A few weeks ago, I attended a forum at the Salt Lake CominCon FanXperience for authors Brandon Sanderson and BrBrandun Mull doesn't get enough credit.
A few weeks ago, I attended a forum at the Salt Lake CominCon FanXperience for authors Brandon Sanderson and Brandon Mull. Both are a local (to Utah) authors, both are BYU grads, both write fantasy, both are New York Times bestselling authors, and both are at about the same place in their careers.
And yet it was clear, in watching the Q&A, that while there are many similarities, each writes for a different fan base that has guided the kind of writing they produce. Where Sanderson's successful completion of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, as well as a fair measure of success in his own right, has brought him a substantial fan base among adults (I stood in line for the forum next to a couple women who had driven from California to get into a con where they could actually meet Sanderson, San Diego's ComiCon having gotten too large and difficult to get into), Mull's fan base is substantially younger and, I surmised as I listened to question after question aimed at Sanderson while Mull sat alongside him patiently, less likely to show up at a con.
To those fans, Mull is to Sanderson what minor league baseball is major league: a step within the genre from one level of depth to the next.
That step--from fantasy fiction designed for a young reader, more heavily weighted with archetypal characters, a more action driven plot, and focused on protagonists in their early teens--is why I think Mull does not get the credit he deserves. His readers are just discovering fantasy for the first time, and Mull knows exactly how to talk their language. He understands, to quote Neil Gaiman (who is summarizing G.K. Chesterton), that "Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
During the Salt Lake FanXperience forum with Sanderson, Mull was asked what he first read that got him into reading and into fantasy. Mull cited The Tales of Narnia, and indeed it is hard not to see C.S. Lewis in all Mull writes.
Lewis famously explained why he wrote fantasy for children when such might scare children. "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. . . Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.”
And Mull's stories are all about soundly killing the villain.
In Seeds of Rebellion, Jason returns to Lyrian carrying information crucial to the cause of all who oppose Maldor's tyrannous reign. He is also looking for Rachel, the girl pulled from his world at the same time as him and from whom he became separated before being sent back to Earth surreptitiously. Jason wonders if he will be able find her, pass on the information before it is too late, and whether his role in the quest is over.
Meanwhile, on the run from Maldor's agents, Rachel finds new friends and new talents that will mark her as a powerful force in the fight for freedom. Together, Jason and Rachel and their allies will begin a quest to raise the free people of Lyrian against Maldor's growing reach. With hope growing dim, they will set out on a journey across lands wild and unknown to find the knowledge they need to raise a full scale rebellion.
A World Without Heroes introduced us to Lyrian; Seeds of Rebellion reveals how complex, diverse and, at least from Jason and Rachel's perspective, strange Lyrian really is. If Mull takes his lead from Lewis to craft a tale for adolescents, then he turns to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels for creative inspiration for the peoples created by Lyrian's wizards. Each stage of the quest seems to pass through some land people that are anything but entirely human.
Mull's tale is exciting, archetypal, and hopeful. Aimed directly at young, growing adolescents and teens, it's an excellent selection for an afternoon under a tree during summer break. If you've not found Mull before, pick up the Beyonder's now, whether for your kids or to read to them, and don't be surprised if you find yourself enjoying it along with them....more
Of all of them, though, none was more satisfying, fulfilling and memorable than Gary Schmidt's follow-up to The Wednesday Wars. Picking up right after the end of the adventures of Holling Hoodhood in The Wednesday Wars, Okay For Now takes the perspective of Doug Swieteck, Hoodhood's friend and little brother to Hoodhood's bully. When a job change takes them to "stupid Marysville," Doug finds himself an unlikely friend in the Hermione-like Lil Spicer, daughter of the local deli owner. Over the course of his eight-grade year, Doug will overcome prejudices, his own shortcomings, make new friends and mentors, and learn that his destiny is in his own hands.
That all sounds so stereotypical and mundane, like what could be written on the back of almost any young adult novel. Believe me, then, when I say that there's nothing stereotypical or mundane about Doug's story. As he would say, "I'm not lying." Schmidt has a talent for making scenes equally humorous and tragic, and he cleverly and subtly uses language to show and tell who and what is on the up and up with Doug and what is not.
"You know how that feels?" is a common phrase, something of a stage aside when Doug wants to accentuate his response to the situation, whether negative or positive. I found it clever that Doug would change then names of things subtly and without comment as their standing would change. For example, Christopher, Doug's brother and the bully from The Wednesday Wars begins the book as "my brother," but after an act of redemption becomes Christopher. Other labels that Doug uses with derision early in the book change, in connotation, as events unfold. In addition, Schmidt uses the imagery of art and Audubon's collection of bird paintings to bring out and describe Doug's experiences and growth.
Another reason I loved--yes, I loved it--Okay For Now is for its unique and deep demonstration of the bonds between males, the things that strengthen them, as well as the things that weaken them. Looking at both of the books, it's not hard to wonder if Schmidt has a soft spot in his heart for mothers and high standards for fathers, standards that he doesn't always think men meet. Though the novels are certainly full of traditional families with loving and honorable fathers--the book takes place in the late 1960s, so the traditional family is certainly still at the forefront in society--both the Hoodhood and Swieteck families are headed by less than satisfactory fathers at the outset, causing a major source of conflict for both Doug and Holling.
Not only is his relationship with his father, and how his father's relationship with his mother, a major focus of the story, but so are the relationships between Doug and his brothers, including Christopher who I mentioned earlier, and Lucas who comes home from Vietnam. Also important to Doug's progress are relationships he develops with various other adults in the community, including teachers, librarians, and one eccentric playwright.
Okay for Now is a beautiful story about a boy, and it's a story that will resonate with anyone, whether they remember what it was like to be 15 or not. With my own eight grade year now nearly two decades in the rear view mirror, reading Okay for Now took me back, reminding me of the growth and awkwardness of that tumultuous year and inspiring me to be more careful in my relationships.
The year's not over yet, but Okay for Now will probably go down as the best book I will read this year, if not in the last several years. And I'm not lying. It's terrific, and I hope you will read it. ...more
Every now and then I get lucky. Someone--a publisher, an author--sends me an ARC, a beta edition of their book, or a new release, and I get to be oneEvery now and then I get lucky. Someone--a publisher, an author--sends me an ARC, a beta edition of their book, or a new release, and I get to be one of the first people to experience a book, to read a new story.
Cry Havoc: Book One of the Havoc Journals is just such a time. A few months into the year, Seegmiller (who also happens to have the dubious distinction of being my uncle, so take this for what it's worth) sent me a copy of his manuscript. It was rough, but it was interesting, different, and something new...and that's kind of hard to find in fantasy these days.
Opening as a journal entry of a man looking back over his life and a lifelong struggle, we follow Daine as he learns about the debilitating affliction Havoc over the course of his coming of age and growing from boy to man. Equal parts mystery, adventure, coming of age, and fantasy, Cry Havoc has that quality of originality that is refreshing in all good fiction. Further, Seegmiller's approach is unique in that his story demonstrates an appreciation for the strength and importance of love in familial relationships, putting his protagonist's relationships with his family at the center of the conflict.
For years, Seegmiller and I have swamped paperback copies of science fiction and fantasy novels (though I admit to borrowing more from him than lending), and we share a love for the wonder that imaginary worlds carry. It's exciting to see his labors to put his own story to paper and to print, and I look forward to more him as he finishes out the series that Cry Havoc begins. ...more
If you like sparkly vampires, this might be a good segue to more serious fantasy, without giving up all the juice of a good teen romance.
If sparkly vaIf you like sparkly vampires, this might be a good segue to more serious fantasy, without giving up all the juice of a good teen romance.
If sparkly vampires make you blanch, then you have nothing to worry about. Nightingale, though occasionally dark, is an enjoyable and satisfying story.
The worst thing about Nightingale, to be completely honest, is the cover, and I don’t much like the title, either. But, since we don’t judge books by their covers, or their titles either, for that matter, let me tell you about why the book beneath the cover is well worth a read.
Bron Jones is an orphan and has grown hard due to a life spent bounced between foster homes. Despite his best efforts to please and satisfy his foster parents, they reject him, one after another. Until one day, when his newest foster parent recognizes him for what he is, something special and magical, something he doesn’t even know about himself: a nightingale.
Within him lie hidden powers, depths that will thrust him at the center of a secret war between good and evil. He will face who he is, and he will make a choice.
This is the third of David Farland’s books that I’ve read this year, and it is also in the third genre. That alone is notable. On My Way to Paradise was science fiction, The Sum of All Men was fully in the epic fantasy genre, and with Nightingale, Farland is writing for teens, or what I think they call “Young Adult” or “Urban Fantasy,” though, to be clear, it really does border on science fiction, too…just a different kind than you expect. It says something about his versatility that he can write for such varied audiences and interests and with such success.
In Nightingale, Farland spins a plot that I think teens will very much enjoy. Bron is darkly handsome, occasionally the rebel, and he thrives as a musician and artist as he begins school in a special high school for the performing arts in the picturesque red canyons and mountains of southern Utah. Love triangles abound, not to mention the drama, intensity, and angst that accompanies them. Notably, Farland delicately handles issues puberty, sex, and love, keeping it clean and appropriate without pretending like teenagers don’t deal with those things.
All this, though, is backdrop to the underlying conflict–Bron’s nature. His powers are such that they could be used to build or destroy. He struggles to decide whether he will use them to do either, all the while hiding from those that are hunting him for what he can do.
This isn’t to say that I fully enjoyed Nightingale quite as much as I did the other two of Farland’s novels that I’ve read. It moves quickly and without the level of depth that I’ve come to expect in a Farland’s novels, though I suspect this is largely due to the audience he’s writing for. As the novel closes, Farland delivers on his audience’s expectations, developing his characters and resolving conflicts, even as he creates new ones for examination in future sequels. I flew through the last couple chapters, an exciting showdown as the hidden menace hunting Bron is revealed and confronted.
Again, the cover is the worst part of Nightingale. It’s a picture of some dude’s head, and it reminded me more of Derek Zoolander than of a magical race of beings caught in a struggle thousands of years old. The novel, though, is geared towards young adults, is fast and exciting, full of twists, colorful characters, and growing action. If you like sparkly vampires, this might be a good segue to more serious fantasy without giving up all the juice of a good teen romance.
Recently, David Farland’s son was in a catastrophic accident, putting him in a coma for a period of time and requiring a number of medical procedures. Take a moment to consider purchasing a Farland title (or even Nightingale) to help Farland out. Like every writer, he provides for his family on what readers buy, and each purchase puts bread on his family’s table. Plus, you’ll have the benefit of owning a great read. Farland never disappoints. Thanks!...more
Brandon Sanderson's creativity seems to know no bounds. It's no secret that he likes use magical systems for his novels that follow rules. But is it sBrandon Sanderson's creativity seems to know no bounds. It's no secret that he likes use magical systems for his novels that follow rules. But is it still magic when the magic is so predictable that it's almost scientific?
With The Rithmatist, Sanderson uses his not insubstantial talents to spin a tale about an alternate world just one step removed from ours, where nations small and insignificant in our world are conquerors, North America is a giant archipelago instead of a continent, and gears and springs have replaced steam as the primary method of power. More, a battle is being waged by men and women who can use chalk to draw lines that take form, come alive, and move in the real world. They are Rithmatists, and they are all that stand between the dangerous Wild Chalklings and the survival of mankind.
Joel is nothing more than the son of a chalk maker, a poor boy who wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatists. As students at his school start to disappear, he finds himself pulled into the mystery against a foe that he cannot fight alone.
It's a great story. There are moments when The Rithmatist felt less like a fantasy, or a steam punk, and more like a mystery. Joel is a sympathetic Harry Potter-like character, and while Sanderson keeps the tone threatening, the promise of danger is never dark or hopeless.
The Rithmatist is the beginning of another creative Sanderson endevour, and while aimed squarely at adolescent boys, includes the beginnings of a romantic relationship that could appeal to girls, as well. While the systematic way in which Sanderson lays out magic may be almost scientific, his ability to tell a fun and delightful story is completely magical, from opening page to denouement and the final "to be continued." ...more
For those of us who have never known war, there's something chilling about the post-war experience of those who have. For all the bullet-dodging actioFor those of us who have never known war, there's something chilling about the post-war experience of those who have. For all the bullet-dodging action heroes that Hollywood produces and America consumes, we rarely get a taste for the horrors that the scarred veteran must face upon return to the home-front. Even when a movie does try to convey that horror, it remains a visual experience.
Robert Cormier's "Heroes" has no such problems. Francis, Cormier's young protagonist, has been marred by war, and in the most visceral way. He's lost his face to a grenade. He is unrecognizable, even by those who knew him well, and though cited for bravery, he hides a secret. As we read, we soon learn that he is not the only one. Unlike the gloss and gleam of Hollywood flicks, we are ensconced in Francis' head, fully exposed to his pain and guilt, his regrets and hopes. It's almost too close, and as the novel moves towards a final crushing denouement, we sense as much as we read, guessing and knowing the horrible truth before Cormier lets his protagonist reveal the chilling and even disturbing truth.
"Heroes" develops fast, and it is perhaps the parsimony of words that provides his story with such careful and pointed impact. Each word, section, and anecdote is calculated to one purpose only: the building of a story about a hero, and not just any, but one who is anything but what he seems.
I recommend the read, but because of content (nothing gratuitous or graphic, but merely the subject matter) suggest it for adolescents in their teens. I look forward to reading and discussing with my own children....more
Exciting, clever, and perfectly suited for the twelve-year old boy in your home, A World Without Heroes is the first of three in Brandon Mull's BeyondExciting, clever, and perfectly suited for the twelve-year old boy in your home, A World Without Heroes is the first of three in Brandon Mull's Beyonder series.
The Goodreads blurb for A World Without Heroes is pretty blase and underwhelming, summarizing a plot that sounds not unlike a dozen other adolescent books. A child or teen, at a crossroads in life, stumbles upon a portal or passageway to another world. Adventures ensue. A way home is found, the child older and wiser.
For example, try C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, or even, if you will, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up by J.M. Barry and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
And that's not counting anything else written in the last half a century, like Neil Gaimen's Coraline or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
Fortunately, Mull's story avoids falling victim to the cliches created by a century of the genre, obliterates the blurb and unfolds into a tale that both entertains and satisfies. Perfectly designed for both the young and the young at heart, Mull's first installment in the Beyonders series starts slow as it builds its characters, then picks up speed as both the plot and stakes climb to exciting levels.
Jason Walker is star pitcher for his baseball team, a good student, is nursing a crush on a cute girl, and has the fortune to volunteer for the local zoo. Fortune, that is, until one day a strange moment at the hippo cage ends with him sliding through a magical portal to another world: Lyrian.
It doesn't take long for Jason to figure out that the people of Lyrian are under the thumb of a malevolent master, the evil wizard-emperor Maldor. Almost by accident, he sets himself on a path to defeat the wizard, and, with the help of another girl from our world, will find himself fighting strange and fantastical creatures and people to end the Maldor's cruel reign.
Starting off slow, A World Without Heroes grew on me with each chapter and plot twist. By the time Jason reaches the apex of his quest, I knew that Mull had me.
While A World Without Heroes is aimed at teen or pre-teen boys, the story has a little something for everyone in the family. More, Mull keeps it clean, making it a great pick to read aloud. ...more
As if junior high wasn't bad enough, Holling Hoodhood (yes, that's really his name)is the only Presbyterian in his class, and every Wednesday he's stuAs if junior high wasn't bad enough, Holling Hoodhood (yes, that's really his name)is the only Presbyterian in his class, and every Wednesday he's stuck with his teacher for an hour while the rest of his class goes to synagogue or mass. Rats, races, Vietnam, teen angst, and Shakespeare are woven in to the story of their Wednesday wars, reminding us all of what it's like to be 14 and that our ending really can be happy, but only if we make it that way.
A great read, with laughs and cries intermingled throughout with Shakespeare's most timeless tales. Please read it, and share it. ...more
How have you never heard of Garth Nix before? (Britt says she's heard of Garth Nix before...)
If you can, doHow have i never heard of Garth Nix before?
How have you never heard of Garth Nix before? (Britt says she's heard of Garth Nix before...)
If you can, don't walk, but run to your nearest bookseller and buy this book. You won't be disappointed!
Sabriel is the heir to her father's legacy, the person with the singular task of keeping the Dead sealed in Death. She grows up on the border between a world very much like our own and the Old Kingdom, a place where the rules of nature bend and change to the magic of the Charter. On her quest to find, and restore, her father, she will find love, face evil, and walk the paths of the Dead.
Nix keeps the plot moving, and barely a page is wasted. Pick up this book on an empty Saturday, clear your schedule, and sit back for an enjoyable read....more