I finally did it.
It only took six months, but I finally finished Brandon Sanderson’s thousand-page fat fantasy, The Way of Kings. It is the first book in Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, though online sources claim this series will have anywhere between two and ten books. How anybody writes ten books at a quarter of a million words each, I’m not sure, but we shall see how it progresses.
Now, I’m not going to try to write a review of this book. First of all, by the time I synopsized the thing, I would have lost you all to more pressing pursuits. There’s no way to boil this puppy down in any way that resembles brief. Instead, I’ll touch briefly on what stood out to me about the book, and what questions it raised for me.
After I got over my house-elf style self-abuse of “Ooooh, woe is me, Becky is a most pathetic author, with no hope of getting competent enough to so much as stand in good Mr. Sanderson’s shadow,” I was able to appreciate the many inspiring facets of Sanderson’s work.
First, I can completely understand why he’s being lauded as one of the preeminent world-builders of our time. His world of Roshar was as much a force in the story as were the characters involved, and I thoroughly enjoyed the slowly-revealed nature of that world. I loved the way the pervading threat of what the author named “highstorms” wormed its way into the tale, even birthing a list of oaths characters would utter. Maybe other Christians would be offended at the inference, but I found character’s utterances of “Storm off!” “That storming book!” or “Storm you!” fitting and even mildly amusing. I got the sense of the strength of the outburst without having to be bombarded with language I wouldn’t repeat. It was both honest and clean at the same time. There’s been a lot of talk flying around in Christian writing circles about the challenges of writing honestly for a Christian audience, and frankly, I believe this “secular” book got it right.
Which leads me to my next point. As a Christian reader of fantasy, until recently, I had been steering relatively clear of “secular fantasy,” due to the charming moniker it has earned in some circles as “porn for geeks.” Yes, I know there are books out there where the flippant and gratuitous on-page presence of sex, violence, and immorality would drive me to slap the cover shut. There is surely a reason there exists, all over the internet, tongue in cheek lists about the implausibities of fantasy books, many of them inspired by the overactive sex drives of characters. But you know what? I found The Way of Kings untroubling in this regard.
Was there gore? Yes. But the characters involved in the act of killing many (in a war setting) suffered significant emotional impact from coming to grips with their own swath of destruction. Characters meant to be seen as honorable suffered emotional crisis over callous violence.
Was there attraction between characters? Yes. The only remotely sexual content in the book was handled maturely and conservatively. Though the book did not come from a “Christian” publishing house, this Christian had no reservations about the content. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t do more than our fair share of fear mongering over what soiling material lurks on the book shelves of the mainstream fantasy market, and then we end up missing out on books that we could all read and become better writers by doing so.
The simple fact is, Brandon Sanderson has crafted a tale far more riveting than any Christian fantasy I’ve read to date. And I mean no slight to the many fine authors we have in Christian publishing. There are excellent books out there. However, in my humble opinion, none I have read quite reach this same level. (I wonder if the word count restrictions and other “rules” we live by might have something to do with that, but that’s another post.) I know there are folks who will disagree with me, along theological lines, as to what we ought to invest our time in reading. But I also know God is glorified by a job well done, and I cannot help but pray that some day, I will be able to hone my own craft to within shouting distance of the work Sanderson has done, and then have the opportunity to give my Savior the credit.