Tuesday 27 March 2012

Guest Post | Mieneke of A Fantastical Librarian Reviews The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

I may have wondered a bit beforehand, but once the emails went out to all the folks I hoped would help keep The Speculative Scotsman awesome whilst I sunned myself in the States, and the guest blogs started trickling in, there was never any question whose post was going to lead the pack.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the marvelous Mieneke of A Fantastic Librarian!

To begin with, she was the first to submit a something. And this in spite of the fact that her extenuating circumstances were surely amongst the worst: at the time, she was mere days away from having this beautiful baby girl.

I am of course immensely grateful to everyone who took a little time - or indeed a lot - to help a brother blogger out, but I expect we can agree that Mieneke went above and beyond to inform and entertain and I don't doubt delight you all in my absence.

In the following review, she offers her unique perspective on the vast first volume of The Stormlight Archive, which - as she generously mentions - I also reviewed way back when. Actually, it was one of the first, if not THE first review someone paid me actual money to publish.

But I digress... from America!

Over to you, Mieneke. :)


Buy this book from:

"According to mythology mankind used to live in The Tranquiline Halls. Heaven. But then the Voidbringers assaulted and captured heaven, casting out God and men. Men took root on Roshar, the world of storms. And the Voidbringers followed...

"They came against man ten thousand times. To help them cope, the Almighty gave men powerful suits of armor and mystical weapons, known as Shardblades. Led by ten angelic Heralds and ten orders of knights known as Radiants, mankind finally won.

"Or so the legends say. Today, the only remnants of those supposed battles are the Shardblades, the possession of which makes a man nearly invincible on the battlefield. The entire world is at war with itself - and has been for centuries since the Radiants turned against mankind. Kings strive to win more Shardblades, each secretly wishing to be the one who will finally unite all of mankind under a single throne.

"On a world scoured down to the rock by terrifying hurricanes that blow through every few days young spearman forced into the army of a Shardbearer, led to war against an enemy he doesn't understand and doesn't really want to fight.

"What happened deep in mankind's past?

"Why did the Radiants turn against mankind, and what happened to the magic they used to wield?"


One of the most buzzed about releases of 2010, The Way of Kings is the first in a projected ten book series called The Stormlight Archive. And to be honest, I wasn't planning on starting this series, not until there were at least several installments of the book out and a reasonable chance of the series being finished. Because, let's face it, big name epic fantasy series running over a trilogy are challenged these days – *cough* George R.R. Martin *cough* Peter V. Brett *cough* Scott Lynch *cough* – not the least of which is The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, which Sanderson is finishing after Jordan's far-too-early passing. In fact, the only series of the same door-stopper scope and number finished in recent years is Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. So, no wonder I was hesitant to start another series, no? And then we visited London last year and, completely unexpectedly, had the chance to attend a signing by Sanderson for the paperback edition of The Way of Kings at Forbidden Planet.

And having gotten the paperbacks signed and at home, of course I had to read them, regardless of any reservations. And I read both parts of the paperbacks back to back over the course of five days, so that should be an indication of how much I enjoyed this book. 

The Way of Kings is a fascinating work, mixing several different viewpoints into a whole that reads like the epic fantasy of old. Combine this with some excellent battle scenes, political intrigue and an interesting magic system and Sanderson definitely had my attention. Before I turn my attention to the story, a bit about the physical copies themselves. The original hardback has been split into two paperbacks, due to length. All the chapter headings are illuminated with lovely headers and each has a sort of badge with identifies from whose perspective this chapter is written. Interspersed throughout the book are illustrations of sketches, purportedly taken from Shallan's sketchbook, maps and other relevant documents which enrich the story and were very pretty to boot.

Sanderson is known for his world building chops. It is no wonder then that The Way of Kings is filled to the brim with world building, without being overtly info-dumped. From the little epigraphs at the start of most chapters, to Shallan's research into the origins of the Plains war, to Kaladin's flashback chapters, Sanderson manages to give us a grounding in the history of Roshar. One of the world building aspects that garners Sanderson a lot of praise is his magic system. However, it doesn't take so much of a front seat in The Way of Kings as I'd expected. Yes, there are some magic workers, such as the White assassin, who can defy gravity, and the Princess Jasnah, who works a magic named Soulcasting and of course there's the magic of the ancients that produced the artifacts called Shardblades and Shardplates. But none of these is actually explained.

There are seven viewpoints throughout the five parts that make up the book. Four of these are the main points of view: Kaladin, a slave/soldier who is leader of one of the bridge crews in Dalinar's army, Shallan, a young girl seeking to learn at Princess Jasnah's feet, Dalinar, uncle to the king and one of his main commanders and Adolin, Dalinar's son. The three others only have a few chapters to their names: Navani, the Dowager Queen, Szeth, the White assassin and Wit, the King's jester. In addition there are several characters who have points of view only once in the interludes. While I found all four of the main point of view characters sympathetic, my favourite has to be Kaladin. He's the one we spend the most time with and I'd argue he's was the true heart of at least this first book of The Stormlight Archive. He's clever, resourceful and a consummate soldier, who cares deeply for the welfare of his men, even if they are considered nothing but the lowest rabble in the army and plain cannon fodder during plateau assaults.

I really enjoyed The Way of Kings, admittedly more than I'd expected to. I know this isn't a very in-depth review for the very hefty tome that these two paperbacks make up, but a combination of pregnancy brain and having read this book over six months ago – it's one of the first backlogged books due to my being sick in the early part of my pregnancy – mean that I don't really feel qualified to say more on this book. If you'd like to read some more in-depth reviews, you can find some at The Wertzone, Stomping on Yeti or The Speculative Scotsman's review at Strange Horizons.

[So you were saving the best for last, then? :P - Niall]

All that is left for me to say is that I'll definitely be around to see where Sanderson takes Kaladin, Shallan and the rest in the next book, which is tentatively scheduled for early 2013. Let's hope that after Sanderson finishes A Memory of Light, the final Wheel of Time book, he'll be able to dedicate himself fully to The Stormlight Archive and we won't have to wait as long between books, as we know that he's a very quick and prolific writer.


From the bottom of my heart, Mieneke: thank you for getting this whole thing off to such a great start. Here's hoping life with bookish baby the second is going absolutely fabulously for you, and that one day in the not-too-distant you'll have time to read another book! :)

Remember, you can find Mieneke blogging over at A Fantastical Librarian, and you damn well should, too. She's tremendously talented, and without doubt one of the very loveliest of us. And to my mind that counts for a lot in this day of faceless blog conglomerates along the lines of io9.

That's it from me and Mieneke for the day, anyway, but do drop in on The Speculative Scotsman and Friends again tomorrow for another something special!


  1. I really liked Way of Kings. I'm a huge fan of Brandon's work and I think that the WoK is definitely his best work to date. I'm curious as to how long it'll take to finish it. Even if he pumps one out every 2 years (1 year to write, 1 year to publish), it'll be another 20 year epic.

    Also the artwork for the paperbacks is hideous compared to the hardback. I really don't like that style at all.

  2. I think Adam had a nice post on that on The Wertzone: http://thewertzone.blogspot.com/2012/02/brandon-sanderson-plans-36-volume.html He's projecting that once Sanderson writes all the books he wants to in the Cosmere universe we'll find ourselves in 2035!

    And I think the reason the covers for my paperback versions are so different from your hardback is because they're the UK versions, the US version has the same cover as the US hardback :-)

  3. Agreed six ways from Sunday about the UK cover art. Ugly, ugly, ugly, whereas the US edition is simply a beautiful book. It has such... such presence as well! With colour maps and lush endpapers and everything. The copy I've kept came from Tor; I don't actually recall whether the Gollancz HC or PB brought of any of the above.

    Tell you what I do appreciate about the two UK paperbacks, on the other hand: the spines! Which is to say, how nicely they'd sit alongside my British editons of Mistborn and Elantris and Warbreaker and what not. I can get behind that kind of consideration.

    Thank you again, Mieneke, for taking the time to write this book up for The Speculative Scotsman. I might be several thousand miles away from my copy of The Way of Kings at the moment, but you almost make want to read it again... meanwhile this wait for Sanderson to wrap up The Wheel of Time before he gets back to Stormlight is kind of a drag from where I'm standing.