Over your previous books you've developed a reputation as the 'magic system guy'. Was it therefore a deliberate move to hold back on the magic in The Way of Kings, at least compared to your earlier books?
Yes, it was. That's a very astute question. I've written a blog post that I'm not satisfied with, but that I'll probably be revising and posting very soon, that is going to talk about this. When I finished the Mistborn trilogy and Warbreaker, I felt that there were a few things that were becoming Brandon clichés that I needed to deal with. I don't mind being known as the magic system guy. But when I become known ONLY as the magic system guy, that worries me. It isn't that I sat down with this series and said, well, I'm gonna show them, I'm not going to do a magic system. But when I planned this series, it was not appropriate for me to shoehorn in a lot of the magic system in book one. Though my agent suggested that I do just that. He said, look, this is what you're known for, this is what people read you for; if you don't have this it's going to be glaringly obvious. My response was that I would hope that story and character are what carries a book, not any sort of gimmick—well, gimmick is the wrong word.
Something that I pondered and wrote about a lot—just to myself—is that Mistborn was postmodern fantasy. If you look at the trilogy, in each of those books I intentionally took one aspect of the hero's journey and played with it, turned it on its head, and tried very hard to look at it postmodernly, in which I as a writer was aware of the tropes of the genre while writing and expected readers to be aware of them, to be able to grasp the full fun of what I was doing. And that worried me—that was fun with Mistborn, but I didn't want to become known as the postmodern fantasy guy, because inherently you have to rely on the genre conventions in order to tell your story—even if you're not exploiting them in the same way, you're still exploiting them.
For that reason, I didn't want to write The Way of Kings as a postmodern fantasy. Or in other words, I didn't want to change it into one. And I also didn't want to change it into a book that became only about the magic, or at least not to the extent that Warbreaker was. I like Warbreaker; I think it turned out wonderfully. But I wanted to use the magic in this book as an accent. Personally, I think it's still as full of magic as the others, but the magic is happening much more behind the scenes, such as with the spren I've talked about in other interviews, which are all about the magic. We haven't mentioned Shardplate and Shardblades, but those are a very powerful and important part of the magic system, and a more important part of the world. I did intentionally include Szeth's scenes doing what he does with the Lashings to show that there was this magic in the world, but it just wasn't right for this book for that to be the focus. I do wonder what people will say about that. I wonder if that will annoy people who read the book. But again, this is its own book, its own series, and in the end I decided that the book would be as the story demanded, not be what whatever a Brandon Sanderson book should be. As a writer, that's the sort of trap that I don't want to fall into.