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” 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.
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.”
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, what? 4500? 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
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
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.
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.
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!