Alright, I'm gonna say it: you really shouldn't read this book unless you've read most, if not all, of the rest of the Cosmere. I know Sanderson's intAlright, I'm gonna say it: you really shouldn't read this book unless you've read most, if not all, of the rest of the Cosmere. I know Sanderson's intentions are that no book be completely dependent on understanding the full universe, but honestly I can't imagine how swamped with new information a reader would be if they came into this only knowing the Mistborn series. At the very least, in addition to Mistborn up through The Bands of Mourning, I recommend having read Elantris, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, and the Stormlight Archive through Words of Radiance. If you're not inclined to dig into fan theories for explanations, you'll want to have The Emperor's Soul under your belt as well to understand some foundational concepts. So... you can skip Warbreaker and Sixth of the Dusk, but that's basically it.
As you might expect, the rest of this is all spoilers. Sorry, folks. That's just how it goes. If you are not 100% up to date on the Cosmere, or if you consider information revealed at signings/other events to be spoilers for future books, the rest of this review is not for you. The first line under the spoiler tag will ruin things, I swear. Don't click it.
First things first: feelings on his 'resurrection' in the Cognitive realm. Ehhh? I've seen it said that this is a very Kelsier thing to do, and I agree, but I also kind of wish Sanderson would let a few more characters stay dead. We had three 'oh no they're dead SURPRISE! they're not' moments in Words of Radiance, and while I knew Jasnah wasn't dead from the beginning and had no doubts about Syl, Szeth's return felt a little... rule-breaking. (heh. Because Naln? Anyone else laughing?)
If any character besides the Immortal Indomitable Jasnah Kholin was going to come back from the dead, it would be the Survivor of Hathsin. And yet... I don't know. I see it, but I don't actually like it. The Final Empire surprised a lot of people by killing him off, and while Brandon's been hinting to fans that he was hanging around on the Cognitive through Hero of Ages for literally years, the loss of Kelsier as a focal character seemed like a certainty. And don't get me wrong, I enjoyed him in the first book, but not nearly as much as I liked seeing people's expectations of who the hero would be get completely overturned. In the long run, seeing Vin take people by storm is worth more to me than Kelsier being around. And that's another thing - one of the most valid complaints about the original trilogy has to do with the end of The Well of Ascension, wherein Vin takes up the power of Preservation, gives it up, and then saves Elend's life by giving him the last bead of Lerasium - and the outcome of this is that she's doomed the world by freeing Ruin and made Elend a more powerful Mistborn than her. Now, Brandon did a good job showing that finesse and technique are as important if not more so than force, but that still had the effect of letting Elend overshadow Vin in the role that was originally hers and hers alone, and it left a sour taste in many people's mouths. Now, Kelsier's done much the same thing to her, and he gets to live through it while she passes on. Kelsier, who died in Book 1, ends up having more long-term influence than the woman who survived to Book 3 and saved the world. That... doesn't sit quite right with me.
The thing about Kel is that he is essentially a selfish character, sometimes to the point of near-villainous acts. (In fact, Sanderson has said that Kelsier and Denth, from Warbreaker, are almost the same - just in different contexts.) Part of why his original 'Plan B' was emotionally resonant was that over the course of the book, we saw him change somewhat - from someone who hated all nobles to the man who saved Elend's life, and from someone whose stated intention was theft to a man who ended up sacrificing himself for the sake of a revolution. In this book, he backtracks.
I don't feel like I should need to say this, but apparently there's been argument in the fandom about the end of the book: Hemalurgy is bad, folks. It's an end-negative magic which depends on death... and Kelsier deliberately reintroduced it to Scadrial so that he could regain a physical body. Spook's book about the subject? Pretty clear now that that came from Kelsier. Which means that Edwarn and Telsin's Hemalurgic spikes - which allowed the Set to gain control of a city-destroying weapon and literally killed Wax - are the result of Kelsier's decision.
"But he helped the southerners!" you say. "He did it for a good reason!" But... no, he didn't. He didn't know the southerners existed when he hatched his plan. Moreover, he chose Spook - the kid who was very, very traumatized by being spiked and manipulated by Ruin - as his partner in crime. Really, Kel? Really?
Vin called him out on this; Vin understood.
"How much of what you've done was about love, and how much was about proving something? That you hadn't been betrayed, bested, beaten? Can you answer that, Kelsier?" He met her eyes, and saw the implicit question. How much was about us? it asked. And how much was about you?
All that aside - this was a bonanza of new Cosmere information. Physical descriptions of Ati and Leras, to start with, including clothing that struck me as very interesting. Whether Leras's attire has been shaped by his time on Scadrial is up for debate, but it's possible we got a tiny glimpse at the pre-Shattering culture he came from:
...a thin wool coat that went down almost to his feet, and beneath it a shirt that laced closed, with a kind of conical skirt. That was tied with a belt that had a bone-handled knife stuck through a loop.
We also got to see Leras's personality and... as it turns out, he's a nerdy historian. A very nerdy historian. Again, it's unclear what here is the original material and what's Shardic influence, especially since we know from the Letter that Ati used to be a good man and he's... very not, here, but it's interesting.
Hoid! is... doing Hoidy things, which is to say mucking around in planets and then leaving. It was interesting to see the 'behind the scenes' of his life, for once, and even more so because the way he treated Kelsier was positively vicious. It's good context to have given his statement to Dalinar that he would willingly watch Roshar "crumble and burn" to achieve his goals - and while his actions in the series have largely been helpful to the protagonists, I would not be at all surprised to see him perform a face/heel turn and act against some of them in the future. Whatever Hoid wants, it's got more to do with the whole of the Cosmere than the parts. ...and one last thing: it's been confirmed that Cephandrius is not, in fact, his real name. So there goes that theory, before it even really got off the ground.
I mentioned my excitement over Khriss in my Bands of Mourning review, but really - getting to see her 'in the flesh', so to speak, and her interactions with Nazh, explained a great deal about what her goals are. For the moment, she seems to be a scholar of Investiture, researching magic systems and Shards across the worlds. Even her brief appearance here yielded more concrete information than we've had before about Adonalsium and the Shardholders:
"Anyway, there was a God. Adonalsium. I don't know if it was a force or a being, though I suspect the latter. Sixteen people, together, killed Adonalsium, ripping it apart and dividing its essence between them, becoming the first who Ascended." "Who were they?" Kelsier said, trying to make sense of this. "A diverse group," she said. "With equally diverse motives. Some wished for the power; others saw killing Adonalsium as the only good option left to them. Together they murdered a deity, and became divine themselves."
Obviously, this is to be taken with a grain of salt - some of it is Khriss' speculation, and no historical record in a Sanderson book can be read literally. Still, the concept of Adonalsium being a living being is new, to my knowledge, and I can't help but suspect Sanderson deliberately introduced this idea. It may be a red herring, or it may be a grain of truth. The comment about some of the sixteen seeing killing Adonalsium as the 'only good option' is likely to have more truth to it, and that's rife for speculation.
Kelsier's experiences with what is essentially soulcasting emphasized something important about the Cosmere: that the history of an object affects its ability to be soulcast. This is why the famous Stick in Words of Radiance resisted Shallan - having been in the wilderness for its entire existence, there was nothing in its cognitive aspect that could be turned towards combustion. Had the forest around it experienced a wildfire, I would guess Shallan would have been successful. We also saw that cognitive 'units' look different on different planets: mist on Scadrial, spheres on Roshar, both of which are mirrors of Invested substances in the Physical Realm of that planet. This raises some questions about Sel and Nalthis, which don't have consistent physical vessels for power.
One of the fascinating things about Ruin is that he's always made a terrible sort of sense. He does here, too:
"You realize that if he were in control, nobody would age? Nobody would think or live? If he had his way you'd all be frozen in time, unable to act lest you harm one another."
This casts some of Sazed's decisions in an interesting light, since he holds both Ruin and Preservation. He's made the argument to Wax that if he started interfering to preserve life, there's no good place to draw the line - and that the consequences of Preservation can be Ruin. ("Spare a man, live with the ruin he creates.")
Threnody is far more important than I'd expected, judging by the fact that the Ire assume that Threnodites are the most likely to attack them. Possibly this means Threnody is close to Scadrial, but even then that suggests that shades can travel away from their home planet via the Cognitive, which is interesting.
The Ire themselves intrigue me the most. They're obviously Elantrians; that much was clear from the physical description alone, and the names just made it more clear. However, Elantrians aren't supposed to age, and these ones have and what's more, are known for it, since their organization's name means 'age'. The obvious explanation is that distance from Sel's Investiture weakens the Reod's life-preserving effects, since all Selish magic that we've seen is highly location-dependent (and most Cosmere magics degrade with distance from their Shards anyhow). But what are they up to, trying to take control of a Shard? Is this perhaps an attempt to heal Devotion and/or Dominion and restore Sel's Cognitive Realm? All we know about it is that it's dangerous; it could be that there is no way for the Ire to return home. Or they could have more nefarious purposes. I'm curious about this whole affair, but even more so about Raoden and Galladon's perspectives on it, if they're still around.
Names mentioned: Senna, Vax, Fortune. Senna and Vax seem to be people known to Ati and Leras, and likely are relationships that predate their Ascension. They don't have to be Shards, but I wouldn't be too surprised: we don't know Cultivation's name, and there are still 7 unknown Shards out there, any of whom could be Senna or Vax. Fortune sounds more like a Shard power to me; in fact, that's what a Chromium ferring stores. Given that we've seen Connection, lightweaving, and soulcasting across the Cosmere, this could be another universal power type.
As with most things which delve heavily into Realmatics and the entire Cosmere universe, this book left me with more questions than answers... but thankfully, Sanderson'll be on tour again in February, so maybe I'll get to change that balance somewhat. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This review will be split into several parts, organized by spoiler level. If you do not meet at least a given level of spoilers, do not read that sectThis review will be split into several parts, organized by spoiler level. If you do not meet at least a given level of spoilers, do not read that section. I'm really very serious about this.
For the Sanderson-uninitiated: If you read fantasy, or talk to people about fantasy, or have followed me for a while, you've heard of this guy. Bands of Mourning does all the things Sanderson is famous for: it has fast-paced action, carefully applied rules of magic, expansive worldbuilding, and engaging characters. It also, as his latest work, shows clear improvement on many fronts from earlier books: there are more female characters, both in the cast and filling a variety of background roles; the society is clearly multi-ethnic and -racial; and the almost overwhelming ending style known as a 'Sanderlanche' has been significantly smoothed out. (The end is still nigh-impossible to put down, but it's spread out over a longer section of the book, and with a more gradual transition between the rest of the book and the climax.) Also, the main romance is the cutest dang thing.
For obvious reasons, this is not a book you can start with. It is at bare minimum the sixth book set on the world of Scadrial, and there are benefits to having read other books in the Cosmere as well. However, if you do pick up one of Sanderson's earlier books and find it weak in some areas - as with the very legitimate criticism of The Final Empire having only one major female character - know that those flaws are corrected over time, and that each book is better than the last.
If you've read all of the original Mistborn Trilogy but haven't made the jump: (view spoiler)[I know, I know, it's jarring to move forward 300 years, but trust me, it's worth it. Not only do we get to see Scadrial rebuilt and rejuvenated, but there are new uses for the Metallic Arts which were impossible in the era of the Final Empire. The original trilogy had a much tighter focus than this series, focused on the overthrow of the Lord Ruler and the aftermath of that conflict. Here, we see a whole society growing and struggling to determine itself, even as outside influences begin to pose a threat. Some original characters are still around - Sazed, of course - and the rest are remembered in interesting, if not always accurate, ways.
Wax, Wayne, Marasi, and Steris are a compelling new cast, with a new dynamic, but the same sort of wisecracking and competence that Kelsier's crew had. And even if Alloy of Law isn't your cup of tea, I suggest you read it anyway, because Shadows of Self and The Bands of Mourning both explore different scales of conflict, and it's almost guaranteed that you'll find something here that catches you the way the first books did. (hide spoiler)]
If you're caught up to Shadows of Self, but haven't read this one: (view spoiler)[This is a very, very different book. SoS was essentially focused on Wax's personal internal conflict, with hints of broader implications; while Bands of Mourning does address his continuing grief/recovery process (and does it beautifully), the focus is mostly on much, much bigger things. Where the first two books stayed focused on the city of Elendel, Bands of Mourning shows the wider Basin and some of the conflicts in it, which Elendel ignores. Everything is tied together: Wax's uncle, his sister's abduction, the resistance of the outer cities to Elendel's control, and the continuing push forward of technology. (Well, almost everything: if you're waiting for an explanation of Trell, keep waiting.)
Somewhat unfortunately, as we'll be waiting a while longer for The Lost Metal, this book leaves off at a point of greatest change for the characters and world. I don't think Scadrial's been this shaken up since the Catacendre, and whatever comes next will be fascinating. (hide spoiler)]
If you're all caught up, but still figuring out this Cosmere thing: (view spoiler)[I'm sure not everyone's on the Wax/Steris train even now, but I sure am. Bonding over studying accounts ledgers? Kissing in midair over the mists? Steris finally getting the honeymoon she wanted? It was pretty much perfect. I also love the way they build each other up, as any good couple should - Steris supporting Wax through his grief, being ready to help with whatever's next; Wax trying his best to contradict her self-deprecation and show her that he thinks she's valuable and worthwhile.
Steris started sniffling. She pulled her hand free of his and wiped her eyes. "Is that... good crying or bad?" Wax asked. All these years dealing with women, and he still couldn't tell the difference sometimes. "Well, this wasn't on any of my lists, you see."
(sounds of me sobbing in the background.) I can't wait for them to be happily married forever.
Marasi was a champ in this book, from the very beginning. I love that she told Wayne off for his treatment of Ranette - it's about time someone did that - and seeing the way she's learned to handle a crisis is fascinating. She's still a little unsteady, which is understandable, but she's so courageous. I'm also particularly interested in her relationship with Vin, or rather the mythology of Vin - Marasi at the outset of this series seemed to be a straightforward Action Girl, but in the last two books we've seen her actively questioning that role and whether it's right for her. This is both excellent characterization and an exploration of how history affects societal expectations. Vin was just one woman, but her example has become an ideal, even in the face of Alrianne and Tindwyl's examples. Moreover, Vin's human failings have been erased by time and popular belief:
"Were you ever insecure?" Marasi asked. "Or did you always know what to do? Did you get jealous? Frightened? Angry?" If Vin had been an ordinary person at any point, the stories and songs had forgotten.
The culmination of all of this, of course, is when she takes up the power of the Bands of Mourning. I'll freely admit that I was about in tears in this scene, and that I was kind of disappointed when she gave the power over to Wax (though I saw it coming), but thinking over it I'm okay with this, because:
She hovered in the sky, flush with power. In that moment, she was the Ascendant Warrior.
Marasi has been struggling with a society that demands she follows Vin's example, and holding the Bands would be the culmination of that - of all of these pressures she's been pushing against. In that light, letting it go was definitely the right decision for her. I'm not a fan of how it echoed the end of Well of Ascension - female lead takes up godly power, but gives it up to save the life of a man who then becomes more powerful than her - but since Wax gave up the Bands in turn, I can live with it.
Wayne and MeLaan getting together was something I'd kind of seen coming, though I didn't expect it as soon as it happened. They fit, but I'm not as invested in it as I am in Wax and Steris - there just hasn't been enough development. There's potential, but I still wouldn't be surprised if Wayne and Marasi became an item. (I'd be perfectly happy to see Marasi stay solo, or for all three of them to form a triad, but there's some foreshadowing there.)
Wayne in general was much better this book than last book. For one thing, he got called out twice - once by Marasi, and once by Wax - for his treatment of Ranette and Steris. He seems to have made a... generally good-faith attempt to apologize to Ranette, crassness aside, and I'm hopeful that for Wax he'll learn to treat Steris with actual kindness. After all, as we saw clearly, his relationship with Wax is his lodestone:
"Wax," he said, shaking his head. "No. No. I can't do this without you." "Yes you can. Fight." "Not that part," Wayne said. "The rest of it. Livin'."
Wayne has PTSD, among other things he's dealing with, and this books' climax gave us a crystal clear view of what Wax means to him: Wax is quite literally Wayne's redemption. Without that - without the one man who believed he was worth saving more than he ever did - Wayne doesn't know how to keep going. That's... really deeply heartbreaking.
MeLaan's complete lack of understanding human conversational mores remains hilarious. The entire hotel arrival conversation was hilarious. For a book which threatened civil war and city-destroying weapons, this was a damn funny read.
Steris continues to be fantastic, in so many ways. It was confirmed during the Shadows of Self tour that she's on the autism spectrum, and this keeps showing up in little, subtle moments:
"Sometimes it amazes me that people like Wayne, or even those kandra, can be so startlingly human when I feel so alien."
I got into a discussion regarding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as a representation of autism recently, and in light of that it's striking to me how well and how sensitively Sanderson builds his ASD characters. They're not caricatures or sensationalizations, but individuals with desires and stumbling blocks like any other characters - and they get to stand in the spotlight like anyone else, too. It's telling to me that the people who have picked up on Sanderson's ASD characters are on the spectrum themselves, and seeing representations of their own experiences in fiction for, sometimes, the first time ever. If you're looking for stereotypes, you won't find them, but if you're looking for people - here they are. Also: Steris getting more accustomed to the bizarre events of Wax's life.
The carriage lurched into motion, and Steris leaned out the window, waving farewell to the poor innkeeper. "Framed for murder!" Steris called to her. "It's on page seventeen of the list I gave you! Try not to let them harass our servants too much when they arrive!"
For the record, I expected Telsin's betrayal - though I thought she was being impersonated by a Kandra and long-since dead. I have a little labelled sticky note over her first appearance to this effect. Half credit for predictions?
AND NOW: The southerners. I didn't even guess until I got to the line about 'burned maps' in Chapter 18, but as soon as I read that I knew. Brandon's been teasing this contact for years, but I honestly didn't expect it until the 1980s trilogy, and I certainly didn't expect it to happen in a series which started off as a lighthearted side-project. I am thrilled. Allomantic/feruchemical technology! Societies that are doing exactly what Harmony said the Basin isn't - adapting to the pressure of immediate needs by using what they have in new ways. (Someone on Tumblr recently made a post complaining that they couldn't see new uses for Mistborn's magic system and found it boring for that reason - I'd love to tell that person about this book's revelations.) I'm also super excited about their social system. The way Allik treats Wax (while awkward to read) speaks to the rarity of Allomancers/Feruchemists in their culture. (It's still unclear to me how that happened. We know Kelsier was involved in saving their society after the Catacendre, but that doesn't answer two big questions - one, why didn't Harmony help them; and two, how did the Metallic Arts get to their population in the first place?) As I mentioned in my pre-review, that social system is going to be completely upended by the trade deal Wax and Steris struck at the end of this book. All of a sudden they'll have access to a relative wealth of magic, provided by people who won't (all) demand obeisance the way their native Metalborn seem to. They're going to have to question a fundamental element of their hierarchy, and I can't imagine the southern Metalborn will be too happy about that.
By the time this series is done, we're going to see a completely different Scadrial. I still wouldn't rule out civil war in the Basin, particularly as the Set seems invested in creating strife. (Does it strike anyone else as strange that Edwarn Ladrian, advocate of predatory loans on impoverished workers, was advocating against Elendel and in favor of the outer cities?) And of course, there's the threat of weapons which... seem like nothing less than magical nukes.
I'd say I hope it doesn't come to that, but this is Sanderson. The safe bet is that it will. (hide spoiler)]
For the Cosmere-literate and the unspoilable: (view spoiler)[HMMMM GODDAMN DID WE LEARN SOME STUFF HERE.
Some of it was little and subtle - this isn't really spoilers, but the word for the gold symbol is 'mah', which I thought was neat; I'm not sure if it's the word for gold or the letter name, but either way, cool. The confusion in the account books told us that the numerals for 3 and 4 are visually similar, in a way they aren't in our Roman script, which was a neat detail.
Worldhoppers! Hoid was obvious - he's generally not subtle, though I'm surprised Wax didn't recognize him as his former coachman from Shadows of Self. More interesting to me was the woman who was asking Wax about his abilities during the party. Minor spoilers for Secret History but: it's Khriss! At long last, we meet the person the Ars Arcanums are written for! And she's a black female scholar of Investiture! Apparently she figures prominently in the upcoming White Sand graphic novel, and I'm really excited for that. Sanderson also used this scene to deal with a question which I imagine he's gotten a lot of versions of from fans - what does storing weight actually do? (Actually, I think I might have asked a variation of this myself at one point.) I'm not very good at physics, but if I understand her questions and answer well enough, we just learned that storing weight is actually reducing mass in some way. (It's entirely possible I've got this backwards, but the scene seems to point to physics rather than magic, and that is the physics explanation... I think.)
We finally know what Connection is good for, and it works exactly like Selish magic systems. Previously I'd assumed the place-dependence of Sel's magic was due to Dominion's influence on the planet, but I was wrong: it's much more related to the Cognitive Realm, apparently. This hints a bit at how worldhoppers can move from planet to planet and still communicate with the local poppulation, though I'm sure they're all using different methods to access it. It may also suggest that some properties of Investiture are innate across all systems - Connection would be one, Lightweaving maybe another (we've seen it on both Roshar and Nalthis), and there's a potential third mentioned in Secret History. More on that when I get to my review of that novella.
And last but far from least: Trell.
"But you need us!" Suit said. "To rule, to manage civilization on-" "No longer. Recent advances have made civilization here too dangerous. Allowing it to continue risks further advances we cannot control, and so we have decided to remove life on this sphere instead. Thank you for your service; it has been accepted. You will be allowed to serve in another Realm."
Fan theories about Trell, to my knowledge, have mostly been focused on Paalm's unknown metal spike from Shadows of Self. Personally I'd advocated for it being Endowment, but that got jossed; the prevailing theory was then that it was Autonomy's godmetal. However, after reading this, I don't think Autonomy could be Trell. Aside from the fact that we know Autonomy's Shardholder's name (Bavadin), this statement focuses on control and service to a larger goal, which is the opposite of autonomy. There's a marginal argument to be made that Autonomy preserves its own independence by regulating others, but I'm skeptical of that. Right now, my bet is that Trell is a currently-unknown Shard, since there are nine unaccounted for. HOWEVER. Brandon has been up front about the relevance of color in his works, particularly the significance of red. We've seen it in the Stormlight Archive associated with Odium and the Voidbringers, in "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell" associated with the spirits flying into a killing rage, and in space as Taln's Scar/the Red Rip, which may be the same formation of stars. Given that, we can assume that Trell is either associated with through larger motivation or directly related to these other factors. I doubt it's Odium, but wouldn't rule it out; if it's a Shard whose influence we've seen, though, it seems that Threnody might be the place. Their 'Fallen World' could be another society who became 'too dangerous' for Trell's liking - and the strict control of people's actions by the Simple Rules would be in line with this emphasis on service and regulation.
If you'd like to discuss Cosmere speculation in the comments, please put it under a spoiler tag: < spoiler > like so. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No external considerations went into this reviA copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No external considerations went into this review. Also, full disclosure, I'm kinda-sorta-internet-friends with Foz.
It feels, sometimes, like every second series is an adaptation of something else - fairy tales, classic novels, what have you. As a reader, I'm getting a little jaded, tired of this unoriginal content. What Monstrous Little Voices clarified for me was this: that adaptations don't have to be unoriginal. This is a collection which treads the time-worn boards of Shakespeare's stage with entirely new steps, and entirely new feet. It expands and illuminates the worlds of his stories, and provides a refreshing new perspective on old tales.
The story that I enjoyed the most, personally, was the first - Foz Meadows' "Coral Bones", which follows Miranda after The Tempest, in a Just Ella-like exploration of a happily ever after that isn't what it seems. Foz set the stage for the entire collection with an expansively diverse cast (fitting for the diverse, trade-enriched Mediterranean region, which was by no means monocultural or mono-ethnic) and a narrative which weaves gender, identity, and fairy magic smoothly into a single tapestry. The writing was beautiful, capturing the spirit and style of the Bard's prose while offering new perspectives.
The subsequent stories were also enjoyable. Every writer in this anthology is clearly very skilled with language, and while the voice varies from one story to the next, they all have a tone in common that is clearly Shakespearean. The dialogue is excellent, often snappy, and the stories are often structured into acts or parts such that I could imagine them on the stage. "The Course of True Love" combined a charming romance with supernatural and ordinary politics, and I loved its romantic leads and their developing relationship, which felt natural despite taking very little time. "The Unkindest Cut" seemed straightforward, but turned out to be anything but; this is more in the vein of Shakespeare's tragedies than his comedies. It's much darker than the first two, but stood out most to me for the excellent characterization of its protagonist, who sees the world through an interestingly limited lens. "Even in the Cannon's Mouth" smashed all of my existing notions of what this collection was as a whole, revealing an arc plot much more extensive than I had anticipated. It brought characters together and revealed information in a way that I didn't expect at all, but which showed the entire project to be even more innovative than I'd thought.
And then there's "On the Twelfth Night", which I can barely discuss without spoiling the overarching connections through the stories. You'll just have to discover that one for yourselves.
The one disappointment I had in reading this was that there were several narrative threads from individual stories that weren't quite resolved by the ending. "On the Twelfth Night" is an abrupt jump in some ways, wrapping up the whole narrative without directly addressing the details of the preceding stories, and while it was satisfying in and of itself, I found myself still wondering about consequences of earlier events after finishing the book. (The end of "The Unkindest Cut", in particular, left a lot of questions that I'd hoped to see addressed.) One more story - or an epilogue, perhaps? - would have wrapped things up a little neater.
That aside, it's still a five-star book. The concept and execution are both fabulous and innovative, and for once I found myself finishing an adaptation hoping that it would inspire more of the same. This kind of boundary-pushing, explorative storytelling is an amazing way to present Shakespeare to a modern audience....more
This book snuck up on me. I picked it up because Brandon Sanderson blurbed it, and anyone who knows my reading tastes will know that that's review enoThis book snuck up on me. I picked it up because Brandon Sanderson blurbed it, and anyone who knows my reading tastes will know that that's review enough for me. At first, I was feeling a little let down - the book starts slowly and a little unevenly - but by the end of the book, I found myself shying away from touching other people for fear I would freeze them. That's how far this book got into my head, and that in and of itself is a recommendation for it.
The strongest impression I was left with after I finished, from a writing standpoint, was that this is a fairy tale. It's not a fairy tale retelling, but it has the same resonance as one of those original classic stories. Ultimately, Smitha's story is a coming of age/maturation narrative, with a sidebar of romance as a reward for her personal growth. It makes for a beautiful, neatly wrapped up story and a deeply satisfying ending.
However, most of these elements only really come into play until nearly a third of the way into the book. Packed into that first third we get the cursing itself and its immediate aftermath (several chapters), Smitha learning to survive in the wilderness (generally skimmed over), and then relatively quickly she's been out on her own for three years. The detail given to some moments makes the abrupt skipping over long swathes of time more disorienting, and it does a particular disservice to her bizarre relationship with Death. They have scenes, and mentions of other encounters, but there's little sense of continuity or development; much of it is told rather than shown. Death himself is almost under-used as a character: he's a threat, but not a consistent one, and his actual impact is minimal. (The most under-used character is also most prominent in the first third of the book: Mordan, the wizard who curses Smitha. Apart from Smitha realizing that she treated him badly, he's not really relevant after casting his spell. On the one hand, fine - why should he be relevant, when the book is about her growth? But on the other hand - his pursuit of her was clearly out of line, and his decision to curse her seemed as much about bitterness related to his past as anything she actually did, so that felt like one loop the ending did not manage to close.)
While this book is a stand-alone, I'd personally be interested in seeing more of this world, and I can't help but hope that Holmberg's recently announced sale of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet might be a companion novel of sorts. It probably isn't, but my fingers are crossed anyway. In the meantime, I'll settle for tracking down the Paper Magician books at some point, because Holmberg is definitely a writer I want to see more of....more
This is one of those books that I've had on my Kindle for probably years, but hadn't gotten around to reading until I started using it more relativelyThis is one of those books that I've had on my Kindle for probably years, but hadn't gotten around to reading until I started using it more relatively recently. Since I remember nothing of why I bought it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was, indeed, one of the good ones - not one of the junky freebies I picked up in late-night Amazon browsing, but a well-written and constructed story, with interesting worldbuilding and characterization.
However: three stars. Just to get this out of the way at the start: that's because it didn't come to an actual narrative conclusion within this book. In fact, the end of the book is just the escalation of the larger plot, which was clearly designed to stretch over all three books. Call it a personal pet peeve if you like, but I have a personal preference for first books that offer some sort of actual resolution, and minimal cliffhangers. Without that, it would have been a solid four stars, so if that doesn't bug you, don't let my rating keep you from reading this.
The two strongest points of this book are the worldbuilding and the characterization. I've seen a review or two complaining about Llandry, which is sadly unsurprising to me because she shows a lot of the hallmarks of severe anxiety and, well, people tend not to be very sympathetic. As someone who's lived with a (less severe) variation of the same thing, I appreciated reading about someone who struggled with it and tried to overcome it. Llandry isn't always successful, but that too is realistic, and I feel that she's set up for a lot of growth and maturation in the rest of the series. The other characters were also... interesting, which I guess sounds like a weak response, but there was little that stood out as strongly as Llandry does. There are two budding romances, both of which have good potential and neither of which disproportionately dominated the plot.
The worldbuilding! This was fascinating. The multi-realm structure reminded me somewhat of Norse mythology, arranged sort of like a spectrum of light. While little of the magical mechanics was actually explained, there was enough for me to feel like I understood how it was used, at the very least, which is the important thing. And of course, the dramatic events at the end of the book hint that even the main characters don't really know what's going on, so I'm sure there's more to be explored in the sequels.
What I can't quite decide is whether I want to make an effort to get those sequels. I've been trying to cut down on actually purchasing books lately, but maybe someday......more
A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No external considerations went into this reviA copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No external considerations went into this review.
It's an unfortunate fact of life for people interested in ecology - particularly in marine systems - that pretty much every book on the subject is... well, depressing as hell.
Like... let's be real here. Humans have screwed up our planet pretty badly, and we continue to do so. On land we can at least see some of the most severe effects of our destruction, but the ocean has historically been opaque to us: we've damaged it severely, possibly irrevocably, but until very recently we haven't been forced to confront that fact.
Scientifically speaking, my interests tend towards the largest megafauna on the planet: whales. As a result, I know a fair amount about their behavior and some about the ecological factors which can affect them... but as this book made me realize, woefully little about coastal ecosystems, even though they are often some of the most productive in the world and cornerstones of the ocean as a whole. I should probably fix that, and this was a fair start.
I've kayaked through mangroves (once, in Puerto Rico when I was 10), but until this book I didn't know much about them beyond the fact that they were trees that could grow in salt water and were important barriers protecting land behind them from oceanic storms. I had no sense of how vital they were as nurseries to all kinds of different organisms, marine and terrestrial. I didn't even know that there was more than one species of mangrove (and I'm kind of embarrassed by that fact!). The fact that there are 70 species from 24 different plant families completely blew my mind.
The portions of this book that touched on shrimp farming were sadly familiar. While aquaculture can be practiced sustainably (in contained ponds, with organisms no higher up the food chain than primary consumers and very careful waste management), there's a lot of money to be made in exploiting the ocean's naturally bountiful regions in a marine version of slash-and-burn agriculture. The story of shrimp that Warne relates here is strikingly similar to that of salmon that Alexandra Morton tells in Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us: corporations identify areas where their target species are abundant in the wild, place their facilities in the same location, and raise as much of their product as they can before they've completely stripped the very balance of resources that drew them there. When they leave - if they leave - natural habitat for wild species is destroyed, waste from the farming operation may have accumulated and polluted the water, and what used to be a haven runs the risk of becoming a dead zone. In the case of shrimp aquaculture, this doesn't even serve a real food benefit; as Warne points out, shrimp is rarely a dietary staple (and when it is, only in regions where it has historically been wild-caught, and where those wild populations suffer when aquaculture moves in).
What Warne touches on in-depth, in every location he discusses, that I particularly appreciated is the relationship between the local people and the mangroves. Conservation efforts around the world have pretty consistently shown that the people who are physically closest to natural resources absolutely must be involved in their protection. Often the locals in exploited areas are themselves being exploited, and may be in poverty or struggling to maintain a way of life as the world industrializes around them. External conservation organizations which simply impose new restrictions on them without regard for their needs or desires are just another way they lose control of their lives and their homelands. Conservation that involves people gives them motivation and a sense that they can change their lives for the better. Warne seems to understand this: he gives special attention to efforts which have integrated the needs of people with the needs of the mangroves, to the benefit of both.
To Warne's credit, he works hard to provide a generally positive outlook on the potential for mangrove restoration. Given the scale of deforestation, destruction, and plain old disregard I'm not sure I'm completely swayed, but there is a path forward here. One of the advantages of reading this in 2015 (instead of 2011, when I first got access to the galley... oops) is that shortly after I finished it, information was released on the accord that came out of the Paris climate conference. One of the outcomes of those talks was something Warne mentions being missing from Kyoto and other accords: a way of counting forests as carbon resources, making them more valuable alive than as hardwood. I cheered aloud when I heard the news.
As with all ecological books, I highly recommend that anyone interested read the whole thing themselves. The research that went into this is extensive, and there are far more fascinating details than I could ever mention here. Additionally, we all as human beings have a duty to be conscious of our environment, and having such a clearly written book to turn to certainly helps with that understanding....more
I'm starting to wonder if there are some external factors I can blame for the fact that I just... don't getLast 2015 book review! Damn, was I behind.
I'm starting to wonder if there are some external factors I can blame for the fact that I just... don't get emotionally invested in Jemisin's work. Like: I've got the huge omnibus, so I can't take it with me everywhere and get absorbed in it the way I can with small books or my Kindle; maybe that's it? Maybe I'm somehow only reading when I'm tired or zoned out? Why is this not clicking?
Possible external influences aside, though, my suspicion is that part of why I'm detached from the books is that I find Jemisin's writing style detached and distant. Or... maybe it's not the style so much as the focal characters? Yeine in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was involved in huge, important things, but had very little agency or ability to affect her situation. Oree, despite her lower station and lack of knowledge for most of the book, has more power... but the plot doesn't really let her use it. The story isn't about her, her abilities, or her growth - it's about other people, and the most active protagonist is 'Shiny'. Oree, despite having fantastical magical powers, is really just along for the ride here. What could have been an expansion of the world and the magic present in it ends up falling kind of flat, because she never gets to do much of anything except by accident.
I dunno. At the end of the day it's just not clicking for me. Still hoping the third will be better but... it's a guarded hope....more
This book was a long ago loaner/gift (? she didn't want it back) from a friend who lives far away, and for her sake, I tried. I did. And I can... sortThis book was a long ago loaner/gift (? she didn't want it back) from a friend who lives far away, and for her sake, I tried. I did. And I can... sort of see the merit of the story? The authors clearly wanted to tackle some heavy issues and they way they'd play out throughout the lives of their teen characters. The thing was that it just lacked... purpose. There was a narrative arc here, sort of, which was basically Mick resolving his relationships with three women, but the actual resolutions of two of them were thoroughly unsatisfying, and one of the secondary plots appeared and disappeared like magic until it was time for it to come to a head. (view spoiler)[The McNeals also completely gave the game away re: Maurice being the robber, by jumping into his perspective immediately after introducing the threat. (hide spoiler)]
The characters, too, were lackluster. While I understand Mick's reasons for not confronting his stepmother with his knowledge of her affair, the eventual 'resolution' that he arrived at was... frankly ridiculous. (view spoiler)[Even more so because he didn't face consequences for it. (hide spoiler)] The man Nora was having an affair with ended up being significant in several other characters' lives, but was never really developed, so the reveal of his identity didn't have much weight, and after it everything else fell together way too neatly. Also never really addressed: Mick's pretty clear attraction to his stepmother, and how that interfaced with his emotional reactions.
Myra's eventual revelation was... you know, I like the thought, but again, the execution just didn't go anywhere. There was no payoff.
Looking back, I think that was the chronic problem I had with this book: there were actions, but there was very little sense of results. The epilogue added to this - if you've ever seen a movie based on real events that ends with title cards telling you what happened to all the real people after this pivotal part of their lives, that's the epilogue of this book. It feels like a cheap way to attempt closure, when the plot remains unresolved.
Messy from start to finish, and not recommended.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I guess every now and then we all have to step out of our reading comfort zones. My stomping ground is modern sci fi/fantasy, so this meditative pieceI guess every now and then we all have to step out of our reading comfort zones. My stomping ground is modern sci fi/fantasy, so this meditative piece of realistic fiction from the 80s made for quite a change. Had it not been recommended to me by my parents, I wouldn't have picked it up but hey, sometimes they have a point.
It's a strange little book, to be sure, oddly written (but beautifully, in my opinion). It's not for everyone. Personally, as someone with a fondness for the natural world and for Oregon's wilderness, I enjoyed a lot of the rambling naturalistic digressions. The narrator's humor also worked for me, though I doubt it will for everyone.
I think the level on which this book resonated with me the most was its connection of spirituality and nature. As someone who isn't religious, but is familiar with that sweeping, overpowering sensation of awe that comes from standing on top of a mountain or deep in a forest, Gus's awakening was a description of something that I'd experienced but had never quite been able to put into words. The rest of the book was enjoyable, funny at times and weirdly poignant at others, but it was his hike to the source of the Tamawanis that struck me the most.
Unfortunately, there's a romance. And since this is a book written in the 80s by a male author... you can imagine how that goes. It's more of a prolonged teenaged boy's wet dream than a real romantic subplot, and that becomes even more clear when compared with Ma and H2O Orviston's relationship at the beginning of the book. That had conflict, change, depth - Gus and Eddy together just feels flat, as if she's his reward for growing up some and learning to think about people other than himself.
Overall - a worthwhile read, for me at least, but stylistically definitely something you have to be in the mood for. If you're feeling meditative and missing wild places, this might work for you too....more
This is one of those tricky books where the nature of some of the content addressed leaves me feeling that I should rate it higher than my actual likiThis is one of those tricky books where the nature of some of the content addressed leaves me feeling that I should rate it higher than my actual liking of the book would dictate. There's a lot of weighty content in here that I hadn't expected: most notably, within the first few chapters the main character is the victim of brutal prison rape, which ends up coloring a lot of his life thereafter as he struggles to recover from something he can't even speak of. This plotline is handled with nuance and... I think it could be reasonably said that it's done with sensitivity and sympathy for Liam's struggles.
The narrative of the Irish Troubles and Liam's recovery takes the lead in this book, over the fey conflict the description promises. Since it's part of a duology, I don't think this is really a downside; it's clear by the end of the book that the focus will shift. Still, that description is deceptive, and certainly gives no idea of what the central drivers of the book actually are.
As an American, I don't know much at all about Irish history. Obviously this book isn't a nonfiction account of what the Troubles were like, but it is certainly a window onto the level of brutality and violence of that time. I suspect that someone more versed in the context might get more out of this book; I mostly got a desire to hide under a bed and never face humanity again. (As a lifelong atheist, the hatred some people have for other religions - including, in this case, a different sect of the same mainstream faith - is baffling and terrifying to me.) I'll admit that I came out of it with a desire not to learn more. The reading experience of this book was upsetting enough.
Despite the fact that the fey plotline promises to pick up in the second book, I'm not particularly interested in reading it. This book was brutal enough, and I went into it unknowing; I wouldn't choose to repeat the experience....more
Edit: Downgrading my review to 1 star because, on reflection, I really disliked the gratuitous nature of violence in this book. Note that this is notEdit: Downgrading my review to 1 star because, on reflection, I really disliked the gratuitous nature of violence in this book. Note that this is not an objection to the inclusion of violence, but to the fact that it often had only the most minimal narrative impact, in moving Alex and Darla from one point to the next. One of the clearest examples of this is the break-in that occurs at the beginning of the book, when Alex is sheltering with his neighbors, which ends with one of those neighbors shooting two of the three attackers. The purpose of this event, in addition to shock/horror, seems mostly to be getting Alex out of the house, but the impact on characterization is minimal. Throughout the book, violence gets a cursory mention after it occurs, but seems to have no long-term implications (except the idea that Alex has 'become an adult' partly due to it) or psychological impacts. This is clearly a writing choice, conscious or unconscious, resulting from presenting all of the book's aggressors as cartoonishly shallow villains. Those three looters could have included someone Alex or his neighbors knew or recognized, to drive home a point about how trauma and crisis had changed people; instead, they are (in short order literally) faceless menaces. It's all so shallow your feet barely get wet.
Disclaimer: I read this book with the specific intent of boosting my NetGalley statistics. My access to it on NetGalley has long since expired, so obviously that had no impact on my rating or review, but I feel like I should explain why I picked it up.
So: it was that, and it was morbid curiosity only permitted by having forgotten why I took it off my to-read shelf in the first place.
A lot of people love this book and this series, which I'm sure is great for them. Personally, it's not my jam; it never has been since I read the synopsis, but with all those rave reviews I thought... why not? Why not give it a chance and see if Mike Mullin's writing can get me past his premise?
The writing is the reason I nearly gave up in the first three chapters. Had I not been reading this with the specific intent of giving it a chance, I would have just walked away there, because the beginning of this book is - to put it nicely - clearly amateur. There's an agonizingly detailed infodump on Alex's life, in which the reader is thoroughly informed that he does taekwondo and subjected to an honest-to-god description of grinding in Warcraft. The amazing thing about this is that as the book progresses, the prose does get considerably better; I can only conclude that the beginning of the narrative was... entirely skipped in the editing/polishing process, that any of this stuff made it in. (With the exception of the taekwondo, which the reader hears about at length for the rest of the book, none of this even serves as a Chekov's Gun.)
The other big factor here, which underlies some of my other problems with the book as a whole, is quite simply its premise. I'll give Mullin his due: he's clearly done a lot of research into what a Yellowstone eruption would look like and how it would impact the world. Where it falls apart for me is even earlier than that, though, because the idea of the suddenness with which it happens in this book is beyond my ability to suspend disbelief. I can't do it. There's no way I can look at it and either say "Yes, that makes sense," or "That makes no sense, but I'll ignore it for the sake of the story". And here's why: the suddenness of the eruption is the driving factor behind Mullin's projections of human behavior.
Everything else about the book falls out because the eruption was sudden. The sense of crisis, the fear of food shortage, the speed at which people turn to violence - it's all founded in the idea of this abrupt change in the world, unpredictable and unavoidable, in the face of which some people band together and others go on a rampage. But because the premise is implausible, the crisis feels manufactured - just as Alex's oh-so-convenient habit of passing out hungry on the doorstep of someone generous feels manufactured. There was a constant feeling of artificiality tugging at my mind as I read - a problem of particular magnitude in, say, some of the scenes of extreme violence. When everything feels manufactured, the volcano comes to look like an excuse for the desolation and violence of the landscape (from a writing perspective), not the cause.
I would like to put forward the idea that a similar story could have been written in which the eruption was predicted and an evacuation at least begun (though for shock and drama, the volcano could still erupt before Alex gets out). It'd raise some interesting questions: How do you prepare for a volcanic eruption on this scale? Does the US even have the infrastructure? Would we see, as we did in post-Katrina evacuations, a race/class stratification of who gets out first, who gets helped? Who chooses to stay? And how does it reshape people's reactions if they had believed they would escape, and instead find themselves trapped?
There's a fantastic essay I can't track down about The Walking Dead as a fantasy, that essentially by stripping away society the story strips away limitations on its characters. TWD's heroes are all extraordinary, this essay argues, because they may well be the last of the human race. Their every action has great import, and their survival (at any cost) is paramount. This book falls into that same trap, particularly near the end:
"During the trip, I was free. In Cedar Falls or here, I'm just somebody's kid. In between, I was Alex. I decided where I slept and when, who I talked to and who I avoided. Sure, the ash and psychotic killers weren't fun, but I've only been here one day, and already I miss that feeling of freedom, of being my own man."
The worst part of this is that the fantasy of post-apocalyptic freedom from society is, here, overriding the fact that Alex and Darla should be carrying some deep, deep, complicated trauma, which they never show any sign of.
Plausibility falls by the wayside: the book in a nutshell....more