Wednesday, August 04, 2010

[Lisa's Take] The Stormlight Archive Book 1 - The Way of Kings ARC (Brandon Sanderson)

First and foremost, a plug! If you live in the Atlanta area, go check out Blue Elephant Bookshop in Decatur. They have a lovely little shop filled with a labyrinth of shelves, friendly book-geek employees, and an excellent fantasy section, especially for a smaller indie store. Plus, you’ll be in Decatur, which means you can stop and stuff yourself full of excellent food and drinks at Brickstore or Iberian Pig.

Now, why exactly am I plugging a little Decatur bookshop? You see: for reasons entirely unfathomable to me, a friend to one of my best friends decided she loves me far too much. I can tell because she works at Blue Elephant, and they received a stack of ARCs for The Way of Kings from the publisher. And friend-of-a-friend (who has now replaced best-friend in my affections – sorry, Christin!) decided to let me have one. Just over 1000 pages of unedited Sanderson-ey goodness, 2 months before the book release date. I don’t deserve such love.

*cough* Right, ok, I’m done effusing for real this time – on to the review!

Um. Wow. Where do I even begin? Sanderson has really outdone himself this time – according to his blog is has a whole pile of books to write in this series, and I am 100% thrilled by this news. Perhaps the most astounding thing about the ARC is that Sanderson tweeted his revisions (going from the ARC to the final product), and was cutting 10%-20% of each chapter, which is just unfathomable to me. Sure, there were times when he waxed verbose, but it certainly didn’t seem like the prose needed tightening up much. I’m very much looking forward to a re-read of the final draft. Either way, Sanderson has a ton of story to tell, and I am incredibly excited about it.

Goodness, I’m tangenting all over the place today: reign it in, Lisa!

The Way of Kings is everything you would expect from a Sanderson novel. There are 3 main viewpoints and perhaps 3 or 4 more supporting viewpoints, much like Elantris or Warbreaker. All of the viewpoint characters are nuanced, deep, and interesting. I really appreciated the variety of ages, backgrounds, and opinions the characters held – it was really nice not to have to follow 3 teenage urchins, or 3 noble but sheltered young women. All of the literary voices were distinct and exciting; only one viewpoint dragged at all for me (impressive in a book this long!) and even then not for long. Perhaps most impressively: Sanderson managed to create characters that bucked the standard fantasy tropes without falling off the other side, back into “your character is hackneyed, you’re trying too hard.”

Speaking of characters, the world that Sanderson has created for this book is practically a character in itself. I don’t even know how he comes up with so many ideas; the world is incredibly rich and intriguing. He investigates the country in which most of the action takes place very thoroughly, but you also get glimpses of other countries and parts of the world – tantalizing little tastes that reveal just how much story Sanderson has to tell. I also loved the sprinkling of maps and drawings that were included, it was fun to see how close my mental pictures were to what Sanderson and the illustrator had in mind.

As always, Sanderson is amazing at describing fight scenes, and he has way too much fun playing with physics. If you’ve seen Inception (the only movie I’ve seen in theaters since Christmas…) you have an idea of just how awesome fights with variable gravity can be. Sanderson has a very similar mechanism in The Way of Kings; we only get a small taste of it in this book, but it is incredibly cool. Sanderson is always great at character building and action, but one thing he also got me with in this book was suspense. He really managed to get me keyed up and on edge a couple of times… and he did so skillfully enough that I’ll overlook the fact that he kind of ganked the device from the Doctor Who episode “Blink.”

Phew. This is getting long – I should wrap up. In case you couldn’t tell, The Way of Kings pretty much rocked my face off. It was incredibly good and amazingly diverse; now that I’m finished with it I keep finding myself thinking “oooo, I’m going to read some Way of Kings! Oh, wait, it’s over, nooooo!” Perhaps the most impressive thing about the book is not Sanderson’s characters, world, or magic systems, but this: when you finish Way of Kings, you realize that all of that plot, all of that character development, all of that world building…. was still just set-up for book 2 and the rest of the series. It’s probably not fair for a setup book to be this freaking awesome.

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