Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter...
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.
Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.
The result of over ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of the Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.
As someone who loves characters first and foremost, every character in this book is well done. Kaladin was the character I got into easiest, others took a bit longer for me to form that eagerness for; but eventually they all came to the same level.
His world feels nearly alien in it's uniqueness. Not something I require of my fantasy, but knowing this is going to be a ten book series, it's nice to see. He does such a good job with fleshing out the world that by the end, it really doesn't feel alien anymore. In fact at one point a good way through they come to an area that seems fairly "earth-like" and the characters there find it odd and I was right along with them.
The plot is exactly what it should be for something that will last ten books and probably over a decade of writing. Epic. The single novel itself reads well and wraps up well enough, but you still feel like you read the first chapter and want more. Not so much because of major cliffhangers, but because you are involved in the world and the characters and want to stay there. Sanderson does an outstanding job of weaving the plots together as it moves forward and he plants the seeds for the long series to come.
It mainly follows only a few characters and their stories and how they eventually connect together. One point of view is Kaladin, a slave trying to find a reason to survive and then do more than survive. The king of one of the regions and his son as they play at war and politics in the Broken Plains. A young apprentice and the scholar she is studying under hoping to save her family. And the assassin that initially lays the foundation for the war in the story. The novel is broken up into parts and between each part we get a taste of other characters and regions in little sub-chapters that seem to be the seeds for later novels as the story moves on.
The magic is unique, well done and well explained. Still more left on the table to learn; but I feel like the reader got plenty to understand what was happening and how. Most of all it fits the world's unique feel. It isn't over used in the story, but it also isn't hard to come by either.
The races are all new and unique races. Seems many variety of humans with some odd specifics. A Caste system in the primary kingdom for this story based on eye color even. The enemies of some of the story are the Parshendi; a humanoid, but not human race that I'm looking forward to learning more about as the series goes on. Other animals seem very unique as well, I think horses were about the only common animal used in the story (and at one point chickens). Sanderson has gone to great lengths to flesh out this world. The various societies, magic, creatures, environments, history are all deeply developed.
As a sidenote I have to say a couple things I normally don't like in fantasies and how they played out in this book: Odd quotes that don't make sense under chapter titles and prophecies/guidance by godlike figures that are more riddles than anything else. Both of these were in the book and handled beautifully. The prophecy thing when it finally crested most I nearly started to get frustrated, when the explanation came and it all made sense (more sense than any other time I've seen it tried) and made the story better. As for the chapter quotes, once you are into the story you understand the purpose of the quotes and they just become additional artwork or dressing for the rest of the story. Sanderson shows me that I don't hate these things after all, I only hate when they are done poorly.
Speaking of artwork, I loved all the extras in this book. Of course it had the map many fantasy stories have, but it also had drawings throughout the story of cities, creatures and other sketches (work that looked like you were peaking into sketchbooks of that world, not just standard art). It also had nice headers to every chapter.
If you love fantasies like "The Wheel of Time" series or have enjoyed other work by Brandon Sanderson (writer or Mistborn trilogy, Elantris, Warbreaker) then this series will be right up your alley. It is supposed to be ten volumes when all is said and done. The only bad part about this is that due to finishing up "The Wheel of Time" co-writing, volume 2 won't be out until 2012.