The Way of Kings
First edition book cover
|Cover artist||Michael Whelan|
|Series||The Stormlight Archive|
|August 31, 2010|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Followed by||Words of Radiance|
The Way of Kings (abbreviated as WOK by fans) is the first book of The Stormlight Archive epic fantasy series written by American author Brandon Sanderson. It was published by Tor Books and released on August 31, 2010.  In 2011, it won the David Gemmell Legend Award for best novel. The unabridged audiobook is read by narrator team Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. Upon first publication, The Way of Kings consisted of one prelude, one prologue, 75 chapters, an epilogue and 9 interludes. It was followed by Words of Radiance in 2014.
The publication of The Way of Kings was delayed when Sanderson, instead, decided to focus on his Mistborn trilogy. On June 10, 2010 the prologue and the first three chapters of the book were released, along with an introduction by Sanderson, as a preview on the Tor website. On July 8, 2010 the next three chapters (4-6) were released in audio format exclusively on the Tor Website. On August 5, 2010 chapters 9 and 11 were released exclusively on the Tor Website. Tor wrote that they did not release chapters 7, 8, and 10 because they wanted to focus on the storyline of Kaladin, one of the main characters. On August 26, 2010 chapters 12 and 13 were released exclusively on the Tor Website
The backstory of the novel revolves around an epic recurring disaster known as the Desolation where monstrous Voidbringers ravage the world and human life hangs in the balance. To counter the threat the Knights Radiant (so named for their glowing aura and eyes) possess magical armor and swords known as Shardplate and Shardblades as well as fantastic magical powers. The last Desolation was believed to be the final one, and has become a time of myths and legends, in particular as the Knights Radiants left behind their weapons and armor and disappear into obscurity. In reality, the Knights-Radiant could no longer bear the great burden and lied. Their discarded armor and swords remain as some of the most priceless heirlooms that are worth an entire kingdom's ransom to possess.
Other major components of the story is the unique magic of the world, based on gemstones that glow with light for many weeks after reoccurring, powerful storms known as high-storms. These commonplace gemstones are also used as mundane currency in merchant transactions, as well as interior lighting at night in wealthy houses and palaces. Drawing in this "stormlight" energy is what fuels magical talismans of priest-wizards (the gem encrusted gloves called Soulcasters) that convert into another form, such as stone into grain, or people into stone, and powered gemstone constructs known as fabrials, such as a fabrial that creates red light and heat to replace wood in a fireplace. Soulcasting and fabrials are not uncommon, but typically only owned by the nobility. The nobility is also based on eye color, blue eyes being seen as the most pure royalty due to the association with the legendary Knights Radiants who had glowing eyes.
The world itself has notable flora and fauna, all of which is based on surviving the common, and extremely powerful high-storms. Most animal life is based on crustaceans, most of which can burrow into the ground to survive a high-storm. Plant life is also mobile in that it retracts into the ground to also survive high-storms. Because all high-storms come from the eastern ocean and travel west, the western side of rocks, mountains, and hills become the major locations of plant, and by extension animal life. Also, spirits called Spren exist and react to emotions of people and the environment. High wind will have wind-spren in the form of ribbons on light that flow with it. Suffering from pain will have red pain-spren appear around the wound, and giving a noble, heartfelt speech will have glory-spren of golden, twinkling lights form a halo around the head of the speaker. Spren are so common that many people take them for granted, yet it is revealed that intelligent Honor-spren who bind themselves to a mortal person are actually the source of a Knights Radiant magical powers.
The story rotates between the points of view of Kaladin, Shallan, Szeth, Dalinar Kholin, and several other minor characters, who lead seemingly unconnected lives. Szeth, a Shin man cast out by his people and condemned to do the bidding of his constantly changing masters, is sent to murder the king of one of the world's most powerful nations, Alethkar. As the story progresses, he continuously changes hands, doing his best to hide the fact that he possesses a Shardblade, a magical blade given to the Knights Radiant that can cut through any material and end lives with a single cut. He also possesses an ability to control gravity and to bind things together for a certain amount of time (“Surgebinding”), once possessed by the Knights Radiant and thought lost, making him incredibly difficult to defeat in battle.
When Szeth was sent to kill the Alethi King Gavilar, the Parshendi, a race similar to the docile servants of other nations, Parshmen, claim responsibility for the assassination. Gavilar's son then goes to war with the Parshendi both for vengeance and to help stabilize the political situation. The story then shifts to the stories of Highprince Dalinar Kholin, the brother of the King who was murdered. Before he died, his brother directed Dalinar to an ancient tome called The Way of Kings, which leads Dalinar to start questioning the warlike and competitive Alethkar way of life. He also begins to experience visions in which he sees the ancient Knights Radiant. For Dalinar, these visions not only cast doubt on the mistaken history of the Radiants, they also begin to reveal the truth about the Voidbringers and the current state of the world. All of these events make Dalinar reluctant to do battle. Dalinar's conviction is questioned by those closest to him, casting heavy doubt on his sanity and bringing into question his entitlement to leadership. In the political unrest of the age, perceived weakness is cause for others to try and eliminate him.
Meanwhile, the story also follows Kaladin, a darkeye peasant with a burning hatred for lighteyes nobles. Trained in his youth as a surgeon, Kaladin volunteered to go to war for the army of a local lord to watch over and protect his brother on the field of battle. In his third battle Kaladin fails to protect his brother, who is killed. This drives Kaladin to become a better fighter, resolving to protect others from the same fate. During a later battle, Kaladin succeeds in killing an enemy Shardbearer, and by right could claim the enemy's Shardblade and Shardplate, becoming a lighteyes himself. However, he rejects the Shardblade and Shardplate and is then betrayed by Brightlord Amaram, who takes the weapons for himself and makes Kaladin into a slave to hide the theft. This event not only cements Kaladin's hatred for nobles, it also leaves deep emotional scars. After a number of escape attempts, he is forced into service as a bridgeman in an army battling the Parshendi on the Shattered Plains. Bridgemen are used strategically as easy targets for the opposing armies' archers, allowed to die so that the trained army can attack more easily. Kaladin manages to rally the other men in his group and turn them into a team that can survive. However, after he accidentally ruins a battle by changing tactics, he is beaten violently and left outside during a Highstorm to die. He manages to survive. As a result of his unlikely survival, he begins to discover that he possesses the Surgebinding ability. As he struggles to find a way for his men to escape their lives as bridgemen, he comes to terms with his powers and begins to learn how to use them.
Shallan, a minor lighteyes whose family and lands are in danger, hatches a daring plot to switch a broken Soulcaster (a device that allows people to change objects to other things) with a working one belonging to Jasnah Kholin, sister of the Alethi King. She petitions Jasnah to become Jasnah's apprentice, and through persistent effort she manages to get Jasnah's confidence and becomes her apprentice. After successfully stealing the Soulcaster, she is frustrated by her inability to use it until one fateful day, when she accidentally turns a goblet into blood. Jasnah comes in at that exact moment, and Shallan breaks a pitcher and cuts herself to make it seem as though the blood was hers, which Jasnah mistakes for a suicide attempt. Shallan soon discovers that Jasnah's Soulcaster does not possess the ability to transmute, but is instead simply a distraction from her uncommon natural ability to soulcast. When Jasnah learns that Shallan can transmute she forgives the girl for trying to steal her Soulcaster and begins instructing her in the proper use of their shared power. She also reveals her researching into the origins of the Knights Radiant and Voidbringers and prepares Shallan and herself to travel to the Shattered Plains to meet with Jasnah's uncle Dalinar.
The primary chapters within the book are told from the viewpoint of several major characters, while the book's interludes are told from the viewpoint of other characters (not all of which repeat).
- Szeth-son-son-Vallano, an assassin from the land of Shinovar. He refers to himself as a "Truthless" who must serve those who bear his Oathstone. Bearer of a Shardblade and wielder of Stormlight. He hates being forced to murder and cries as he does.
- Kaladin: A darkeye, or peasant, from the nation of Alethkar during the main timeline of the book who is forced to serve on a bridge crew in the army of Highprince Sadeas. Formerly an apprentice learning surgery from his father, and a member of the army of the brightlord Amaram, he hates light-eyes because of Amaram, who betrays him by first allowing his brother to die, and then taking by force the Shardblade Kaladin earns and gives to his men. Kaladin is able to use Stormlight to heal himself and make himself stronger and faster than any normal human being. He is accompanied by an Honorspren named Syl. She came to him because of his innate honor and kindness in the face of the evil and betrayal that seem to surround him. Kaladin's connection with Syl is what gives him his power with Stormlight; it also gives Syl the level of sentience she possesses.
- Shallan Davar: A minor lighteyes, or noble, from the nation of Jah Keved. Her family has fallen on hard times after the death of her father. She seeks to be accepted as the ward and student of the scholar Jasnah Kholin, sister to King Elhokar of Alethkar. A skilled artist who can with a single glance remember and recreate a scene with charcoal and paper, she learns that she is able to Soulcast without a Soulcaster, just like Jasnah. Though the beginning of the book has her plotting to steal Jasnah's Soulcaster to save her family, she has become Jasnah's true apprentice by the end of the book.
- Dalinar Kholin: A highprince of Alethkar, brother to the slain King Gavilar, uncle to the current king. Nicknamed the Blackthorn. A general who helped unite the kingdom with his brother. A man who experiences visions during the highstorms, and bearer of a Shardblade and Shardplate, he is criticized as weak after he begins to follow the Codes and talk about stopping the pointless war Alethkar is engaged in.
- Adolin Kholin: A lighteyes of Alethkar and heir to his father Dalinar's highprince seat. A skilled duelist and a bearer of a Shardblade and Shardplate, he loves and respects his father despite fearing that he has gone mad.
- Navani Kholin: Widow of King Gavilar, mother of King Elhokar and Jasnah. A skilled artifabrian (one who creates devices known as fabrials). She has always loved Dalinar, even when she was married to his brother, Gavilar. She attempts to rekindle a relationship with Dalinar but is initially rebuffed; eventually she convinces Dalinar to embrace his feelings at the end of the book.
The following characters are viewpoint characters in the interludes of the book:
- Kalak is one of ten Heralds of the Almighty. His viewpoint chapter is the prelude which takes place 4,500 years before the events of the first chapter.
- Axies the Collector is a Siah Aimian engaged in a quest to catalog all the different varieties of spren on Roshar. He is basically immortal due to an interaction with magic.
- Baxil is a thief of Emuli nationality, the cousin of Av. He helps a beautiful lighteyes woman breaking into places to destroy artwork.
- Cenn is a young spearman in Amaram's army, inexperienced and reminds Kaladin of his brother Tien.
- Geranid is a scientist and philosopher. She lived with Ashir on a small Reshi island, where she spends her time studying spren.
- Ishikk is a fisherman from the Purelake. He is approached by three strangers, who he calls Grump, Thinker and Blunt. They are using him as an agent to find a man named Hoid.
- Nan Balat is one of Shallan's brothers, a lighteyed Veden. After Nan Helaran, Balat's eldest brother, was proclaimed dead by their father, Balat gained the title 'Nan', making him first in line.
- Rsyn is a young woman from Thaylenah, an apprentice merchant. She travels with Vstim to Shinovar.
- Wit, also known as Hoid, is the court jester of king Elhokar Kholin at the Shattered Plains. Wit's role as court jester simply allows him to insult everyone he meets, often by just deliberately discussing that person's worst character flaws openly. Wit also is apparently secretly more than he seems, often possessing an omnipotent knowledge of things he shouldn't, and the ability to know where to travel to meet important people and offer obscure, but useful advice and information to those he briefly meets.
Reception and sales
An early review from the website Unshelved gave the book a positive review. A review from Elitist Book Reviews pointed out small problems with the book, (black-and-white characters, too much exposition) but gave an overall positive opinion of the book. The website SFReviews.net gave the book a mixed review, praising Sanderson's writing and creativity, but criticizing its extreme length and overall dearth of action.
SF Reviews pointed out, "The ride is luxurious, the scenery is often breathtaking, but The Way of Kings is truly a long and winding road." KeepingTheDoor.com commented, "The Stormlight Archive is a series that, like Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Robin Hobb's The Realm of the Elderlings epics, every fantasy fan worth their salt must read and be familiar with. This will be one of the giant series that will help shape the entire scene. Take a week off work now and go and buy The Way of Kings. You won't regret it."
Awards and nominations
- Whitney Awards - Best Speculative Fiction (won) (2010)
- Whitney Awards - Best Novel of the Year (won) (2010)
- Goodreads Choice Awards - Best fantasy novel (nominated) (2010)
- David Gemmell Legend Award - Best novel (won) (2011)
- Sanderson, Brandon (28 February 2013). "The Title for Brandon Sanderson’s Second Stormlight Archive Book Has Been Revealed". Tor.com.
- "Brandon Sanderson: EUOLogy: My History as a Writer". Brandon Sanderson. October 2008. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
- "Amazon.com: The Way of Kings". Amazon.com. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
- THE WAY OF KINGS Wins the David Gemmell Legend Award
- "Re: Post Questions For Brandon Sanderson Here!". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved February 27, 2010.. The book has 75 chapters, along with a prelude, a prologue, an epilogue, and nine interlude chapters.
- "Updates for this week". Brandon Sanderson. July 1, 2013.
- "Words of Radiance Release Date has Moved". Tor.com. July 30, 2013.
- "Brandon Sanderson Blog: Baffled Editor". Brandon Sanderson. May 12, 2009. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
- "Preview THE WAY OF KINGS on Tor.com". Retrieved 2010-06-10.
- "Pages currently available for The Way of Kings in Sample Chapters". BrandonSanderson.com.
- "*New* Chapters 9 & 11 of the Way of Kings: Now Available Exclusively on Tor.com." 18 Aug. 2010 <http://www.tor.com/wok/register.>., also from email from Tor.com to members Archived 15 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- "*New* Chapters 12 & 13 of the Way of Kings: Now Available Exclusively on Tor.com." Tor.com: 26 Aug. 2010. 26 Aug 2010 <http://www.tor.com/wok/register>., also from email from Tor.com to members Archived 15 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- "The Way of Kings is a New York Times Bestseller". Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction." The New York Times, 17 Sept., 2010. 4 Oct., 2010 .
- "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction." The New York Times, 24 Sept., 2010. 4 Oct., 2010 .
- "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction." The New York Times. 1 Oct., 2010. 3 Oct., 2010 .
- "Unshelved review of "The Way of Kings"". Retrieved 2010-08-27.
- "Elitist Book Reviews: The Way of Kings". Retrieved 2010-09-10.
- "SF Reviews.net: The Way of Kings / Brandon Sanderson". Retrieved 2010-09-22.
- SF REVIEWS.NET: The Way of Kings / Brandon Sanderson ★★★
- "Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings review". keepingthedoor.com. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- "The Way of Kings: Book One of The Stormlight Archive [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition]". Amazon.com.
- "Whitney Awards 2010 Winners". whitneyawards.com. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "Whitney Awards 2010 Winners". whitneyawards.com. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "2010 Goodreads Choice Awards: Favorite Book of 2010". Goodreads.
- "The David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy Previous Winners". gemmellaward.com. Retrieved April 16, 2013.