My first experience with epic fantasy was Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. (I cosider it that way, at least... I did read Lord of the Rings first, before the movies came out, but Tolkien didn't turn me on to an entire genre like Jordan did.) I was just graduating high school, and saw a friend of mine reading the tenth book. I made fun of him for reading such garbage. The only speculative fiction I read was smart sci fi, like Dune, but mostly I stuck to thrillers. I spent my teenage years thinking I would become a thriller writer in the vain of Tom Clancy. I can't even remember what it was that made me finally pick up The Eye of the World and read it, but it changed my life in a major way.
Fast forward ten years and I find the majority of my reading and listening is spent on epic fantasy and sword and sorcery. Every once in a while I find a good sci fi (see my review of The Prefect), but my personal library is probably 85% fantasy series. You can guess that, as a huge fan of the genre, and as an aspiring author, that I would be writing the stuff as well as reading it. This is why Robert Jordan changed my life. His books realigned my dreams and goals, and now I am spewing out (at a rather slothful pace) stories with magic and made up worlds.
This brings me to The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. I'm not going to review the book, exactly, because I haven't read through the massive 1,000 page tome since it came out in 2010. I did re-listen to nearly 5 hours of it yesterday, however, and so have it on my mind. (FYI: I've read/listened to the entire book once, re-listened to everything a second time except for the girl chapters--because I couldn't stand her--plus the few hours I just mentioned.) I figured I'd blab about TWoK for a bit, and stop when I feel I've got everything out that I want to say. I apologize if this turns in to a long post.
Before going on, I have to mention the stunning cover art, painted by Michael Whelan. I'm not the type that pays attention to fantasy artists, but I can't deny the perfect imagery this illustration depicts. Most books have random weird scenes on the cover that have little to do with the actual story (almost every WoT book), but Whelan managed to encapsulate The Way of Kings so well in this that I find myself interested in genre art for the first time. (Dad, if you're reading this, I'm sorry. Don't think of my art taste as slipping... only know that it's expanding.)
If you haven't read TWoK, you should. It's the first book in a planned 10 book series, which will likely take the next 15-20 years for Brandon to write. This might scare off readers, but I think this first book stands on its own fairly well. The reason I think you should read this (and I'm not suggesting everyone read it... you should familiarize yourself with epic fantasy first, by trying out smaller books in the genre) is because it has a lot more depth to it than your run-of-the-mill novel. TWoK isn't a fun book, the way Harry Potter or His Majesty's Dragon is. It is rather a thought-provoking, character-driven story that can stay with you for days after you've listened to/read its pages.
So many popular fantasy stories these days are dark and "edgy". I happen to like the dark stories--I've already posted about why--but even I tire of the gray morality these stories promote. TWoK is such a positive piece, about what it means to be a leader, the importance of honor, self-sacrifice... the list of uplifting points goes on and on. The great thing about it is that it never feels preachy. The characters go through hell before they understand morality. Their world is falling apart politically because their society has degraded so far, and they have to struggle against the current to overcome the depravity engulfing them.
There is a set of codes, or ideals one character tries to understand and live by throughout the book. The phrase I love so much from it is: "Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination." While not particularly original, I find that the words are still profound. Especially the last part.
I'm at a point in my life where the journey is somewhat of a struggle. As a new parent, I've realized that what life was before my baby girl, is now gone. It some ways this saddens me. In most ways, it brings more joy to my life than words can describe. I haven't regretted the decision to become a dad for one second. It's the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I naively thought that I could be the same person with a child. After all, I feel that I remained the same after becoming a husband... I was more completely myself with Rhonda in my life. Having a companion to share life with was easy. (We've still yet to have a serious argument after over 5 years of marriage. Some would call that unhealthy. I call it a triumph, in no small part due to the saint I wed.) Having a little one who depends utterly on us is hard. Every parent knows exactly what I'm talking about, and will roll their eyes at my words. That's the cool thing about parenting, though: we all get to discover it for ourselves. Back to the journey... my destination has been altered by choices made. I am no longer I, but We. (This change occurred years ago, of course, but for me really hit when 2 became 3.) We have to work to support our family. We have to sacrifice for education. We have to get up early to write. We have to want to put the long hours in to become a published author. This is one of my/our journeys right now. I have several that I could talk about, however, I'll stick to writing goals for this blog. The destination in mind--of publishing professionally--may never be reached. But I believe I'll be better for the journey.
This is the crap I think of while listening to TWoK. I wish I could promise that the book will provoke such self-discovering thoughts in every reader. It might. I want to give Brandon credit for this. I'll have to wait to discuss the topic with other readers before having a definitive answer. Whether Brandon meant TWoK to be as potent or not doesn't really matter to me. For me it was, and continues to be every time I re-listen.
Oh, and the narrators are great. Suppose I should add that since I listened to the book. They are the same duo who read The Wheel of Time.
Should you read The Way of Kings? Uh... yeah. If you've read anything I've written in this post, you should read it. Duh. It's by far Sanderson's best work, and one of the best novels in years. I can't wait to see where he takes the series. (Not looking forward so much to book 2, since its focus will be on the chick.) I said I wasn't really going to review it, but what the hell. I pretty much did.