Character and Plot in Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings”

***Warning: This review contains spoilers.***

I really dilly-dallied my way into reading The Way of Kings. It’s hard to put my finger on why. I know I love Brandon Sanderson. I owned my copy for almost a year before I finally started reading it, and I had half a dozen friends telling me that I just had to read it. Several of them told me that it was their favorite of all his books they’d read. I guess it just felt like such a big time commitment, considering it’s well over one thousand pages. I also know that it’s meant to be a ten-book series, which is an even greater commitment, and a little daunting to be honest. But I finally started reading it, knowing full well that it was going to totally throw off my Goodreads reading challenge (though, let’s be fair, I was already way behind).

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

You can tell right away that Brandon put a lot of thought into his characters and their internal conflicts. The book can be more or less divided into three distinct storylines, or character journeys, that bump up against each other but never really come together. As fun as it was to go so deep into these characters, I felt a little frustrated at the lack of an overarching conflict. Recently, on an episode of Writing Excuses (episode 13.25), Brandon discusses his “journey with character” and mentions the conflicts of some of his earlier books, like Elantris and Mistborn. He explained that, in those books, he simply dropped a character into a world-scale conflict and let them struggle through that, all the while dealing with more minor internal conflicts. But in his later books, he focuses much more on internal conflict. In reading The Way of Kings, this was evident to me.

The goals of the three main POV characters are an almost seamless weaving-together of their internal conflicts and external conflicts. For Shallan, she needed to steal the Soulcaster to save her family (external), but she also struggled with the moral dilemma of doing so (internal). Dalinar needed to unite the Highprinces to save the kingdom (external) all the while struggling with his own sense of honor and whether to push that onto others (internal). Kalidan’s goals are perhaps the most well-blended of all. He needs to find a way to survive running bridges (external), but to do that, he also needs to find the will to keep trying after all the failure he has experienced in his life (internal). If he can’t find that will, he and his entire team die.

With all the emphasis on internal conflict and the separation of the three characters, I kept wondering when the overarching, world-scale conflict was going to make itself known to me. It didn’t really until the end, and I had a hard time with that as a reader. Part of that might just be the nature of epic fantasy. But I think another part of it was just that I hadn’t seen much of that kind of writing in fantasy before. Brandon brought the emphasis down to the characters themselves, as individuals, in a way that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen before.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It was engaging from page one, and I’ve already read Words of Radiance and Oathbringer. I can’t wait for book 4.

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