The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.
TOR Books/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2010.

Still in the process of finishing Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, Sanderson has started his own freakishly long and complex series. There are to be ten books in the series, and this first one is a 1000-page introduction to The Stormlight Archive. Though a challenge to read, it is an awesome introduction. There aren't any dragging spots, much is packed into this behemoth of a book, and I did not want it to end. Unfortunately, it ended with a major cliffhanger. Sanderson has proven himself up to the task of carrying on in Jordan's footsteps.

The world of Roshar is shaped by monstrous storms that suddenly sweep through the regions. Plants grow in crevices and curl up to await the next lull. Animals evolved to have rocky shields over their bodies, and apparently so did some of the humans. Rocks are a currency and a power source, as they are charged by the storms and are valued for the energy they store. It is a world shaped by war as well. With the ending of the service of the Knights Radiant, wars between city states and foreigners have been the norm for centuries. Knowledge of the times and the Radiants has been lost. The magic of those times is gone as well, with only some hints remaining, like the Shardplates and Shardblades passed down through the nobility. Spirits called spren seem to emanate from all aspects of life.

The Way of Kings follows three major characters, interacting with some others who are also important. In between sections, there are also some minor characters with major impact and filling out more of the world. Dalinar Kholin is the uncle of the young King Elhokar of Kholin; he is brother to the former King, who was assassinated 6 years before, prompting a war with a group claiming the deed, the Parshendi. Dalinar's brother begged that he unify their people, and Dalinar is studying the philosophy his brother had espoused in his last years. The teachings are counter to how things have been run. The current King is obliviously playing at kingship, while Dalinar and his family have militarily propped him up. Still at war after 6 years, the King is also concerned that someone may assassinate him.

Kaladin is a soldier, raised to be a physician by his father. He was forced into the army, not treated fairly by his superiors, ended up as a slave, and sent into battle again as a slave with no rights or protections. He serves under a competing Brightlord (lord with light eyes) to Dalinar, but will eventually end up in Dalinar's sphere. Kaladin has the choice of waiting to die or trying to improve his chances to live, as well as his crew's. He makes it his task to save as many as he can, interfering with the army's policy of using his crew as a targret to draw fire away from the soldiers. Kaladin's efforts, while commendable, disrupt and draw attention.

Shallan adventures far beyond her sheltered home in search of Jasnah Kholin, the sister of the King of Kholin and Dalinar's beloved niece. Jasnah is a famed scholar and heretic. Shallan wishes to achieve an apprenticeship to Jasnah, both for the benefit of education and the opportunity to research and to fulfill a promise to her family which could save them from bankruptcy. Jasnah researches events and motives related to her father's assassination and legends and myths all but forgotten to see what truths might be behind the myths. All is not revealed, but she was a scribe for her father before his death.

One of the lesser characters followed is the man who killed King Gavilar of Kholin. A man of the Shinovar society, in which farmers and artisans are lauded and assassins are traded and treated as slaves. He has no choice but to obey his current master. He hides his abilities for fear his master will exploit them to the fullest.

Necessarily, much of the book is about building the world, but it is also about the stirring of trouble within the world. Things are working up to a turning point. A few are gaining an awareness of a need to prepare, but they have no idea chaos is on the doorstep.

related-high fantasy, worldbuilding, magic, technological artisanry, prophecy, war
RL=YA-adult, adult novel, mature YA

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