Or 4 Reasons why Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is Brilliant. That’s the review. It’s great. If you need more convincing, then read these handily-titled sections below.
Rarely have I met a writer who so smoothly introduced entire new societal structures, cultural norms, religions, and clashing beliefs of conservatism or liberalism into the stream of the character’s normal interactions. And of course, not each people-group or sub-divisions therein agree on cultural norms. They are scandalized by what is commonplace for one culture, scoff at what is considered holy in another.
Enter a world ravaged by regular storms of ferocious rain, lightning, and wind that scour landscapes clean, demolish houses, and toss boulders. How would a world like that survive? The plants recede into rock, animals have chitinous shells, cities are built into cliffs to shelter them from the rain. Enter a society where only women are encouraged to read, write, or pursue mathematics as the ‘feminine arts,’ where men and women eat separately, and even the different styles of food you are allowed to eat are based on gender. Fascinating, right?!
There was no gigantic wad of cultural narrative dropped into the middle of the story, which he could have done, and readers would have quickly forgot. Sanderson integrates a cultural tidbit where it becomes relevant to call attention to it. Makes perfect, beautiful sense. Yes, there’s lots of it. Lots of deliciously detailed differences, but I never found myself overwhelmed by it or feeling lost in it.
Now, this helps in part because I sit and read several chapters at a time. I absorb whole chunks of information in a swathe of reading delight. If you were to read this book piecemeal, a couple pages every few days, you might find yourself struggling to keep up.
There are some characters who stubbornly remain the same despite circumstances, some who struggle to change but are fixed in loops of behaviour, and some who–oh so gradually–find themselves a different person than they were a few months ago.
These realizations, jarring moments of self-awareness, and deepening deviousness are threaded through almost every character the reader journeys with for a significant period of time. Without wanting to give away details, these characters are people who struggle with making right decisions, knowing what the right decision is, making mistakes, finding themselves liking certain mistakes, and either forging a new path or digging themselves deeper into it.
By the time I’m halfway through a novel, or reach the end of it, these people I was learning to know may not be who I thought they were. What an alluring way to read.
Does your novel feature a painfully ‘strong female character’ that feels like she’s written only because masculinized women are the mistaken trope that entertainment is trying to shove into every cranny instead of a well-written female character? Does your novel have men who prove their budding manhood and growth by sexing half of the other characters in the book?
The above are too-common types of terribly tired characters. They’ve become strong female characters for female readers to look up to who–to scorn the help of men, to fight just as good as men, to be just as tough and care as little as men–end up destroying the point of what a good female character looks like.
People exist on spectrums of physical, mental, and emotional strength. Just because a woman may not be wielding a sword next to the rest of the guys doesn’t mean her sharp intelligence doesn’t make her ‘strong.’ This exploration of what ‘strength’ means is strongly exhibited by Sanderson. We have intellectual, detached historians. We have noble, passionate queens. A shy girl with a sharp tongue.
There are young men who go from shallow dabbling with longs lists of pretty women to thoughtfully approaching the way they behave. Soldiers who are torn about what it means to kill in order to protect. Whose thrill for glory in battle is dimmed by what it means to act honourably.
Sanderson writes richly embroidered characters who struggle, are wounded, grow, or recede in the strengths and weaknesses inherent in humanness. Not defined by rote gender types of characteristics.
I won’t say too much on this except that they’re here, they’re subtle, and they’re lovely. I admire authors who can turn a random detail into a spiraling revelation or an unassuming character into something so much more. It makes me wonder what else he’s hiding…
With all the glowing remarks said, Sanderson deserves the high marks.