I know that I had to read this book in middle school, but all that I could remember of it were two things: There were a lot of Nazis, and the Jews esc...moreI know that I had to read this book in middle school, but all that I could remember of it were two things: There were a lot of Nazis, and the Jews escaped to Sweden on a boat. Well, my memory did not lie, but now, rereading with a more critical eye, I see that it contains so much more - into barely over a hundred pages of story, Lowry has packed a masterpiece.
The events of Number the Stars are seen from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl, and the writing is clearly intended for readers of the same age. The style is simple, concise, and clear, with a vocabulary that shouldn't challenge most pre-teens. The story is short, simple, well-paced, and easy to understand. There are only a handful of characters to keep track of, and they are all viewed through the simple lens of a child's understanding. Yet the content, and the manner in which it is presented, should be appealing to adults, as well.
While saying very little, the author reveals a great deal about the hardships of living in an occupied nation. Seemingly casual remarks scattered throughout the first few chapters add up to a detailed list of luxury (and sometimes even necessity) items that families have to do without. A simple conversation between two girls playing with dolls makes the characters suddenly seem very easy to relate to, as the reader sees that they have hopes and dreams and family lives just like his or her own. Conditions within Denmark, the actions of Resistance fighters, the overall war situation, and more are explained in similar fashion.
Most importantly, the novel teaches some important lessons about the immense bravery and compassion, as well as cruelty, of which people are capable. The risks taken, and sacrifices made, by ordinary people show what heroism truly is; when they could have remained uninvolved, they chose to help friends, neighbors, and often complete strangers, simply because it was the right thing to do. Annemarie's struggle to deal with the transition from childhood to a more adult understanding of the world is relatable to almost anyone, and her adventure demonstrates the impact that one single individual, even a child, can have on the world and the lives of others.
In one quick read, Number the Stars presents great adventure, harrowing suspense, emotional maturation, interesting history, and philosophical dilemma. At the same time, it provides detail into one of the most difficult, incredible, and storied times in human history from two very under-represented perspectives: that of a child, and one from the occupied Danish front. It should be a must-read for any World War II enthusiast, any child in need of historical and moral lessons, and, well, anyone, for that matter. I am quite happy that I picked it up again.(less)
Based solely on my readings of the Mistborn trilogy, and more recently his completion of the Wheel of Time, I've been telling friends and fellow fanta...moreBased solely on my readings of the Mistborn trilogy, and more recently his completion of the Wheel of Time, I've been telling friends and fellow fantasy enthusiasts for years that Brandon Sanderson is the master of creating original and unique systems of magic. I've also thought of him as being very good at character development, creating heroes and heroines who are magnificently powerful and set above the rest, yet at the same time very human and easy to identify with. Never before, though, have I considered him a true world-builder. Until now.
With The Way of Kings, Sanderson has reached a new level, not only in his writing, but perhaps in the fantasy genre as a whole. The novel successfully pulls together every attribute I've come to look for in fiction: A richly detailed world with its own highly-developed cultures, customs, and belief systems; not just one, but a whole host of amazing characters, each with his or her own virtues and flaws, easy to relate to, whether in love or hate; well-paced plot that moves seamlessly between intense action and slower development; a grand, overarching premise. It is one of the few stories I have ever read that contains the complete package.
As the first in a new series, the book does a good job of setting the tone. While the setting focuses largely on the nation of Alethkar and its battleground on the Shattered Plains, the reader is also introduced briefly to many other regions across the continent of Roshar. Tantalizing hints are given towards the further development of secondary areas in later installments. Many different characters are introduced, and a few are delved into very deeply and set up to be major players in the events that will change their entire world and its future; others are barely touched upon, sometimes in ways that don't even relate to the story currently - one can only assume that they will play into things later. The new magics stun and dazzle the imagination, showing clear evidence of a solid foundation and cohesive system, but not yet giving too much in the way of explanation.
Sanderson engages the reader in more than just the details of his new world, however. "The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon." This quote is from The Way of Kings, but it is also clearly one of the author's own beliefs, because that is exactly what his works do. Many issues of morality and spirituality are brought up various happenings in this particular book, but most are presented in a way that simply suggests the quandary to the reader for personal introspection, rather than being directly outlined and discussed in the text. There are plenty of novels in which the author tries to broach such topics, but many devolve into little more than preaching. Brandon Sanderson shows clearly that he would rather prompt individuals to consider the issues from all sides and allow them to reach their own conclusions, rather than trying to force his upon them, and for that, he has both my gratitude and admiration.
While The Way of Kings is far from a masterpiece, it is an exceptional piece of fantasy. It pulls the reader in quickly and does not let go - I lost many hours of sleep to my constant desire to see what would happen next, or how my favorite characters would fare. If The Stormlight Archive continues to develop in this fashion, it could easily end up on par with (or even better than) the currently-established epic sagas. I'm sure that as I continue to follow it, the series will take its place among such greats as The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Kingkiller Chronicles.(less)