Every so often you come across an artistic masterpiece which is so beyond the realm of normal greatness you cannot contain the urge to share its effects on you with others. Such it is with me tonight as I write this, moments after finishing The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.
Understand, I have been a lover of fantasy all my life. I’ve read more fantasy novels than I can even remember, the first being when I was very young. I grew up reading fantasy. I bought fantasy novels whenever I could during my middle and high school years. I was nurtured by Brooks. bullied by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Raised by Tolkien. Teased by Rowling. And then I discovered Sanderson.
In truth, I’d never heard of him before a couple years ago. My sister, who is also a fantasy fan, was telling me about her heartbreak about Robert Jordan’s passing. Despite my fantasy addiction, I am embarassed to admit I’d never read Jordan (yet). I started reading about him and what was going to happen with his series. That’s when I first read about Sanderson. I had never heard of him, and wondered how in the world he was picked to finish that massive series. I also saw that he was LDS, like me, and my interest was piqued. I went to the store the very next day, and bought a copy of Elantris. Just a single, stand alone novel. Worth a few bucks to test the guy’s mettle, I thought. I devoured it. The next three books I read were Mistborn 1, 2 and 3. Loved them, especially Mistborn 1. Warbreaker followed. Outstanding. Over the course of a few weeks I read every published work of his and was hooked. I did not then (nor have I yet) read his foray into the Wheel of Time Series because I hadn’t started the series yet. (I’m now almost halfway through.)
I even had the singular pleasure of meeting Sanderson (and spending a short time visiting with him one-on-one) at a sci-fi/fantasy convention in Provo this last February. The guy is an absolute gentleman. Down to earth and fun to talk to. In any event, while at that conference, I started hearing talks about The Way of Kings. He even read a sample during one of his sessions. Knights in magical armor and mystical swords?!? That’s something I could get into. Within weeks, I read everything I could find about him and the Way of Kings, and then I began the 7 month process of waiting for the book to get published.
It has been suggested (inaccurately, I maintain) that I have zero patience and a tendency to aggrandize things I’m excited about. A good friend once told me that I like the idea of things better than the things themselves. Waiting for The Way of Kings was no exception. I agonized over the next 7 tortuous months waiting for its release. I normally have a VERY firm rule about not reading an incomplete series for that very reason. I can’t stand the waiting. To know that I was dying over volume 1 of a 10 volume series was, and is, devastating. However, I couldn’t not read it. Part of me worried that the book was getting overly hyped. I so badly didn’t want that to be the case. But, having read all of his other novels, I wasn’t too worried. The guy is good.
In any case, I savored every page. Every word. I finished tonight in absolute awe of a true master’s ability to tell a story. Every aspect of that story was meticulously crafted and methodically plotted. To use an analogy from the book itself, the story was like Shardplate. Where normal armor would have chinks and gaps at the joints, Shardplate fused together, every weakness covered by smaller, intricate plates that form an impenetrable shield. I have never read–and I’ve read a LOT– a story so well told. The plotlines and characters were juggled so perfectly. The foreshadowing was genius. The planning superb. Things that I wanted to see happen, but didn’t think they credibly could, happened beautifully, leaving my jaw hanging.
The very lessons he’s preached in his podcast were adhered to so faithfully in his story. Creating internal character conflict. Generating reader attachment and investment in characters. Plot planning. Story pacing. BEAUTIFUL!
I look at my own novel I’m working on. I consider myself a good writer. And I thought, until tonight, that I was a pretty good storyteller. I guess any talent seems good until compared to a true master. I feel like a chainsaw sculptor making bears out of logs who just sat down and watched Michelangelo create the statue of David. I have SO much to learn. So much to practice and hone. The level of detail in his books compared to what I’m dealing with makes my story seem a children’s book. But, I can’t wait to practice.
Mr. Sanderson, thank you for The Way of Kings. The bar in epic fantasy has just been raised. VERY HIGH!!!