The Way of Kings is set in a world that is frequently rocked by immense storms, and is in a state of war, centuries after the fall of the legendary Knights Radiant. All that remains of these mythical figures are their Shardblades and Shardplates – armour and swords that transform their users into near invincible warriors. These days the Shards are the property of the highest in the kingdom, and are used in the war against the mysterious Parshendi who murdered the much-loved King Gavilar years before. The novel follows the fates of Kaladin, a soldier sold into slavery, Shallan, a female scholar on a terrible mission, and a powerful Highprince and brother of the late King Gavilar, Dalinor Kholin.
Firstly, I absolutely adored the world of this book! The level of detail that has gone into the history of Roshar, as well as the different places and people and the subtlety of the magic is astonishing. Whilst there’s obviously some big things that make up the world of Roshar – for example the history of the Knights Radiant, soul-casting and stormlight, the frequent high storms – I also really liked some of the smaller touches that leant it a real sense of otherworldliness, such as the fact that only women are allowed to read, and it’s scandalous and unmanly if a man can, and how women have to go about with one hand covered (their ‘safehand’). It takes a while to get to grips with how it all works and who did what, but once you’ve picked it all up it is worth the effort.
I also loved the main characters, although one negative about this book was how long it took me to work out who the main characters actually were…the first few chapters centred around some random characters who in some cases weren’t seen or heard of again. In fact one died within a few pages, although he did offer an interesting outside perspective on one of the main characters.
Kaladin though as a main character was immensely likable. Although certain aspects of him could be seen to make him a cliched hero character (eg. his natural leadership abilities, his strict sense of morality, his magical abilities, although to be fair these only became apparent late in the book), I think there was enough of an edge to him that he didn’t venture too far into that territory, and I found myself really rooting for him as he tries to inspire his fellow bridgemen to not give up hope in the face of almost certain death.
Similarly Dalinor was the classic ‘chivalrous knight’ figure, as he sticks tightly to the old Codes of behaviour (basically like the Knights Code) and pushes his sons and soldiers to do the same. However, the slight pompousness that he often adopts avoids him becoming too much of an unrealistic character, and I found myself really liking him. I also really liked his history as a ruthless warrior, and the fact that the events of his life have changed him into a gentler, more peaceful figure, and despite mockery from the other highprinces for having become a coward, he sticks to his beliefs no matter what.
Of the three main characters Shallan was probably my least favourite, yet I didn’t dislike her. The mission she is on to save her family seems flawed in the first place, and pretty unlikely to succeed, and I wonder how she even thought it up as it seems like there would be easier, less risky ways for her to get money to save her family. Despite this I liked that despite her natural shyness she is forced to become tenacious and courageous, and I liked her wit and how she often talks back to people and twists their words around.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m pretty anxious to read the next book in the series, Words of Radiance. I even loved this book more than the Mistborn trilogy, as the world of the story seemed even more unique and intriguing, and I felt like the main characters were a lot more likable (I could never quite take to Elend in the Mistborn books, for some reason). Sometimes the format was a little confusing, what with the first few chapters being about random, unrelated characters, and then several more interludes of this throughout the book, and I did find it odd that only Kaladin’s character had flashbacks, but I loved the book nevertheless. I would seriously recommend this book to fans of fantasy, and if you’ve never read any Brandon Sanderson before I would suggest you start here, however good the Mistborn books also are.