Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the tag “brandon sanderson”

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

A new Brandon Sanderson novella is never a bad thing and Snapshot is a lot of fun, if a bit lightweight compared to some of his other efforts. Its high concept is a bit over reliant on exposition, compared to the relative elegance with which he creates entire worlds in stories like Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell or Sixth of Dusk, but it’s a fun bit of popcorn reading nonetheless.

Snapshot follows two detectives, Davis and Chaz, as they investigate inside a titular ‘Snapshot’, an entire recreation of a day in a city, used to investigate crimes in real time. This is set in the Reckoners universe, or multiverse, or whatever’s going on with that setting. During a routine investigation, Davis and Chaz stumble upon a crime they weren’t meant to know about and take it upon themselves to investigate.

The actual story itself, in terms of character and motivation, is fairly thin. What saves the experience is a playfulness with reality and perception, as well as Sanderson’s signature world building. The people within the Snapshot are, disturbingly, implied to be sentient and that every time the Snapshot is shut down they are essentially murdering thousands of conscious minds. Sanderson doesn’t shy away from this inherent darkness, with the most interesting element of the plot being a badge which, when shown to someone in the Snapshot, makes them aware that they are, essentially, not real. The differing reactions are very interesting; some laugh, some cry, some kill themselves and some kill others. Still, the actual story wrapping up the interesting ideas isn’t particularly memorable. It’s got a couple of twists, but without much of a reason to care about the characters they’re robbed of impact.

Snapshot is a decent enough read, but definitely doesn’t pack the punch of some of his other short fiction. If you fancy a sci-fi tinged detective story you could do worse, but there’s better out there too.

 

51XPCCZsN2L._SY346_

Advertisements

Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

This may be one of the most gloriously silly book titles I’ve read all year. It’s almost aggressively geeky and I love it. It’s also perfectly appropriate for this book; the Cosmere is Brandon Sanderson’s fictional universe which unifies almost all of his fantasy novels. Yes, Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive take place on different planets, but those planets are in the same galaxy and a central theology and source of power underpins them both. These connections are getting more and more explicit, but are still fairly minor and easy to miss, for the time being at least. Arcanum Unbounded is a collection of all of Sanderson’s Cosmere short fiction so far. Each section is collected by the planet on which they take place, with a tantalising description of each one, giving us Cosmere geeks some satisfying morsels about each’s larger place in the universe. I’ve already reviewed a fair few of them, so I’ll just link to those.
The Selish System

The planet of Sel is the setting for Sanderson’s debut novel Elantris, but is one we don’t know particularly well, but Sanderson has promised to return to in the future. The first story in the collection, The Hope of Elantris, is a deleted scene of sorts from the main novel, detailing events taking place in an Elantrian children’s home during the climax of the novel. It’s been so long since I read Elantris that this didn’t really do much for me, but it’s a nice enough read all the same.

I reviewed the next story, The Emperor’s Soul, a frankly horrifying four years ago in my first year with this blog. Here’s the review:

https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/the-emperors-soul-by-brandon-sanderson/

 

The Scadrian Systrem

Scadrial is the setting for the Mistborn series and still arguably Sanderson’s most coherently developed setting. The first story, The Eleventh Metal is a short one which provides a bit of Kelsier’s backstory, showing him fairly new to his Mistborn powers and still training, before he committed to taking down the Lord Ruler. As with The Hope of Elantris, it’s a fun little side story which doesn’t add a huge amount, but it’s always nice to see a little more of Kelsier. Following The Eleventh Metal is Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania which brings the events into the Alloy of Law era. This one is a huge amount of fun and a bit of an experiment. It is presented as a collection of serialised story from the adventurer Allomancer Jak, with droll footnotes from his long suffering Terris footman. We’re told not to trust much of what Jak tells us in his enthusiastic first person prose, but it does give us some interesting hints about the role of the koloss in the current era of Sacdrial. This is a funny, breezy and light piece of writing. A whole novel of this would get old quickly, but you can just tell how much fun Sanderson was having here so it would be nice to see him give this style a go again sometime.

Now, looking back through my archives I appear to have forgotten to review Mistborn: Secret History back when I first read it. To be fair, that makes sense though as almost the entire thing is a massive spoiler. It’s almost impossible to talk about without giving too much away. Suffice it to say that Secret History bridges the gap between the original trilogy and the Wax and Wayne follow ups, as well as providing a significant amount of tantalising hints about the Cosmere and Scadrial’s role within. It’s not just fan wank though, telling a genuinely interesting and entertaining story. One of the things I love about Sanderson is that, even when neck deep in his own lore, he never forgets to keep the prose itself snappy and entertaining. Exposition rarely feels like exposition. It’s a bit amorphous at times and isn’t paced particularly snappily, but it’s nature as an ‘interquel’ of sorts makes that somewhat inevitable. This is one of the most meaty stories of the collection and an absolute must read for any fans of Mistborn or the wider Cosmere.

The Taldian System

Taldain is the setting for White Sand, an odd instalment in the Cosmere canon. Written as one of Sanderson’s earliest books, he was unhappy with it and it remained unpublished. Sanderson’s draft is currently being adapted as a graphic novel, the first instalment of which released this year. I have read it, but I didn’t review it because I don’t really know how to talk about graphic novels the way I do with books and games. Arcanum Unbounded contains the first few pages of the graphic novel (in black and white), as well as an extract from the original draft. The White Sand graphic novel is good and does promise to be important for the Cosmere; it includes the origin story for Khriss, the character who writes most of the Ars Arcanum entries for the Cosmere books, as well as the introduction for the different systems in Arcanum Unbounded. As it stands, this Taldain section is more of a teaser for better stuff to be found elsewhere. There is a worthwhile story being told on Taldain, but it’s worth picking up the first volume of the graphic novel to get it.

The Threnodite System

Threnody is a hugely interesting setting that I hope Sanderson returns to one day. For now, all we have is Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, which I reviewed earlier this year here. It’s very good (the story, not my review):

https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/shadows-for-silence-in-the-forests-of-hell-by-brandon-sanderson/

The Drominad System

As with the last system, the only story set here is the enjoyable Sixth of Dusk, which I also reviewed earlier this year:

https://frivolouswastesoftime.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/sixth-of-dusk-by-brandon-sanderson/

The Roshar System

Roshar is the setting for The Stormlight Archive and Edgedancer is the only completely new story in the collection and was therefore the main selling point. One of my favourite things about the series are the Interludes, semi regular short stories interspersed throughout the main narrative giving hints of things to come and characters who will play a larger role in later books. The real victory of these is that several function independently as their own short stories, or even novellas. Managing to embed a functional novella into a separate novel without disrupting the flow is something which doesn’t seem possible, but Sanderson pulls it off. One of the most memorable Interludes in Words of Radiance followed Lift, a mysterious and eccentric young woman who has been awakening to her powers as a Radiant in the West of Roshar, an area little seen in the main narrative. Edgedancer is, essentially, a sequel to that Interlude and follows what Lift got up to after she broke into the palace of Azir and accidently rescued it’s Emperor from the mad Herald Nale, who Lift knows as ‘Darkness.’

The real victory of this story, which sees Lift travel to the city of Yeddaw, supposedly in a bid to taste the ten varieties of filled pancake for which the city is famous, is that it doesn’t feel inessential. Side stories and novellas often fall victim to the ‘so what’ problem. If this is so important, then why isn’t it part of the main series? The events of Edgedancer feel relevant to the wider story of The Stormlight Archive regarding the return of the Radiants, the role of the Herald Nale and how Szeth fits into his plans. It’s also, (and this is important) a lot of fun. Fantasy is filled with authors who seem to be tired of writing, or see it as a grand burden, people like Martin, Rothfuss and Lynch. I’m not criticising those authors, they’re all brilliant, but you get the sense that they may have fallen out of love with their own series and the act of writing. Sanderson isn’t like this; you can just tell he loves writing and loved writing this story. His enthusiasm is infectious and helps make up for the fact that his work is never quite as polished as the other authors mentioned above. Lift strikes me as character people will either find endearing or irritating, but for me she falls into the former camp. There’s a genuine sense of tragedy behind the flippant and silly exterior and I’m sure we’ll find out more about her by the time she comes into prominence in the main series. Edgedancer may not be quite worth the price of entry alone, but it is another strong piece in a very strong collection.

Conclusion

The core stories of the collection are The Emperor’s Soul, Mistborn: Secret History, Shadows for Silence in the Forests and Hell, Sixth of Dusk and Edgedancer. The collection is worth it just for these if you haven’t read them. The other stories feel a bit less essential. I wouldn’t recommend touching Secret History or Edgedancer if you’re not familiar with their respective series, but the other three can be read entirely stood alone. Taken together, this is a hell of a collection and a perfect demonstration of Sanderson’s range and talent. As something to hold me over until the third Stormlight book, Arcanum Unbounded will do just fine.

51rbctpy0zl-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

My ridiculous Sanderson binge has come to an end, as had the Reckoners series. Of course, Brandon Sanderson being Brandon Sanderson he’s announced a new three book spin-off picking up some of the loose ends. Calamity, as with the two proceeding books, is a lot of fun and comes to a satisfyingly huge and (ahem) epic conclusion.

Calamity picks up not long after Firefight left off. After Prof used his powers to absorb Obliteration’s bomb in Babilar, he has turned and has become one of the most dangerous High Epics in the country. David Charleston now knows the secret of Epic’s weakness and aims to bring Prof back from his madness and take the battle to Calamity itself. The battleground is Idilthia, once the city of Atlanta and turned to salt. It creeps across the land and has been ruled by Larcener, an Epic who can drain powers from others and it is here that Prof first seeks to conquer.

Calamity fits into the pattern established in this series, with each taking place in a transformed American city and focusing on taking down the primary Epic. Although there was wider worldbuilding, Steelheart and Firefight were quite focused, but with so many loose ends to tie up Calamity has to stretch itself a bit thinner. The quick pace is a strength of this series, but Calamity feels a bit rushed, lurching towards it’s conclusion. The satisfying sense of watching a plan come together isn’t really present, but the action scenes are as strong as ever. That said, Sanderson makes up for it with wider world building. Somewhat hilariously, Sanderson appears to be building a second multiverse. Most authors can’t pull off one, but here’s Sanderson building up a second. The sense of scale is extremely exciting, but Calamity does suffer somewhat by biting off slightly more than it can chew.

All said though, the core of humour and action that define this series is still there. The action scenes are really exciting and, at times, surprisingly grisly. Considering that this is a YA book, Calamity contains the most stomach churningly violent scene in any of his books. Sanderson approached the Reckoners in a different way to his Cosmere books, with a more chatty, informal tone which is a lot of fun to read.

David is still a likable protagonist and it’s nice seeing him and Megan together, if only to end the relationship drama. Both characters are only enhanced by their pairing. Sadly, my biggest disappointment here is the lack of development of Prof. Seeing him turn at the end of Firefight was heartbreaking, but we don’t quite see enough of him for this to have as much impact as it should. He’s usually raging and attacking everyone, with the connection he holds to the Reckoners not explored quite as much as it should.

Calamity is a satisfying conclusion to the Reckoners series. It isn’t quite as successful by it’s own right as Steelheart and Firefight, but I still enjoyed it a lot. It leaves a few loose ends hanging which will hopefully be picked up in the Apocalypse Guard, Sanderson’s upcoming spin-off.

1calamitymain (1)

Sixth of Dusk by Brandon Sanderson

After finishing Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell I did the only natural thing; immediately started reading another Sanderson Cosmere short story. Sixth of Dusk is just as good.

Sixth of Dusk is the name of the main character, a trapper who explores and gathers resources on the exceptionally hostile and dangerous island known as Patji, an island which is part of the Pantheon, whose spirits are considered to be gods. He is protected by Aviar, birds which grant abilities to humans to protect them, such as warding their minds from telepathic creatures or giving a vision of potential death. Solitary by nature, Sixth meets Vathi, a noblewoman who represents the interests of a powerful mainland organisation, seeking to monetise Patji and curry the favour of the ‘Ones Above’, an alien race who have made contact with the more primitive people of the planet.

Once again, Sanderson conjures an amazing and unique setting with remarkable speed. The basic setting of a hostile environment with magic provided by Invested birds is interesting, but the added wrinkle of an alien race hovering above makes this even more fascinating. I wonder if the Ones Above are people we’ve met before in other Cosmere books? Sixth and Vathi make a good pair and, as with Shadows of Silence in the Forests of Hell I’m left wanting more, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. The star of the novella is Patji itself, which is exceptionally well drawn and relentlessly hostile.

Sixth of Dusk is another great novella from Sanderson. As much as I like Sanderson’s epic series, I hope he carries on writing shorter fiction like this. He’s really good at it.

22739503

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

I got a Kindle! I got one as a gift and the first thing I did was buy a whole bunch of Sanderson Cosmere novellas I’ve been fancying. The first was Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell; I really liked it.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell takes place in the Forests of Hell, which are haunted by the Shades of the dead, who wither the life from any who draw their attention. Silence Montane is an older woman who secretly works as a bounty hunter, the legendary White Fox. Her day job is to run a waystation within the Forests with her daughters, but a threat to their lifestyle forces Silence to take on a particularly dangerous contract and take risks she would normally avoid.

it’s been a while since I entered a brand new Sanderson world, with the last time probably being The Way of Kings, and Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a perfect demonstration of just how good Sanderson’s world building is. The little we hear about the setting is immediately fascinating; I would be thrilled if Sanderson wrote a full novel is this setting and knowing his pace he probably will. Sanderson is honestly the best at this in the business. The story is tight and focused and very enjoyable. Silence is an immediately compelling character; naturally cautious and nervous but forced beyond her comfort zone.

Shadows for Silence in the Forest of Hell is as enjoyable as its title is long. If you’re a Sanderson fan, don’t skip it. Hell, if you fancy giving some Sanderson a try but don’t want to commit to a whole novel, give it a go!

21411388

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning is the second Mistborn book released within three months, which is baffling, impressive and very very welcome. I loved Shadows of Self and whilst The Bands of Mourning isn’t quite as good as her sister book, it’s a very enjoyable read, particularly for long term fans of Mistborn and the wider Cosmere.

The Bands of Mourning picks up a couple of months after Shadows of Self left off. Still mourning the second loss of Lessie and bitter towards Harmony who orchestrated the events, Wax is set to finally marry Steris. His wedding day is interrupted by the arrival of a kandra, ReLuur, with news from the southern end of the Basin. He has sighted the mythical Bands of Mourning, the Feruchemical bands worn by the Lord Ruler which had granted him the terrifying power needed to subdue the world. Alas, the Set have also set their eyes on the Bands. A photo showing Wax’s sister Telsin in the hands of his nefarious uncle Edwarn sees Wax setting out to New Seran, with Wayne, Marasi, Steris and MeLaan in tow.

Shadows of Self had a rollicking pace which The Bands of Mourning lacks. It isn’t quite as tight a book as Shadows of Self was, but in terms of overall significance for the Mistborn narrative The Bands of Mourning is an absolute game changer. Sanderson has made no secrets of his plans for a more technologically advanced Mistborn series and this may be the turning point where Scadrial becomes that world. When Sanderson’s 30+ book Cosmere magnum opus is finished, I suspect that it may be this book which is viewed as the moment where the connections between the series actually become relevant to the plot. This works both as a strength and a weakness. Lacking the focus of the previous book, The Bands of Mourning isn’t as consistently successful, but the overall impression of the book is still very positive. The vastness and scale of events begins to rival the original trilogy for the first time and it is exhilarating.

A pleasant surprise is how funny this book is. I had found some of the humour in the last two Wax and Wayne books a bit grating, particularly Wayne’s ‘banter’. The Bands of Mourning contains what is comfortably one of Sanderson’s funniest ever scenes and MeLaan is as delightful as ever. The action scenes sometimes run a bit long in the first half, but the final few scenes of the book are breathtaking.

Where MeLaan was the breakout character from Shadows of Self, in many ways The Bands of Mourning belongs to Steris. It’s odd; this is a book concerned with the huge and the dramatic, but the star ends up being the most straightforward, unspectacular character in the book. Lacking any kind of Allomantic power or even any ability to defend herself, the steadfast bravery and self deprecation of Steris allows her to grow into a genuinely loveable and engaging character. If you’d told me before reading that I’d finish the book with Steris as a favourite character, I wouldn’t have believed you. The characterisation is good all round, with even Wayne, a character who has never quite worked for me, getting some pretty great moments.

The Bands of Mourning isn’t the best book in the series, but it is one of the most exciting. On a macro level I can’t wait to get back to Scadrial and watch the world change, but more importantly I want to follow Wax and Steris and see if they get a happy ending.

Bands-of-Mourning-Mistborn-6-Brandon-Sanderson
 

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Although I enjoyed The Alloy of Law, it didn’t bowl me over and I wasn’t necessarily particularly fussed about reading further adventures for Wax and Wayne. I was more into The Stormlight Archive and went into Shadows of Self as a Cosmere completionist, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. Shadows of Self is one of my favourite Sanderson novels and the best Mistborn book since the original The Final Empire.

Shadows of Self takes place not long after the end of The Alloy of Law, with Waxillium Ladrian now firmly entrenched as a semi-official lawman policing the city of Elendel. It is a time of great change; the first motorcars are appearing and technology is leaping forward, but the traditional structures of the city remain unchanged. The nobles still wield disproportionate power and the working class remains essentially trapped in their lower position. When the corrupt brother of the Governor of Elendel is murdered in bizarre circumstances, Wax and Wayne, as well as newly installed police officer Masari Colms, are put on the case. Events from the mythic past of Scadrial re-appear and assert themselves on the modern city, threatening to tear it apart.

The greatest achievement of Shadows of Self is that it manages to perfectly balance the intimate and the epic. This isn’t a grand end of the world story like the original trilogy, taking place entirely in one city and mostly over the course of a single night. There’s a relentless pace and build of rising tension throughout as events spin further and further out of control. The tighter focus makes everything much more exciting with this novel lacking any of the standard fantasy bloat. On the other hand, we have our fair share of the epic, with Shadows of Self tying itself much more firmly than The Alloy of Law into the wider history and future of Scadrial and perhaps even the Cosmere itself. Harmony, the God of this world who we knew as Sazed, now holder of the shards of Ruin and Preservation, hovers significantly over the events of this book and there are hints of something vaster lurking in the background ready to show up in later books. This combination of focus and hints of a wider epic narrative is handled pretty much flawlessly; this may be one of the most purely entertaining books that Sanderson has ever written.

I flicked back into my copy of Elantris as I was reading Shadows of Self and was surprised to see how far Sanderson has come. The biggest criticism that could ever be labeled at Sanderson is that his prose may be a little bland, competent and readable but lacking anything too distinctive. Shadows of Self feels like it possesses a more distinct voice than some of Sanderson’s other works, with his underrated ability as a rock solid all rounder still underpinning the whole thing. There’s also an element of social commentary in this one, which I hadn’t ever quite seen to this extent in other Sanderson books. It’s well handled and I hope we get more of it.

The characterisation is generally strong, with Wax being a compelling and enigmatic protagonist. We know enough about him to care, but enough mystery is preserved to make him interesting. The supporting cast really come alive in this one; to mention the best character would be something of a spoiler, but there’s a very well written female character who pops up about half way through and frankly steals the book. I’m not quite so sure about our secondary protagonists, Wayne and Marasi. Wayne is likable and entertaining, but he doesn’t quite gel with the darker backstory nodded towards. Marasi is similarly difficult to dislike, but a bit too perfect to be that compelling; her half-sister and Wax’s fiance Steris is less seen but probably more interesting.
Shadows of Self is a genuinely excellent book and Sanderson has outdone even his own usual pace with another book less than three months away, which is actually slightly ridiculous. I’m now was hyped for The Bands of Mourning as I am for the third Stormlight Archive book, which is the highest compliment I can give.

Shadow-of-Self

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Middle books in trilogies are generally tough, with Brandon Sanderson himself falling into the trap somewhat in the rather plodding middle book in the Mistborn trilogy, The Well of Ascension. Sanderson has clearly learnt however, with Firefight standing as a great follow-up to the supremely enjoyable Steelheart and left me chomping at the bit for the final book in the Reckoner Trilogy, Calamity.

Firefight picks up a few months after David Charleston, Reckoner, took down Steelheart, the tyrannical ruler of Newcago. Several Epics have come after David, now known as Steelslayer with David and the Reckoners putting them all down. The Reckoners discover that all the Epics have been sent from Babilar, a city located in what was formally Manhattan, ruled by the High Epic known as Regalia, who has a mysterious connection to Prof, aka Jon Phaedrus, the head of the Reckoners and secret High Epic himself. Prof, Tia and David head to Babilar, meeting up with the Reckoners there to take down Regalia. That group of Reckoners are mourning the loss of their point-man Sam, who has been killed by Firefight, the undercover Epic David knows as Megan, the girl he may have fallen in love with.

This book is just a whole lot of fun. I didn’t so much read this book as consume it. The plot is twisty without being convoluted with a genuine raising of the stakes throughout the story and a good balance between fun action stuff and the more emotional bits. It also has some killer revelations about the overall nature of Calamity and the true nature of the Epics, leaving the series in a very interesting place for the next book.

Its ridiculous how consistently good Sanderson is. Most authors as prolific as this, even the great ones, churn out their fair share of misses. Look at Stephen King, for every masterpiece like the Dark Tower books or The Stand we get a fair bit of dross like Cell. Considering that Sanderson regularly publishes up to three books a year there haven’t really been any stinkers. Sure, some are better than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of his that wasn’t at least a 7/10. He’s not flashy in how he writes, but it’s clear and simple and oh-so readable.

David is a breath of fresh air in YA fiction. In a genre where the default setting is often with phasers set to brood, David is refreshingly energetic and enthusiastic without being obnoxious. I also like that Sanderson gave him one, big character trait which is constantly referred back to; e.g, his inability to use metaphors. It may be a bit silly, but even with good YA protagonists like Katniss Everdeen, it can be difficult to find traits beyond basic things like ‘kind’, ‘heroic’ and ‘caring.’ Firefight may not necessarily be Sanderson’s most memorable book, but I’ll always remember David as the guy with the bad metaphors. The supporting cast are good too, with Megan being a solid love interest with an actual personality. My favourite character is Prof, head of the Reckoners and undercover Epic, with a good range of villains better developed than the intentionally enigmatic Steelheart.

Firefight is just a really good book, plain and simple. It ticks all of the right boxes and I can’t wait to see where Sanderson goes with the series from here. In the time being I have the next Wax & Wayne Mistborn book to look forward to!isbn9780575104525-1x3a

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

This is the first non-Cosmere book I’ve read by Sanderson (not counting his Wheel of Time books), and my first step into his YA writing. I’m trying to read more YA stuff, as I recently qualified as a teacher and am always on the lookout for more books that I can recommend to students. A good YA book manages to be accessible whilst still telling a good, meaningful story. Steelheart absolutely succeeds there; I loved it, and I think kids will too.

Steelheart takes place in Chicago 10 years after the ‘Calamity’, a light that appeared above the Earth and transformed a small portion of the human population into ‘Epics’, giving them super powers. Sadly, no heroes arose, with Epic powers inevitably turning their wielders into sociopaths obsessed with power and domination over normals. The world has been ravaged by the Epics, with one of the few bastions of order being Chicago, now known (a bit ridiculously) as Newcago, which is under the utter control of Steelheart, an Epic with the powers of flight, invulnerability and the ability to turn objects into steel. David is a young man whose father was killed by Steelheart during his first subjugation of the city, and has spent his entire youth studying Epics and their weaknesses so he can eventually take his revenge. He stumbles across the Reckoners, a group of normals who hunt down and assassinate low level Epics. David joins the group and soon persuades them to expand their scope and aim for a higher target; Steelheart himself. David is the only person who has seen Steelheart bleed, and in his memory is hidden the secret to bringing him down.

Sanderson isn’t typically known for being a pacey writer; that’s not a criticism, his slow builds towards awesome climaxes is a real strength of his writing. As YA books should be, Steelheart is Sanderson picking up the pace, and this is a book that doesn’t really take a breath from start to finish, as David and the Reckoners work their way through Steelheart’s inner circle before tackling the man himself. The central mysteries at the core of the story are satisfying, and the plot has that pleasing sense of internal logic and consistency which has become one of Sanderson’s hallmarks. This isn’t quite the epic story of Sanderson’s other works, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a more personal story, focusing on one man’s vendetta. I love Sanderson’s epic writing, but his slightly more focused work like The Emperor’s Soul are great as well. There’s some similarity between Steelheart and The Final Empire, the first Mistborn book, in that both are about a small, plucky group of rebels working to take down a dictator with God-like powers. Steelheart is probably the most action heavy book Sanderson’s written, and it’s actually brilliantly done. I tend to glaze over during action scenes, but the many conflicts in this novel, particularly during the finale, are genuinely really exciting.

David isn’t exactly ground breaking as a protagonist, but that’s often the case in YA books, providing a relatively blank slate for readers to project themselves onto. One trait I did find rather endearing is his inability to use metaphors, which is a delightfully weird little quirk which came up pretty regularly throughout the book. It’s the little details like this that set Steelheart apart from other YA fare. Steelheart is a scary villain, although for most of the novel he’s a remote presence; we could have done with more of him. The supporting cast are likeable, but thinly drawn, with most lacking the spark that Sanderson usually inserts into even his minor characters. Still, overall I like these characters enough that I’m looking forward to seeing what they get up to in the sequel coming later this year, Firefight.

Although it doesn’t quite match Sanderson’s Cosmere stuff for scope, Steelheart is a compulsively readable and extremely entertaining novel. I’d recommend it to anyone, of any age.  death

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

I’m a big Brandon Sanderson fan, beginning as most did with the excellent Mistborn trilogy and moving on to Way of Kings, the first in his Stormlight Archive series not long after. Words of Radiance is the second book in the series, although at times it’s so dramatic that I felt like I was reading the penultimate part of a trilogy. It’s hard to believe that there’s going to be eight more books in this series. Hopefully the Stormlight Archive doesn’t end up suffering the middle book fatigue that so often plagues fantasy; in fact, Sanderson himself fell victim to it in The Well of Ascension, the middle and weakest of the Mistborn books. If the series stays at this level of quality throughout though, we could have the next truly great fantasy epic on our hands.

Like its predecessor, Words of Radiance mostly takes place on the Shattered Plains, as the Alethi continue their war of vengeance against the Parshendi following their assassination of King Gavilar several years earlier. Kaladin and the men of Bridge Four have been lifted from their horrific existence in the camps of Torol Sadeas, to stand as bodyguards to Dalinar Kholin and his family, following their rescue of Dalinar’s army after Sadeas’ betrayal on the plains. Meanwhile, Shallan and Jasnah sail to the Shattered Plains, bearing the news of their shocking discovery that the passive Parshmen slaves are in fact the dreaded Voidbringers of old. Each book in the Stormlight Archive tells the backstory of one character, and in Words of Radiance we discover the true horrors of Shallan’s childhood and the secret behind her possession of a Shardblade. Szeth, the Assassin in White, continues his bloody streak across Roshar, honing in on his next target, Dalinar Kholin.

There’s a lot going on in Words of Radiance, with hints of even more to come. It’s a huge book, but it never felt long, and I didn’t want it to end. The main story on the Shattered Plains is gripping, with a good balance of exciting action scenes, individual drama and a surprising amount of comedy. Some people may find it slow paced, but I honestly felt everything was interesting and added to the story. There’s no ‘Aes Sedai squabbling’ in Words of Radiance. The intriguing ‘Interludes’ from Way of Kings return as well, offering glimpses and hints of the wider world of Roshar, introducing characters who may play an important role in events to come in later books. Some of these interludes feel like distinct short stories, and some in particular would likely have stood alone just fine in a collection. I find it hard not to gush about this series; it’s pressing my buttons in a way which only A Song of Ice and Fire and The Malazan Books of the Fallen can rival.

One of the most interesting things about Sanderson’s work is that the bulk of it is set in one, unified universe, similar to Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, known as the ‘Cosmere’. Previous books have played it light with the links between books, with the recurring character of Hoid, here known as Wit, being the only real link. Way of Kings stepped it up a bit with a tiny appearance of characters from Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy, but by and large the Cosmere and all the wider cosmic stuff was there if you wanted it, but fundamentally non-essential. I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. For avid readers like me, these links and connections are amazing, but I do wonder if perhaps Sanderson runs the risk of alienating new readers to this series. Hoid plays a very significant role in Words of Radiance, but most of all…well, read Warbreaker. Seriously, the single best moment of this book won’t make any sense if you haven’t read Warbreaker. Is it fair that Sanderson does this? Perhaps not. Do I as a reader enjoy it? Most certainly.

Sanderson’s readable, unpretentious style is solidly reliable, and Words of Radiance is one of those books that just flows off the page. He’s not doing anything interesting with language, it’s purely a vehicle for story, but there’s nothing wrong with that. One irritation is the weird bits of modern language which seep in, such as ‘awesome’ and, er, ‘poop’. To be fair, most of these moments are for comic effect, and I think Sanderson knows what he’s doing, but nonetheless it can be a tad immersion breaking.

Sanderson’s characterisation, his weakest skill in the earlier books, has come on leaps and bounds. Shallan, a character whose constant pithiness and sarcasm seemed somewhat overdone and false in The Way of Kings,suddenly begins to make sense in Words of Radiance. Kaladin is slightly less whiny, and gains an enjoyable new love/hate bromance in Adolin. Sanderson has achieved what Robert Jordan did in the early Wheel of Time books, and created a wide range of enjoyable and intriguing minor characters. The varying personalities of Bridge Four are as enjoyable as ever, developing and growing in interesting ways. The characters of the interludes stand as particularly intriguing, with Sanderson doing a hell of a lot with very little.

Words of Radiance is an excellent follow up, possibly even better than The Way of Kings. The third book, which I believe is focusing on Szeth, cannot come soon enough. Knowing Sanderson’s pace though, I won’t have to wait too long, and I believe he’s releasing a new Wax and Wayne Mistborn book as well. If Sanderson manages to avoid the middle of the series slump, we could have a classic on our hands.

 WOR

Post Navigation