This is the first post for The Way of Kings re-read. Please understand that the very nature of these posts can be and probably is spoilery, especially in the comments area. So BEWARE, unless you’ve read the chapters discussed you’ll be exposed to a lot of the underpinnings to the story. This post will cover the Prelude only, which, I believe, is the shortest chapter in the whole work, but is also filled with hints of many things to come in the series. This is a long haul story and it shows. Sanderson has already admitted it is planned to be at least 10 novels long and it will be 10 to 15 years, at least, before we get to the end.
If you want the full experience of The Way of Kings I suggest finding a copy of the hardcover, as it has some gorgeous end papers containing two maps of the world of Roshar. The first few pages of the book also include a different, more detailed two-page spread map in B & W. Another feature of the book is an emblem unique to each viewpoint character that is shown at the beginning of the chapters. All in all, this is a fine production that shows the fingers prints of Sanderson’s vision throughout. There are other art features that show up in later chapters as well.
Now, with that all out of the way, please summon your Shardblades and let’s jump into the fray!
Time: 4,500 years before the current era
Setting: A large battlefield after the action has ended.
Point(s) of View: Kalak
Kalak, one of the ten Heralds, is amazed he lived through the latest incredibly destructive battle where the land has become a shattered ruin and left most for dead. He is searching for the other Heralds and finds their leader Jezrien near a circle of seven swords stuck in the ground. Kalak learns Herald Talenel died during battle, but the rest are alive.
Jezrein informs Kalak that he and the other Heralds are tired of the endless pains they are subjected to between battles and have decided to end their Oathpact and give up their swords and never see each other again. Jezrein says that another Herald called Ishar believes that as long as Talenel is still bound by the Oathpact that it will keep their enemy in check and leave them free.
Kalak finds this difficult to accept, but he can see Jezrein is just as tired as he is of the continual pain they go through between Desolations only briefly broken up when a large battle summons them back to fight an unnamed enemy. This is a process they have been going through for hundreds of years.
Jezrein walks away after slamming his sword into the ground to join the seven others, leaving Kalak alone. After a time Kalak leaves his own sword, but can’t help feel bad about abandoning Talenel.
Quote of the Chapter:
“What do we tell the people, Jezrien?” Kalak asked. “What will they say of this day?”
“It’s simple,” Jezrien said, walking away. “We tell them that they finally won. It’s an easy enough lie. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be true.”
Man, those lines feel pretty harsh. Kind of like what I expect politicians to say behind closed doors, which is fitting, given that Jezrien was a king. When I first read the Prelude I was left at a loss. It nearly felt violent to be thrown into such a foreign world with nothing to guide you as we’re clearly at the end of long phase in this world’s history. At the time I even went back to reread the Prelude after reading the Prologue hoping some more things would click into place, which did happen somewhat yet even after having read this novel many of these terms are still left unaddressed or at least unclear.
Many people believe Preludes and Prologues are unnecessary for the majority of novels. “Just get on with the story,” is the main lament. Yet for a work of this scope it is very much needed to set the stage for a story that was truly started thousands of years ago. We begin at a point long enough ago where the reader understands that history can easily turn into legend. And Sanderson loves to play with legends. It certainly whets the appetite about many facets of the world. Though the story is clearly influenced by Wheel of Time the first thing that is apparent with this chapter is that this isn’t Earth. We’re firmly placed on an alien world filled with its own flora and fauna. Not to mention its history.
So right off the bat we get a lot of terms that are sure to be of utmost significance in the long run, but leave us in the dark for now. This is all part of the world-building that Sanderson has become known for.
What are Surgebinders, Dustbringers, and Thunderclasts? Radiants?
What does it mean to be a Herald? What does the Oathpact entail?
As the story progresses we definitely meet at least one, if not two characters that have the power of a Surgebinder. We learn about the Radiants. Dustbringers and Thunderclasts aren’t clearly discussed, but there are definitely some interesting theories. The Oathpact is something that has bothered me since I first read the term. First it seems like a pretentious term. Next why would the Heralds agree to it? Who brokered the deal and did they know about the whole torture thing? People in the military always say they’re willing to give their life for their country, but would they if they knew they’d be tortured for years on end only to be released to fight then go right back?
Which brings me Taln/Talenel. I can’t help but think that Taln is going to be mighty pissed at being left alone in what amounts to a painful hell for seemingly an endless amount of time. If he ever gets out what will he do? What will he have become? The Heralds are/were clearly the champions of humanity and seen as god-like, but if Talenel has already been subjected to “the nightmare” of the time between the Desolations of constant torture and he is then left for 4,500 years he might have easily gone off the deep end.
Duty and honor also make the world of Roshar go round. The Heralds have a duty with the Oathpact. Duty seems especially important to Kalak, even if he sees what he is doing as desertion having already given hundreds of years to the fight. And many other characters echo what they feel is expected of them.
One theme I keep keying into is reincarnation. Are the Heralds, who abandoned their posts still walking the world 4,500 years later? Or are they being reborn? The names Kalak and Kaladin are similar, at least at first blush. If they are still immortal did they retain the rest of their powers after giving up their swords? Are they still trying to influence the world? In coming chapters things are alluded to about the Heralds though nothing seems cut and dry. One brief observation is that 10 seems to be a significant number since there are 10 Heralds. Then again I could be reading too much into that. But hey! This is a re-read after all.
In the same vein as reincarnation is the idea of there being a cyclical nature to this world and its fight against “the enemy” revealed in later chapters as the Voidbringers. Kalak points out that the Heralds come back after a certain period of time from their hell-like situation to battle the Voidbringers yet again and this has all happened numerous times over the millennia. The other people still alive on the field of battle are described as having bronze weapons and being dressed “tanned skins or shoddy leather” suggests things are in a primitive state for the common people, but the proliferation of armor also suggests more technological perhaps magical advancement at some period, which this world is just now regaining.
So all in all an interesting beginning to an incredible world, but the next chapter is where we get to see some action and a glimpse at the magic that is possible.
Michael Pye (aka The Mad Hatter) runs The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review where he shares his views on genre books. He can also be found nattering on Twitter or in search of the perfect piece of bacon. He is currently working on an anthology project and is hoping to find a good publishing home for it soon.