This an example of a second book in a series that is more exciting than the first. I deliberately waited until I read Siege and Storm so I could revie...moreThis an example of a second book in a series that is more exciting than the first. I deliberately waited until I read Siege and Storm so I could review the two books together. I anticipate doing the same with the third books - Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3) and Ruins (Partials Sequence #3) - when they come out next year.
After learning that she is neither human (as she was brought up) nor a standard Partial (the enemies she was brought up to fear), Kira sets out on a voyage of discovery. She hopes to discover the truth about her own nature and hopefully unlock the secret to the survival of both races. Leaving behind Marcus, her human companion who wouldn't understand, she goes off with Samm, her Partial counterpart with whom she cannot link. She is trying to embrace both sides, to bring them together and save both sides, but she is rejected by both sides. Kira is not mistaken for a saint or fanatically followed like Alina. She does get to travel cross-country, but in the place of the Shadow Fold there is the Desolation of the Midwest caused by the destruction of the oil fields of Texas. Flying monsters are replaced by acid rains. No edible forage remains for their horses, no bridges remain for crossing overflowing rivers. Kira and her traveling companions don't have a fantastic flying contraption like Alina uses to traverse the wasteland, so they have to find their own innovative ways to cross. Where Ravka is thinly veiled, this post-apocalyptic America is nuanced and believable. First they travel to flooded Chicago, then on to ravaged Denver. It is a long journey on horseback, but the pace doesn't slow down. Surviving the trip is challenging enough - one of the foursome doesn't see the end destination - and finding the information they seek hits snag after snag. In pursuit of Kira and her peculiar genetic profile is the nefarious Dr. Morgan, from whom Samm helped her escape in book one. Wells broadens the scope and deepens the plot in book two, making it more compelling as the story progresses. I read Partials in May and Fragments in June, but even with waiting until September to write this review it still seems like a long wait for the conclusion of the series in March!(less)
Sanderson strikes again in Steelheart, released today! It’s his second YA book this year, and like The Rithmatist it features a non-powered protagonis...moreSanderson strikes again in Steelheart, released today! It’s his second YA book this year, and like The Rithmatist it features a non-powered protagonist who gets ahead by meticulous attention to detail. David also lost his father, but, unlike Joel, he witnessed his father’s death. He watched as Steelheart brutally murdered an ordinary man who thought Steelheart was the hero they needed. They need a hero because every Epic who gained superpowers at the advent of Calamity became a villain. There are no heroes save for the Reckoners, a shadow ops group of humans that take down the Epics within their reach. They choose their battles carefully, picking the Epics who appear unbeatable yet possess hidden weaknesses. Not even the Reckoners will stand up to Steelheart, however. His rule of Chicago is uncontested until David alters the already altered landscape. He saw Steelheart bleed the day his father died, and will stop at nothing to strike again.
That is the premise of Reckoners #1, but it’s not what makes Steelheart so gripping. Sanderson’s take on the superhero genre is full of great characters who don’t need to wear spandex suits to be colorful. That’s how he succeeds in taking something familiar and reinventing it – by creating characters with motivations and secrets in addition to special abilities. I should point out that I’m describing the Reckoners and not the Epics. It’s their series, and they make it work. The Epics may have impressive powers – Nightwielder is the Epic version of the Darkling – but the Reckoners have impressive personalities. It’s David’s heart, not Steelheart’s immunity, that makes the difference!
It’s worth noting that both Sanderson and Wells – friends who share a writing group – use alternate versions of Chicago. In Steelheart much of Newcago has been turned to steel (including part of the lake), and in Fragments the lake has flooded the low-lying part of the city (including Soldier Field, site of an important scene in Steelheart).(less)
Triangles within circles within squares – it’s an indecipherable puzzle. But these aren’t crop circles; they’re chalk circles. The magic system in The...moreTriangles within circles within squares – it’s an indecipherable puzzle. But these aren’t crop circles; they’re chalk circles. The magic system in The Rithmatist is based on geometric lines written in chalk. It comes as no surprise that Brandon Sanderson is a whiz at inventing magic systems, but it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who’s a whiz at that system without any magical ability. Joel is a 16-year-old student at Armedius Academy, a school that instructs both traditional and magical students. Joel is neither a Rithmatist nor a traditional prep school student; as the son of a humble chalkmaker and a cleaning woman, he’s an aberration at a place like Armedius. He doesn’t fit in with either group, although he longs to be a Rithmatist. He’s memorized all the complicated variations of the defensive chalk circles they use in duels, as well as the history of the duelists who used them successfully. He’s a student of the game without the specialized skill set needed to participate. But when a mysterious attacker begins abducting the most skilled Rithmatists at Armedius, it’s up to Joel’s understanding of the magic, not his innate ability to use it, that unravels the secret plot.
I’m an unabashed fan of Sanderson, and there is a lot to love about this book. It’s a fantastic reworking of the magic school concept, with academics applying the magic to their advantage. Joel is an outsider who finds his way into the inner circle. The alternate history is great, with the United Isles of America bearing new names. Armedius is one of eight academies that teach Rithmatics, and it’s located in Jamestown on the Isle of New Britannia. Europe was conquered by the JoSeun Empire, and the exiled monarch of England is the one who discovered Rithmatics. That ties magic to the Monarchical Church, building another layer to the clockwork culture that developed in America. Joel is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, and his interactions with them are perfect. The illustrations of the chalkings – chalk creatures drawn to assist in the duels – are delightful, and the diagrams of the different defenses are highly detailed. The Rithmatist is also Sanderson’s most personal book to date, with a main character who shares a name with the book’s dedicatee, and a dark menace located in Nebrask, the state based on Sanderson’s home state of Nebraska. The Rithmatist is a sheer delight for Sanderson fans like me, and would serve as an excellent introduction to a younger generation of new fans.(less)
I rounded out my reading of his short fiction with the e-book Firstborn. Originally released as a Kindle edition in 2008, it was later re-released by...moreI rounded out my reading of his short fiction with the e-book Firstborn. Originally released as a Kindle edition in 2008, it was later re-released by Tor in a DRM-free format. I purchased it on my nook color and read it on an iPad. I’m not accustomed to reading on digital devices yet, but it was the simplest way of acquiring this particular story. Firstborn is a different venture for Sanderson as well, as it is short form science fiction. It’s a story about a second son who lives in the shadow of his older brother’s burnished star. The firstborn is a military genius with an unblemished record, while the younger brother has nothing but blemishes and blunders on his record. That won’t cut it for the son of a High Duke; greatness is thrust upon him, only to slip out of his hands and shatter on the floor. He tries to live up to the expectations, but he knows his own limitations. Is it possible he might know the limitations of his unbeatable brother, too? This story does have the twist ending I’ve come to expect from Brandon Sanderson, and he never disappoints.(less)
Leading up to an Election Day reading and signing event with the author I listened to the audiobook version of Legion, a novella Sanderson published w...moreLeading up to an Election Day reading and signing event with the author I listened to the audiobook version of Legion, a novella Sanderson published with Subterranean Press in August. Because audible.com is a sponsor of the Writing Excuses podcasts that Sanderson produces with three other writers, the site is currently offering free downloads of Legion. I took advantage of the offer, and I enjoyed Oliver Wyman's narration of the story. Legion is about a character with multiple personalities with whom he interacts, and Wyman performs all the voices distinctly without it being obtrusive. The story itself is brief, which is uncommon for Sanderson's writing. He explained that he originally pitched the idea to Dan Wells, another member of the Writing Excuses team, before deciding to write it himself. It's written as a pitch for a tv series, so it should be read not as a finished tale, but as a pilot episode. In that vein it succeeds, and I look forward to the series being created.(less)
I began reading The Emperor’s Soul while waiting in line to have it signed (not much in advance, admittedly). Inspired by a visit to a national museum...moreI began reading The Emperor’s Soul while waiting in line to have it signed (not much in advance, admittedly). Inspired by a visit to a national museum in Taiwan, Sanderson created a system of magic that employs stamps that can rewrite the history of an object. What would happen to a person if their history was rewritten? And what if that person was the Emperor? Shai is a Forger facing execution for her crimes, but an assassination attempt on the Emperor grants her a stay of execution for 90 days while she replicates the Emperor’s soul. Sanderson’s magic systems always impress, but this shorter form forced him to leave out some of his own hallmarks, such as a prologue that showed a conversation between Shai and Hoid, an inimitable character who finds his way into most of Sanderson’s novels. He said he loved the scene, but it did not fit the story and so it had to be cut. At the other end the story has no twist ending, which was hard for me to accept. Only when I listened to his explanation on Writing Excuses did I come to terms with the straightforward ending that satisfies the characters’ arcs.(less)
There’s only one way to overthrow the evil emperor Maldor, and it’s not the secret word – it is Chasing the Prophecy. The word with the power to unmak...moreThere’s only one way to overthrow the evil emperor Maldor, and it’s not the secret word – it is Chasing the Prophecy. The word with the power to unmake Maldor was a hoax he propagated; what if the prophecy is more of the same? That is a question the embattled characters must settle as they undertake the diverging quests set out by the prophetess. It’s one thing to decipher clues and follow maps that have been left for you, but the ultimate question is what do you believe?
Brandon Mull has sown seeds of doubt as well as seeds of rebellion. This is imperative to increase the tension of the plot against Maldor. The rebellion wouldn’t know how to proceed without the prophecy, but a surefire means of success removes the anxiety from the attempt and the meaning from the requisite sacrifices. The prophecy promises no certain victory, proclaiming that this is only one possible path to the desired outcome. “Only one” is a recurring mantra in this book, as it tends to be whenever a prophecy is involved. The characters may doubt the veracity of the prophecy, but the reader knows it will be fulfilled. As a result there was only one surprise that really floored me. That shocking sacrifice didn’t save anyone, but it saved the book in my displaced eyes!(less)
Seeds of Rebellion builds upon the first Beyonders book, A World Without Heroes. It goes well beyond comparisons to the Chronicles of Narnia: this boo...moreSeeds of Rebellion builds upon the first Beyonders book, A World Without Heroes. It goes well beyond comparisons to the Chronicles of Narnia: this book reminds me of Fellowship of the Ring (not The Two Towers, mind you), Star Trek (of the never-beam-down-in-a-red-shirt variety), A Wise Man’s Fear (second book in the Kingkiller Chronicle), Eragon (Brandon Mull and Christopher Paolini will be appearing together in Bozeman on Thursday), and other popular graphic novels/tv series that I’d rather not spoil. In Mull’s fertile imagination these seeds grow into a new breed of story, with unique flora, fauna, and phobia!(less)
“Bad hats. A bad hat could make a man right disagreeable, and that was the truth.” So goes Wayne’s theory, but the theory goes only so far; the antago...more“Bad hats. A bad hat could make a man right disagreeable, and that was the truth.” So goes Wayne’s theory, but the theory goes only so far; the antagonist in The Alloy of Law is a man who has always detested hats. On the other hand (head?), Wayne is continually trading hats, looking for the proper fit after his lucky hat is stolen. Of the two men on the cover, Wayne is the one touching the brim of his hat and shouldering a gun. In keeping with the characters’ proclivities the shotgun really belongs in the hands of the other man, Waxilium; however, its inclusion is an indication that this is a different sort of Mistborn book.
Calling it a Mistborn book is a bit of a misnomer, actually, as the only Mistborn mentioned are those of legend: the Survivor, the Ascendant Warrior, the Last Emperor, and the Lord Mistborn, who founded the new society some three centuries prior to the events of this book. Allomancy and Feruchemy are still prevalent, but the practitioners are granted a single ability, or, in the case of Twinborn individuals like Wax and Wayne, one of each. This opens new combinations of the abilities introduced in the first trilogy, and the emerging industrial setting provides a new arena for their use. Waxilium is able to Steelpush (Allomancy) and manipulate his weight (Feruchemy), which gives him great leaping abilities, although it’s Wayne (manipulate time and healing) who provides the book with levity (he could be a descendant of the noble Smedry line, for those who have read the Alcatraz series).
The Alloy of Law is not the beginning of the next Mistborn trilogy, which Sanderson has stated will be urban fantasy, but an intercessory story that bridges the two trilogies. As such it is a stand alone book, although the reader would be at a disadvantage without having read the first trilogy. It’s an entertaining inversion of the great caper that inspired the first Mistborn book, as theft once again becomes a engine of social change (the quarry is more than just lucky hats).(less)
A World Without Heroes, the first book in a highly anticipated new series by Brandon Mull, came out this spring, but I wasn’t able to get to it until...moreA World Without Heroes, the first book in a highly anticipated new series by Brandon Mull, came out this spring, but I wasn’t able to get to it until the end of the year. Which puts me that much closer to Seeds of Rebellion, the next book in the Beyonders series, I suppose! This series is more like The Chronicles of Narnia than the Fablehaven series, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent for fans of Mull’s fanciful imagination. Taking two regular kids into an irregular world opens all kinds of new doors to explore – the doors alone are unusual – as Jason arrives in Lyrian by way of falling into a hippo’s gaping maw. Once there he meets Rachel, a Beyonder like himself, who traveled a different route to the same destination. When they are unable to reverse course and return home, the only path left is to seek out the word of power that will undo Maldor, the evil emperor. Maldor has crippled or corrupted any would-be-hero who opposed him, but Jason and Rachel don’t want to be heroes; they just want to get home. The setting and abilities may be fantastic, but the characters are driven by realistic goals, and that is what gives Mull’s words power over his readers.(less)
Brandon Mull is currently in Moscow, Russia, one of the few sites not visited by his young adventurers in this exciting conclusion to the Fablehaven s...moreBrandon Mull is currently in Moscow, Russia, one of the few sites not visited by his young adventurers in this exciting conclusion to the Fablehaven series!(less)
I saw through the illusion of the big reveal without the aid of magical walrus butter, but that made it no less potent a device in this enthralling st...moreI saw through the illusion of the big reveal without the aid of magical walrus butter, but that made it no less potent a device in this enthralling story!(less)
Interesting parallels between this and the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: girls using magical objects to turn invisible, r...moreInteresting parallels between this and the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: girls using magical objects to turn invisible, recovery of golden artifacts with healing properties. (less)
I was fortunate enough to sit between Brandon Sanderson and David Farland at an author signing in November 2006, just after this book was released. Fa...moreI was fortunate enough to sit between Brandon Sanderson and David Farland at an author signing in November 2006, just after this book was released. Farland said it was the first time he had seen it in its' finished form. I read the first four books in the series after that signing, and I'm just now returning to read the second set of four.
Farland is a facilitator when it comes to twisting the knife!(less)