Well, shit. I had just crowned another series as “The Best I’ve Read in 2017”, and yet here I stand, having read 1000 pages in two weeks. That’s the same rate that I read The Expanse books, and we all know how much I *LOVE* the Expanse. I learned too late that Kathleen lead me down the voyage of the damned, since this series has no conclusion and won’t have a conclusion for decades, doh haha.
But it was so worth it. I regret nothing!
My third foray into fantasy was easily my best so far. With Kvoth’s stories in The Kingkiller Chronicles, it took me a bit before I was really immersed in the story, though once immersed, it was super fun. With The Sword of Shannara, halfway in, I still found myself not caring about the characters, and I may have stopped reading halfway through…
With The Way of Kings, I was immersed almost immediately. Usually, I struggle with books that don’t define a clear protagonist at the very start, jumping around from character to character to set up context for the world. But I loved the world that was built from the perspectives of side characters to start, and the introduction of Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar as protagonists was seamless.
More than that, one thing this story did an exceptionally good job of was in being unpredictable while still making sense. Every unpredictable story turn or character action made sense in the context of the story, but there was enough mystery there to make it unexpected.
Kaladin is easily the one I identified most with, but then again I’m pretty sure I was the intended audience for his story. I immensely enjoyed his interactions with Syl, and the way his story unfolded kept me guessing the whole way. I guess incorrectly…a lot haha.
Shallan’s story was interesting in her own right, providing a very different perspective from what felt like across the world. I liked how the story set up her character one way in the beginning, only for her to show very different traits as her character grew.
And Dalinar’s story of political intrigue, military maneuvering, and the struggle to do what is right was a very refreshing change of pace. Whereas Kaladin and Shallan had underdog type stories (especially Kaladin), we saw Dalinar’s story unfold from the perspective of a highprince. More than that, we saw it unfold from the perspective of arguably the only “good” highprince, who voluntarily holds himself to a higher standard than his peers.
Okay, so onwards to the section with spoilers! Let’s talk about cool shit that went down in the book!
“You used to be vibrant. So many looked up to you, Kaladin. Your squad of soldiers. The enemies you fought. The other slaves. Even some lighteyes.” -Syl
I loved almost everything about Kaladin’s story. But most of all, I loved the pacing of it; you start off with the story of Kaladin the Spearman, revered by his troops, renowned for his fighting skills, but more importantly at his skill in keeping his men alive. And then…the next thing you know, he’s a depressed slave and you have no idea what happened in between.
There are some random hints about him killing someone, and about how much he hates lighteyes, and about how he might possible have won a fight with a shardbearer, but you don’t actually figure out what happened to him in Amaram’s army for about ¾’s of the book. My personal theory, which ended up being wrong, was that he had attacked and killed Prince Amaram for…reasons, and that’s why he ended up being labeled a deserter and thus became a slave. The real story was *oh so much worse*.
“Each lighteyes Kaladin had known, whether as a slave or a free man, had shown himself to be corrupt to the core, for all his outward poise and beauty. They were like rotting corpses clothed in beautiful silk.”
One thing we do know about Kaladin as the story progresses is that he is *majorly* prejudiced against lighteyes, and for the longest time, we don’t know why. His flashback chapters are really well written. In them, we see his childhood relationships shape his view on life. He tries to protect the weak as a product of his relationship with his brother Tien. He tries to do the right thing, even when it won’t benefit him because of his father. He hates lighteyes because of the shitty way that Rochone treated his family, but more importantly, because of the betrayal of Amaram.
“It’s all an act?” Kaladin asked. “The honorable brightlord who cares about his men? Lies? All of it?”
Amaram hesitated by the door, resting the blunt edge of the stolen Shardblade on his shoulder. The guilt was still there in his eyes, but he grew hard, covering it. “You are being discharged as a deserter and branded as a slave. But you are spared death by my mercy.”
Brightlord Amaram, one of the only lighteyes that Kaladin looked up to and trusted. Kaladin’s descent into utter racism comes from Brightlord Amaram’s betrayal on two fronts. First, that he put Tien in a position to die when Kaladin only joined to keep his brother safe.
But second, and more importantly, when Kaladin kills a shardbearer and saves Amaram’s life, something that is almost impossible to do, losing 17 of his 22 member spearman group in the process, Amaram…murders Kaladin’s remaining spearmen, brands Kaladin a deserter and slave, and takes the shards and shardblade that were rightfully Kaladin’s. WHAT THE FUCK.
I killed a Shardbearer, he thought again. And then I gave away the Blade and Plate. That single event had to be the most monumentally stupid thing anyone, in any kingdom, in any era, had ever done.
Now, granted, Kaladin had initially refused the shards and shardblade at the battle that ostensibly belonged to him. And I can debate all day about how that was a really piss poor decision, regardless of how he felt about the blade or about lighteyes. So yes, Kaladin, that was monumentally stupid. You could have done a LOT of good with that Shardblade.
But bajeezus, that is exceptionally dark.
“SEE? I TOLD YOU I WAS REALLY SAD” -Kathleen, who introduced me to this book, about learning about Amaram’s betrayal
Well, thanks for bringing me down this journey of sadness Kathleen! 😛 I couldn’t even move on to the next section for half a day. I just kept re-reading the betrayal chapter over and over. 😥
Kaladin’s Relationship with Syl
Syl! She’s my favorite! Mere words cannot describe how much I love Syl’s character. Probably not surprising, since I most easily identify with Kaladin, and she helps him more than anyone else, but nevertheless.
Her interactions with Kaladin are preciously heartwarming:
“Here, I brought you this (poisonous) leaf. You were so sad when you lost them last time. I hope you like it; it was so heavy. Will this make you happier?” -Syl
“ZOMG , I BROUGHT YOU POISON?!?!” -Syl
—> even later
“I don’t like that you lied to me.” -Syl
“That’s how I am. Bringing death and lies wherever I go. Me and the Nightwatcher” -Kaladin
“That was…sarcasm. I know what sarcasm is!” – Syl
Stormfather, Kaladin thought, looking into those gleeful little eyes. *That strikes me as ominous*
This was the first time I fell in love with Syl and Kaladin’s relationship. I knew the chapters would be nonstop fun. Their banter was a breath of fresh air in the most depressing parts of Kaladin’s story:
“You know, talking to you probably doesn’t do anything for my reputation of being insane.” -Kaladin
“I’ll do my best to stop being so interesting.” -Syl
“I feel like I’m remembering things I once knew.” -Syl
“Soon you’ll hardly be a spren at all. You’ll be a little translucent philosopher. We’ll have to send you off to a monastery to spend your time in deep, important thoughts.” -Kaladin
“Yes, like how to best get the ardents there to accidentally drink a mixture that will turn their mouths blue!” -Syl
“I don’t think you’re ready for that yet. Don’t be so risky. If you die, I go stupid again, you know.” -Syl
“I’ll try to keep that in mind. Maybe I’ll remove dying from my list of tasks to do this week.” -Kaladin
How can you NOT love these interactions? They’re so wholesome and cute. Plus, her development from a mindless spren who can’t remember anything to gradually take on more individuality is cool:
“I guess it makes sense to revere the spren. You are kind of odd and magical.” -Kaladin
“I’m not odd!” she said, standing up. “I’m beautiful and articulate.” She planed her hands on her hips, but he could see in her expression that she wasn’t really mad. She seemed to be changing by the hour, growing more and more…
More and more what? Not exactly humanlike. More individual. Smarter.”
While it’s often fun and games with Syl, she also serves as an important guardian angel for Kaladin as well. I loved the description of how she was fighting off the deathspren, and of how she seemed to part the winds when he was exposed to the highstorm:
In those brief moments of light when he dared to look, he thought he saw Syl standing in front of him, her face to the wind, tiny hands forward. As if she were trying to hold back the storm and split the winds as a stone divided the waters of a swift stream.
Standing before the deathspren was a tiny figure of light. Not translucent, as she had always appeared before, but of pure white light. That soft, feminine face had a nobler, more angular cast to it now, like a warrior from a forgotten time. Not childlike at all. She stood guard on his chest, holding a sword made of light.
She’s more than just a funny little tinkerbell sidekick, someone for Kaladin to talk to to keep him sane and bring him back from the brink of despair. Seeing her abilities grow was wonderful to read, and the descriptions of the way she was able to influence the world were beautiful.
Not to mention that…
“You’re not a windspren, are you?”
She hesitated, then shook her head. “No.”
“What are you, then?”
“I don’t know. I bind things.”
“Are windspren attracted to wind? or do they make it? I’ve remembered what kind of Spren I am. I bind things, Kaladin. I am honorspren. Spirit of oaths. Of promises. And of nobility.” -Syl
I wonder where this is going to go. The book doesn’t really mention it much after she reveals this. What’s the difference between honorspren and windspren? Plus, didn’t she say that she binds things? So honorspren bind things? What does honor have to do with binding?
I love everything about this relationship. And yes, of course I wish I had my own little Spren like Syl hanging out with me.
Kaladin’s experience with trying to help people
There isn’t ever anything I can do. Stormfather, why can’t I save them? -Kaladin
“If I’m not cursed,” Kaladin said softly, “Then why do I live when others die?”
“Because of us,” Syl said. “This bond. It makes you stronger, Kaladin.”
“Then why can’t it make me strong enough to help the others?”
“I don’t know,” Syl said. Maybe it can.”
One of the things the book did best was in sharing the emotions of the protagonists with us. With Kaladin, the most heartbreaking part was in watching him try to help people, and then have those people always die at the end, despite his efforts.
You’re introduced to it first when he tries to help one of the sickly slaves on the wagon, and you’re given glimpses into how traumatic it was for him in the past. One thing the book constantly referenced, but didn’t talk about for awhile was how his brother Tien died, despite Kaladin’s best efforts. It’s why he tries to look after people like Cenn in the opening chapters, trying to atone for his initial failure. It’s why it hurts so much for him when Dallet is cut down, and then even more than that when his spearmen group are cut down in front of his eyes.
“Kaladin?” a voice whispered. He blinked. Syl was hovering in front of him. “Do you know the Words?”
“All I wanted to do was protect them,” he whispered.
“That’s why I’ve come. The Words, Kaladin.”
“They’re going to die. I can’t save them. I-”
Amaram slaughtered his men in front of him.
A nameless Shardbearer killed Dallet.
A lighteyes killed Tien.
Kaladin tried to squelch the feeling of despair inside him. This Dalinar Kholin was probably just like the others. Like Roschone, like Sadeas, like any number of other lighteyes. Pretending virtue but corrupted inside.
In the climactic battle on the plateau, Kaladin’s thoughts are especially poignant. When I first read the book, I didn’t know if this was a tragedy or not, especially since Kathleen had said that Kaladin’s story was a sad one.
“Something just changed,” Moash whispered, hand up. “Something important.”
Kaladin raised his spear. The powerful light began to subside, retreating. A more subdued glow began to steam off his body. Radiant, like smoke from an ethereal fire.
I was so happy to see that this story was in fact, NOT a tragedy. It’s a testament to the writing that I empathized so well with Kaladin’s emotions in thinking he’d failed his men. Again. That everyone that he cared about would die except him. AGAIN.
I legit texted Kathleen being like “His entire squad is going to die again, aren’t they?”
He promised, Kaladin thought. He promised he would free us from Sadeas.
And yet, where had the promises of lighteyes gotten him in the past?
And another promise dies, Kaladin thought, turning away. In the end, for all his good intentions, this Dalinar Kholin was the same as the others.
“What is a man’s life worth?”-Dalinar
“A life is priceless” – Kaladin
“Coincidentally, that is the exact value of a Shardblade. so today, you and your men sacrificed to buy me 2600 priceless lives. And all I had to repay you with was a single priceless sword. I call that a bargain.” -Dalinar
“You really think it was a good trade, don’t you?” Kaladin said, amazed.
His redemption ark was especially satisfying, where his trust in someone is finally rewarded in Dalinar. I’m intruiged to see where the next book brings his story, assuming this isn’t one of those series that has different protagonists from book to book.
Presumably, the men in Dalinar’s camp shouldn’t be giant sacks of shit like in Sadeas’s, so he shouldn’t have as many problems with lighteyes anymore, right? Perhaps his lighteyes-darkeyes struggle will center on him assuming the worst of the lighteyes around him in Dalinar’s camp, and that impeding how his men fit in. Or perhaps he’ll have to interact with the shitty Lighteyes from the other camps, especially Sadeas’s. Will we get the Amaram – Kaladin reunion / hate fest that I thought would happen in this book but didn’t?
“I have weighed the facts, child, and I cannot accept you. I’m sorry.”
Six months of chasing, for this. She gripped the rag in frustration, squeezing sooty water between her fingers. She wanted to cry. That was what she probably would have done if she’d been that same child she had been six months ago.
Was she weak because confrontation unsettled her so? She felt that she was.
Foolish, idiot girl, she thought, a few painspren crawling out of hte wall near her head. What made you think you could do this? You’ve only set foot off your family grounds a half-dozen times during your life. Idiot, idiot, idiot!
I *really* enjoyed how Brandon Sanderson’s writing style conveys the emotions of his protagonists. I could feel Shallan’s desperation in trying to persuade Jasnah to be her ward in the beginning of her story; I could feel her panic when her solutions came up short due to her inexperience.
“It wasn’t an admonition. Simply an observation. I make them on occasion: Those books are musty. The sky is blue today. My ward is a smart-lipped reprobate.” -Jasnah
Her banter with Jasnah was pretty entertaining too. Not cute like Syl and Kaladin’s, but more quippy. Plus, I liked how Shallan grew more and more bold as her confidence increased under Jasnah’s tutelage.
“She’d come to Kharbranth to steal the fabrial, then use it to save her brothers and their house from massive debt and destruction. Yet in the end, this wasn’t why Shallan had stolen the Soulcaster. She’d taken it because she was angry with Jasnah.”
Besides the character development, the thing I enjoyed immensely with Shallan’s story were twists and turns in her story. I remember texting Kathleen immediately when Shallan got Jasnah’s fabrial, being like WHAAAAT?! SHE GOT THE FABRIAL! I was so sure that she would try and then have Jasnah be like “I knew you were going to do that” and stop her, but it was so easy. I wondered where the conflict was going to come from, since she accomplished her goal so early in the story?
“Nobody quite remembers where this ‘Kabsal’ came from…He was playing you, child. The whole time, he was using you to get to me. To spy on what I was doing, to kill me if he could.”
Someone had almost killed her. Not someone, Kabsal. No wonder he’d been so eager to get her to taste the jam!
Just like Shallan, I was blindsided when Kabsal died. I actually really liked the chapters with them flirting. The writing really encapsulated the fun feelings in the beginning of a relationship. It was so innocent and genuine, something that’s often sorely missing in real life.
So for him to end up being A) dead and B) an assassin left me like this O.o
And then for Jasnah to find out that Shallan stole the fabrial because of Kabsal’s actions! And for *that* not even to be the final twist in the story! Whaaaaat?
But the best part is that the clues were all inset in the story along the way. The bread was poison, but jam was the antidote; that way, Kabsal wouldn’t accidentally murder Shallan, but could hurt Jasnah, since Jasnah doesn’t like jam. Jasnah didn’t notice that her fabrial didn’t work for several weeks because she doesn’t need a fabrial to soulcast.
Shallan met her former mistress’s eyes. Was it the fatigue that made her so indifferent to the consequences of confronting this woman? Or was it her knowledge of the truth? “You did all that, Jasnah,” Shallan finished, “with a fake Soulcaster.”
The contrast between Shallan’s last chapters and first chapters is enormous. Her story is one of building confidence in herself, and I love that she had the intelligence, wherewithal, and courage to both put everything together and confront Jasnah at the end. It wasn’t a deus ex machina ending that saves her from her situation – it’s her solving a puzzle at the end that does it. She saves herself.
Unlike Kaladin and Shallan, Dalinar is not some underdog who overcomes things to grow. He is already a highprince, and has very different problems to solve. He has the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and of trying to reign in his inexperienced nephew king, and of trying to save the kingdom.
Arguably, his storyline progresses the overarching storyline for *the world* the most. Whereas Kaladin and Shallan have their own personal struggles, Dalinar’s problems are global. He’s the one seeing visions of the past during highstorms; he’s the one being told to unite Alekthar so that everyone doesn’t die.
His struggle with whether or not to believe those visions is intriguing to read. His struggle of whether or not to step down when everyone else thinks he’s crazy is one that’s heartbreaking, but understandable. When everyone else seems wrong except you…are you truly the one that’s right? I struggle with that question/kanundrum from time to time in real life. It’s interesting to see something similar play out in what is now one of my favorite novels.
Ahead, Dalinar was speaking quietly with Sadeas. Both men wore frowns. They barely tolerated one another, though they had once been friends. That had also changed the night of Gavliar’s death.
But the best part of his story to me was his struggle with Sadeas. Like the other two storylines, this had its fair share of unpredictable twists and turns as well. Like Adolin, I thought *for sure* that Sadeas was making a powerplay when he became the High Prince of Information, that he would implicate Dalinar in Elkohar’s paranoid delusions, and cause Dalinar’s house to fall.
“I had hoped to make this presentation after I’d discovered more concrete proof that you weren’t involved. Unfortunately, pressed as I was, the best I could do was to indicate that it was unlikely you were involved. There will still be rumors, I’m afraid.” -Sadeas
“Wait. You wanted to prove me innocent?” -Dalinar
“Yes, I asked Elkohar for this position to prove you innocent. Is it so storming difficult for you to believe someone else in this army might do something honest?” -Sadeas
I was as confused as Adolin was when Sadeas announced that Dalinar was 100% innocent in that, and when Sadeas told Dalinar that he took the High Prince of Information post to prove Dalinar innocent. Like what? Hmm, okay, maybe everything was overblown, and we’re all just too suspicious of one another. After all, Dalinar and Sadeas used to be friends…
“Well, you do provoke them. Take, for example, the way you refuse to rise to their arguments or insults.” -Sadeas
“Protesting simply draws attention to the issue. The finest defense of character is correct action. Acquaint yourself with virtue, and you can expect proper treatment from those around you.” -Dalinar
“You see, there. Who talks like that?” -Sadeas
But the chapters that brought Dalinar and Sadeas closer together after that were also well written, showing Dalinar trusting his old friend again more and more. You only poke fun at your friends, doubly so if you’re doing it so that way they change a behavior of theirs.
Between the joint assaults, Dalinar saving Sadeas’s life, and the two hanging out together more, I thought a genuine bro-mance was re-forming.
Had it all been an act? Could he really have misjudged Sadeas so completely? What of the investigation clearing Dalinar? What of their plans and reminiscences? All lies?
I saved your life, Sadeas.
Whatever the visions were, they had misled Dalinar in at least one respect. Trusting Sadeas had brought them to doom.
…which made Sadeas’s betrayal all the worse. This book did an amazing job of having the reader experience the same emotions as the protagonists. Absolutely AMAZING.
Like wtf?!?! Who leaves his friend and his army out there to die? Especially when said friend had risked his own life to save yours just a few chapters (weeks in the book?) before! If nothing else, reciprocity should make you not abandon your friend at the first available opportunity, much less set him up to die.
I was so upset at the end when Sadeas basically had nothing bad happen to him as a result of his actions. Who gives a shit if Dalinar’s forces are now outnumbered by Sadeas’s? You have TWO Shardbearers, both with blades and armor, and Sadeas only has armor, so he’s like half a shardbearer. The book has already established that a Shardbearer is basically as good as an entire batallion, so despite your man-disadvantage, you should be at least on even ground. And you’ve already established that Dalinar’s men are better trained and stronger than Sadeas’s!
Plus, why even go to Sadeas’s camp in the first place? Go to Elkohar; explain what happened. Strip Sadeas of his troops and his money. After your troops recuperate / your shardplate is mended, MURDER/DUEL HIM; Take his Shardplate; Give it to Renarim to fulfill your promise.
Anything except what you did, which is march to his camp with your tired army and broken shardplate, say “oh, well shit happens” and give him your shardblade in trade for all the bridgemen. FFS, you could have just taken Kaladin back to your camp so Sadeas couldn’t demand a ransom to get him back. Just dare him to come into your camp to get his bridgemen. No need to give up the Shardblade!
Bah. I surely do hope I get a revenge arc in the next book. This was most unsatisfying.
Final Thoughts and Unresolved Questions
“They watch me. Always. Waiting. I see their faces in mirrors. Symbols, twisted, inhuman…” -Elkohar
Hey wait, is Elkohar seeing the same things that Shallan sees when she draws? This was a passage that was said once, and not referenced again. They definitely sound like the strange shapes that Shallan was seeing. Is he seeing them too?
“Considering what I’ve done before, this is nothing. It wouldn’t be the first time she betrayed someone who trusted her.”
I must know something true about you. Tell me. The stronger the truth, the more hidden it is, the more powerful the bond. Tell me. Tell me. What are you?
“What am I?: Shallan whispered. “Truthfully?” It was a day for confrontation. She felt strangely strong, steady. Time to speak it. “I’m a murderer. I killed my father.”
Ah, the voice whispered. A powerful truth indeed…
Um, did we just gloss over the fact that Shallan said she killed her father…and never talk about it again? The first quote was waaaay back earlier in the book, and I’d actually forgotten about it until I was reviewing my highlights for this book.
It makes much more sense in the context of the second quote, which we find at the very end of the book. You know, just a casual mention of her having killed her dad. No big deal, right?
Life before Death. I’ve failed so often. I’ve been knocked to the ground and trod upon.
Strength before Weakness. This would be death I’d lead my friends to…
Journey before Destination. …death, and what is right.
I loved the words of the Knights Radiant. They were short, but meaningful, and fit within the context of Kaladin’s story very well. Since the next book is called The Words of Radiance, I imagine we’ll learn the others that were referenced, but not specifically said in this one.
Somebody has to start, son. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow. – Kaladin’s dad
I didn’t talk about Kaladin’s relationship with his dad much in this review, even though it was a large part of what shaped his character. It was an unexpected twist that Kaladin’s dad *did indeed* steal the spheres, justifying his behavior as something that should have happened anyway / would have happened if Wistiow was lucid.
Kaladin never did go back to see his parents. To them, he’s been gone what…10 years now? I imagine the books will revisit this subject in the future, but will it be in the next book? or one of the ones that won’t come out until I’m closer to retirement age? (Thanks Kathleen 😛 )