The Way of Kings took a while…

…But the book has finally arrived yesterday after a 2-weeks trip around the world. Considering my reading pacing and that I’ll read the book while also being already engaged with the Prince of Nothing it means that I’ll be done not sooner than a couple of months, but I already have a bundle of comments, all not indispensable but enough to waste a post about them :)

I mean, it must be quite original commenting a book on its first 8 pages. I’ve read those 8 pages, and have plenty to say if I can fish all that feedback from my yesterday’s memory.

So, the book is pretty & precious. If I had received the ARC as I wished I would be pissed by now because it misses all the frills of the retail hardcover. Lots of work spent on the package. To begin with it has 4 full-color illustrations “enclosing” the book. Meaning that two comes right after the cover, and the other two at the very end. Very colorful and eye catching. The first two have, one symbols enclosed in spheres, arranged in a way very close to the Kabbalistic tree of life. In front of this one instead we have a world map of Roshar, pretty but undetailed, only showing the division in zones. The world has a vague squeezed spiral shape akin to a galaxy. The other pair of color illustrations are a mirror of the first two. Not simply copied but reworked. We have the same Kabbalistic tree but with different art/symbols and the same shape of map that may refer to a different time or plane.

Inside there is another 2-pages Roshar map, this time black & white and detailed with the usual stuff like mountains, rivers, major towns. Beside these, the index mentions 19 other illustrations, ranging from other maps to sketches of creatures and other contextual things. Chapters also have their own chapter icons, with variations probably depending on theme or character involved. The book ends with a 4-page “Ars Arcanum” appendix with some details, I think, on the magic system and the Kabbalistic tree.

This wraps up the extraneous content of the book. I wonder how they can make a mass market version of this, because there are 1000 pages in total and lots of text on a single page. It will probably need a 1300 pages book in the smaller format.

Anyway the book is so pretty that I had a problem soiling it. I treat my books well, my read copies are almost pristine but I don’t refrain to write all over the page with a pencil. I keep notes and such. This book makes a so nice package that I had to put more determination than usual to decide to write over it and underline stuff.

It is still a book, so all this stuff is completely superfluous, but it’s undeniable that it immensely improved the first impression. Publishers should probably pay attention because if done well this could “sell” the book to those who are doubtful and undecided.

The text: I already had a couple of pages online so I knew about certain things that I could find annoying. Namely the compounded and capitalized words. I had to underline them. In the first 6 pages we have: thunderclast, Surgebinders, Dustbringers, the Desolation, Shardblades, Oathpact, Radiants, Truthless, Shin, Parshendi, parshmen, musicspren, Stormlight, Alethi, flamespren, Shardbearer. All of these used without much context, so a reader is required to simply file them in memory as placeholders. Yet, other things come out quite easily. For example I was able to spot already a link between the prelude and the prologue despite it’s said 4500 years passed between them. The names of the characters of the prelude return as statues of the Ten Heralds. Not exactly requiring brilliant intuition since Kalak, Jezirien and Talenel become Kelek, Jezerezeh and Talenelat. But the point is that even while setting things on the stage at large, we already have manageable elements after an handful of pages, and you can start speculating possible relationships between the two moments and what they represent in the large scheme of things. So despite the huge setting is only starting to be laid out, the reader is already taken in and involved.

The impression I have, as a whole, is that Sanderson is chasing THE childhood dream. He had been a fan of the genre for a long time, and specifically with this series he wants to embrace just everything that he ever liked. Taking the chapter icons from the Wheel of Time, having a prologue, prelude, interludes, epilogue and endnote, a bunch of maps, the target of a 10 book series right from the start and already revealing that this series will plug into another, so even breaching that wall, writing a book close to 400k words and focusing a lot on worldbuilding to aim for immersion. I think he’s grabbing all these spurious elements and gathering them into a cohesive project. The aim is simply to place himself in the same position of his childhood myths. He wants that throne. His purpose is to write an accessible series that can reach a vast public, all-encompassing inside out. He wants to step in with something that is both “his” and yet genre defining. And in chasing that childhood dream he’s hoping to embody the childhood dreams of his readers. He dreams big in a way similar to the “nineteen” introduction on The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

Now it’s kind of obvious that all this is just “fluff”, as it is fluff all that extraneous material that comes with the book, but I think the important point is that this is obvious even to Sanderson. I think he is approaching that childhood dream knowing exactly how frivolous it is, and also knowing/believing he can complete it ideally with all the experience he achieved as an adult. And so he is “preserving” that dream by filling it with actual value. The child dream made ageless and for everyone. Not childish anymore in the same way children don’t look at their own dreams as a limited thing.

Before reading those 8 pages I had many doubts. I’ve never read anything he wrote so the fluff was all that was evident. The profusion of compounded words and a kind of infodump-y prose didn’t exactly dispel those doubts, but eight pages were enough to make me curious and more positive. He seems to have things to say and has a way of presenting and dress them that is interesting. So one could as well take this kind of structure and reverse it: IN SPITE of all the fluff that may indicate something exclusively targeted at hardcore fans and RPG players, there may be a cool book hidden inside. 1000 pages that are worth reading and that make a good journey instead of just a commercial grab of a genre.

A reminder to not judge a book by its cover. Even when it’s so pretty and colorful.

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