Monthly Archives: December 2010

Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

fantasy books Brandon Sanderson's The Way of KingsThe Way of Kings was probably one of the most highly anticipated fantasy novels of 2010, with the popularity of The Wheel of Time series and Sanderson being selected as the author to complete the series after Jordan’s passing. The Way of Kings is the first novel in an extremely ambitious new ten novel series, titled The Stormlight Archive. This series is undoubtedly Sanderson’s offering to fantasy fans that will make an attempt to reside upon the shelf next to other such large fantasy series, ala The Wheel of Time, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and A Song of Ice and Fire. How does this first novel fare as a stand alone novel, and how does it stack up against other first novels in similar series? Let’s dig in.

First and foremost, The Way of Kings brings classic Sanderson to the table. The heroes and villians are fairly apparent, like previous Sanderson novels, not the truly multi-faceted characters we see in A Game of Thrones, for example. This really isn’t a problem for me, and I think its really a matter of reader preference. I personally enjoy having a character that holds hope and good intention above all else, and will make huge sacrifices in order to uphold these beliefs. I think its noble, and a fairly essential element to any fantasy novel. The Way of Kings focuses on three main characters, very similar to Elantris, and chapters rotate between their view points. There are also intermissions where Sanderson gives us glimpses of other aspects of the world he’s created, and these were some of the most enjoyable scenes for me in this novel.

The world building in The Way of Kings is fantastic. This is a believable world with believable characters. Humans who fight for personal gain. A vast plateau terrain, dubbed The Shattered Plains, where military action takes place on a grand scale. Troops move like chess pieces using permanent and temporary bridges to span the area between the plateaus, in search of gemstones which power the suits of armor and other magical items used in battle.

The magic system in The Way of Kings is on par with previous Sanderson novels, which is to say, head and shoulders above magic systems in modern fantasy fiction. The magic systems Sanderson has created in Elantris, Mistborn, and now The Way of Kings are not only unique and inventive, they are all believable in that they all have some grounding in science or nature. The Way of Kings offers a magnificent system, in which small stone-like spheres are the form of currency, but they have to be infused with storm light by leaving them out in a storm, lest they become dun. The energy from these spheres is what is used by talented knights to fuel their special powers, which include heightened strength, endurance, and the ability to “lash” themselves or objects in different directions than gravity normally dictates. This same storm light is what fuels the coveted swords and armor in The Way of Kings, which Sanderson has dubbed shard blades and shard plate, respectively.

In The Way of Kings, we see Sanderson maturing as an author, as he brings in more subject matter for the reader to ponder than his typical themes of hope and belief. While his theme of hope is present and strong as ever:

“Somebody has to start. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow.”

He also touches upon other topics, such as maturity:

“A man’s emotions are what define him, and control is the hallmark of true strength. To lack feeling is to be dead, but to act on every feeling is to be a child.”

authority,:

“Authority doesn’t come from a rank,” Kaladin said, fingering the spheres in his pocket.

“Where does it come from?”

“From the men who give it to you. That’s the only way to get it.”

and he even manages to mix in a little comedy:

“All right. First, find a cliff.”

“That, it will give you a vantage to see the area?”

“No”, Kaladin said. “It will give me something to throw you off of.”

The one blaring issue with The Way of Kings is the pace of the novel. The Way of Kings reads like the first novel in a ten book series, not like a quality stand alone novel that should serve as the flare to ignite reader’s passion to swallow a ten book series. It really is unfortunate, as this is a very well written novel, and everything else is extremely well done, all the way down to the quality of the hardbound edition with a Whelan cover and numerous interior illustrations. The Way of Kings just doesn’t have to be as big as it is, and that’s one of Strunk & White’s cardinal rules for writing: omit unnecessary words. I do enjoy character background detail, and also building believable scenarios, but The Way of Kings goes a few steps too far. I really enjoyed the bridge runs, but we could have cut back on a few, and the plot line with Shallan was good, but maybe just a little too extended for the eventual punchline.

Despite the pacing issues, The Way of Kings is a good first effort in a new epic fantasy series. How does it stack up against similar competition? I’d recommend the first novels in A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time before The Way of Kings to people new to the fantasy genre, but would strongly recommend The Way of Kings to Sanderson fans. I am a huge Sanderson fan, and I think his previous work in Elantris and the Mistborn series is top-notch, so I’ll look to the next novel in this series to resolve the pacing issues, as everything else is there for this to be a home run fantasy series.

You can purchase The Way of Kings over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 6 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

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Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews, The Stormlight Archive | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Book review of Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon

fantasy books Jim Butcher's Furies of CalderonJim Butcher is one of the hottest names in urban fantasy right now, but how does his writing style translate into the epic fantasy genre? This was the main question I wanted to answer when approaching Furies of Calderon. I’ve only read the first novel in Butcher’s Dresden Files series, Storm Front, and enjoyed it thoroughly, but I wondered how Butcher’s knack for writing fast-paced mystery in an urban setting would transfer to a classic epic fantasy.

The characters in Furies of Calderon are good, if not as memorable as Harry Dresden and crew. We have Tavi, a boy who is handicapped by not having matured into his fury – what Butcher describes as magic – when everyone else his age has already gained their fury. We are introduced to a fairly standard cast of characters: Tavi’s uncle and aunt, keepers of Bernardholt, Amara, a girl in the king’s employ, and a great villain in Fidelias. Butcher has created a great people in the Marat – savages that have trained ostrich-like birds to do their bidding, and we even get to see some flying knights in Furies of Calderon.

Magic in Furies of Calderon is something that everyone just has by their nature of being human. Each individual has a connection with some element of nature: some draw from the air and storms, others from the earth, and others still from water. It was interesting to read Furies of Calderon and immediately follow up by reading Sanderson’s The Way of Kings; these are two novels that contain storms that are more harsh than normal, and both have a connection to the magic system, Sanderson’s albeit a bit more inventive.

Furies of Calderon moves along at a good pace; I did not once feel like the novel was dragging. There are plenty of action sequences, and the plot moves along like a good epic fantasy should: characters identify problems, embark on adventures to resolve said problems, and team up with other forces to accomplish goals that might not have been possible to accomplish alone. It seems that Butcher’s craft that has been honed writing urban mystery novels has translated well, at least in format, to the epic fantasy genre.

Furies of Calderon is a good stand-alone novel. The main character Tavi starts out with many doubts, and by the end of the novel he has a real sense of accomplishment. In this, Furies of Calderon works well as a self-contained novel, but does leave the door open for future tales, as he has already demonstrated by publishing five subsequent volumes in the series.

For me, Furies of Calderon just didn’t pack that extra punch that pushes some fantasy novels into that upper tier. Being Butcher’s first time out in the epic fantasy genre, this may have been the intent: get a good, solid first novel out there to serve as the foundation for future volumes where he’ll be able to take more risks and be a bit more inventive in the epic fantasy genre. I’ll be interested in seeing where he takes the series next, and if he ups the ante with the following books in the Codex Alera series.

You can purchase Furies of Calderon over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 6 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Jim Butcher, Reviews, The Codex Alera | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Top 10 Fantasy Books of 2010

Like I did last year, I’m going to recap the top 10 fantasy novels of 2010. Unlike last year, this time I’m splitting the difference. Five novels in the top 10 are the favorites I read over the past year, and the other five are novels that I haven’t read, but spent a good deal of time on the Amazon top 5 fantasy bestseller list. If you’re looking for a gift, its likely that any book from this list will delight the recipient.

This is the first in a series of Top 10 posts covering the fantasy industry. Next week, we cover the Top 10 Fantasy Book Trends of 2010.

Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Lamentation was one of my favorite fantasy reads of 2010. A vibrant new world, painted with colorful, unique characters, all wrapped into a story with heart, makes for a fantastic package. This first installment promises a quality series to come in The Psalms of Isaak. Check out my full review of Lamentation.

fantasy books Lamentation

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie was the best fantasy novel I read in 2010. Gritty, fast-paced, and filled with action, this first novel in a new epic fantasy series solidifies Abercrombie as one of the premier new authors in fantasy literature. The characterization isn’t just top-notch, the characters in The Blade Itself are unforgettable. Not only does Abercrombie deliver a quality novel, but there are moments of hilarity contained in these pages. Abercrombie is an honest, open-minded author, and these qualities shine in The Blade Itself. Check out my full review of The Blade Itself.

fantasy books

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Yet another fantastic first novel in a series discovered in 2010. Empire in Black and Gold kicks off at a frantic pace, in the middle of a battle, and doesn’t relent for the rest of the novel. Absolutely blistering pace is combined with a truly original idea for characterization: all the characters in this novel are some derivation of what Tchaikovsky describes as kinden, which are half-human and half fill-in-the-insect. This makes for some truly unique elements in fighting, and opens up the opportunity for all kinds of historical backgrounds among the different kinden in novels to come. As if to match the blistering pace of the novel itself, Pyr has been releasing the novels in The Shadows of the Apt series every three months or so since this novel’s original release date. Looks like I’ve got some catch up reading to do. Check out my full review of Empire in Black and Gold.

fantasy books

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Daemon was, hands down, the most addictive novel I’ve ever read. While blending elements of fantasy and sci-fi (something I normally don’t enjoy), this techno-thriller beats the pace of a Dan Brown novel into a quivering pulp and delivers a novel that you can’t help but devour in a week or so. The hook: a computer game design company founder writes a code that monitors news headlines online. When he dies, it triggers a series of events that attempt to takeover the economy and portions of the government. Oddly, the DDOS attacks on large corporate web sites recently in relation to the WikiLeaks site are eerily reminiscent of the themes discussed in this novel. Scary. Check out my full review of Daemon.

fantasy books

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve read a few Sanderson novels at this point, and Elantris is, if not tied for favorite with Mistborn, my favorite Sanderson novel. This novel contains similar themes as Mistborn, but was written prior, and I believe Sanderson had an insatiable appetite for writing fantastic fiction at the time. This is a beautiful story, self-contained in one volume, that is definitely worth going back and reading for any Sanderson fans who have tasted his more recent work. Check out my full review of Elantris.

fantasy books

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Fantasy Blogosphere: December 27, 2010

A few reviews to whet your appetite this holiday week, from established authors like R. Scott Bakker and Orson Scott Card, to more speculative authors like Alastair J. Archibald and Patrick Ness. Michael Moorcock is profiled at io9, and HBO releases a new video in the artisans series, this time interviewing Simon Brindle, the overseer of all things armor-related.

Game of Thrones HBO Series: The Artisans

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Bestsellers, December 26, 2010

Towers of Midnight gets knocked completely out of the top 5, in perhaps the most significant shift in recent months: all books in Amazon’s top 5 are Kindle editions, for the first time I’ve ever seen it happen. Replacing hardcover editions of popular current novels like Towers of Midnight and World War Z are Kindle versions in some instances of the same books (World War Z), and in others Kindle editions of classics (The Lord of the Rings). Also, The Hobbit was just outside the top 5, coming in at number 6, also a Kindle edition.

  1. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  2. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Kindle) by Max Brooks
  3. The Lord of the Ring (Kindle) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  4. Moon Dance (Kindle) by J.R. Rain
  5. Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble, a Paranormal Romance (Kindle) by H.P. Mallory
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Fantasy Blogosphere: December 20, 2010

A few good reviews this week, including Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb, but the real story is the number of quality interviews crossing this week. Patrick Rothfuss, Tracy Hickman, Brandon Sanderson, James Barclay, N.K. Jemisin and Peter V. Brett all offer their wisdom to the fantasy blogosphere this week. The cover for Tchaikovsky’s 7th novel in the Shadows of the Apt series, Heirs of the Blade was released this week, and its gorgeous. News on The Dark Tower movie, Moorcock’s Elric series, and the Frank Frazetta feud. A trailer for the forthcoming The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie dropped this week, check it out below.

Book Trailer: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Caricature of J.R.R. Tolkien

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Bestsellers, December 19, 2010

Towers of Midnight with another strong week, holding the number one spot with hardcover sales. A Game of Thrones continues to see strong Kindle sales for the holiday season.

  1. Towers of Midnight (Hardcover) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  2. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Hardcover) by Max Brooks
  3. Breaking Dawn (Hardcover) by Stephanie Meyer
  4. Fire Lord’s Lover (Kindle) by Kathryne Kennedy
  5. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
Categories: Bestsellers, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fantasy Blogosphere: December 13, 2010

Reviews of a few novels this week, including one of my favorite reads this year, Lamentation by Ken Scholes. Interviews with Guy Gavriel Kay, Brent Weeks, and Scott Bakker. HBO released a 10-minute trailer for the Game of Thrones series this week, and Orbit Books offers a little elven holiday cheer.

Game of Thrones HBO Series 10-minute Trailer

Holiday Treat

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Bestsellers, December 12, 2010

Towers of Midnight reaches week 18 in the top 5, with 13 of those weeks in first place. Breaking Dawn and A Game of Thrones swap places, but all 5 books from last week maintain presence this week.

  1. Towers of Midnight (Hardcover) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  2. Breaking Dawn (Hardcover) by Stephanie Meyer
  3. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Hardcover) by Max Brooks
  4. Breaking Dawn (Kindle) by Stephanie Meyer
  5. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
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Review: Avatar by James Cameron

Book review of James Cameron’s Avatar

James Cameron's AvatarI know, I know, this is a site for fantasy books, and not movies, but I just saw Avatar last night and I couldn’t help but get my thoughts on the film out. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen it: I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I saw a fairly good quality bootleg version at home shortly thereafter. But this was the full on HD version, and in the intimate setting of my home living room (with 42″ tv and Dolby surround) it was the most personal viewing of the film for me so far. One note before I get going: I generally don’t watch the same movies over and over (I agree with Tony Robbins’ thoughts on seeing the same movie twice), but watching Avatar for the third time last night made me realize something. There are certain movies, books, or other creative works that are worth viewing a second and third time: they’re called works of art. And I believe that Avatar is indeed, a masterpiece.

What compelled me to review Avatar here at Fantasy Book News first and foremost is Cameron’s amazing ability to mix both sci-fi and fantasy so bluntly, and yet so seamlessly at the same time. The movie is clearly designed to appeal to fans of both the sci-fi genre with the marine plotline: mech warriors, enormous guns, knives, tanks, flying ships and paper-thin computer screens, all of which are set in a not-too-distant future. The flip side are the native Na’vi people, with their bows and arrows, spiritual worship of the land, and dragons. Yes, dragons. I know they’re called “mountain banshees” or “forest banshees” in the film, but these are the most realistic, high-quality (and expensive!) depictions of dragon-like entities that we’ve ever seen on screen, or anywhere else for that matter. For me, as a fantasy fan, that’s super cool. Cameron’s ability to blend both of these genres is what leads to the appeal of a larger audience than any single sci-fi or fantasy film has ever accomplished.

The themes of Avatar are also extremely appealing to a large percentage of people. First, the story of a more technologically advanced civilization conquering the land of a less technologically advanced civilization is one we’ve heard before, but its also one that many people can identify with. As Americans, we learn about native americans losing their land when Europeans discovered the Americas in the 14 and 1500’s. The second large theme in Avatar can be easily compared with more recent events: invading a land using military force for the profit of a natural resource contained in that land. There aren’t many breathing people in the world who don’t at least have some idea of what Bush has done in Iraq, and in Avatar Cameron comments fairly bluntly on the idea, whether it pertains to this more recent instance or other similar situations in the past is for Cameron to answer.

The last piece that really sold Avatar for me (besides the killer visuals!) is the characterization. Let’s face it, Cameron managed to create 20 foot tall blue characters with tails that we identify with, care for and can really get behind. That’s impressive. The theme of two characters from different worlds (literally) meeting and falling in love is a theme that can appeal to an extremely large audience as well. For me, it has a bit more of a personal touch, as when I met my wife, she knew less English than Neytiri when she met Jake Sully, and I spoke about the same amount of Portuguese as Jake spoke of the Na’vi tongue, that is to say, none. Being involved with someone of a different culture who speaks a different language is a great pleasure in my life, and one that Wade Davis talks about in his TED talk in 2007, for anyone who’s interested in exploring the topic further.

Overall, I was more impressed with Avatar the third time around than the first two. I think this is the mark of a quality work of art: when a creation is so beautiful that it not only expresses itself differently each time you come back to it, but evokes a new emotional response. Now the only problem is waiting until the second and third installments arrive in 2014 and 2015.

You can purchase Avatar over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Avatar, Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment