Let’s Read The Way Of Kings Prelude + Prologue

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Another day, another Let’s Read. Brandon Sanderson is a pretty powerful fantasy author, so I’ve been doing lots of training to defeat his Ultimate Battle Form.

Way of Kings (WOK) comes with some intriguing bonus material, such as the requisite map to show you how much time Branderson has spent thinking about things while he was writing (so much time). We had some fun with the Rothfuss maps, so let’s take a look at it before we get into the book proper.

Roshar-detail

“Roshar” is our continent this time around. Better than “the four corners of civilization”, I guess.

For our place names we’ve got the usual mix of vaguely Irish/Scottish sounding places, vaguely Arabic sounding places, vaguely Russian sounding places (daring) and names that sound like they came out of a random word generator. Also the requisite place with a descriptor instead of a proper name for some reason, this time the “Frostlands”. A quick glance over the map doesn’t reveal anywhere called The Reach, but it’s probably in there. Every fantasy world has a place called The Reach, it’s the law.

I also noticed the intriguingly named “Reshi Isles”, Reshi being one of Kvothe’s approximately five hundred names in Rothfuss’ books. Deliberate shout-out, or just another sign that fantasy authors lack imagination? U decide.

Incidentally, searching for a high resolution version of this map led me to a gigantic pile of super-detailed maps, journals, drawings, battle plans and assorted other bullshit so this is probably going to be one of Those Books.

PRELUDE TO
THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE

Hey, I was right!

Let’s check out the first paragraph:

Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast. The enormous stone beast lay on its side, riblike protrusions from its chest broken and cracked. The monstrosity was vaguely skeletal in shape, with unnaturally long limbs that sprouted from granite shoulders. The eyes were deep red spots on the arrowhead face, as if created by a fire burning deep within the stone. They faded.

At least it’s not a vine. And the Thunderclast kind of reminds me of one of these guys, so that’s something.

Our hero, Kalak, has “been killed” by a thunderclast before so I guess he’s immortal. Some kind of battle went down recently, in which “Dustbringers” fought “Surgebinders” and “Thunderclasts” and probably other compound words as well. Kalak seems to be some sort of mercenary who usually dies during battle and is returned to somewhere unpleasant; he’s supposed to go back there now, having survived this time, but toys with the idea of just not doing it.

So that’s interesting, we’ve got an immediate hook for a plot. I sure hope this won’t turn out to be pointless world-building after we’re whisked away to a completely different time and viewpoint!

Kalak goes to a meeting place where him and the nine other whats-its were supposed to meet after the hurly-burley’s done, but finds only one, Jezrien.

But no. Kalak frowned as he stepped up to the base of the spire. Seven magnificent swords stood proudly here, driven point-first into the stone ground. Each was a masterly work of art, flowing in design, inscribed with glyphs and patterns. He recognized each one. If their masters had died, the Blades would have vanished.

Blades. Blades with a capital B. Because fantasy.

These Blades were weapons of power beyond even Shardblades.

For fuck’s sake, we’re not even out of the prologue yet and I already want to throw this thing into a supernova. It doesn’t help that all of these terms sound like something from a bad J-RPG (the video game like nature of Branderson’s work is something I’ve commented on before and will likely be coming back to).

Jezrien, who used to be a king apparently, has been thinking along the same lines as Kalak vis a vis their life of never-ending torment.

Those fires, those hooks, digging into his flesh anew each day. Searing the skin off his arm, then burning the fat, then driving to the bone. He could smell it. Almighty, he could smell it!

Yeah, I can see why they might not be thrilled about returning there.

Jezrien’s idea is that they should ditch the one guy who died in the battle, Taln, and escape.

“Ishar believes that so long as there is one of us still bound to the Oathpact, it may be enough. There is a chance we might end the cycle of Desolations.”

Oathpact.

Oathpact.

I can tell this is going to be a barrel of fun.

Kalak is conflicted about this because it seems that he and the rest of the Oathpact Bros chose their fate willingly and are all that stands between the people of Wherever and some sort of unspecified evil, but Jezrien is like “fuck that noise, let’s just tell them we defeated the Big Bad they won’t know any better”.

This is actually an interesting conflict, and I’m wondering how we’re supposed to view the Oathpact Bros’ decision. Because it’s all very well and good to say that people who have the ability to save many lives or what have you should make any sacrifice to do so, but actually human beings can only withstand a certain amount of horrific agony before throwing in the towel. The implication seems to be that the Bros walking away is going to end up with a lot of chaos and people getting killed, but there’s only so much a person can take. If I said I was going to blow up an elementary school if you didn’t let me drive rusty nails into your eyes (let’s say for the sake of this argument I’m omnipotent and this is literally the only way to stop me) the objectively moral thing to do would be to agree to the rusty nail option, but no one could really fault you for just walking away and letting the school get blown up.

Anyway, Kalak agrees to leave and then, as predicted, we cut to a later time period.

4500 years later

Wait, what4500? Are you shitting me?

You know what, never mind, epic fantasy, let’s just move on.

There’s another map zooming in on “Alethkar” and then

Prologue- To Kill

But

We just had a prelude what the fuck

This title actually comes in the form of artwork, which features a hooded sword dude who bears a more than passing resemblance to the main character of the first Assassin’s Creed game. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

“The love of men is a frigid thing, a mountain stream only three steps from the ice. We are his. Oh Stormfather…we are his. It is but a thousand days, and the Everstorm comes.”
—Collected on the first day of the week Palah of the month Shash of the year 1171, thirty-one seconds before death. Subject was a darkeyed pregnant woman of middle years. The child did not survive.

Everstorm. Stormfather. Branderson seems really fond of the old compound words.

Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar

head-in-hands-md-new

Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, wore white on the day he was to kill a king.

This dude is going to kill the king of Spoodleblop or wherever, for some reason. Since this is a prologue it probably doesn’t even matter.

There’s some kind of fantasy rave going on to celebrate a treaty, and Szeth (how do you even pronounce that?) is pretending to be a servant.

Szeth’s masters—who were dismissed as savages by those in more civilized kingdoms—sat at their own tables. They were men with skin of black marbled with red. Parshendi, they were named—cousins to the more docile servant peoples known as parshmen in most of the world

Getting our fantasy racism in early, I see. Also why do they have skin “marbled with red”, why not just have straight-up black people in the book?

An oddity. They did not call themselves Parshendi; this was the Alethi name for them. It meant, roughly, “parshmen who can think.” Neither side seemed to see that as an insult.

The Parshendi had brought the musicians. At first, the Alethi lighteyes had been hesitant. To them, drums were base instruments of the common, darkeyed people

I’m going to forget all of this by the next page, and the more you convince me it’s important the harder I’m going to expunge it from my mind just to spite you.

There’s a whole lot more fantasy world-building claptrap (despite which this location really has no sense of place) that I’m going to slip because it’s probably pointless waffle.

At the edge of the room, he passed rows of unwavering azure lights that bulged out where wall met floor. They held sapphires infused with Stormlight.

Hey, Stormlight!

It seems the Alethi are dabbling in Stormlight and other stuff to make “more shardblades”, with which they could conquer the world. Good thing they didn’t find the Bladeblades the Oathpact guys left standing around, or we’d all be proper fucked.

They were a grand people, these Alethi. Even drunk, there was a natural nobility to them.

Whenever I hear phrases like this alarm bells start going off in my head indicating that the author might be a shit-head.

Incidentally.

The Alethi women are naturally totally hot- all of them, apparently- and we get a little spiel on their tight-fitting silk dresses. Then Szeth slinks off to do some regicide.

Szeth brushed by, continuing past a line of statues depicting the Ten Heralds from ancient Vorin theology. Jezerezeh, Ishi, Kelek, Talenelat.

(do you see)

One of them- Salash- is missing, although I don’t know if this corresponds to any of the guys we were introduced to before.

White to be bold. White to not blend into the night. White to give warning.
For if you were going to assassinate a man, he was entitled to see you coming.

This sounds like a remarkably stupid philosophy but okay, whatever.

Some guards approach Szeth and tell him to get lost. The idea of people being “lighteyed” or “darkeyed” is brought up again, although I have no idea what that means. Something to do with magic? Anyway Szeth draws in some Stormlight from the torches nearby and gets ready to magic the two guards to death.

Stormlight could be held for only a short time, a few minutes at most. It leaked away, the human body too porous a container. He had heard that the Voidbringers could hold it in perfectly. But, then, did they even exist? His punishment declared that they didn’t. His honor demanded that they did.

What the fuck are you talking about

Szeth uses his Stormlight to basically reverse gravity, sending him barreling toward the end of the corridor.

This was a Basic Lashing, first of his three kinds of Lashings.

Jesus, here we go.

So Branderson’s whole thing is that he loves coming up with these super-detailed, supposedly complex magic systems that all end up resulting in a repertoire of rigidly defined, named magical abilities so that battle scenes read like someone recapping an MMO fight they were in. In Mistborn the characters even had what were essentially mana bars. We’ll see if this gets as bad.

With this Lashing, he could bind people or objects to different surfaces or in different directions.

Yes, but how many Talent Points do you need to spend to unlock the upgraded version?

Szeth uses the power to pull a double gravity-dropkick to the guards, then lands on the ground and summons his Shardblade which he conveniently had assigned to the right d-pad for faster weapon switching (I swear I’ll get this out of my system eventually).

Next he gravity-kills one of the guards and then uses his Shardblade to kill the second.

To kill. It was the greatest of sins. And yet here Szeth stood, Truthless, profanely walking on stones used for building. And it would not end. As Truthless, there was only one life he was forbidden to take.
And that was his own.

If there’s one trope I hate (okay there are a lot of tropes I hate, but this one in particular) it’s super-powered badasses sitting around crying about how awesome they are. Just once can we get a protagonist who inherits or acquires some amazing magical ability and just thinks it’s fucking awesome?

Szeth of course manages to kill both guards in the most overly-complicated way possible.

He looked down at Szeth. Down at the spear tip pointing directly at his heart. Violet fearspren crawled out of the stone ceiling around him.

There have been a few type of “spren” mentioned so far. I guess these are little glowing things that just sort of fly around everywhere all the time. Sounds trippy.

Szeth continues on. His orders are apparently to make sure he’s seen killing the king so the treaty will be null and void.

Why? Why did the Parshendi agree to this treaty, only to send an assassin the very night of its signing?

Sounds like you’re getting set up there, buddy.

A Full Lashing bound objects together, holding them fast until the Stormlight ran out. It took longer to create—and drained Stormlight far more quickly—than a Basic Lashing.

Seriously, how much like a videogame mechanic does this sound?

Szeth kills more people and marches off toward the king, who I’m sure is still sitting in the building waiting to be assassinated and not being spirited away as quickly as possible by his bodguards.

When one killed with a Blade, there was no blood.

Wait, are the Shardblades the same as the Blades that the Oath guys were talking about? Or are the Shardblades a kind of Blade? Is “Blade” a phrase that refers to all magical swords?

It seems like the king’s guard were listening to my advice because they burst into the hallway hustling the king out a side door, and then Szeth has to do a boss fight to get to him.

Shardplate, the customary complement to a Shardblade. The newcomer carried a sword as well, an enormous Shardblade six feet long with a design along the blade like burning flames, a weapon of silvery metal that gleamed and almost seemed to glow. A weapon designed to slay dark gods, a larger counterpart to the one Szeth carried.

Man, if I was about twelve this would seem like the coolest thing in the world.

Szeth didn’t own a set of Plate himself, and didn’t care to. His Lashings interfered with the gemstones that powered Shardplate, and he had to choose one or the other.

The characters even have classes. Looks like Szeth went more the mage route, whereas this guy seems like more of a paladin.

Szeth’s weapon hit solidly, causing a web of glowing lines to spread out across the back of the armor, and Stormlight began to leak free from them. Shardplate didn’t dent or bend like common metal. Szeth would have to hit the Shardbearer in the same location at least once more to break through.

This is literally a Legend of Zelda boss

Szeth eventually manages to hit his weakpoint for massive damage and leaves him dazed, running off to kill the king, but then realizes that the dude the guards were leading away was a decoy and the real king is actually the Shardguy.

What was the safest place for your king? In the hands of some guards, fleeing? Or protected in a suit of Shardplate, left behind, dismissed as a bodyguard?

Or you could have him in the armour and running away surrounded by guards as well. That really seems like it would be the most sensible approach.

After a long, confusing, mind numbing fight described in exhausting detail Szeth manages to kill the king.

“The Parshendi? That makes no sense.” Gavilar coughed, hand quivering, reaching toward his chest and fumbling at a pocket. He pulled out a small crystalline sphere tied to a chain. “You must take this. They must not get it.” He seemed dazed. “Tell…tell my brother…he must find the most important words a man can say….”

This is all terribly mysterious, I’m just burning with curiosity let me tell you.

Szeth believes that a dying man’s request is important so he scrawls “Brother. You must find the most important words a man can say” in the king’s own blood and leaves.

He left the king’s Shardblade; he had no use for it. The Blade Szeth already carried was curse enough.

I feel so bad for you and your awesome badass super-powers, you poor little dear.

So that may have been the most concentrated dose of fantasy claptrap I’ve ever waded through. Fun times ahead!

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20 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Way Of Kings Prelude + Prologue

  1. Signatus

    I admit there are quiet a few things I did like about this book (so far). Things happen being one of them, and events being introduced straight after the beginning being the other. I did like we get thrown into a plot right away, and it does seem like the thing will advance (albeit predictable) into the resolution of that plot. I’m intrigued, which is more than I can say about Rothfuss’ brick, and as of late, Martin’s.

    The writing is not as dead and lifeless as Wizard’s First Rule, which makes for a dynamic and interesting read, but at the same time, overly complex phrases like; “He did that, another guard calling someone else.” kind of cut me off from the book. It actually seems like he’s trying too hard to be poetic without falling into purple prose.

    Anothe main issue I have with it is how stereotypical everything is. Unpronounceable names, random name generator for the world (as far as I know, most town and areas names have very specific origins, they are not names tossed in there for the lulz), absolute monarchy being the typical form of government, bullshit name for the guy who seems to be our protagonist, and totally unique magic weapons.
    I did like that the magic plate, while tough, was not unbreakable, or didn’t need a specific type of weapon to get through it, so I’ll give him that.

    The magic system didn’t bother me much either. RPG like, but I’m fine with that. At least the fight scene was dynamic, but a bit too long for my liking.

    And, oh, yeah, the whole; “I’m so powerful it’s a curse” bullshit is a mayor peeve of mine as well. I mean, really? Do these writers think when they write? Or do they jut want to make their superheroes as miserable as possible?
    Most people would sell their newborns for a power like that. In between mortals, such magic would make you pretty much invincible. A unique magic sword is a curse? I can see the super wealthy crying because they are cursed with a limited edition of a very powerful sports car.

    It makes no sense.

    But, I think my mayor issue with the book so far is the huge infodump. Some elements were interesting to know. Pages of Seth’s thoughts while he walks down the halls is not. I don’t need to be pointed on certain elements that could be considered important (example; The whole, why break the treaty thing). I can read, I am a sentient, intelligent creature and can distinguish between elements that are just there for decoration and elements which are important for the plot.
    Deffinitely, I do not need to be described every single step Seth takes to get to the king. There were way too many moments where I was wondering myself when will we be getting somewhere in that humongous, archetypical stone castle.

    The way Seth resolved his debt to the dying man couldn’t have been worse even if he tried. Really? Seth takes 10 pages to get to his target, and something I consider interesting character building is resolved in a freaking single sentence? That was lazy!

    Reply
    1. Austin H. Williams

      “I can read, I am a sentient, intelligent creature and can distinguish between elements that are just there for decoration and elements which are important for the plot.”

      You might be amazed at how much you can spell things out for certain types of readers and they still might not get it. A lot of Branderson’s target audience are people who want to do an activity like reading as passively as possible.

      “The way Seth resolved his debt to the dying man couldn’t have been worse even if he tried. Really? Seth takes 10 pages to get to his target, and something I consider interesting character building is resolved in a freaking single sentence? That was lazy!”

      Setting, fighting and trivial arcana are more important to the target market than characterization. Again, Branderson’s just giving ’em what they want. Tragically, the sales figures speak for themselves.

      Reply
  2. Grumpus

    The weird thing about that sequence is that if Branderson wanted his story to feature some sort of armor that is hard to penetrate with the protagonist’s weapon, couldn’t they just be, like, regular metal? Thus allowing the +5 Vorpal Bladeblades to stand out more when they are eventually introduced?

    Reply
  3. Reveen

    Jesus Christ, you really know how to pick ’em.

    Szeth? Bullshit, his name is Seth. As of this moment I’m imagining him as Seth Green.

    Reply
  4. Satu

    I remember starting to read Way of Kings and almost giving it up when I got to the prologue after the prelude. I hate that kind of unnecessary crap. And also all the unfamiliar names, races, characters, magics, eras, legends etc getting dumped on us without an explanation of any sorts was really, really confusing. I guess he was trying to avoid infodumping the reader but honestly, reading a hundred new things you understand nothing about in about ten pages is just not good. And the spren sounded like the most stupid idea ever. As the book progresses you get fearspren, heatspren, rotspren, lustspren(!), windspren and a thousand other kinds of spren linked to virtually anything. If this was real the world would be covered in a crawling, floating, flying mass of all the spren everyone would be seeing everywhere all the time. I mean what the fuck? But the lashings I thought were a fun mechanic, even though very RPG-like.

    Reply
  5. DXW

    I gotta say… this all sounds terribad and brain dead but… at least things are happening?

    I mean, they’ve already killed the king which is something a certain other series is taking 2000+ pages to get to.

    Reply
  6. braak

    I am also a big fan of introducing the idea of incomprehensibly powerful magic swords in the very same paragraph that you introduce magic swords that are EVEN MORE incomprehensibly powerful.

    You guys know about magic swords? Well, these are DOUBLE MAGIC.

    Reply
  7. braak

    What was the safest place for your king? In the hands of some guards, fleeing? Or protected in a suit of Shardplate, left behind, dismissed as a bodyguard?

    Uh. “Dismissed as a bodyguard”? Aren’t bodyguards the people that you have to, by definition, kill in order to get to the king? I mean, I’m just saying, of all the many different kinds of people that you could disguise the king as, what would be the point of disguising him as the guy whose literal job is to stand in the way of assassins?

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      It’s particularly dumb given the only reason Szeth bothered tying to fight the guy in the first place was because he decided he couldn’t leave a potential threat as big as another Shardblade bearer alive. If the King had been wearing ordinary clothes- or, say, hiding under his bead- Szeth would have just ignored him and gone after the decoy.

      Reply
      1. braak

        If only there was some way his security team could have anticipated the possibility that dressing the king up as a target for assassins would make him a target for an assassin.

        Reply
    2. Fibinachi

      Given that the king was fleeing, their assumption was probably that the assassin wouldn’t bother trying to defeat the guy wearing shardplate completely – shardplate being well known for how bothersomely difficult its wearers would be to kill – because his target was rapidly moving away.

      It’s not a great plan, but if you’re told someone is slaughtering your guards using anti-gravity shenanigans and you have 10 seconds to come up with something, it’s probably one of the things I’d imagine could come in handy. Superassassin stops the bodyguard, and rushes after the fake target, while the king uses the strength++ of the fancy plate to run away in the other direction.

      —-

      The problem I have with Sanderson and his writing isn’t actually the style. I think, if you take a random snapshot of someone’s brain at any given time, there’d be a lot of concepts that would make sense to you, so I’m fine with RandomCompoundOfDestiny, because it’ll be explained later, and that I’m not meant to get it. And some of his descriptions are actually decent.

      What bugs me is the form, I guess? It’s tediously predictable. There’s no twists or turns or changes or surprises at all. Szeth says he’s going to kill a king – so he does. The guy at the beginning says he’s going to quit fighting the Everwar, so he does. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s like that all the way through, just constantly. “Okay, I will do X, okay now I did X, now I will do Y, okay I did Y, now I will do C…”, and just nothing interupts that. There’s a cool, momentary scene where someone you think is a traitor might not be, and it turns that, of course, the guy was a traitor. No surprises.

      It’s so lamentably boring.

      Reply
      1. braak

        Well, except the point of a decoy is that the assassin chases him. If you’re going to have a decoy, why would you put someone in the way of the assassin going after him in the first place? And ESPECIALLY why would you put the guy that the assassin is actually trying to kill?

        I mean, sure, maybe the assassin isn’t going to bother killing the bodyguard all the way, but it seems bizarrely counter-productive.

        Reply
  8. Zenobious

    I voted for Branderson, and I’m quite happy to see you taking on Way of Kings. I haven’t seen very many reviews of it in the usual circles; it almost feels like Branderson finally threw out (threw up?) a pile of words large enough to intimidate the reviewers who already don’t like him. I read it all, but it got so tedious I can barely remember what happened for much of the last few hundred pages.

    It’s a bit distressing to see someone considered a staple of modern fantasy set out to write a decalogy, with the first book already clocking in at a full 1k pages. And yes, the entire rest of the book is like this beginning, one long mess of casual racism, sexism, classism (especially magical) and whatnot complete with multiple tedious descriptions of RPG-inspired magic systems. Most of it takes place in the same time period, but there’s a few more multi-milennia time-skip sequences, none of which get adequately explained of course. Because decalogy. Couldn’t dare reveal too much in the first 1,000 pages!

    Reply
  9. zephyrean

    Blaaargh everything on the map looks like second-rate fantasy name generator vomit. Why doesn’t the average prospective hack writer pick several obscure languages?

    “When one killed with a Blade, there was no blood.”
    Uhm, why? Does it cauterize the wound or what?

    > (I swear I’ll get this out of my system eventually)
    No, don’t. This is awesome, please continue. It’s still Prologue and the compounds cause me more pain than Rothfuss’ tics ever did. Seriously, between the compounds, the random names and the ultra-generic everything, this book might as well be a skin of words stretched over a skeleton of a procedurally generated slasher.

    Reply
    1. Grumpus

      I think the thing that throws me off about the weird “Shardblade”-style fantasy names is that they’re always awkwardly precise – like it’s a Shardblade, and never a shard-sword, storm blade, or just “sword.” It’s like a smartphone being called a Smartphone and never a phone/cellphone/android/iphone/etc.

      Reply
      1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

        Ambiguity does seem to be one of the few things shitty fantasy world building doesn’t account for. After all, if you go through the trouble of coming up with every little detail, then it’d be insane not to cram them into the book as quickly as possible.

        Reply
      2. Andrea Harris (@SpinsterAndCat)

        Fantasy writers who overdo the compound word thing do seem to be trying to capture the rhythms of old Germanic languages like Anglo-Saxon — like “Tolkien did” but they forget that Tolkien was an actual philologist who spoke Anglo-Saxon and knew what he was doing. His imitators don’t, which is why we get a pile of terms like “Shardblade” (which makes no sense — a shard is a sharp broken-off piece of something, “shard of glass” — a sword is a finished object, though if it breaks into “shards” it could still cut a person but it would be pretty useless otherwise), and so on.

        Reply

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