The Way of Kings: Brandon Sanderson

thewayofkings

Me (two years ago): I’m not going to start a fantasy series that hasn’t been completed by its author. The emotional investment is too draining, waiting for the authors to come around to finishing what they started.

Me (two months ago): Oh well, Sanderson is a prolific writer. He finished someone else’s series; I’m sure he’ll finish his own.

Ever since the Parshendi assassinated the King of Roshar at a truce-signing feast, the two kingdoms have been at a stalemate war for six years, camped out in the Shattered Plains. Kaladin is a soldier-turned-slave, wracked with guilt over his actions that killed his brother and his squad. Dalinar is the King’s uncle and military strategist, who is worried about the crazy visions he has during highstorms. Shallan is a lord’s daughter who wants to be the ward of the King’s sister to steal her Soulcaster, a gemstone-based device that can transform matter from one form to another. A war is on, but a disaster more ancient and terrible looms ahead.

Sanderson has planned ten books for his Stormlight Archive, so there is a lot of story to be told. Way of Kings is long (~1000 pages), with multiple points of view (POVs) and nuggets of information strewn around, and it does flag in parts. But whenever the book starts to slow down, there comes a kick in the story that grabs your interest. Sanderson isn’t the dark gritty fantasy type, so people don’t get murdered or tortured at the drop of a hat, but he excels at political intrigue, and has enough twists and turns in the book to make it seem like an epic fantasy whodunnit (or rather whatdunnit). For me, it’s always a good sign if I’m interested in the side characters (Jasnah would make a good main POV), but what I like most about the book (and Sanderson’s books in general) is the attention to logic and detail. Magical systems are well thought out, worldbuilding is intricate, and there is no dragon to save the day. And yes, Sanderson finishes what he started.

 

Mortal Engines: Philip Reeve

287861

Can a crappy book with a good concept be made into a decent movie? Well, the movie version of this book is coming out soon, with LOTR director Peter Jackson producing it, no less, so we have to wait and see. And hope.

In some time in the distant future, cities have turned into large mobile predatory things, chasing each other and gobbling them up for their resources. Tom Natsworthy, a lowly Third Apprentice Historian and an orphan, lives in London doing cleaning work for the Guild of Historians. When he saves the life of Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine from a young assassin, his life is turned inside out, though not in the way he had dreamed.

The concept is great – nuclear war resulting in the rise of a phenomenon called Municipal Darwinism, with cities being turned into giant predatory machines. The world-building is great, with details of the cities’ engineering and the different types of cities etched out quite well. Too bad it is let down by poor storytelling and cardboard characters. Natsworthy is the male equivalent of the damsel in distress, possibly the most useless protagonist I have seen in a while. Some authors have the gift of making wimpy characters likeable, and give them an arc, but Natsworthy’s arc is a mess, and the less said about the storyline of Katherine, Valentine’s daughter, the better. Dialogue throughout the book is stilted, bordering on the juvenile, and near the end, I felt the author was rushing to just finish the book. Hope the movie can salvage some of the mess.

A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: N K Jemisin

the_hundred_thousand_kingdoms_nk_jemisin

Ever since I began working a corporate job, the number of single-sitting books I’ve read can be counted on one hand; maybe my attention span has reduced or I just don’t have the time (yeah yeah, I know it’s a poor excuse). But when I do, I have seen that two times out of three, it’s a fantasy book. There’s just something about well-written fantasy that captures my attention, more than any other category of book.

Yeine is mourning her mother’s death as she is appointed leader of Darre, a minor kingdom in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, ruled by the magical Arameri. So when she is invited by her estranged Grandfather to the floating city of Sky, the Arameri palace and named one of his heirs, she thinks it’s a chance to uncover the truth, but she soon realizes she is in over her head. She has to contend with powerful gods struggling under human subjugation, scheming heirs wanting to kill her off, the mystery of her mother’s death and the truth of who she really is.

This is a classic outsider-thrown-into-turbulent-times story, but Jemisin breathes fresh life into it, through the characters and the world-building. Yeine is the type of fantasy heroine I like best – smart, spunky, one who keeps the story going. There are secrets and political and personal intrigue, but not so much that you are lost, and the book coasts along at a brisk pace from scene to scene. The relationship between Yeine and Naharoth (one of the subjugated gods) had me rolling my eyes though, with all traits of an M&B romance, and the ending was not particularly surprising, but then I might have read a lot of fantasy. But, having struggled with finishing a lot of books in recent times, I’m always happy when a single-sitting book comes along and captures my interest like this one did.

The Colour of Magic: Terry Pratchett

the_colour_of_magic_28cover_art29

Twoflower is Discworld’s first tourist. Discworld you know, the world shaped like a disc carried by four elephants on the back of the celestial tortoise A’Tuin lumbering through the universe. Rincewind, a failed wizard from the Unseen University, is his reluctant companion. For company, on adventures of the like the world has never seen before, is Twoflower’s Luggage, an irascible trunk with hundreds of legs and a penchant for eating people it doesn’t like.

The only reason for walking into the jaws of Death is so that you can steal his golden teeth.

Pratchett is the master of the ludicrous, and the book is a series of gag situations, puns and comedy of errors. Having read a surfeit of fantasy books that are oh-so-serious types, it is great fun to read a book which takes classic fantasy tropes and turns them on its head. And the quotable quotes, man! The book is filled with punchlines, some laugh-out-loud types and others that have you marvel at the wittiness of the writer . While Rincewind is endearing as the cowardly wizard who prefers  sixty degrees of separation between himself and adventure, my favourite scenes were those involving the Luggage. It has no dialogue whatsoever, but the absolutely madcap situations it gets embroiled in are hilarious.

I’ve read a few of the Discworld novels here and there, but now I will attempt to make a more formal effort and read all of them. Hope to have at least one review every fortnight or so, so watch out!

Mistborn- The Hero of Ages: Brandon Sanderson

200px-the_hero_of_ages_-_book_three_of_mistborn

Ruin has escaped his prison. The end of the world is near. Ash covers the earth, plants are dying, giant earthquakes rock the landscape. Amidst near destruction, Vin, Elend and their band fight on, trying to decipher the Lord Ruler’s messages to help, trying to find a way to defeat Ruin.

What I enjoyed most in this final instalment is what I have enjoyed most in this trilogy- the explanation of the magical systems. Sanderson links the two threads- the development of the three types of Allomancy and the battle between the gods Preservation and Ruin- and provides quite a satisfying explanation for all the different elements of the world he has created. Each element has a part to play, and the twists and turns kept me interested, especially the concluding one.

Pacing is much better than the second, though I still had problems with some of the plot points (masquerade balls during a siege, really?). Character development has been, for me, a weak point of these books- despite Vin being the sort of spunky heroine I like, I’ve never really felt too much for her. This, to me, has always been a shortcoming of Sanderson’s work- plot development over character development- and while they make his books interesting and move quickly, they stay with you for a shorter time.

Mistborn- The Well of Ascension: Brandon Sanderson

220px-mistborn-_the_well_of_ascension_by_brandon_sanderson1

This book begins a year after the events of The Final Empire. King Elend Venture’s shaky control over Luthadel is threatened by the arrival of two armies at his doorstep, one belonging to his power-hungry father. Vin is by Elend’s side, but even the most powerful Mistborn known cannot battle all the forces that threaten her world.

The major issue I had with this book was pace. Nothing happens. On the surface, it does- lots of action scenes of Vin using her enhanced abilities, introduction of a new creepy creature family, Elend’s attempts at democracy- but none of them are actually interesting. If you look at how much the plot advanced by the end of the book, it’s probably the distance from your bedroom to your kitchen.

Some of the new characters are interesting- Staff Venture, Elend’s father, has similarities with Tywin Lannister, but others, like Vin’s mysterious sparring partner, didn’t engage me. The book is all about Elend’s character development, and while you know it’s going to be a slow process, you already know what’s going to happen and feel like, dude, get on with it already! The book is like many middle novels in trilogies are, placeholder, stage setter, and, frankly, expendable.

 

Mistborn- The Final Empire: Brandon Sanderson

220px-mistborn-cover

Vin is a street urchin, a thief, whose key life skills are trusting nobody and eluding those who would beat her. But when a noted thief Kelsier recruits her crew for a job, she discovers that she is Mistborn, one of a rare breed who have the power of Allomancy, the ability to gain abilities like super speed and strength by burning metals. She is drawn into Kelsier’s grand plan, to overthrow the Final Empire and the Lord Ruler, an immortal tyrannical god who has ruled the land for the last thousand years.

I enjoy the worlds Sanderson creates; there is some amount of scientific logic in them. Magic isn’t merely waving a wand and doing voodoo, there are methods and rules and limitations. His story progresses at a reasonably fast pace, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you hooked. These are the Sanderson characteristics- dialogue and action heavy, a major twist you won’t see coming, plucky heroines and a reasonably smart cast of characters.

However, as much as the plot keeps you hooked, the writing still seems slightly stilted, and character building is more of the ‘telling, not showing’ type. I did miss the descriptive world building a la GRRM or Rothfuss. Sanderson’s books occasionally seem like reading the novelisation of a TV show; they aren’t as richly developed as the former’s. I wonder if it is to do with the amount of time taken to write each book. Sanderson is known to be a quick writer, working on multiple projects and churning out a book every year or so, while we all know what the great GRRM does. Gaiman is the only person I’ve seen doing a good balancing act between speed and content, but I don’t think he’s done any epic fantasy, so I don’t know if he would do any better or worse on that aspect.