October 20, 2010

The Way of Kings Initial Reaction [review time]

I have awaited this book with excited anticipation since I read the single volume Elantris. Brandon Sanderson has incredible creativity – something that is ironically lacking in the fantasy genre for the most part. If we take him to be a protégé, or at least a contemporary of Robert Jordan, having taken on the task of completing the epic Wheel of Time series, I would argue that Sanderson is perfecting the imaginative genre and taking it a step further. This is an important step towards what the fantasy genre was always meant to be.

The Way of Kings has a rich world with a history, mythopoeia and culture, just as any good fantasy novel must have. What sets it apart is that with every page Sanderson reaches for something new. He does not dwell in the safe fantasy norms of a medieval setting with subtle magic and overused immortal characters. His story is colourful and fresh, it moves forward with satisfying pacing and introduction of estranging elements that give the reader what they have been longing for in a fantasy book. The Way of Kings gives us what books like the Lord of the Rings only teased us with. In the Lord of the Rings we have a world of fading magic, a world that misses its Golden Age and is moving on to a mortal and scientific and mundane existence. Although there are some mentions of lost arts and times when great magic swept the lands, Roshar is very satisfying for a fantasy world. Its magic and its strangeness are perfectly captivating and immersive.

The plot is also to my liking, though I have only read the first few chapters. Thus far Sanderson has not even engaged in the typical sweeping wars that dominate fantasy stories. Instead, he appears to be introducing an old world and guiding us closer and closer to the personal struggles of the protagonists. He uses a prologue to the series to give us our epic fantasy feel of a historical event that will set the stage for the entire saga, then zooms in a little closer to a current political battle that will likely be the focus of the novel, but then he takes us another step inwards to have a look at two parallel stories that tie into that epic plot, but we have focus and movement on the characters themselves. Against the grain of the fantasy tradition, Sanderson is through much of his work focusing on the individual and the experience of living and making ones way in his world. How this will tie into what is promising to be an eventual epic plot, we shall see.

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