Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #52. This time I take a look at a stupidly large fantasy series which will in no way shape or form cost me too much of my sanity. HA! Who am I kidding?
Where to begin with this series? Well, I have found a quote from Patrick Rothfuss at a comic-con panel which perfectly sums up High Fantasy, and I’d like to mention it here (forgive my paraphrasing): “Tolkien was the first big High Fantasy writer, and he’s left his fingerprints all over the genre”. And this, dear readers, is why the Stormlight Archives work so well as a fantasy series. Tolkien’s fingerprints are there alright. There’s a map of the world in the opening pages. There are feuding kingdoms, ruled by nobles and kingly types. There are established gods with pantheons intricately designed and very dangerous. Magic abounds, but only for a certain few who know how to use it. There are different languages throughout the in-depth world that are helpfully translated by the author. And there are epic-scale wars between different factions over power, land and precious resources. But what makes the Stormlight Archives different? It is a twisted subversion of whatever Tolkien cooked up.
Roshar is not the green, idyllic landscape of New Zealand, oh no. Roshar is a world of blood and storms, feuding politics and barren plains of hard rock. The world is stone grey, and the people more so. It’s like someone took A Song of Ice and Fire, retextured the battlefields, gave out a couple of suits of power armour and vibroblades, and censored all the tits. Which is a shame, as describing something as “like Game of Thrones with more magic and less sex” immediately alienates most of the fans of the hit book/tv series. The multilayered novel flips perspective between main characters whose stories intertwine together beautifully. And the nicest touch is the addition of small images at the beginning of paragraphs that denote which character’s point of view the chapter will be following. Also, I can appreciate as a writer that it’s more engaging if you swap perspectives on a cliff-hanger; but it’s more satisfying as a reader when you swap perspectives just before it gets boring, not just as it gets exciting (this makes for nicer, better-paced reading).
And it really helps that every instalment in the Stormlight Archives comes like a small art gallery, in thick tomes with full-page illustrations every fifty pages or so (and when your volumes are close to 1000 pages, that’s a lot of illustrations). The first books (currently four physical books, or two books in four volumes) are all written with a plot so intricate it must have required tweezers and a microscope, and the world is built with the same love and care that a cook bakes a birthday cake or an artist paints a portrait. These books are above and beyond any high fantasy books I have ever come across in sheer scale, and considering they’re part of the Cosmere collection (which is potentially the biggest epic any single author has attempted to create, ever. Like, period) they have lore which builds on lore that builds on lore which doesn’t even exist in the book series. I could spend hours looking through this book, and every other Cosmere book, picking them apart. But who has the time?
The Way Of Kings was published in 2010 by Tor Books. It can be found on Amazon here.
Yours: J.M. Pear