“Sometimes the prize is not worth the costs. The means by which we achieve victory are as important as the victory itself.”
According to mythology mankind used to live in The Tranquiline Halls. Heaven. But then the Voidbringers assaulted and captured heaven, casting out God and men. Men took root on Roshar, the world of storms. And the Voidbringers followed… They came against man ten thousand times. To help them cope, the Almighty gave men powerful suits of armor and mystical weapons, known as Shardblades. Led by ten angelic Heralds and ten orders of knights known as Radiants, mankind finally won. Or so the legends say.
Today, the only remnants of those supposed battles are the Shardblades, the possession of which makes a man nearly invincible on the battlefield. The entire world is at war with itself – and has been for centuries since the Radiants turned against mankind. Kings strive to win more Shardblades, each secretly wishing to be the one who will finally unite all of mankind under a single throne. On a world scoured down to the rock by terrifying hurricanes that blow through every few days a young spearman is forced into the army of a Shardbearer, led to war against an enemy he doesn’t understand and doesn’t really want to fight.
What happened deep in mankind’s past?
Why did the Radiants turn against mankind, and what happened to the magic they used to wield?
TW: torture, violence and gore, slavery, graphic medical scenes, suicide, self-harm
I’ll be honest: when I looked at this BRICK of a book, I was a little skeptical. 1124 pages? That much? I read YA, folks. And a couple adult fantasy books here and there, but not nearly as many
BUT THANK GOODNESS I did it anyways, because this was absolutely phenomenal! It took me ages to finish because it’s so long and there’s so much to take in and try to remember (especially since it’s the first of a ten book series and only three have been released). To keep this review from being as long as the book, though, I’ll break it down into just a few things I absolutely adored about it.
Listen. Kaladin is the protector type of character I ADORE with my entire heart because he chooses to protect others even after all his failures. I am so unreasonably attached to characters who will do anything in their power to help those who cannot help themselves, and Kaladin was the perfect model of that.
And Shallan! Clever, nervous, diligent Shallan! She was brilliant, and took incredible risks that had me so fascinated. Her intelligence was genuine, her art skills had a fascinating twist to them, and the ability she comes into has so much dangerous potential to it that I’m itching for more. Not to mention there are a few hints into her recent past that are super intriguing and dark, and I’m pretty sure the next book is focused mostly on her. Basically, I love her A TON and think she’s phenomenally complex in all the best ways!
After that, I like Dalinar the least, but not by much. He too is complex and faced with some monumental decisions. Like the other two, it’s obvious he has a massive role to play in the coming books, and I’m delighted to find a character who is so insistent on doing the right thing.
And when we get into side characters, there’s so much to be fascinated by! Szeth is FASCINATING because there’s so little about his past that we understand, but so many terrible things in his presence we have to witness. Meanwhile, Wit is a mysterious figure who’s absolutely too clever by half and knows far more than he lets on, which puts him in an unexpected position of power. He interests me almost as much as the main characters simply because the few occasions where he shows up promise that he has a serious role to play in spite of his joking nature.
There’s far too much worldbuilding to fit into a single book, so I expect more of it to come. That said, what was introduced has me so wrapped up in this universe. The interludes in particular did a phenomenal job of catching my attention, because they feel like set-ups, introducing curious new aspects without answering any questions. Why do spren freeze when measured? What were those men looking for at the Purelake? What does being Truthless entail? Why and how?
And those things we do know, like the way windspren are teasing, the way rotspren and infection go hand in hand, the animals of the world, the layout of the cities, the conflicts of religion with heresy, EVERYTHING about what is revealed is done so in a way that feels natural and open. There’s always more to learn, more to discover, more to be surprised by. It makes it seem real that way. Sometimes, not knowing everything is the best way to approach expansive worldbuilding!
Okay, so singling out ONE theme seems like cheating, but the thing that stood out to me was having these characters, each with their own complex motivations and goals, essentially working towards doing the right thing (or wishing they could). It scratches the itch I’ve had recently for stories about choosing not to become a worse person, but choosing to hold to one’s morals in pursuit of the right thing. It didn’t always work, and certainly no one in this book is perfect, but the goal exists. Kaladin wants to protect people. Dalinar wants peace and a strong, stable kingdom. Shallan wants to save her brothers from ruin. And all this against a backdrop of war and some impending catastrophe no one can quite see the shape of yet.
Basically, there’s SO MUCH to unpack and think through. I haven’t even begun to stitch the threads together and make sense of them, and normally I’m halfway decent at that. Granted, with nine books still ahead of me, that doesn’t come as a surprise, but a story that feels so carefully plotted and yet leaves me with little to piece together and predict has my attention. I’ve been outsmarted in the best of ways, and I’m ready for more.
Also, I’ve been told Words of Radiance focuses on Shallan most of all, so I’m EXCITED. Gotta have more of my genius almost thief!
Have you read The Way of Kings before? What did you think? Or maybe you’ll give it a try if you haven’t already? Let’s chat!