19 July 2012

Books: The Way of Kings: Book One of The Stormlight Archieve by Brandon Sanderson (2010)

Massive electrical highstorms repeatedly scour the world. Kingdoms battle on the Shattered Plains for glory, power, and the heart gems of the massive, chitinous creatures that spawn there. Unbeatable Brightlords wear magical armor and wield rock shearing Shardblades. They politic and fight amongst one another even as their war against the bestial Parshendi continues. Brightlord Kholinar reads The Way of Kings, an ancient text about honor. His visions push him to try to change society, but his ideas are shouted down and insulted. On the plains, Kaladin, a soldier and healer, tries to improve the system of portable bridges used to span canyons in an attempt to save lives. A would-be scholar, Shallan, must deceive her mentor to steal a necklace and save her bankrupt family. An assassin uses his lashing skills to alter gravity and take out a panoply of rulers, sowing chaos.

Since the early to mid-1990 on, both Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin held the pre-eminent title of epic fantasy authors. When Jordan died in 2007, it left Martin as the sole king, even though he was a slow writer –as was Jordan in his later years. After Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, his earlier work –which already had a small fan base- expanded. Sanderson’s stock grew as fanboys and girls embraced his earlier work, because Sanderson was prolific, had a great buzz, and content was easy to read.

While I abandoned the Jordan series long before he died, and have held any the epic fantasy series with some regard since, I still am fascinated with them. As always, one of my reservations about them is lengths of the series. Trilogies remain the best way to keep people coming back. Once they start expanding into five, six, seven or more, you risk losing older readers who have moved on to other stuff. I’m sure there are a few people who’ve read all of Jordan’s Wheel series since it began in 1992, but I’m also guessing many have just threw up their arms in despair at sheer length of each novel –some closing on a 1,000 pages, and the years between volumes. 

When Sanderson’s Way of Kings was released in August of 2010, I looked at with even more reservations. It was huge, 1008 pages and –apparently- book one of 10!! But, I reasoned, he was known to be prolific, which meant he wrote fast. So maybe we would see a book once a year. But since he decided to expand the supposedly last book of the Wheel of Time into three books, I began to suspect he was going to follow in Jordan’s footsteps of waiting years between books. 

Sanderson has created a fully realized world and it thought out at every level. That is why, in some sense, Jordan and Martin deserves the praise they get for the worlds they created. It is only in this degree in World Building can you fully understand who the strongest fantasy writers are. 

And yet, I have huge problems with it. Perhaps I just don’t have the time to devote to these books any more, or it’s so beyond me now, I use that as an excuse to bash them. I believe there is a good story here, and Sanderson is a fine writer, yet does it need to be this long (I read the paperback, which is 1,250 pages)? Is it long because you think things can’t be edited out? Who are you trying to impress? While the characters are impressive, fully realized and interesting, the story wanders and seems to have little point. We spend endless pages with these characters and their arcs move at a snail’s pace for reasons that baffle me. 

I’ve read many great reviews, comparing him to Jordan, Martin, Terry Brooks, David Eddings and Raymond Feist and even J.R.R Tolkien. And while I’ve read all those authors, I’ve also given up on them, bored I guess with their continued dipping into the same universe again and again. 

I just think, at this point in my life, I can no longer devote decades to one series. Whatever happened to the idea of three volumes in a series? I can even understand six –unless there are years between volumes- but 10 seems pretentious (and when Sanderson finishes The Wheel of Time early next year, it will total 12 books).

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