The Way of Kings, the latest novel by Brandon Sanderson, is the first book in a series called the Stormlight Archive. The audio version is read by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer.
I downloaded The Way of Kings from Audible.com. The first thing that should hit pretty much anyone who picks it up is that this is a big sucker - a solid 45 hours in length. Those who have Audible memberships know that each month of a regular membership gives you one credit you can spend on a free book (as a student I've taken advantage of this a lot!) and The Way of Kings takes two credits. If you don't have that many credits, it's retailing for about $45, which is a sale price.
That might sound like a lot, and frankly it is. But on the flip side, for the price of dinner and a movie for two, I was listening to this book back and forth to school for a good month.
The Way of Kings is definitely an epic story with several intertwined storylines. Here's the publisher's copy:
Widely acclaimed for his work completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, Brandon Sanderson now begins a grand cycle of his own, one every bit as ambitious and immersive.
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 soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the 10 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. Wars were fought for them, and won by them. One such war rages on the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where 10 armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
Having finished the book, I'd say that's a pretty good summary. I'd also add that there are tantalizing hints of other storylines, told in Interludes between the main parts of the book. One of these storylines promises to be very important in the next book, which is the story of the Assassin in White, Szeth. He is probably my favourite character in the book, though Kaladin and Dalinar are tied for second, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of him.
I understand from listening to Brandon's podcast, Writing Excuses, that there are some pretty extensive maps and illustrations in the book. It's the nature of audiobooks that you don't get the benefit of those pictures. To be honest, I do intend to pick up the hard copy of the book, partly so I can see them. But not having those pictures definitely didn't reduce my enjoyment of the book and I had no trouble understanding anything.
The only real beef I have with the audiobook is the fact that there are two readers. Kate Reading reads the Shallan chapters, and any other scenes that are from the point of view of a woman, which is a nice idea, but it's probably roughly a third of the book or less. Every time it switched from Michael Kramer to Kate Reading, it was a bit jarring to me. And it wasn't like Michael Kramer didn't have to read female voices in his chapters, so I'm not sure why audiobook recorders do this so often.
Even more annoying, there was one scene - just one scene! - where characters that were normally read by Michael Kramer appeared, but it was from the point of view of a woman. Kate Reading did a good job with the reading, but she pronounced some characters' names very differently then Michael Kramer had done. I honestly wish Michael Kramer had read the whole book, because it tossed me out of the story a bit, especially when suddenly SAHDius was being pronounced SedEEus. orz
Despite the two-voice-mispronunciation shenanigans, I thought The Way of Kings was a brilliant, gripping book. It certainly didn't feel like I was listening to it for a solid work week. It just flew by, and while normally I'll give priority to shorter things and mix it up with podcasts as they update before going back to novels, I couldn't wait to pick up The Way of Kings again each day and continue listening.
One of the things I thought was of particular note in this book: Brandon Sanderson handled his worldbuilding like a master. There is a hell of a lot packed into this book, from magical storms, to weird gravity-defying magic systems, to weird spirits called spren that are attracted to pain, rot, intense emotion, and other things. There are thousands of years of history, a dozen different humanoid races, and a host of bizarre plants and animals.
But Brandon doles out the information you need just when you need it, and leaves explanation for later when it's really not necessary. There are many times he mentions something - like shardblades or spren - and doesn't bother to explain what it is right then and there
. Over time, the picture is built, and at no time was I confused because he left an explanation of some niggly detail for later.
He builds the world in a really subtle, organic way, until it seems completely real and vibrant, and without a single boring infodump. And in a book this long, with this much packed into it, it's a damn good thing.
I actually got so into it that when it was done, all I wanted to do was just flip right to the beginning and start listening again - which I actually did do for a bit, though I subsequently forced myself to put it down and leave it for later, because I have other things to listen to.
And those other things would actually be Robert Jordan's works. I've never really had interest in them, but now that Brandon Sanderson is writing the books, I'm willing to give them a try. Congratulations, Brandon - you've added a reader to Robert Jordan's epic instead of vice versa. I hope you're proud.
You can get the audiobook version of The Way of Kings by searching for it on audible.com or if that sounds too hard, just click the link here
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