The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is the first book in a “gigantic pile of doorstoppers” fantasy series. Which is kind of strange because Sanderson tends to be a more concise, efficient writer.
Then again, I want to try new things as a writer, so I shouldn’t complain when somebody else does.
First, let’s be clear: I enjoyed the book overall, enough to get started on the sequel right away.
But it’s way too long for its content. At first, I thought it was an editing problem, but it’s actually something more insidious: it’s an overload of characterization and worldbuilding.
Let’s tackle worldbuilding first: Sanderson sets his novel in a fantasy world that is significantly alien. The flora is weird. Animals are mostly crustaceans. Massive, regularly scheduled superstorms rip across the countryside. And so on and so forth. All of that needs to be described, but Sanderson deliberately avoids infodumps and so he constantly injects small bits of data in the text.
It reads well, but it adds up (to much more than the equivalent infodump would be.) And so far, the relevancy of a lot of the alienness isn’t really relevant. It’s extremely consistent (how would life survive the constant superstorms if it hadn’t evolved specifically for that?) but it does have a disproportionate effect on the length of the novel.
In itself, it’s not too bad. If it was the only issue, I’d be willing to dismiss the criticism. But combined by the overcharacterization… it really does push the novel beyond the wordcount the plot justifies.
Sanderson’s significant character count is relatively low for a novel of this page count. We’re looking at four main point-of-view characters, a few secondary-but-important characters, and maybe ten or so supporting characters. We get more than enough characterization for each of them… and then there’s the flashbacks.
We get the excruciatingly detailed backstory of one of the main characters (judging from book 2, each of the main characters will get their flashbacks throughout the series.) That’s chapter after chapter of background info on one character… which ends up justifying a basic character trait (and a few relationships.)
It’s all relevant information… that would have justified maybe a quarter of the words used to convey it.
The worldbuilding was a bit too much, but it’s within the bounds of discutability. The characterization is just excessive.
The book is still good, and worth reading (particularly if you have a hankering for fantasy.) But it’s also a good example of overwriting stuff. Thankfully, that’s not one of my weaknesses as a writer.