My taste in fantasy is so specific that it’s almost a problem. Mostly, I like character-driven series set in a vaguely medieval world – castles, lush forests, kings and queens, royal intrigue, magic, epic quests, that whole deal – and while I’ll tolerate huge battle scenes (because it seems I must), I’d choose a good rags-to-riches story above all else if given the chance. Oh, and dragons. Lots and lots of dragons.
I don’t set out to read fantasy novels that will “redefine the genre.” I like my fantasy to be predictable and formulaic, thank you very much. So I didn’t expect to enjoy The Way of Kings, the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series.
First, a brief synopsis (no spoilers):
The unexpected murder of a king on the eve of a peace agreement between two nations leads to a drawn-out war on the harsh terrain of a world completely unlike our own, where raging storms, insect-like creatures, and elemental figures conspire to wipe out the two races fighting on the Shattered Plains. With mythical weapons and armour from an ancient race of warriors on the line, the armies must clash and clash again – while fending off betrayal from behind their own lines.
Sounds like a military fantasy novel, right? One set in a world that is rather unlike our own? Surely, I could never love such a book?
I didn’t, not at first. Sanderson had three strikes against him already when I picked up The Way of Kings.
1. I don’t like military fantasy, and this series is centred around a raging war.
2. I don’t like alien creatures, and the beasts in this book were most definitely alien.
3. I didn’t care for Sanderson’s Mistborn series, another fantasy set against an alien landscape with a strange magic system. (I almost feel blasphemous admitting that – I mean, everyone loves the Mistborn series.)
But I did rather like Sanderson’s first book, Elantris, and his work finishing the Wheel of Time series was fantastic. So I reluctantly settled into the 1,200 page Way of Kings last weekend – and didn’t put it down until I was finished a couple days later.
For as much as this is a book about a war, it’s more a book about the players in the war: a young soldier-turned-slave who faces death in every battle; a war veteran for whom war has lost its luster; the king’s reluctant assassin; and a girl who becomes a ward of the princess to steal a valuable treasure.
The characters drew me into this story, and without them, I may not be desperately awaiting the release of the next book in the series which comes out – oh my gosh, it came out three days ago! What the hell am I doing writing a blog post when I could be reading it?!
Long story short: if you love fantasy, you’ll love The Way of Kings. It’s not your traditional Tolkienesque tale, but I suppose it never hurts to branch out a little. A very little.