The world of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is a dangerous one. The continent of Roshar on the planet Roshar is filled with perils. Violent "highstorms" destroy nearly everything in their path; giant carnivorous crustaceans roam the chasms; the Parshendi and the Alethi races have been at war for as long as anyone can remember with no victory in sight for either side; and godlike creatures battle each other every few thousand years to decide the fate of the planet.

The Alethi-Parshendi wars take place on the Shattered Planes - a vast series of high plateaus separated by deep chasms. Enslaved "bridgemen" push giant bridges between the plateaus in order for armies to advance and attack. These bridgemen also serve the purpose of drawing enemy fire away from the armies, keeping their survival rate close to zero.

On top of this is the caste system, which decrees at birth the fate of each person - from slave to king. There exist about a dozen specific castes, but they are grouped into two broad categories, based on eye color. The light-eyes are clearly at the top and dark-eyes are decidedly below.

But Roshar also has some marvels. The storms generate a mystical force called "stormlight" that can be captured in stones and other objects and can be harnessed by those with the power to do so. Powerful shardblades can cut through nearly anything and armor made of shardplate can protect the wearer from nearly any attack; soulcasters are devices that allow masters to transmute one object or substance into another; and spren - creatures made of light, who sometimes come to the aid of humans.

The book switches points of view between several characters. The most important are:

Kaladin, son of a physician, who goes to war to protect his younger brother. But ends up sold into slavery as a bridgeman - the most expendable people in the army. He begins to acquire powers from stormlight and learn how to use those powers to help his fellow bridgemen.

Shallan Davar, who apprentices herself to the heretic scholar Jasnah Kholin in an attempt to steal her soulcaster.

Dalinar Kholin, a decorated warrior, an honorable man, and the uncle of a king. Dalinar sees visions of ancient gods and begins to question the wisdom of the endless war waged by his countrymen.

By far, the most interesting story is Kaladin's. He progresses from idealist to cynic to reluctant super hero and it is all done with perfect plausibility. Kaladin miraculously survives every danger he faces, but often those closest to him perishes. Despite this, the other bridgemen rally around him and he eventually inspires and unites these dregs of society.

Few of the stories overlap in this book, but we expect them to do so as the series progresses.

As he has done before, Brandon Sanderson does a masterful job of building a world in which to place his characters and stories. In fact, the first two-thirds of this book spends much of its time setting the scene for the final third.

At over 1000 pages, this is an intimidating book - particularly when you consider it is part 1 of a proposed 10-volume series (three volumes have been published as of this writing) It took me nearly a year to finish it as other patrons kept requesting it

But it was worth the time and effort. I loved the characters and the world and the plausibility of the world Sanderson creates. Sanderson doesn't simply allow magic to exist - he provides a source to that magic and a partial explanation of its uses and limits.

The Way of Kings not a perfect book. The story is long and the action is sometimes separated by hundreds of pages of character development. But it never suffers from the flowery language that often bogs down high fantasy stories

There is much to think about in this book. But one of Kaladin's men put it best when Kaladin asked the meaning of a story:

"It means what you want it to mean," Hoid said. "The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think , but to give you questions to think upon. Too often, we forget that.”