he typed on his laptop, delighted with his own cleverness. Chuckle away, Brandon.
Instead of describing each character, which is what I'm tempted to do because I like them all so much, I'll just tell you that Sanderson creates a colorful cast and keeps the stories moving for each of them. When their paths collide, it's awesome. My only complaints about this book is that Sanderson takes his sweet time setting everything up. It wasn't until halfway through the book that it started to move faster. I know he's planning on making this a ten book series and that the details he's laboring over in the first hundred pages or so are important to the series as a whole and not just this book, but it doesn't make it any less slow to slog through. My other complaint is that there's not a whole lot that is concluded in this book. Some, but not much. Again, ten book series, yadda yadda. It makes me tired to think I'll have to somehow retain a bunch of this information and detail until the next book comes out. I don't know if I have room in my brain.
Oh well. Knowing Sanderson, the next book will be just as awesome and I'll read it happily and if I can't remember details, it won't matter all that much anyway because it'll be so fun to read.