Gemmell Award Winner for Best Novel: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (5 stars)

I just realized I have not posted many book reviews penned prior to the inception of my WordPress blog (circa October 2010).  After reading the recent announcement from Tor that Brandon Sanderson, one of my top ten favorite authors, had won the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Novel, I felt the need to post my review, from August 2010, of the winning novel: The Way of Kings.

UpdateBrandon posted about winning the award (he actually had two novels in the running) and traveling in Europe at his blog.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The initial installment of the Stormlight Archives epic fantasy series stormed through my early September. Filled with the whispering wind of world building, the clatter and clamour of conflicted and conniving characters, the fermenting furor and flustering foreshadowing all building to a thundering tumultuous tempest that is yet the calm before the impending Everstorm.

Sanderson built a world far removed from our own, a rocky seemingly barren continent repeatedly ravaged by highstorms that routinely pummel the landscape and settlements with boulders and anything else it can find to hurl westward (or leeward, as highstorms always originate from the east). Plant and animal life adapted to this harsh environment by developing tough skins (exoskeletons are the norm here) and defensive mechanisms (prehensile plants that retract into their shells when approached or threatened). Humans build in caves, crevasses or very sturdy stone buildings, always facing leeward, with slanting roofs and sides to channel the wind from the highstorms over and around the structures.

Stormlight forms the foundation for the magic systems introduced and ironically is renewed or originates from the highstorms. Gems, like diamonds, garnets, topazes and emeralds, are infused with stormlight if left outside during a highstorm. The currency of the monetary system includes tiny chips of gems imbedded in spheres of glass and double as lamps, torches and other light sources. For those lucky enough to be magic wielders, the spheres also provide a ready reserve of energy for Lashing or Soulcasting. Having previously read Sanderson’s Mistborn series, I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed in the Lashing magic system, for it’s similarity to Allomancy (at least from a physics point-of-view).

Through several characters, who just happen to be scholars, we learn some of the history, philosophy, mythology, anthropology and religion of Roshar. Vorinism is the dominant religion of the times, but we see glimpses of how different it may have been in the distant past, especially when most history is written by the conquerors or the last man standing. Prejudice and some persecution persist, based on people’s eye color (current elite of society have light colored eyes, as opposed to the lowly darkeyes) and slavery is common, although slaves receive reduced wages in most cases. The most perplexing unanswered question stemmed from women covering their left hands (referred to as their safehands) for modesty’s sake. Not being genitalia, I wasn’t sure why a left hand (as opposed to a right hand) would evoke lust or some other unseemly immodest emotion in men. But, I’m not judging, just curious, as there are many examples from our own world of strange gender customs and modesty mores.

I related to and enjoyed many of the characters, especially Kaladin (heroic surgeon/spearman/slave/savior – this book focuses most on this character), Szeth (reluctant assassin), Dalinar (noble war leader tortured by visions during highstorms) and Wit (lives up to his name). Strangely, for the first time while reading a novel by Sanderson, I didn’t connect well with the female characters: Josnah (a heretic and devoted researcher/scholar) and Shallan (Josnah’s ward/student with a secret scarred past and a secret ulterior motive).

Sanderson excels at action sequences, vividly portraying amazing feats of magic, thrilling fight scenes and stunning battle sequences. At times, I forgot I was reading, becoming completely absorbed in what looked and felt like a spectacular cinematic experience. Hollywood screenwriters and directors could definitely learn something from Brandon Sanderson.

The ending left enough unanswered questions and new revelations to make me cringe at the two to three year wait for the second novel. I can’t say I was ‘happy’ with some of the discoveries, especially Dalinar’s final vision (actually a repeat of his first vision but our first glimpse of it). I would love to expound on this and rant a bit about the religious or philosophical repercussions, but I fear spoiling a key element and don’t want to scare prospective readers away from a magnificent epic fantasy.

I appreciated Kalladin’s struggles and triumphs, yet he has much to learn and finally has the resources and encouragement to achieve Life before Death, Strength before Weakness and the Journey before the Destination.

September 16th Addition: Brandon commissioned (and personally paid for) beautiful interior illustrations, color endplates of glyphs and maps, natural history sketchbook excerpts, various military maps all presented as character created to complement his excellent textual world building.

Here are some photos I took of the end plates from my first edition:

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And finally, to top off the interior artwork, Michael Whelan created the stunning coverart (Click here for the artist’s notes on creating the cover artwork).

GR Status Updates:

09/04/2010 page 1 0.0% 2 comments
09/04/2010 page 35 3.0% “Starting Part One ‘Above Silence'” 13 comments
09/04/2010 page 61 6.0% “Starting third chapter ‘City of Bells'” 6 comments
09/04/2010 page 73 7.0% “Starting Chapter 4 ‘The Shattered Plains'” 4 comments
09/04/2010 page 83 8.0% “Starting Chapter 5 ‘Heretic'” 3 comments
09/04/2010 page 95 9.0% “Starting Chapter 6 ‘Bridge Four'” 2 comments
09/04/2010 page 112 11.0% “Starting Chapter 7 ‘Anything Reasonable'” 2 comments
09/05/2010 page 145 14.0% “Starting Chapter 9 ‘Damnation'” 4 comments
09/05/2010 page 164 16.0% “Finished Part One”
09/06/2010 page 171 17.0% “In search of … Hoid”
09/06/2010 page 181 18.0% “Starting Part Two ‘The Illuminating Storms'” 2 comments
09/06/2010 page 201 20.0% “Finished Chapter 12 ‘Unity'” 2 comments
09/06/2010 page 210 21.0% “Finished Chapter 13 ‘Ten Heartbeats'” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 220 22.0% “Finished Chapter 14 ‘Payday'” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 224 22.0% “A tenant of Vorinism” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 227 23.0% “Dalinor remembers Gavilar’s death quote from the ancient text entitled The Way of Kings1 comment
09/06/2010 page 238 24.0% “Another reference to textbook The Way of Kings aka the Codes” 2 comments
09/06/2010 page 241 24.0% “Finished Chapter 14 ‘Decoy'” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 244 24.0% “Alethi Codes of War” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 257 26.0% “Finished Chapter 16 ‘Cocoons'” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 273 27.0% “Finished Chapter 17 ‘A Bloody, Red Sunset'” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 278 28.0% “Fourth copy edit mistake I’ve found in the first 300 pages. All have involved two letter prepositions.” 2 comments
09/06/2010 page 282 28.0% “A Calling and a Glory” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 284 28.0% “The War of Loss aka Hierocracy” 4 comments
09/06/2010 page 292 29.0% “Another description of the Way of Kings2 comments
09/06/2010 page 308 31.0% “Finished Chapters 18 ‘Highprince of War’ and Chapter 19 ‘Starfalls'” 3 comments
09/06/2010 page 316 31.0% “Trust and Power” 1 comment
09/06/2010 page 351 35.0% “Starting Chapter 24 ‘The Gallery of Maps'” 1 comment
09/07/2010 page 360 36.0% “Starting Chapter 25 ‘The Butcher'” 1 comment
09/08/2010 page 377 37.0% “Found another copy edit mishap with a missing two-letter proposition.” 4 comments
09/08/2010 page 386 38.0% “Starting Chapter 27 ‘Chasm Duty'” 1 comment
09/08/2010 page 406 40.0% “Starting Chapter 28 ‘Decision'”
09/10/2010 page 428 43.0% “Finished Part Two”
09/10/2010 page 451 45.0% “Finished second set of Interlude short stories”
09/11/2010 page 469 47.0% “Redundant ‘close’ or am I just not reading this right: ‘A true scholar must not close her mind close on any topic, no matter how certain she may feel.'” 3 comments
09/11/2010 page 496 49.0% “Finished three chapters from Kaladin’s PoV.”
09/11/2010 page 512 51.0% “Finished Chapter 33 ‘Cymatics'” 2 comments
09/11/2010 page 524 52.0% “Finished Chapters 34 & 35 ‘Stormwall’ and ‘A Light by Which to See'” 6 comments
09/11/2010 page 600 60.0% “Finished ‘Beggars and Barmaids’ chapter.” 1 comment
09/11/2010 page 626 62.0% “Kaladin’s regrets haunt him.” 1 comment
09/12/2010 page 645 64.0% “Shallan becomes more desperate and possibly delusional.”
09/12/2010 page 663 66.0% “Kaladin meets Adolin.”
09/12/2010 page 671 67.0% “Kaladin hears Cenn’s death reading.” 4 comments
09/12/2010 page 676 67.0% “Starting Chapter 48 ‘Strawberry'” 2 comments
09/12/2010 page 687 68.0% “Starting Chapter 49 ‘To Care'” 1 comment
09/12/2010 page 696 69.0% “Starting Chapter 50 ‘Backbreaker Powder'”
09/12/2010 page 704 70.0% “Finished Part Three” 1 comment
09/12/2010 page 721 72.0% “Finished third Interludes” 1 comment
09/12/2010 page 730 72.0% “Another copy edit mishap” 1 comment
09/12/2010 page 751 75.0% “Aha! Hoid again!” 2 comments
09/12/2010 page 763 76.0% “Starting Chapter 55 ‘An Emerald Broam'”
09/12/2010 page 777 77.0% “Starting Chapter 56 ‘That Storming Book'”
09/12/2010 page 789 78.0% “Starting Chapter 57 ‘Wandersail'” 1 comment
09/13/2010 page 811 81.0% “Starting Chapter 58 ‘Journey'”
09/13/2010 page 857 85.0% “Starting Chapter 61 ‘Right for Wrong'”
09/13/2010 page 878 87.0% “Starting Chapter 63 ‘Fear'”
09/14/2010 page 926 92.0% “Finished Chapter 67 ‘Words'” 3 comments
09/14/2010 page 945 94.0% “Starting Chapter 69 ‘Justice'”
09/14/2010 page 962 96.0% “Finished Part Four (no Interludes before Part Five).”
09/14/2010 page 1007 100.0% 1 comment