By Chet Yarbrough
Narration by: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer
The Way of Kings is a guilty pleasure: i.e. guilty for listening to 45 hours of an audio book; pleasure from a writer’s imagination that vivifies human strength and weakness. Brandon Sanderson teaches creative writing at BYU. Judging from Wikipedia’s bio of Sanderson, he uses three laws when teaching or writing creative fiction. Each of these laws helps explain why The Way of Kings is a pleasure worth its 45 hour length.
Sanderson’s first law is—“An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” The Way of Kings is filled with magic. Sanderson skillfully develops characters while traveling back and forth in place, time, and dimension to explain the origin and meaning of magic; magic which is something like science or something like God. Magic’s meaning and the quest for a Supreme Being are explored with each character’s perspective and each leap in place, time, and dimension.
Sanderson’s second law is that characters of a story must have limitations greater than their powers. Power wielded, by Sanderson’s characters, are limited by nature because nature contains and is conflicted by innate good and evil. Sanderson focuses on limitations of great power to contrast good and evil, viewed as the elementary force of magic or a Supreme Being.
Sanderson’s third law is—“Expand what you already have before you add something new.” Sanderson is a god of creation. Like Hemingway, he creates life on a blank page. Sanderson creates characters that make reader/listeners proud, happy, sad, and genuinely empathetic. He amplifies and explains the strengths and weaknesses of nature in an imagined world of sentient beings.
Books become popularly and/ or literarily accepted to the extent that writer-ly’ skills comport with or enlighten a listener/reader’s life. Sanderson’s popular success and literary commendation give literary weight, meaning, and value to his three laws of creative writing.
This is a story about flawed heroes and heroines; with a bias toward heroic men and subordinate women. (The “subordinate women” comment is not to denigrate Sanderson’s writing but to suggest Sanderson communicates, as all human’s do, with his own learned and inherited memes.) Men are Sanderson’s rulers and warriors. Women are helpmates, lovers, scribes, and caregivers–sustaining humanity but never in front; always in background (another reminder of Hemingway).
The hero of this adventure is Kaladin, the son of a surgeon that becomes a soldier. Kaladin reverences life, like his surgeon father, but becomes a skilled warrior and leader in battles that take many lives. For reasons that only become clear near the end of the story, Kaladin is a gifted healer and “magical” leader.
A heroine of The Way of Kings is Shallan Davar, a daughter of an unscrupulous merchant and sister of three brothers. Shallan is a “Supreme Being” believer that plots the theft of a magical instrument to save her families’ reputation and fortune. Shallan is also an artist with a photographic memory that allows her to precisely draw what she consciously and subconsciously sees.
Other important characters that offer reinforcement of the theme of The Way of Kings are the Kholin family and an assassin called Szeth. The Kholins are a royal family of great reputation for leadership, valor, moral rectitude, and scholarship. Szeth is a slave to whoever owns his Oathstone, a talisman that controls his actions. Szeth has a conscience but cannot disobey the Oathstone barer.
Sentient beings are not perfect; i.e. they are good and evil. The Way of Kings shows that some beings believe there is no God but God; others believe there is no God but science. The Way of Kings suggests there is a middle way. One might conclude from The Way of Kings that sentient beings live life by their own rules and suffer their own consequences.
The Way of Kings audio book will have different meanings to its listeners but the skill of Brandon Sanderson and the expert narration of Reading and Kramer will entertain all who listen to its 45 hour adventure.