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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: The Way of Kings

I picked up The Way of Kings at a huge discount from Amazon in preparation for a transatlantic flight. I usually try to avoid buying the first book of a series, especially an unfinished one, because of poor experiences, but Brandon Sanderson's established a little bit of credibility with me and it seemed like at least the first book would be a worthy standalone novel.

What's cool about Sanderson is that he thinks through his magic systems, and isn't afraid to drive them to their logical conclusion, D&D style. If a human figures out a system that's equivalent to magic, then he's going to keep using the same tricks over and over again. That's human nature, and it's good for magic systems in the series to reflect that.

His Mistborn series, however, focused so much on the magic system that the characters were barely sketched out. With 1000 pages, however, The Way of Kings does a much better job of character building. One of the protagonists, Kaladin, has a hugely long backstory that's largely told in flash-backs. It's well done and the character somewhat complex. Even though you know where he ends up, each plot twist is still a surprise: a sign of good plotting.

Most first novels are simply setups, but The Way of Kings does a good job of being more than that, doing world building (though fairly simplistic world-building --- don't expect Tolkein here!), conflict setup, back-story exposition, and world exposition all at once. None of the tropes of traditional fantasy are here --- nearly everything's fairly original, so don't worry that you're getting into yet another Western European Tolkein rip-offs with the serial numbers filed off: there's not a hint of elves, dwarves, orcs, or incantations here.

It took me weeks to get through this book, and the length of the book is such that I'm contemplating paying full price for the Kindle version of the sequel rather than repeated renewals of a dead tree book. If you know me that's about as high a compliment as I can pay any book.

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