Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: The Way of Kings (Haven't read it yet? YOU SHOULD)

7235533Title: The Way of Kings
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Every bit as good as I thought it would be!

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, and one of the best spinners-of-stories I have stumbled upon. Sanderson is the reason I started loving fantasy again, after years of getting annoyed with the formulaic quests and encounters with elves/dwarves/dragons/etc. Obviously, I have come to expect great things from his books, and so far I have not been disappointed.

The Way of Kings is a dauntingly huge book (clocking in at a little over 1000 pages), so I decided to host a readalong on my blog. It was so much fun, and even if I didn't have tons of people reading along with me, the few that did made this book even more special to me. In case you're interested, you can check out some of the readalong posts here. My favorite was the discussion that spawned from a post about gender roles on Roshar. More on that later.

The world of Roshar is one of the most complex and intricate worlds I have ever read about. You get to know about everything, from the landscape and creatures to the mythology and politics. I loved getting to see the world from so many different perspectives, especially those hints about things to come in the Interludes. My favorite part of Roshar is the spren. I'm still not certain exactly what they are, but they're so interesting! Are windspren attracted to wind, or do they cause it? If there are creationspren, are there destructionspren too? Tor did a really interesting article on how the presence of spren (specifically rotspren) influenced the medical and tactical aspects of Roshar. I cannot even comprehend how someone could come up with a world and flesh it out so thoroughly.

While world-building is Sanderson's trademark, I also really loved the characters. I have to admit that it took a while for Kaladin to grow on me, but eventually he did (with help from the ever lovely Syl, of course). His determination to survive and care for other people in an exceedingly brutal world was inspiring; even more so because he constantly doubted himself. Kaladin is no archetypal hero - he is as flawed as they come. I loved Shallan's wit and stubborn curiosity, and Jasnah was just incredible. Dalinar was endearing despite his often naive willingness to believe the best of everyone, and Adolin was a bit of a spoiled brat but even he showed his more honorable and compassionate side. Everyone is just so complex and you never know who is going to run into whom and how things will play out.

One of my pet peeves with fantasy is that it's often written by men, for men. There are usually hardly any women present, and if they are, they're either caricatures or objectified. Along comes Sanderson, who not only writes about strong, independent, flawed, real women, but takes slut-shaming and puts it in its place. He addresses so many of my issues with a lot of fantasy, some more subtly than others, but it's definitely there. There is also a lot of "racial" diversity. I hesitate to call it racial because the groups on Roshar don't directly correlate to the ones on earth (hooray! No thinly-veiled Arabs as barbarians! No hyper-sexualized Asians!). Yet, there is a lot of class and culture division and prejudice, and we get to see these relationships from multiple sides. I'm just so happy with the respectful portrayal of so many different groups!

And what is a Sanderson novel without five billion bombshells at the end? The end had me reeling with all the revelations and their implications. What's even more maddening is that for all the answers we do get, there are at least twice as many that we don't! I am so excited to continue reading this excellent series.

Highly recommended! If you haven't read any Sanderson yet, I suggest you start ASAP!

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