Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3 for XBLIG, PC, Mac, iOS and Android OS

Penny Arcade’s foray into the actual making of videogames rather than the mockery of them has been far from without a hitch. The first two episodes, created by Hothead, were decent RPGs with a dash of a classic adventure game. They were pretty good games, but fairly simplistic and short, and whilst they were both moderate critical successes, they failed to achieve any meaningful commercial success. It was a shame really, the games were no masterpieces, but the Lovecraft influenced world of New Arcadia was a fun one to explore, and the verbose eloquence of Jerry ‘Tycho’ Holkins and the instantly recognisable art style of Michael ‘Gabe’ Krahulik led to an entertaining script and plenty of fun characters plundered from the 14 year old web comic. Hothead later opted to not produce further Penny Arcade games, in favour of making Ron Gilbert’s Deathspank games. Holkins eventually concluded the series through a short novella that was published one chapter at a time on the website. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to find that the series would in fact get a (playable) conclusion, and that it would be produced by Zeboyd no less. Zeboyd rose to their modest success with the release of Cthulhu Saves the World in 2010, and have become known for the nostalgic throwback nature of their games, emulating the style of the NES Final Fantasy games which simply doesn’t exist today.

The games are centred around a poem known as ‘The Quartet for the Dusk of Man’, which tells of four Gods, based on the Old Ones from the Cthulhu mythos, who a group of allied cults seek to raise. In the first two episodes, Yog Sethis, the God of Silence and Yog Kathak, the God of Gears had been summoned and destroyed by the heroes. These heroes are the somewhat insane genius Tycho Brahe, last scion of a household bent on ending the world, but won’t let anyone else do it first, and Jonathan Gabriel, his dumb yet rather loveable companion with a passion for violence. At the conclusion of the last game, the gang were betrayed by Dr. Raventon Darkalton Blood (something of a parody of the character design of Todd MacFarlane), as he steals the Necrowombicon, a dread tome which allows the summoning of the final two Gods. It is here that the third episode begins. In the original two episodes, the player created a character who joined Gabe and Tycho on their adventure, but this aspect has been cut from the new release. The player is replaced by two new characters; one is Jim, a head in the jar who in the comics was a former roommate of Tycho and Gabe who had died behind their TV whilst trying to hook up their Nintendo 64.  The other is Moira, an entirely new character, a private detective and ex wife of Tycho. Together, this group attempt to hunt down Dr. Blood, regain the Necrowombicon and halt the rising of the third God. The story is relatively thin, but Holkins, a man who has claimed to ‘have a judo-grip on the English language’, provides consistently funny dialogue, which particularly shines in the glib descriptions of the wide variety of enemies the gang face.

The battle system is class based in a Final Fantasy III sort of way, with each character having a base class alongside the ability to equip two more. These classes are where a lot of the fun comes in, and are as interesting and unique as one would hope for from great minds such as Holkins and Krahulik. My favourites include the ‘Dinosorcerer’ which involves…well, turning into dinosaurs and stomping your foes into oblivion, and the ‘Gardener’ in which ‘gardens’ are laid during the battle which cause different effects, such as persistent damage to the enemy or the healing of the party. Working out which combinations of classes go best with each character is pretty fun, and the feeling of satisfaction of having got together a move set which just works is rather special. The battles themselves are a fairly standard turn based affair, and whilst they may not be the most complex in the world, it really doesn’t need to be. The combat is simple and retro and that’s exactly how it should be. The game is really about ferrying you from battle to battle, and it may perhaps have been nice to have a few differing game play mechanics introduced to keep thing interesting, like the Twisp and Catsby minigame from Episode 2.

The visual style is fairy hit and miss. The character and enemy designs are great, often stylised interpretations of figures from Penny Arcade lore, such as the Deep Crow or Rex Ready the time travelling T-Rex. The actual environments are generally unimpressive however, and at times look like they were made with freeware RPG maker software. I’m aware that the style is intentionally basic, but the classic 2D RPGs of lore never looked this bad. There are some exceptions, such as a sojourn into a parallel universe fantasy land which directly mimics the style of the first Final Fantasy, which is certainly a charming diversion, but these are exceptions to a largely unexceptional style. The music is pretty good, if somewhat repetitive. The main battle theme is fairly catchy, and certainly captures the energy of the battle themes of the early Final Fantasy games.

PAA:OtRSPoD Ep 3 to give it it’s catchy acronym is a fun little diversion, but little more than that. I can’t really recommend this to people who haven’t played the first two, but if you have then there is plenty to enjoy here. It’s damn cheap, which certainly helps.

7/10

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The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks

Iain Banks is something of an odd one; he’s achieved significant critical success through his ‘mainstream’ novels such as his 1984 debut The Wasp Factory. Critics with nothing but contempt for science fiction and fantasy adore him, yet he lives a secret double life as a strong candidate for the greatest living writer of science fiction. All of his sci-fi is published under Iain M. Banks, with his ‘mainstream’ literature released without the ‘M.’ The majority of his science fiction take place in a utopian galactic civilisation known as ‘The Culture’, beginning with 1987’s Consider Phlebas up until 2010’s Surface Detail. The links between these novels are relatively tenuous, with the odd cameo from a character from a previous novel or oblique references to the events of other novels  forming the only real continuity. The Algebraist is the first science fiction book by Banks that I have read not set within The Culture, and Banks uses the new setting to craft a story which simply couldn’t happen within the confines of The Culture, whilst retaining much of what made the Culture books so entertaining.

The Algebraist takes place around two thousand years into the future, and humanity has reached the stars, entering into the benevolent tyranny of the Mercatoria, a bureaucratic empire built upon the belief that the entire known universe is a simulation and that when half of the population of the galaxy converts to this view, we shall be freed from it and enter into a greater reality beyond. Where AIs form a large part of the Culture books, with the sentient ships and drones generally being the most entertaining and amusing characters in whatever novel they appear, within the Mercatoria they are ruthlessly hunted down and destroyed due to an AI rebellion thousands of years earlier. Faster than Light travel has yet to be discovered within this setting, so interstellar travel is achieved entirely through wormholes which can only be stabilised within a ‘Lagrange Point’, a point where the gravitational force of two objects are equal, meaning that rather than orbiting one or another, the point stays relatively still…or something. I’m not a physics student, leave me alone! The construction of a wormhole is incredibly time consuming, taking centuries to stabilise, and so the destruction of a wormhole entrance is a major coup for anti-Mercatoria forces, leaving the system containing the wormhole utterly isolated for centuries at a time.

Rumours of secret system of wormholes, which would utterly revitalise the stagnating galactic community, leads a force from an alliance of long disconnected system which has fallen under the sway of the charismatic sadist Archimandrite Luseferous who launches an attack upon the Ulubis system, which he believes to contain the information needed to access this wormhole network, giving his fledgling empire  the power to thwart even the galaxy spanning Mercatoria. The Dwellers, those who supposedly created this network, are creatures who exist within 99% of the gas giants of the galaxy (though not Jupiter or Saturn). They are a truly ancient civilisation, older than any other and one of the few independent species of the Mercatoria, with individuals living up to a billion years. The protagonist, Fassin Taak is a human ‘seer’, scholars who goes amongst the Dwellers to learn their secrets, artificially slowing their metabolism so that they may perceive time in a similar fashion to their ancient objects of study. Taak is drafted into the Mercatoria after they learn that the forces of Luseferous are descending upon Ulubis, and that the Mercatorial fleet shall not reach Ulubis for a year, as the Ulubis wormhole had been destroyed a century earlier. Taak is sent to Nasqueron, the gas giant of Ulubis, to go amongst the Dwellers and attempt to learn the truth of the secret wormhole network, so that he can lead a Mercatorial fleet to defend the system.

Phew. Sound complicated? It is. The barrage of terms that the reader is almost immediately beaten around the head with can be off putting, as it makes earlier passages utterly difficult to follow. I don’t normally like glossaries during my books, feeling them almost always unnecessary, but one would certainly help here. When you finally wrap your head around this world though, it’s utterly fascinating, and a setting which I would love to read more novels within. The plot moves along fairly briskly, although there is an utterly unnecessary revenge subplot featuring two characters from Fassin’s past. A subplot must in some way support or complement the main story, but this story line seems to take place utterly independently from it, with the conclusion bearing no consequence on the wider narrative. This story is interesting, and would perhaps make a nice little novella to parallel the main story whatsoever, but inserted as it is throughout the novel it only serves to break the pace and bring us away from the much more compelling storyline of Fassin and the Dwellers. Banks has never been the most structurally tight author, but it feels particularly evident here, but where he usually surprises us in other novels by bringing together these disparate elements into an interesting convergence, he fails to do so in The Algebraist. Consequently, the novel is about 100 pages too long, and it can be difficult to not check out somewhat during the subplots.

The writing is as top notch as ever however. The somewhat staid writing style of a large amount of ‘hard’ science fiction is absent here, with Banks exhibiting a flair for language greater than perhaps any other in the genre. The comedy of the Culture books is exhibited here in full force; where it is usually the AIs in the Culture books, particularly the ships, which provide most of the laughs, here it is the absent minded and ancient Dwellers who provide the best comedy. These millennia spanning creatures are so utterly checked out from reality and the ‘earthly’ concerns of the wider galaxy that they view the human Fassin with nothing more than a bemused benevolence, constantly amused by our fast paced and violent ways. This is certainly one of the funniest novels which I have read in a long time. Banks is not a one trick pony, he conveys some pretty horrific scenes with a wonderful compassion and eloquence, without ever feeling the need to preach to the reader.

Whilst the protagonist Fassin is a relatively bland figure, he is surrounded by some hilarious and interesting characters. Y’sul, his Dweller companion through Nasqueron, is constantly amusing and will likely end up everyone’s favourite character. The villain, Archimandrite Luseferous, is very much in the ‘Joffrey’ class of villain, a completely irredeemable and horrible sadist who is nonetheless oh-so fun to read about. The inventive tortures conjured by Luseferous upon those who defy him never cease to be hilarious in an ‘oh dear lord that is so unbelievably horrible’ sort of way. Banks has never been as much about his characters as about the world they inhabit, and his novels have never offered particularly complex character studies (with perhaps the exception of Cheradenine Zakalwe in Use of Weapons), and The Algebraist is no exception. The fast pace of the novel means that no single character is allowed much time to develop, but instead we are treated a long succession of entertaining and interesting caricatures, such as Fassin’s Uncle Slovious, who has chosen to live the remainder of his life in the form of a walrus and Quercer & Janath, a pair of Dweller minds who reside within one body. This isn’t really a problem in my opinion, but if you read novels for complex character studies, then this probably isn’t for you.

There are many things wrong with The Algebraist; it’s a mess structurally and seems wilfully  difficult to read at first, but it successes outweigh these flaws. The novel is consistently funny, awe inspiring and original, with Banks dropping ideas and concepts which are always novel and interesting, showing an admirable effort to steer clear of cliché. If you’ve read other Banks science fiction and enjoyed it, I recommend this highly, it’s comfortably up to the standard of the Culture novels and easily eclipses weaker instalments such  as Look to Windward and Excession. If you haven’t read any Banks before, I can’t say that this is a great place to start (The Player of Games is a far better launching point). The Algebraist is a very good book, falling just short of being great, yet I nonetheless recommend to anyone who has read Banks before or who enjoys science fiction which plays with utterly new and alien ideas. 

PullBlox for Nintendo 3DS

PullBlox is probably the most celebrated game yet released on the Nintendo eShop, and it’s not difficult to see why. In many ways it resembles the sort of game that’s become so popular on iOS and Android systems lately; a quirky puzzle game which lends itself perfectly to short bursts of play.

The plot, like Mutant Mudds, is wafer thin. You are Mallow, a rotund little critter who looks a lot like…well, a marshmallow. A nasty kid (he’s wearing a backwards baseball cap backwards so you KNOW he’s trouble) is trapping the kids of the day care in which Mallow works in walls, and it is up to Mallow to save them all. There’s a lot of them. Almost two hundred in fact. Each puzzle is made up of a group of geometric shapes, some simply blocky puzzles and some coming together into the shapes of certain objects, and best of all, some retro Nintendo sprites. Mallow can pull each block out by three, and the child trapped in the wall can only by accessed through sliding these blocks back and forth, jumping between the platforms you make and reaching the top. The first few puzzles are fairly simple, but they can get fiendishly complicated towards the end, to the point that I spent a good two hours solving one puzzle. Time well spent. Things are kept interesting with the addition of tunnels Mallow can warp through and switches which fully extend blocks of a certain colour. The game also contains a feature to let you build your own PullBlox, and it seems fairly robust, although if you’re as uncreative as me there’s more than enough fun to be had with the main game itself.

The game looks nice, with some pleasant colourful visuals. The 3D is useful for gauging how far extended a block is, but it’s not exactly necessary. Unlike Mutant Mudds, PullBlox could pretty well on the iOS or Android, perhaps with a slight shift in camera angle. The music is pleasant enough, but fairly repetitive, and this is one where it’s not worth keeping the sound on. Stick yourself in front of the TV whilst playing, lay back and relax. It’s the best way to enjoy the game in my experience.

There’s not a huge amount to say on this one. Puzzle games aren’t easy to review, the quality which sets them apart is pretty difficult to pin down. Try and define exactly what it is that makes Tetris great and you’re in for a frustrating afternoon. All that can be said is that some have it and some don’t. PullBlox has it. 

Mutant Mudds for Nintendo 3DS

Mutant Mudds is a fun little platformer available now on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. Never a company to have the greatest online strategy, it looks like Nintendo is making decent progress with the 3DS. The eShop has its problems, Jerry ‘Tycho’ Holkins recently described the experience of loading up the eShop as like ‘waking up in a coffin’, which hits the nail on the head fairly well. If Mutant Mudds is an indication of what’s to come though, I can forgive the eShop’s awful design.

The plot is…well, it makes Super Mario look like War and Peace. You are Max, a geeky looking kid who’s sent by his grandmother to fight off an alien invasion of oddly cute little critters known only as ‘Mudds.’ The gameplay is fairly standard platforming fare, but to spice things up you have a little blaster gun and a limited burst jetpack too. Each level contains 100 little chips to pick up, and it’s worth doing so as without them all the proper ending to the game cannot be seen. The game makes excellent use of the 3D capabilities of the console,  with each level existing on three layers; front, centre and back. Little pads spotted throughout the stages allow Max to jump between these layers, with the 3D effect creating a clear distinction between each layers. Although largely a stylistic innovation, the gameplay does subtly shift between each perspective. Whilst at the back, Max is tiny and the player can see a large amount of the level stretching ahead of them, and so can plan the best way to approach, which enemies to blast first and when etc. At the front on the other hand, Max takes up a large amount of the screen, so it is difficult to anticipate what’ll be coming next, so the gameplay becomes about quick reaction and instinct, jumping just in time to avoid the new enemy attack. It’s not a massive innovation, but it’s pretty cool and presents one of the few compelling cases for the 3D capabilities of the 3DS that I’ve seen.

The controls are utterly precise, in a way that is difficult to put into words. It just feels good to play, the way you walk, the way you jump, everything. The game is never unfair; if you die, it’s your fault, not because of a cheekily placed enemy or impossible jump…and you will die. A lot. This game evokes a simpler time in gaming, where simple challenge defined gaming rather than how cinematic an experience it provides. Sure, it’s frustrating, but you’re never frustrated at the game, just yourself for cocking up.

The game looks great, full of lovely primary colours and some interesting stylistic choices. Each of the forty levels in the game contains another, secret level. Half are rendered in the comforting gray of the original Game Boy and are known as ‘G-Land’ and the other half are in the red tones of Nintendo’s disastrous first foray into 3D, the headache inducing Virtual Boy, known as V-Land. These levels are initially a fun novelty, but as they make up almost half the game it didn’t take long until I missed the vibrant palates of the main levels. It’s not that they look bad, it’s just that by their very nature of impersonating older devices with singular colour schemes they deny what is otherwise one of this game’s greatest strengths. The music is a standard chirpy chip-tune affair, likeable enough but fairy unexceptional. The music never gets annoying, and sometimes that’s enough.

Quirky side scrolling platformers are dime a dozen these days, to the point of becoming a cliché. Mutant Mudd’s doesn’t attempt to show off with the flashy mechanics of games such as Braid or Fez, but excels through being just so damn well made. Not every game needs to be a grand innovator, sometimes it’s ok to take a genre that’s been done to death and make it yours. If you want something really new and exciting, then this probably isn’t for you. If a nice, challenging platformer takes your fancy, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Mutant Mudds.

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson will be known to many as the man who was put in the difficult position of filling the gargantuan boots of Robert Jordan, author of the hugely popular Wheel of Time series of novels before his tragic death in 2007. With a final novel to write in the 12 volume epic, loyal fans who’d stuck with Jordan through the its dizzy highs and utterly crushing lows were understandably cautious at the announcement that the well liked, but minor, fantasy author Brandon Sanderson would be writing the last book from Jordan’s notes. This cynicism was furthered at the initially worrying announcement that the final volume, A Memory of Light, would be split into three separate novels to allow Sanderson to do justice to the vastness of Jordan’s vision. With two of these three now published, 2009’s The Gathering Storm and 2010’s Towers of Midnight, I firmly believe that Sanderson not only captured the essence of Jordan’s opus, but in parts almost surpassed it. Many Jordan purists would be baying for my blood at this point, but it is difficult to deny that Jordan’s later Wheel of Time novels suffered devastating pacing issues, particularly compared to the fast paced and compelling early works in the series. The 10th novel, Crossroads of Twilight was close to unreadable. I, along with legions of other patient fans, am eagerly anticipating the final book, A Memory of Light in 2013. Sanderson was chosen to finish the Wheel of Time epic by Jordan’s widow, who had read Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and identified him as the ideal author to bring the series to its conclusion.

I decided to read Sanderson after learning that the vast majority of his works take place in a vast shared universe known as the Cosmere, with the different fantasy settings of his seemingly separate series and novels existing as planets in the same galaxy, linked at this point through cameos and references to a shared and overarching cosmology. Sanderson has stated in interviews that he plans for each sequential novel to delve deeper and deeper into this shared setting, culminating in a lodestone series of novels bringing all of these disparate epics together in a similar fashion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. Although only seven novels are so far published in this setting, Sanderson estimates that there will ultimately be around 35 books set within the Cosmere. Whilst I’m well aware that to many a 35 book series may seem daunting, it certainly piqued my interest as a geek who revels in shared universe settings and continuity; I loved Isaac Asimov’s vast Foundation universe as a teenager. However, pioneers of the shared universe such as King and Asimov have always been somewhat held back by the fact that the concept of these shared universes were implemented relatively late in their careers, requiring the odd awkward ret con or plot hole. Sanderson on the other hand has stated that he planned for this shared setting right out of the door with his first novel, 2005’s Elantris. I therefore decided to read all of Sanderson’s work in order of publication, something which I cannot recall doing for any other author, so that I may be able to pick up on every nugget of gooey delicious continuity. There’s no need to read Elantris before the Mistborn books however, and the trilogy stands entirely on its own.

The Mistborn books take place in an utterly bleak setting, a world coated in ash from several vast volcanoes, where the nights are filled with opaque mist and an ancient dictator, The Lord Ruler, dominates his empire with an iron fist. The society is split into two castes, the wealthy land owning nobles and the slave caste of the skaa. One thousand years before, The Lord Ruler had once been a prophesised great Hero, who defeated a mysterious malevolent force known as The Deepness. Sanderson has gained a reputation for his unique and well thought out magic systems in his novels, from the symbol based magic of Elantris to the colour based magery in Warbreaker. The Mistborn trilogy are no different, with the magic coming through the art of Allomancy, the ingesting of metals which can be ‘burnt’ by a lucky few to provide different powers. For example, to burn pewter gives one extreme strength and hardiness, with tin heightening the senses and allowing spies to hear covert conversations from far away. Most with powers have access to only one Allomantic metal, of which there are ten known, and are known as ‘Mistings.’ Much more rare are those who are born with the ability to access all ten metals, creating unparalleled warriors and spies, known as the titular ‘Mistborn.’ Although this may sound somewhat silly, Sanderson approaches this system with an almost scientific rigour. The best magic systems in fantasy are those which exist within a set of clear boundaries and rules, and prevent the temptation to simply hit a huge magical reset button to resolve any crisis which becomes to huge to manage.

The novels follow a young skaa thief named Vin, a Mistborn for most of her life without realising it, who is drawn into a rebellion against the oppressive Lord Ruler by the charismatic crew leader Kelsier. Kelsier is also a Mistborn, and trains Vin in the arts of Allomancy so that she may join him in his attempts to assassinate The Lord Ruler and liberate the skaa. To say much more would be to spoil half the fun of the series. Sanderson does a great job of drip feeding the reader new revelations which recast all that has come before. Rather than cheapening the earlier events of the novels, as can often be the case with twists such as these, Sanderson instead deepens them. To use an overworked comparison, the Mistborn books are like an onion, stripping layer and layer away from what we first perceive about this world until by the end we realise that almost everything that we had taken for true was wrong. The story is meticulously plotted, with an admirable lack of plot holes. It is clear that Sanderson had the entire complexity of his world fully planned before embarking with the first novel, with almost every minor mystery earning a satisfying answer.

The writing is relatively simple and unflashy, with Sanderson letting his clear competence shine through, rather than attempting to show off in the vein of China Mieville. Of particular note are the action scenes; I enjoy my share of grand battles in fantasy, such as the Battle of Blackwater in George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings or the incredibly intense battles in every single one of Steven Erikson’s Malazan books. What I tend not to  enjoy as much are prolonged descriptions of sword fights or gun battles, violence on a smaller scale. Sanderson however has delivered what I consider to be the greatest fight scenes I have ever read in fantasy. The complex magic of Allomancy allows for fight scenes which are, for lack of a better phrasing, incredibly goddamn badass. The series has been optioned by a small film studio, and if this film gets made and turns out half decent, these fight scenes should be breathtaking.

The characters are by and large vivid and interesting, with the central protagonist Vin existing within the Katniss Everdeen mould of quiet, socially awkward badass warrior lady. Her love interest, the compassionate noble Elend Venture is a somewhat idealised figure, who’s only flaw is that he just cares too much. Although he’s not a notably complex character, his sheer charm and likeability wins through and it’s difficult to care to much about his lack of emotional depth. The backing cast is large without being unwieldy, and whilst most can be simply summed up in a few words (philosophical warrior or kind-hearted fop) they are all distinct and interesting to read about. A few stand out characters include Ten-Soon, a seven hundred year old shape shifter and Cett, a paraplegic warlord, demand focus in every scene they appear.

By far the most intriguing character is the eunuch Sazed, a man with an ability to store everything he learns within metal bracelets on his wrists, a scholar who specialises in keeping the religions of the world before the ascension of the Lord Ruler alive, despite the dictator’s attempts to stamp them out and replace them with a cult surrounding himself. Despite the fact that he teaches over five hundred religions, Sazed truly believes in none, and his struggles with faith and reconciling the brutality of what he has witnessed with his desire to believe creates one of the most psychologically complex fantasy characters I’ve encountered in years. Sanderson himself is a Mormon, and although I generally find that a Christian message can utterly undermine fantasy and science fiction, I believe that the Mistborn books excel in part because of his Mormonism. The Christianity of C.S Lewis gave the Narnia books one of the most unpleasant conclusions I have ever read, and the faith of Ronald Moore, show runner for the rebooted Battlestar Galactica created an ending which makes that of Lost look positively wonderful. ‘God did it’ is not an adequate way to explain away a mystery. Sanderson’s faith gives him a sense of optimism which is utterly refreshing to a reader whose standard fare is the gritty dark fantasy or dystopian sci-fi. Belief is not an easy answer, faith is not a given. Best of all, unlike in the works of C.S Lewis, atheism is far from demonised, with the vast majority of the characters holding no belief in a higher, omnipotent power. There’s no moment where the characters are ‘redeemed’ through faith, but the beauty of faith does shine through. If more theists were as generous and open minded as Brandon Sanderson I wouldn’t be as aggressive a secularist as I am.

It really is appropriate that Sanderson was chosen to finish the Wheel of Time books, because his writing shares a lot with Robert Jordan’s, both its strengths but unfortunately also some of its weaknesses. Like the Wheel of Time books, the middle act is the least interesting part, with a large amount of the second novel, The Well of Ascension,given over to the bickering of nobles the reader is given little reason to care about. Although it never reaches the unutterable tedium of the political games of Jordan’s Cairhenin nobles or Aes Sedai, these scenes unfortunately break the flow of the novels somewhat. Sanderson simply doesn’t have the knack for making politicking and scheming interesting that writers like George R. R. Martin have. The first and third novels, The Final Empire and The Hero of Ages thankfully contain far less of this, and instead focus upon the grander conflicts threatening the world of Scadrial rather than the petty scheming of selfish nobles.

So, should you read the Mistborn trilogy? I think this is a rare novel which I can recommend to almost any breed of fantasy fan. The novels are dark and gritty enough to entertain George R. R. Martin junkies, with a wonderfully grim setting and some brilliantly malevolent villains. Partially due to the wild success of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, savage and brutal worlds have become the norm. Heroism is a lie and to the only path to prosperity and power is through backstabbing, cheating and lying. This is not to criticise Martin, he’s my favourite author and cannot be blamed for the imitators who seek to cash in upon the success of the TV show. Mistborn is a pleasant breath a fresh air, a novel where heroes are more than idealistic idiots with a death wish. The heroes of these novels suffer for their bravery, they sacrifice and commit grave errors, but they leave the world a better place than they found it.

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