In Unpacked, I analyze, dissect, and review various parts of a book that I’m currently reading. The goal is to better understand a piece of literature rather than mindlessly consume it.
“The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson is almost ten years old. First published in 2010, it begins “The Stormlight Archive,” an epic fantasy series Sanderson is still working on today. With the size of the book reaching over 1,000 pages, a prelude, prologue, seventy-five chapters, several interludes, and an epilogue, epic is almost a dull way to describe the book. Perhaps majestic?
This is my first Sanderson. I have heard many good things about him and only recently received “The Way of Kings” for Christmas. This year, I’ve made it a goal to read more fantasy. Here’s hoping I’m not going to bite off more than I can chew with this book.
As of right now, I’ve only read the Prelude and the Prologue. While the Prelude sets up a the scene like an ancient Greek play, the Prologue shifts into a more modern, personal tone. The language Sanderson uses is both fantasy-esque in its own right, but not in a cheesy way. I’m impressed by the way he can make it feel modern in a play-by-play writing style while simultaneously feeling old and used, like a nice, crisp, but still broken-in, pair of shoes.
With the first sentence, Sanderson presents the hook—an assassin is on a mission to kill a king. It’s a classic fantasy trope, but a welcome one. I can never get enough of assassin missions, much less one about king killers.
Rather than setting a scene right away and living in that space, Sanderson interweaves action, description, world-building, and commentary all through-out, pacing the information and making it fit within a logical context. Much of the information he presents, like the magic and races of his world, is admittedly overwhelming at first. Still, it’s not a total turn-off; it’s not an info dump. I have no doubt it’ll all make sense as time goes on and that’s the beauty so far in the writing.
He regularly sandwiches fight scenes and action with narrative commentary. I found this particularly interesting. In the margins of the book, I took notes when these shifts took place and it looked like puzzle pieces interlocking at times. Sometimes he’d only write one sentence of action within the first paragraph with the rest being a commentary on what’s happening while other-times it was Paragraph A – Action, Paragraph B – Commentary, A, B, A, B, like a poem.
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To a degree, I find this effective for a few reasons: First, it helps break up the action. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by all of it as if it’s happening all in real-time. A constant barrage of a long, drawn-out action sequences, as if I was reading a movie script, is, frankly, dull. Because, at the end of the day, you’re not watching a movie. You’re reading a book.
Second, it made me feel like I was listening to sports commentators. That might sounds crass but I mean it to be a compliment. There’s a reason sports commentators exist. People want to hear someone else commenting on what’s happening. In this way, Sanderson’s narrator acts as the commentator. And, frankly, it works.
Finally, Sanderson wraps up the prologue with a solid conclusion but also sets up more mystery, intrigue, and questions to force the reader to want to keep reading. It doesn’t feel like a cliff-hanger, but it still completes two very important functions. It concludes whether or not the assassin kills the king (I won’t spoil it) and it causes that action to tease a deeper story.
All that to say, I am thoroughly intrigued by this book. Sanderson clearly knows what he’s doing. He makes everything work seamlessly together. If the proceeding chapters are as good as this prologue, I’ll likely have many long nights of reading ahead.