I’m trying to get more active with this blog, so I’m going to go through some of the various book reviews I’ve written. Next up is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson
I read The Way of Kings quite a while ago. In fact, it’s been almost five years since I’ve read it, so this won’t be too heavy on plot details. Besides, I don’t like to spoil to many things anyways.
This book is a good beginning to the Stormlight Archive, which looks like it will turn out to be Sanderson’s magnum opus. It’s a huge world with a huge story (more than 1000 pages of it, in fact). There’s a lot of good about this book, but at the same time, it’s setting up a much more massive story. Some of Sanderson’s other stuff stands alone (Elantris, Warbreaker, the first Mistborn book). This does not.
It’s also a major time investment and requires you to trust the author before you tackle it. I suggest reading some of his other works first. They’re not as deep and complex as this, but they’re also faster-paced and serve as better introductions to his work.
Now for the good:
This is a highly interesting and complex world. There’s the threat of an apocalyptic war. There are fierce storms that shape geography and wildlife. There’s conflict between and within nations. On top of all that, you have Sanderson’s great magic, though you should be warned that the magic in these books is a bit more mysterious than you’ll find in Mistborn. I’m sure there are rules for it, but it’s been missing for a long time, and so when it does show up, the characters are still figuring it out.
That brings me to the characters. In this book, Sanderson has crafted some of his best characters. Kaladin makes an interesting and conflicted protagonist. Shallan is annoying at times, but she grows on you as you read (and especially in the second book).
I especially found myself absorbed in Kaladin’s struggles. Some of the things he has to endure are truly horrific, and his character journey is a fascinating one to watch.
There’s also a great deal of mystery in these books. Since it’s the first of a ten-book series, you don’t get as many answers as you normally get from Sanderson. I found this mystery added to the book and helped me get through some of the slower sections.
Don’t worry. There is action. Great action. You just have to wait a while for it.
This book continues one of the things I love about Sanderson’s work. He’s not afraid to use common fantasy tropes. He just put his own spin on them. In doing that, he gives the reader something that’s both familiar and different, and that’s the right balance for me. If you’re looking for something that completely avoids tropes, this isn’t the right story for you.
For me, it’s the kind of story that reminds me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place. Sanderson writes the modern update of classic fantasy that keeps most in touch with the roots of the genre.
In all, this was a very good book, but it did have its slow sections. For those who are interested, I thought Words of Radiance was truly excellent.
I read this a while back, but I thought I’d dig out this old review because this is one of those books that has really stuck with me in some ways.
Elantris was the first Brandon Sanderson book I ever read. Since then, he has established himself as one of my favorite authors.
Why was I attracted to Elantris?
1. It was a standalone (and not terribly long).
2. The concept was really cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a fantasy city that draws on the legend of Atlantis, but does it in a completely novel way in a secondary world?
This novel is probably the least polished of Sanderson’s efforts. You can tell this was early in his professional writing career. But it’s a great book nonetheless. I was sucked in immediately by the first line of the prologue.
Elantris was beautiful, once.
This captured my attention because of the final word, separated skillfully by a comma to emphasize it. As I read, I immediately wanted to know why it wasn’t beautiful anymore. This is an author doing his job. There’s a mystery here, and that’s one great way of showing tension.
When I got to the first chapter, I was immediately sucked into Raoden’s story. Why? Because of this opening line:
Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.
This line, although it might be seen as a break in POV, truly grabbed my attention. I didn’t even know who this prince was, but I already felt for him. Being damned for all eternity sucks. A lot. Anyone can feel empathy for a character in that situation. Not to mention, it adds mystery and gets the plot rolling. Working through mysteries is one of Sanderson’s strengths as a writer.
Now, to the rest of the book:
It has been more than two years since I’ve read the book, so I won’t go into incredible detail here. However, I will mention what Sanderson did well (and what he didn’t).
1. Sanderson created likeable characters. Note that I said likeable. For many readers, Raoden and Sarene are not perhaps the most interesting characters. But I know I liked them, and I wanted to root for them.
2. The main antagonist, Hrathen. He is not perhaps as likeable as the other two main characters, but he makes up for it by being one of the best villains I’ve ever read. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but I’d describe him as a great example of an anti-villain.
3. The setting. The city of Elantris is one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever read in fantasy, and it has really stuck with me. It’s a city where people, taken by a mysterious transformation, are doomed to live out eternity looking hideously disfigured. Not only that, but for every injury they suffer, their pain remains, building until they go insane. It’s a city without order, where gangs rule the day. It’s this chaos that Raoden seeks to correct once he is exiled there.
4. The magic. As you’d expect from Brandon Sanderson, the magic system is intricate, interesting, and integral to the plot (how’s that for alliteration and consonance!). I’ve forgotten some of the details, but I remember the magic, which you discover later in the book, as a great mystery to unravel. Just like the city of Elantris itself.
5. The mystery. As I mentioned above, mysteries abound in this one. The city of Elantris is a mystery. The magic is a mystery. The character of Hrathen is a mystery. Sanderson achieves a well-developed balance of mystery, intrigue, and action that keeps you reading despite occasional rough patches in the writing itself.
6. The action. Through much of the book, you don’t see big battles, but there is one at the end, and it’s awesome. That’s one of Sanderson’s strenghts.
1. The writing isn’t as clean as Sanderson’s later work.
2. The pacing is, at times, a little slow (but not terribly so).
3. The “interesting factor” for two of the MCs, as mentioned above.
As you can see, I can’t find much bad to say about this. Elantris is one of those books that has really stuck with me. I loved it when I read it, and I still love it now. It’s not perfect, but it’s a highly entertaining read that every fantasy reader should at least give a chance.