Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive #1)

In the first part of the series, The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, the world outlined in the book is pretty complex, and even though this first part mostly sets up the background and introduces the characters, we don’t learn very much about it. The world was ravaged eons ago by something called Voidbringers. There was a group called the Knights Radiant who were able to beat the Voidbringers with magical armor and swords called Shardplate and Shardblade. The Knights Radiant left after the last battle against the Voidbringers and left those weapons, which are very coveted because their worth is practically incalculable. The weapons are able to repair themselves, and they can alter themselves to suit each user. The Shardblades are very much like the lightsabers from Star Wars except they don’t cut living beings; they just destroy the path they go through. (I was left wondering if they are actually magic; somehow, they felt a lot like very advanced nanotechnology.)

The world is ravaged by periodic, extremely powerful “highstorms” that always come from the eastern ocean. Because of them, the eastern parts of the world are very barren and all plants have adapted to high winds and are able to withdraw into the ground. Most of the animals are some sort of crustaceans. The highstorms also give power to gemstones, which are used as currency. When charged during a storm, they contain magical energy that may be tapped for several magical purposes, including transmutating stone to grains and other types of food.  

The book follows several different people. The most important is Kaladin, a slave who is forced to work by carrying bridges on battlefields. Bridge carriers are meant to die and to draw attention away from the real soldiers, but Kaladin survives run after run. He has one compulsion: he wants to save people and starts to plan how his bridge crew would have a better chance of survival. Slowly we learn his backstory through flashbacks.

Another character is Shallan. She belongs to a family that has severe financial and political trouble. She travels to become a student of a famed scholar who is a sister of the former king. She has an ulterior motive: she wants to steal the magical artifact the scholar has to help her family, but she finds that studying starts to seem more and more interesting – even more interesting than helping her family.

The third main viewpoints are from Danilar and Adolin Kholin. They are princes who take part in the war against the Parshendi, a race of creatures who are pretty similar to docile parshmen, who are widely used as slave-like laborers. The Parshendi apparently killed the king of the realm, and the war continues to be ongoing after that. The overall culture is very war-like, and men are supposed to be warriors. The women are scholars, and only they are allowed to learn to read and write.  

There are also a few other characters who play more minor roles. The most memorable of them is an assassin who hates killing people and hopes that one of his victims will manage to kill him, but he can't stop committing the murders, as he is magically compelled to do what his controller demands. At the same time, the same magic prevents him from committing suicide.  

All of this is just a rough sketch of the world. People grow and change during the book considerably, and much of the background is still very vague.  

There are some questions I would like answers to: why are the war people waging such a stupid war? Why are there several separate wars against one common enemy? (Well, some of the main characters have the same question… so we might learn the reason for that.) And how can the war go on for so long? There appears to be a lot of casualties. The population of the world doesn’t seem to be very high. How can the war and the lost men be supported for years and years?

The first half (or more) of the book felt more than a little slow. I found the parts describing the Kholin “brothers” to be the least interesting with a fairly boring scheme, and I found I was always waiting for the chapters with other characters; well, towards the end things changed a little, and there weren’t as many boring parts anymore. The writing was standard to Sanderson: adequate but not the best the fantasy genre has to offer, but it certainly is not among the worst, either. As a whole, it is a pretty good book, and I look forward to reading the next parts. The plot is finally about to start … and it took just a little over a thousand pages…

1124 pp.

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