The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) (2024)

We have the freedom to express our opinions in beauty of subjectivity, and we should always fight and bite to keep that.

But that's not the case I'm trying to make here with this review.

I’m not trying to challenge anyone’s opinion or common sense when I say that by all measures of literature in history of mankind – and what paved the way for books, movies, songs we today call classics to be considered as such because of their unique quality – The Way of Kings (as well as its far worse sequel: Words of Radiance) is one of the worst books ever written.

I tried as much as I could to share my thoughts in a thoughtful and respectful manner for all of you who love this book.
And I believe that I do have an actual position (as an admirer of fantasy genre) that I feel obliged to argue.
Especially when I see a problem.
OK?
OK.
Onto the actual review, then.

The only book I’ve read more times than this one was Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
And the reason why I read War and Peace so many times was because upon each read I discovered something new that would grip me in Leo’s story; a new character and their perspectives I overlooked or experienced in a different way every other time I took the book in my hands.
A true masterpiece and a classic that rightfully stands against the time, in spite being written well over a century ago.

Am I actually trying to draw a comparison between War and Peace and The Way of Kings?
God, no!
The only similarity these two books have, luckily, is that both are just that – books.
In everything else they fail in comparison.

But, I have seen many people calling The Way of Kings both a masterpiece and an instant classic of the genre.
I admit, on my first two reads, I was inclined to agree. I understand all of you who think and say that.
Because I was one of you. I was enamored and infatuated by scope and magnitude of what I was reading.

I never thought that someone could make a story where people are fighting over a heart of a giant crab and make it sound serious.
I never thought that you could read about bunch of knights, dressed as medieval Power Rangers, wielding giant swords that were made out of pure essence, which would appear in their hands out of thin air (or morning mist) when they would call them with their minds – and not come out as a dork high on sugar.

It was important to me because I was one of those dorks high on sugar.

I thought – what most of you are right now quite unimaginatively repeating in unison – that this book was exclusively nothing but: amazing.

Now?

I’m deeply ashamed of myself for having such a high opinion of this book.

So, what happened in-between my first two reads in 2011 and 2012 and this one at the end of 2017?

Well, the answer is quite simple: I read better books than this one.

Better books with richer worlds, more beautiful prose and far more developed characters.
Better series with less inconsistencies in it, less plotholes and less… well, problems overall.
Better authors that were more focused on quality of what they were writing about - where you can actually recognize their effort to make a book better;
than quantity - when after first two reads and beginners infatuation by the scope and magnitude of what you were dealing with, few years later when you try to reread what you, in your ignorance, were believing was an ‘instant classic’, is nothing more than a shallow, 800 pages far too long, rambling.

So, the actual rating for this book is 2.25/5.
How come exactly 2.25?
Well, because of the chart. This one:

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) (1)

And the long list of problems that prevented numbers on that chart from going higher.
What problems?
Let’s start with the biggest one for me.

Characterization.

The fun starts, with - what I will repeat is - probably one of the best described confusion of battle I have ever read. Anywhere.
And whoever experienced a battle in real life, or at least played CoD online, or really, really carefully was trying to figure out what baseball is about, probably knows of confusion I’m talking about. (And if you’re wondering, yes, I experienced all three above – baseball is the worst. By far.)

It’s a really great scene where you are put in this situation where you don’t have any knowledge of terrain, where you are depraved of ‘bird’s perspective’ in which you can 'see' battle on the east flank, or what happens on the west side, so that you can act accordingly.
No, here, all you can see are sweating bodies; hear yelling and cursing; and smell gore and piss.
You’re a puppet, you know you’re a puppet, and like one, they move you all around.

And in this chapter we are introduced to our main protagonist. Our Jesus, our Superman of the story.
With his almost omnipotent power he’s expressing, he tries to take care of those who can’t do that for themselves, and you can see in his saddened gaze – which is due to undoubtedly his equally sad and tragic past – weight of the entire world, threatening to crash him underneath.
Yet he stands.
Resolute.

Until the next chapter where we see him in shackles, with broken spirit, strolling away as a slave to Shattered Plains, where he will carry bridges into war across the chasms, towards revolution and freedom for all!

(Now insert a petty sarcasm "over 6000" here):

Nooo, I have never seen a character such as this!
It never, ever, crossed my mind that Kaladin (our main protagonist) is a Jesus and Superman in one, with Peter Pan’s Tinkerbelle (Syl) on his shoulders as, not just as a moral compass, but a source of his powers to, let’s say, I don’t know, maybe even fly…
And yes, I’m ashamed of this as well, because it took me two reads to realize similarities between Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle and Kaladin and Syl.

So, now that we are on Shattered Plains… wow, wow, wow, wow… where are you going?
You thought we were moving forward?
No, no, no, no, this book doesn’t work like that. No…
In order for us to move forward with characterization of our main protagonist, we have to go: back.
Into the 800 pages long info-dumps.
Oh yes.

Oh no!
Ramifications of this atrocity called: ‘characterization through characters past’ will be significant in future.
First two books of The Stormlight Archive series are the most dangerous thing that happened to this genre.
In 50 years, when historians will bang their heads in an effort to find roots of a downfall of epic fantasy as a genre, they’ll find its roots here. In this very book.
It started already. Just this year alone I have read two books by an author who said he was inspired by Brandon Sanderson.
And he did this exact same thing. He build a character by telling his past.

And… do you know what some of you who read those books said about that approach of building a character?
You called it an info-dump.

It’s really interesting how you failed to recognize and you actually praised that same approach here, where that kind of fallacy practically came from. Oh well…
Who knows how many of new, aspiring authors will be inspired by this kind of approach.
All because none of us told Sanderson that THIS - DOESN'T - WORK.

‘So what’, you’ll say. ‘Surely there’s no a definitive answer what characterization is or isn’t.’

Except, there is. There are books actually written about it. With carefully dissected examples of what throughout the history of literature and media all around us today, worked as a story, plot or characterization and, more importantly, what didn’t worked.

And when I compared those examples of undoubted quality in long history with what Brandon tried here with, not just his characters but overall, in this book, it’s really not that much of a surprise that The Way of Kings doesn’t stand to a test of time.
Not even three years passed when I noticed first problems, when I read more than 100 books of this genre and realized: ‘Oh my God, there are far better books than this one.’.

In essence, my problem with Kaladin’s characterization is this.

You can show a character going through many changes in a story, but not all of them represent character change.
True character change involves a challenging and changing of basic beliefs, leading to new moral action by the hero.

What happens when we exclude stories about his past (those infamous info-dumps), stories that tells us how Kaladin’s character was shaped and came to be to the point where we meet him in his first chapter?
Let's ask ourselves a question:

Who exactly is Kaladin when we meet him for the first time?

A capable young man who cares deeply about people in his unit, people he feels responsible for due to his tragic past. And he is willing to negotiate and work with people with whom he fundamentally disagrees. Lighteyes.

Who is Kaladin at the end of the book?

A capable young man who cares deeply about people in his unit, people he feels responsible for due to his tragic past. And he is willing to negotiate and work with people with whom he fundamentally disagrees. Lighteyes.

Spot the differences there?
No?
Didn't think so.

Let’s say I’m a potter. And I have a vase I want to reshape into something else. I start turning the wheel, reshaping and reshaping it – only to end up with a same vase again.
Question is: why? Why spending my time, my efforts and my resources reshaping something into exactly the same thing it was in the first place?

And one can maybe argue: ‘Well, it’s the journey, not the destination.’
If the entirety of a journey is simply running in circles, then I’ll accept that. Because that’s exactly what happened here.
Kaladin started from point 'A', went into journey of self-doubt and self-preservation, only to end up back at the same point 'A' he begin with.
And that’s absolutely fine. Those are all changes.
But that’s not characterization.
Brandon keeps repeating this same mistake throughout this entire series.

And do you know why I gave characterization of this book 2 and not 1?
Apply all of which I've said about building Kalladin's character to a character of Adolin Kholin.
Who he is at the beginning and the end, moral conflicts that shaped his character inside of one cohesive story etc...
Vast improvement.
And do you know whose character is one constantly good thing throughout these five reads?
Adolin Kholin, yes.
Wonder why is that...

About female characters I'll say only this: When you insist on copying female characters you created in Elantris and Warbreaker, and simply paste them from next series to next - I will call you on it. Sarene, Siri, Vivenna, Shallan and Jasnah are all one and the same character.
You make me miss that Mistborn's very own Mary Sue: Vin.

And just to be clear, female characters are not the only ones that get this unimaginative treatment.

We have this reminiscent sidekicks:
Teft. A blindly devoted, desperate in need of worshiping someone Galladon from Elantris knock-off.
Yes, Teft from The Way of Kings serves exactly the same purpose for main character in this book as did Galladon for main character of Elantris.

Now, we only need someone who'll, like Galladon in Elantris, constantly repeat nonsense in a local dialect... something like sule or kolo...
Ah, Lopen, there you are! Yes, gancho, you, get over here, gon!

I swear I see a pattern here...

Worbuilding.

I want to express gratitude for immense amount of effort Brandon’s team put up into creating artwork for this book. It’s really amazing, from cover itself, through maps to interior art.
Just look at this map:

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) (2)

Just look at it. Such beauty to look upon.
Only to look upon, because, sadly, out of all of that, for almost two entire books we’ll spend time only on eastern barren cliffs.
So, this glorious, beautiful map? You don’t need it. For two books you’ll experience three percent of it.

(Red X marks the spot)

Cliffs. Chasms and giant crabs.

1100 pages long behemoth of a book and we’re left wondering not just how 97% of the world looks like, but also how society works on some basic levels.
But I guess it was far more important to tell us that alcohol comes in variety of colors.
And tease some cameo appearances in interludes that, as of yet, don’t serves to the main story.

Prose.

I passionately disagree with this logic how “If you’re not a writer and if you’re not eloquent enough in writing your own reviews” you shouldn’t criticize author’s prose.

Do I need to be a mechanic to say that my wheel has fallen off?
Do I need to be a firefighter to say that my house is burning?
No?

So why do I need to be a writer myself to recognize and say that author of this book is preposterously bad at writing.
It’s either that, or he considers me an idiot. I do have self-respect, so I’ll go with the first one.
Brandon Sanderson is lightyears behind those authors I consider decent ones.
And mind you, English is not my first, nor second language, but still I’m able to recognize vastness in differences between authors prose. It’s not really science.

And if we combine his fetish of constant repeating and reminding us that Jasnah (written with a J but spoken with a Y – as I said, illiteracy cuts deep in this one) is a heretic and that Sadeas lacks Shardblade, at least three times per chapter with boring, witless and cringeworthily dialogues - novel is unbearably bleak and blatantly ridiculous.

Just a few examples:

Sadeas and his far too many times now mentioned Shardblade:

"Sadeas's hand had gone to his sword. Not a Shardblade, for Sadeas didn't have one."

"The highprince hated that Adolin had a blade while Sadeas had none"

"Sadeas was calling for his grandbow."

Remember, this is all within a single 15 pages long chapter.

Second - dialogues. Those awful, awful dialogues:

“I can see you are a woman of discriminating taste.”
“I am. I do like my meals prepared very carefully, as my palate is quite delicate.”
“Pardon. I meant that you have discriminating taste in books.”
“I’ve never eaten one, actually.”

As well as pitiful attempts at witty banters and humor:

"Each man has his place. Mine is to make insults. Yours is to be: in-slu*ts."

Barum tssss....
And my favourite, Sanderson's signature over-the-top bullsh*t:

"Today I went fishing and I caught one. Very lucky fish other fisherman said.
Cures aching joints for a good month after you eat it, and sometimes let you see when friends were going to visit by letting you read the shapes of the sound."

I mean, at this point, why the hell not?

Allegory.

Nonexistent.
OK, Sanderson fans, what is this book about? What is the meaning, what is he trying to say, what’s the message?
Is this book about racism? Criticizing it? I hope so. Because in this book, everyone is racist. Including Kaladin, our main protagonist.
What?
And how would you call a person who because of actions of two people with distinctive physical characteristics now hates everyone with those same physical characteristic?
That's a definition of racist. And that's also Kaladin's POV.

But, he's not the only one, no.

Lighteyes people are basically Nazis. They hate anyone non-lighteye.
Darkeyes people, or a common folk, of course, hate lighteyes and, because society thought them that way, they hate these slaves, these Parsh people.
Parshendi, which are equivalent to Native American people... well, they hate everyone. Including themselves.
And since everyone, Lighteyes, Darkeyes and Parshendi hate Parsh people, people who did no harm to anyone else, and who literally serve as slaves in this book - it only fits to make them as main villains, right?

I told you this book is filled with Sanderson's over the top bullsh*t, didn't I?

It’s a paradox how the only compliant and peaceful in collective discrimination of their race are mute, black Parsh slaves which aren’t even consider as humans. But like that wasn’t enough in this, ocean of ridiculousness, by the end of this book they are proclaimed as story’s main antagonists.
Empty vessels that could be filled with nothing but evil spirits.

And on top of that, you'll add Shallan, our female lead, who'll say something along these lines:
"Oh, but maybe they don't actually want to be free."

Thank you and goodnight.

All in all, I understand everyone who likes this book and this series. It's just that I have read better books in my life, since my first read of this one. And the way I'm looking at reading books and what I seek in them - The Way of Kings simply doesn't provide anymore.
It's a shame he got lazy in creating these worlds. But given how his readers will glorify everything he does, he would be crazy not to exploit that.
Oh well...

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) (2024)
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