Tag Archives: Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: Firefight (2015: Brandon Sanderson) (4 ½ *’s)

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second book in his series The Reckoners. It is a young adult novel. In a nutshell, the series is about evil super-heroes (called Epics) and the attempts of common humans to take them down. Basically, it’s set in an alternate Earth where a strange cosmic occurrence happens—a burning red star-like object appears in the sky—and a small sub-population of the humans inhabiting Earth are granted supernatural abilities. The first book in the series was entitled Steelheart (click to see my review) and it dealt with the destruction of the powerful Epic of the same name. The main character in both that tale and this one is a common human named David who has joined the underground resistance known as “The Reckoners.” They are led by a mysterious man referred to as Prof (for professor) who unbeknownst to many (although not David) is a powerful Epic himself who has sworn off using his abilities.

In the book Firefight, David leaves his home of Newcago (Chicago) and travels with his group of Reckoners to Babylon Restored (a borough of Manhattan). Although the Reckoners have a purpose there—to take down the ruling Epic and all other Epics in her service—David has plans of his own. He wants to find another powerful Epic—Firefight—an illusionist Epic who served in the Prof’s command undercover for Steelheart in the preceding novel. Basically, David has a crush on her, or perhaps is even in love with her, and he believes he can save her and convince to keep from using her powers so she will be normal. This sets up conflict with the Reckoners, because Prof wants her dead as he wants all the Epics dead.

Strengths: this is Brandon Sanderson’s work, so the strengths are many. The writing, of course, was excellent. It also had good, believable characters with well-developed personalities and emotions. Lots of conflict and tension. An interesting, convoluted plot (but not too much); I could follow everything without getting too confused. The twists and turns of the story were clever: some I saw coming, others I did not. It was a very enjoyable read. Weaknesses: maybe the fact that I saw some of the twists coming could count against it, but not by me. I prefer a novel I can follow that doesn’t become so convoluted everything seems forced.

Ultimately, I’ll give Brandon Sanderson’s Firefight four and a half stars out of five.

Book Review: Words of Radiance (Brandon Sanderson) (5 *’s)

I’ve said it before: I’m going to kill Brandon Sanderson. I didn’t want to get sucked into a coming ten book series of ginormous books as I expect The Stormlight Archive to become. I read and reviewed The Way of Kings some time ago. Words of Radiance continues the story of the Knights Radiant, the Heralds, and the world of Roshar (is it Roshar or Roshone?). Anyway, this book weighs in at 1080 pages or so. Not quite as long as The Way of Kings, but still a behemoth in its own right. I enjoyed every moment of it.

 

This is the part where I normally summarize the story. I hope you don’t expect me to do that with this one. Book Two of a series. Weighing in at 1080 pages. Four major characters and a plethora of minor ones. There’s just too much awesomeness to pack into my short review. I still think Sanderson went overboard on the developing the unique world motif, though. I’m still not sure about the moons. There’s at least two and one of them is purple. That’s about all I could gather. And I’ve forgotten what crem is supposed to be, just collected sand and mud, I guess. There’s a war brewing between the Parshendi and the humans of Alethi. There’s high storms periodically ravaging the country side (imagine a long lasting hurricane strong enough to hurl rocks and boulders). There’s hordes of spren which are proving far more integral to the story than I originally thought. Most importantly, Sanderson has been focusing on some moral ideals like honor and such. I like stories that do that, and Sanderson does it quite well. Makes me want to believe we can be better people.

 

Strengths: the writing was superb. The characters were rounded and well-developed. The conflict and crises were engaging and thoughtful. And the plot was mesmerizing. Sanderson is, by far, the best author I’ve read in a long time. Weaknesses: it might be too grand an undertaking. He doesn’t suffer from George R. R. Martin’s overabundance of characters yet, but he does have quite a few, particularly in the Interludes, and I’m not sure how all of them relate to the main story. It might get away from him. But I hope not.

 

Anyway, I’m giving Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance five stars out of five.

Book Review: Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson 4 1/2 *’s)

Steelheart is one of the more recent works of Brandon Sanderson. It is a young adult novel that comes in at nearly four hundred pages. The setting is a kind of post-apocalyptic Earth. However, in this case, the apocalypse was brought on by an orbiting glowing red comet or asteroid that gave a multitude of people super-powers and turned them evil at the same time. The resulting evil super-heroes or Epics, as they are called, wreaked havoc upon the Earth and basically took over. The United States is now known as The Shattered States and consists of a variety of city- states, each one run by a powerful Epic answerable to no one but him/herself.

 

The protagonist in the story, David, has lived all is life in Newcago, the city that was once Chicago, but is now the domain of the most powerful and most evil Epic of all: Steelheart. Steelheart can fly, turn inanimate matter to steel, and even control the very elements themselves. He has no known weaknesses, and is believed by many to be completely invulnerable. But David knows otherwise. Years ago, when Steelheart first revealed himself to the world and killed David’s father, David witnessed a solitary gunshot from his father’s hand. A gunshot like no other. A gunshot that injured Steelheart and gave him a scar. David has seen Steelheart bleed, and if it is within his power, he will see him destroyed. So motivated, he sets out to join the Reckoners, a group of humans bent on bringing the Epics down. They have fought and successfully defeated a number of minor Epics, but so far, have been unwilling to engage an Epic the likes of Steelheart, believing he is invulnerable. Now, with the new information David has given them, they may yet have a chance. Can David and the Reckoners destroy Steelheart and liberate Newcago? Or is it all just a fanciful dream? After all, knowing Steelheart has a weakness, is not the same as knowing what Steelheart’s weakness actually is.

 

Strengths: the writing was excellent (Brandon Sanderson is my favorite living author), the characters were well-developed and manageable in number, and the plotline was smooth. The action was excellent, and the conclusion skillfully handled. I do pride myself on the fact that I saw a good number of the twists coming, not all of them, but enough that I feel justified in bragging … a little, anyway. Weaknesses: perhaps the use of humor. I just have the feeling that throwing a comedic character into a mix of serious characters is kind of an over-used technique (I know, I use that technique myself). Still, in spite of that, it was an excellent book and I’m not even sure the humor used counts as a weakness. I might just be getting jaded in my old age.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

 

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 12/1/13.

Note: I will not be posting on December 26th. I will be taking the day off for Christmas. Also, remember:  I’m still running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Book Review: The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson)

The Rithmatist is a nearly four hundred page young adult novel by Brandon Sanderson. I guess it’s kind of a steampunk/fantasy hybrid (although I’m not really sure—I don’t read steampunk at all). Anyway, it seems to be a story of a parallel Earth where the technology has evolved to the point where everything is based on gears. Further, there is a discipline of magic known as Rithmatics. Rithmatics is an art that is based on drawing circles, lines, and characters on the ground to summon up mystical barriers, and small two-dimensional beings called chalklings, and using such to combat an enemy. It’s quite intricate and rather interesting.

 

Anyway, the story is focused on Joel, a young student at the school of learning known as Armedia. Armedia is one of the eight schools in the United Isles (a parallel of the United States and North America) where Rithmatics is taught and studied. Joel is a precocious young man totally enthralled by and enchanted with Rithmatics. He knows more about Rithmatics than any other non-Rithmatist, and probably even some Rithmatist students. Unfortunately, he is not a Rithmatist: only a select few are chosen, and Joel missed his chance.

 

Shortly into the story, Joel is delivering a message to one of the Rithmatic professors (Professor Fitch). As fate would have it, a new professor, Professor Nalizar, interrupts the class to challenge Fitch for his position. Unprepared and somewhat flustered, Fitch loses the confrontation. He surrenders his place in class and is reduced in rank. Shortly thereafter, Rithmatic students begin disappearing from off-campus. Is Nalizar involved? The timing is curious, and Joel is suspicious, if for no reason than that he does not like Nalizar at all. Anyway, the principal assigns Fitch to investigate, and Joel to assist. Hopefully, together they can unravel the mystery and not fall prey to the mysterious Scribbler, the perpetrator of the heinous crimes.

 

Strengths: The writing is excellent, the plotline enjoyable, and the magic system involved and interesting. The characters are well-developed and likeable. And the resolution was well-crafted and not easily foreseen. Weaknesses: to be honest, I can’t think of any serious weaknesses. With Sanderson there’s usually some kind of humor that just seems forced, but not in this book. For some reason, I wasn’t 100% engaged in the book, but I was engaged. Whatever it was lacking, I can’t quite put my finger on.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

Fantasy Literature: World Building: On Scope (part II)

Dealing with multiple worlds for world building is usually more the purview of science fiction than it is the purview of fantasy literature. It is almost a given in any science fiction novel that several different planets will be visited. Each one of these worlds must be built to make the novel an enjoyable read. It is rarer to deal with more than one planet in fantasy literature, unless it is a kind of split-off parallel world existing in the same space as ours as a kind of fairy land. Usually, in fantasy literature, there is no need for multiple worlds (planets) in different locations in space, particularly since transportation between such worlds becomes problematic. One must normally rely on magic to get from planet A to planet B. And once you do that, it is difficult to see how planet B will be understood as anything but a split-off parallel world much like the aforementioned fairy land. As a result of that, fantasy world building is usually limited to one planet and multiple dimensions, because in an odd sort of way, different dimensions actually seem closer to us than different planets—at least from the point of view of fantasy literature.

 

Still, for every rule there is an exception. A previous commenter on this blog pointed out to me that Brandon Sanderson is setting all his novels in the same universe. Each world he writes about exists in the same dimension. He even has a character, a story-teller/bard/what-have-you by the name of Hoid who shows up in each one of his books. I don’t know where he’s going with that, but it is kind of cool. Particularly since he deals with religious themes, with gods ruling humans, sometimes dying, and evil always on the rise. I suspect Hoid is an agent of, or perhaps even the avatar of, the one Supreme Being of the whole cosmos. A kind of god’s God. But that is Brandon Sanderson, and he’s the first writer I’ve heard of to connect his novels in such a way. And it is worth pointing out that as far as each individual fantasy novel is concerned (so far), it takes place only on the world in which it is set. So far, none of his The Way of Kings characters intermix with his Mistborn characters or anything like that. At least, not yet. Although Sanderson’s idea connects all his work into a single inter-related body, it can only take him so far. He might write well and fast, but the universe is an awfully big place with billions of galaxies, let alone who knows how many planets. Although his idea is original, clever, and genuinely really cool, he can only carry it through so far. There is just too much out there to encapsulate his vision fully. Maybe he’ll write about a dozen or two dozen worlds in his career. Two dozen worlds does not a universe make. The scope is just too vast to be manageable. Still, Sanderson is a brilliant writer and he may pull it off in ways I can’t foresee.

 

If you take anything away from this post, it should be the importance of scope. World building, be it a single world, multiple dimensions, or even an entire universe, is always a limited project. The real world parallels to it are always far more vast and complicated than the writer’s ultimate accomplishment. As I said, there’s just too much there to fully encapsulate. The trick is to give enough to give an impression of completeness without overwhelming the reader.

Fantasy Literature: World Building: Mistakes of the Masters (part III)

This post, once again, continues the discussion I’ve started on world building in fantasy literature.

 

The last technique I want to mention concerns how one deals with those things that normally have some kind of numeric designation; particularly those things which require some type of numeric manipulation. Here, again, simplicity is the key. The item that most readily comes to mind is the calendar. Here on Earth, our calendar (in the West, at least) consists of three hundred and sixty five (and a quarter) days. There are twelve months of varying lengths (either 28, 30, or 31 days apiece). And each of the fifty-two weeks consists of seven days. To be sure, one’s fantasy world could use a similar calendar with fifty-two weeks of seven days length, and twelve months of unpredictable length. But I would advise against it. Instead, use easily computable number groups; it makes for far less headaches.

 

For example, a calendar year of 365 days is not easily divisible into seven day weeks. As a result, on our calendar, the day of the week a particular date falls on changes every year. This need not be the case. In fact, you may find that such a thing causes you difficulties as you write. The solution is to use more easily manageable numbers. There is no reason why a year must be 365 days, or that it should consist of 12 months, or 52 weeks. Yet, ours does, and each of those different slices of time are all inter-related. In a fantasy world, the world builder has the option of simplifying, thus making the inter-relationships of those temporal slices easier to grasp. One of the simplest things to do, is to use a year of 360 days that consists of twelve 30-day months (that was my choice for Athron). From there, you must simply decide on the length of the week. If you want your numbers easily manageable, then you really have only a few options: five 6-day weeks (again, my choice), six 5-day weeks, three 10-day weeks (Tad Williams’ choice in Shadowmarch), or two 15-day weeks (but that last is really a stretch). Tad Williams also had five festival days that fell outside of weeks and months to get the total of the year up to 365 like ours. On the other hand, I simply deleted the five days. 360 is a nice round number that works fine for me.

 

A final word of advice, dealing with shorter numbers is usually better than longer numbers. It’s easier to keep five different days of a week straight than it is to keep ten. Likewise, if you aren’t going to use a mnemonic device that helps sort through your various months, I’d suggest using a number lower than twelve. Once upon a time, I used a year of thirteen 28-day months which gives you a 364 day year. However, in such an instance both you and the reader will have to keep track of 13 different months, none of which will align properly with our own.

Note: Due to a family emergency, I’m going to be heading out of town for a few days and I’m not sure when I’ll be back to post again.

Fantasy Literature: World Building: Mistakes of the Masters (part II)

This post continues my discussion on world building for fantasy literature. Previously, I discussed the authors Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson and some (in my view) mistakes these authors made in certain works of theirs. As I said, when one develops a fantasy world, one wants to make it as realistic as possible without sacrificing readability. J.R.R. Tolkien could have written all his dialogue in The Lord of the Rings in Elvish, but he didn’t, because he realized that that would have made the work virtually unintelligible to the average reader. The key is to strike the right balance between those characteristics unique to the fantasy world and those characteristics common to our own.

 

One technique I’ve stumbled upon (largely from reading Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams) is to use mnemonic devices in your writing, particularly for characteristics that might be confusing and difficult to remember for your Earth-readers. For example, in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams references the months of Novander and Decander, among others. That struck me as a clever way to accomplish two things at once: 1) provide a list of names for the months of the year that are unique to one’s world, and 2) at the same time, make the list easily understood and recognizable by the majority of readers in The West. Obviously, Novander and Decander are parallels to our own November and December. The reader will get that right away and won’t have to refer back to the index, thereby ejecting herself from the story, in order to sort it out. I liked the technique so much, I borrowed it for some of my own work (I use Novenya, and Decendra in The Children of Lubrochius).

 

Now, another mnemonic device can be used for characters with multiple names. In my own work, I have a character (only one, so far) that is referenced by three different names. My solution to the explosion of confusing names that so bedeviled Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch series is to make the names similar to each other: different enough so as to be distinct, but sounding alike enough that the reader will easily remember them. Specifically, there is one character who is referred to by the following three names: Korina, Zarina, and Sarina. One must be careful with this technique, though; it works best with only a very small number of characters. If one has something like a complete pantheon of deities and gives multiple names (all of which sound similar) to each one, it may come across as sounding forced and unnatural. In such a case, one would have to come up with some other technique.

 

In my next post, I will discuss how to effectively manage units of time and other elements of a story with a numeric designation.

Fantasy Literature: World Building: Mistakes of the Masters (part I)

If you are going to embark on a career writing fantasy literature, at some point or another you are going to have to familiarize yourself with the concept of world building. World building is the art of constructing an alternate world or universe in which the action of your story takes place. One of the most important things you can do in that regard is read: You can learn a lot from reading other writers’ works. You can figure out what works and what doesn’t work. One important lesson I have learned from reading others work is “all things in moderation.” This applies particularly to world-building activities in fantasy literature. A part of that is the notion of limits that I discussed in an earlier post. In that post I mentioned the important point that unless a reader loves your work so much (as we all hope they do) that they reread the book a dozen times, they will not be nearly as conversant in all the characteristics and relationships in the world as the author is. Because of this, what is clear to the author may not be clear to the reader on a first read. And that can be dangerous.

 

Two examples of well-respected authors who have fallen into this trap are Brandon Sanderson and Tad Williams. Specifically, Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings involves extensive world building. In my opinion, it involves too much. I read the book quite some time ago and reviewed it here. I can deal with multiple moons, different weather patterns from our own, and even different days of the week than ours, but what I find excessive is a whole slew of alien critters that aren’t essential to the story but are added to simply give the world an alien feel. Likewise, inventing entirely new types of material for clothing and what have you. I only read the book once, and although it was an excellent book, I don’t intend to read it again. As for Tad Williams, his Shadowmarch series was a semi-decent series, not exceptional and certainly not as good as his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. However, the Shadowmarch series suffered one serious failing. He gave approximately three different names to each of his world’s deities. That was confusing as all heck. It’s been a while since I read the book, but I think there were at least eight significant deities, maybe more. That’s twenty-four names that the reader has to keep track of as they cross reference themselves many times. Like I said: very confusing.

 

The lesson from this is that creativity is a good thing, but there’s a point where it can be detrimental. Just because something makes logical sense, doesn’t mean you should incorporate it into your writing. In the next post, I’ll give you a way to manage such an abundance of creativity, inspired by Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and some of my own experience.

Novella Review: Infinity Blade: Awakening

“Infinity Blade: Awakening” is a short novella by Brandon Sanderson (currently my favorite author). There is also a computer game out called “Infinity Blade” (I have the app for my iPad) and both game and novella are intertwined. I’m not sure which came first, but either way, Sanderson’s novella makes a kind of a cool story. It’s a mix of fantasy and sci-fi … actually, it is sci-fi where the protagonist is a primitive character that regards technology as magic and treats it accordingly. Kind of an interesting combination. Also, it is worth pointing out, that this is the first novella in a series. At the time of this writing, I believe the next book of the series is due out fairly soon. I’ll probably read it, because I did enjoy this one quite a bit; I read it all in a single day.

 

The novella tells the story of Siris, the human being chosen as the Sacrifice from the village of Drem’s Maw. According to tradition, one family has the honor of providing a single male child (the Sacrifice) to be raised as a warrior to fight the hated God-king in a single duel to the death. The God-king is one of, and the leader of, the Deathless, a race of immortals that have enslaved humanity. The story begins with the surprising fact of Siris’ victory over the God-king; he fought an unbeatable foe and won. But that is just the beginning. Now, he possesses the God-king’s weapon: the Infinity Blade; the only weapon capable of permanently slaying one of the Deathless. And the other Deathless know he has it. He returns to Drem’s Maw, but is not welcomed. Realizing his very existence is a threat to those he cares about, he sets off to lead possible pursuers away.  Along the way, he meets a female assassin named Isa who, when she’s not trying to kill him, proves to be a reliable companion instrumental to his survival. Together they set off to unravel the mysteries of the Infinity Blade and find its maker: the Worker of Secrets.

 

Strengths: like most of Sanderson’s work, the prose is smooth, the action well-paced, and the story is sprinkled with humor. Weaknesses: there weren’t many. My only complaint was that one or two places were overly-humorous. I mean, I’m reading a fantasy adventure novella not a comedy; some of the back-and-forths between Siris and Isa seemed a bit forced and overextended. Oh well. Still, it was an excellent read.

 

I’ll give it four and a half stars out of five.

 

Oh, and check out my Stupid Hobgoblin Jokes from the two weeks ago and vote in the poll … just for kicks!

Book Review: A Memory of Light

The final installment in the Wheel of Time series entitled “A Memory of Light” has been completed by Brandon Sanderson, the stand-in author now that Robert Jordan is dead. Like the other thirteen books in the series, it is a colossus coming in at 908 pages. It is a good book, although flawed in several serious ways.

It would be impossible to summarize with any degree of lucidity an epic tale spanning some 10,000 pages of text, so I won’t even try. I’ll give you a few highlights, if that: It is a typical fantasy epic depicting the clash between good and evil, light and dark, in this case, the Light, and the Dark One. The central main character is Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, a young man destined to face the Dark One in battle. With 10,000 pages, there is ample room to develop a whole slew of other characters including, but not limited to: Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Aviendha, Min, Faile, Lan, Gawyn, Galad, Moiraine, Cadsuane, and a number of others. Most of these characters are too complex and well-developed to be called minor characters, so I’ll just call them major characters.

Book Fourteen, “A Memory of Light,” completes the story with the final climactic battle between the forces of good and evil. There is some development to the final battle in the form of four lesser battles, all being waged simultaneously. There is also Rand’s showdown with the Dark One. The book is a good book, if you like battles. I’d say about 700 or more of its pages is devoted to one or more of the various battles fought. Personally, I found the one or two smaller side adventures—like the stuff going on at the Black Tower—to be more interesting. Still, the battles were good.

There were a number of mistakes in this book, however. I suspect the publisher just wanted to get the book out there as quickly as possible and didn’t give it time for proper editing. The first one I noticed is fairly minor and hardly worthy of mention: Mat’s hat disappeared and reappeared inexplicably—I wouldn’t have even noticed it, except Mat went through quite a bit of effort to say how he loved his hat and had lost it, only to have it reappear on his head several paragraphs later. A minor detail, but I noticed it. The next issue is somewhat more serious. The foxhead medallions, if I recall correctly, only protected the wearer from someone channeling saidar, not saidin. Back in book whatever, Mat was killed by Rahvin’s lightning while wearing the foxhead medallion. I remember the author specifically saying that the medallion didn’t protect against saidin. There was also another issue involving the number of Trollocs the army was facing in the Last Battle. At one point, the author said the numbers were reduced so that both sides were equal, then they were being swarmed again. Again, a small issue, but there seemed to be a number of small issues which crept into the book.

Still, overall, it was a good book and it ended well. The series is complete and I don’t have to wait for any more to come out ever again. However, the unfortunate reality is that the series is fourteen books and probably over 10,000 pages long. I really enjoyed the series, but I will never read it again. It is too much of a colossus to imagine wading through that much text ever again. Perhaps in my youth, I might have considered it; but I have my own writing to work on.

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 2/17/13.