The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

With Sanderson’s focus on promoting (and writing) the Wheel of Time novels, news on The Way of Kings has been few and far between. Now that The Gathering Storm is on store shelves, and the upcoming August, 2010 release of The Way of Kings, focus will begin to shift back to Sanderson’s original work.

On his blog, Sanderson spills some beans about the novel:

POINT ONE: This book is the start of a longer epic.

KINGS stands at 425,000 words right now. I’ll be trimming that down to (hopefully) 380–390k when I do the next draft. (Which will be the final draft.) That will put it at roughly double the length of MISTBORN or ELANTRIS. The series is called the Stormlight Archive, and Tor purchased four books from me. I’m not planning that to be the end, though I’m cautious at locking myself into a certain number of books. (Though I do have the entire series plotted, and am fairly certain I know exactly how many books it will be.) For now, let me just say that it won’t be as long as the Wheel of Time, but will be longer than anything I’ve attempted so far.

Consider this: a novel is defined as a piece of fiction containing 40,000+ words. The average Fantasy novel is likely between 90,000 and 120,000 words. Sanderson hopes to cut up to 45,000 words. That’s a whole novel worth of material. Nuts.

Won’t be as long as The Wheel of Time? Haven’t we heard that before? Just kidding. Sanderson’s shown himself as being more than capable of crafting stories and keeping them within the bounds he’s set. Mistborn was confined to a trilogy, Warbreaker and Elantris were stand alone novels.

POINT TWO: It is not a replacement for the Wheel of Time.

I will be sorry to see the Wheel of Time end, just like many of you will be. It will be difficult for me on two levels, both as a fan and as a writer. I’ve been reading these books since I was fifteen. More than half of my life, now, has been spent with Rand and company. My career has been shaped by them, and several years of my life recently have been dominated by their stories.

However, I don’t intend to replace the series. I have to be my own person, approach storytelling in my own way, and write with my own voice. To intentionally set out to replace the Wheel of Time would be monumentous hubris. The Wheel of Time doesn’t need replacing. It’s still there, on our shelves, just like it’s always been. Once it’s complete, that will be (in many ways) even better. We’ll be able to read it straight through, beginning to end, without waiting.

As someone who hasn’t read Wheel of Time since the seventh volume, I’m much more excited about Sanderson’s original work. I’m curious to see how he manages to balance finishing off Wheel of Time and continuing work on The Stormlight Archives. He’d potentially have to write 800,000 – 1,000,000 words a year (especially when one considers how much extra material he writes and then cuts during the editing process.)

POINT THREE: I think KINGS is one of the best books I’ve ever written.

I think the characters are incredible, the magic imaginative, the scope and history of the world impressive. I think the story is exciting, and has a depth beyond what I’ve been able to do before. I’m trying some new, exciting things for me—some nonlinear storytelling, some great internal artwork, and layers of depth to the storytelling.

Well, that’s encouraging. Still, one can’t expect him to air his worries before the novel’s release.

POINT FOUR: However, the book is just a book.

My editor, bless his heart, compared THE WAY OF KINGS to DUNE and LORD OF THE RINGS in the catalogue copy that he wrote. He’s a wonderful man, but I cringe when any new book is compared to masterworks like those. DUNE and LotR have proven themselves over decades, passing the test of time. They had monumental influences on their respective genres.

No new novel has the right to claim such a comparison out of the gate. If you go into KINGS expecting the next LORD OF THE RINGS or DUNE, you will be disappointed. I am not Tolkien or Herbert. I am what I am—a largely unproven writer still in the early days of his career.

Early in my drafting process for this book, I fell into some traps by putting too much weight upon the future of this novel. I began to think that KINGS would be the book that would define my solo career, and I began to worry (with all of the recent eyes that have been watching me) that this book needed to be something incredibly jaw-dropping and earth-shattering, otherwise it would be a failure.

That’s a bad way to be thinking as you write a book, and probably an even worse way to be thinking as you start reading a book. The Wheel of Time didn’t start to really make its mark until book three or four; it was the same for Harry Potter. Series like this take time to build. Beyond that, you can’t go into a series with the mind-set that it needs to be a huge blockbuster to be successful.

I’m not sure what I want people to think about this book. I want them to read it, enjoy it, and say nice things about it. I want them to anticipate it and talk about it on blogs, waiting for the day it is released. But in the end, it’s just a book. Let’s not hype this thing to death.

I have to smile at this one. Editors, Marketers and Publishers can be very trigger happy with the comparisons leading up to a book’s release. Sure, The Stormlight Archives could light the genre on fire like Tolkien and Herbert. It probably won’t. I’m always impressed by Sanderson’s humble attitude towards his writing.

POINT FIVE: Have I mentioned that it’s big?

I started working on THE WAY OF KINGS fifteen years ago. I wrote the first version of the book in full back in 2003. It was always planned to be big. You don’t grow up reading Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, and Melanie Rawn without wanting to do your own big epic. When I showed it to my editor back in ’03, he thought it was too ambitious to be published, at least as my second novel.

There are thirty magic systems in this world, depending on how you count them, and around six thousand years of history I’ve mapped out. There are dozens of cultures, a continent of enormous scope, and a deep, rich mythology. However, when I say things like that, you have to realize that very little of it will end up in the first book. The best fantasy epics I’ve read begin with a personal look at the characters in the early books, then have a steady expansion into epic scope.

I’ve spent many years thinking about the epic fantasy genre, what makes it work, what I love about it, and how to deal with its inherent weaknesses. And so I’m trying to make use of the form of the novel (meaning how I place chapters and which viewpoints I put where) in order to convey the scope without distracting from the main stories I wish to tell.

Anyway, I don’t jump between dozens of characters in this novel. There are three central viewpoints, with two or so primary supporting viewpoints. I intend the first book to be its own story, focused and personal. I don’t want this to be the “Wow! Thirty Magic Systems!” series. I want it to be a series about a group of characters you care about, with a lush and real world that has solid and expansive depth.

In other words, I promise you a variety of magics, mythology, history, and cultures . . . but not all in the first book.

Thirty magic systems? Dozens of cultures? Six thousand years of history? I worry that Sanderson’s biting off more than he can chew (despite impressing in his previous work). Still, the mention of three central characters and the emphasis on focussed story telling is a good sign.

I find it interesting that Sanderson leads with ‘There are thirty magic systems in the world, […] around six thousand years of history [and] dozens of cultures’… and then goes on to say ‘I don’t want this to be the “Wow! Thirty Magic Systems!” series.’ Perhaps he should revise that elevator pitch?

In any case, count me excited for The Way of Kings, even if only to find out how well Sanderson manages to pull together so many strings.

  • Chad Hull March 16, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    More than he can chew?

    If you need more than one book to tell your story I think you’ve bitten off more than you need to be chewing. Dune was one book. In Tolkien’s eyes, LOTR was one book. War and Peace, and Ulysses are long, but one book.

    I too stopped reading WoT around book six or seven. I love fantasy and I’ve read many fantasy series– some I liked others, not so much–but whenever I hear about, “book one of thirty-six in the never ending chronicles of the Dragon” I cringe.

    I also liked Warbreaker and Elantris much better than Mistborn. I felt they were much more concise, didn’t drag, and all aspects of the writing, in my eyes, were stronger and not so diluted.

  • Taedirk March 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    I believe you’re looking at the 30 systems and 6000 years in the wrong light. This isn’t direct storyline or plot direction, but the history and minutiae that goes into worldbuilding. While I don’t expect to see all six thousand years laid out, I do expect there to be the basis for mythology and historical events that have been warped from the true occurrence.

  • aidan March 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    @Chad – I also felt Mistborn was too long. The first volume was perfect, but the second and third volumes could have been combined together.

    @Taedirk – That’s why I’m interested to see how Sanderson handles the series. I understand that he’s not going spend time revealing each of those aspects in the narrative, but, reduced POV characters aside, it sounds like The Stormlight Archives could potentially be aiming for Malazan-levels of minutiae, which I’m not a fan of.

  • PeterWilliam March 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I’m very down, to see this. Hey, go big, or go home, as the saying goes. While I’m still holding back on Sanderson, I’m still buying books with his name on them in HC. The waiting continues…

  • Dave Wagner March 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I enjoyed the heck out of the Mistborn series, and liked Warbreaker a lot as well. I’m kind of stunned by the casual reference to the first book in this series being 400+K words… wow. I’m working on a novel myself (like everyone else in the world), and my chest puffs up when I tell people I’ve hit 100K… lol, I’m such a newbie.

    I certainly don’t mind massive books/series, if they are well-written. Guess that goes without saying…

    Anyway, thanks for the terrific update. I look forward to this series.

  • Simcha March 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I’ve become a big Sanderson fan, since Warbreaker, and I’m really looking forward to The Way of Kings. This is one author whose warning of a large book only enhances my anticipation.

    I also enjoyed the first Mistborn but wasn’t as pleased with the sequels.


    I actually never finished the second book because with Kelsier dead, the story just didn’t hold my attention.

  • Kevin March 17, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    I can’t wait for this book to come out. I read Brandon Sanderson books because I know they always pay off at the end, _always_: they all have nice climatic endings and cool revelations about the world, history, or magic system. He has an inventive and calculative mind.

    His weakness though, is his characters. I don’t care about them at all. I see them exactly for what they are in the books–convenient tour guides to show us the fancy magic and much planned out history. For all the clever world-building and tinkering with magic systems, this kind of approach doesn’t work in creating believable, real, warm-blooded people. I can sense that he tries very hard to apply all the things good characters should have, like motivation, and personal development, and flaws, all that, but the final product feels forced and so much like paint-by-numbers.

  • Mbalage March 18, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I think, Brandon’s characters are going to be better and better. They are still the weak point of his novels (he is a kind of world-building-driven-author), but his characterisation has developed a lot since Elantris. Even in The Well of Ascension they became deeper as in The Final Empire. And this is a good sign.

  • Arachn March 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I agree, Kevin; I couldn’t bring myself to care about those characters. Well, not much. I still liked the trilogy, but the pleasure I got out of it was more cerebral (like, “I wonder how this big shiny device of a plot will unfold”) than emotional.

    Oh, and Simcha… That’s a pretty big spoiler right there. Hope everybody here is done with The Final Empire.

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