Brandon Sanderson

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension by Brandon SandersonThe Well of Ascension is the second book in the Mistborn trilogy, and had quite big shoes to fill as the sophomore offering following one of the best opening fantasy novels in a trilogy I’ve ever read. I’ve read some other reviews of The Well of Ascension which generally state that its a good follow-up to Mistborn, but not quite as good. My expectations were high, and thankfully Sanderson delivers another gem in The Well of Ascension.

Some of the best characters are back in The Well of Ascension, like Vin, Elend, and Sazed, and Sanderson adds a few new great characters to the mix, in the form of a Terris-woman named Tindwyl, the mistborn son of Straff Venture, Zane, and a shape-shifting kandra named OreSeur. Sanderson also brings back Kelsier’s crew from Mistborn. The cast of characters in The Well of Ascension is colorful, varied, and robust. The supporting characters are as believable as the central ones, and the way Sanderson weaves their stories together is nothing short of masterful.

The story in The Well of Ascension follows Elend, Vin and crew as they attempt to organize and maintain some form of organization and control on the capital dominance city of Luthadel. While Elend is busy preaching his politics, Vin is busy soaring the night skies. While this is going on, the city is threatened by not one, not two, but three separate external threats. The plot follows the movements and inner workings of these three armies, so we get to see military intrigue in The Well of Ascension. All the while there is this sense of impending doom manifested in the form of something Sanderson terms The Deepness. In short, the plot in The Well of Ascension moves, is deeply intertwined, and not for one single moment will you feel un-entertained.

In addition to fantastic characters, a complex plot that has some spunk, and the fantastic magic system we’ve come to love in Mistborn, The Well of Ascension ups the ante by taking on themes of leadership. Leadership is a recurring theme in The Well of Ascension, as we see Elend Venture develop from a young man into a man fit to lead an empire. Tindwyl is his guide, and a wonderful one at that:

“Arrogance, Your Majesty,” Tindwyl said. “Successful leaders all share one common trait-they believe that they can do a better job than the alternatives. Humility is fine when considering your responsibility and duty, but when it comes time to make a decision, you must not question yourself.”

We see Elend comment on Tindwyl’s teachings later in the novel:

“Clothing doesn’t really change a man,” Elend said. “But it changes how others react to him. Tindwyl’s words. I think…I think the trick is convincing yourself you deserve the reactions you get.”

And my favorite, which really drives home the principle of how leadership truly functions:

“It was his ability to trust,” she said. “It was the way that he made good people into better people, the way that he inspired them. His crew worked because he had confidence in them-because he respected them. And, in return, they respected each other. Men like Breeze and Clubs became heroes because Kelsier had faith in them”.

And of course, with any Sanderson novel, we get a healthy dose of introspection and contemplative character thought:

“At first glance, the key and the lock it fits may seem very different,” Sazed said. ” Different in shape, different in function, different in design. The man who looks at them without knowledge of their true nature might think them opposites, for one is meant to open, and the other to keep closed. Yet, upon closer examination, he might see that without one, the other becomes useless. The wise man then sees that both the lock and the key were created for the same purpose.”

For these reasons and more, I think I actually enjoyed The Well of Ascension more (if that’s possible) than the original Mistborn. They’re both fantastic reads, and I can’t wait to close out the trilogy, and also am thrilled to see Sanderson is continuing to write in this world with his latest release, The Alloy of Law.

You can purchase The Well of Ascension over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews, The Mistborn Trilogy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris

ElantrisBrandon Sanderson is one of the hottest names in fantasy right now, since he took up the reigns of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series following Jordan’s passing. I’ve already read Mistborn, but I wanted to go back to the start of Sanderson’s fantasy career, and so here I am with Elantris. Elantris came highly recommended to me by the same friend who recommended Tigana a few years back, so I had fairly high hopes for the novel. Elantris is a stand-alone novel, and does a great job of telling a story within one volume.

Elantris takes place mainly in the city of Kae, one of the four outlying cities that surround the city of Elantris. The city of Elantris itself is past its glory days, to say the least. Formerly, all inhabitants of Elantris posessed god-like qualities, coming to individuals who inhabited the surrounding cities in a sudden, transformational process called the Shaod. The novel opens in more recent times, where the Shaod seems to have the complete opposite effect on people: dark, splotchy skin, hair loss, among other various ailments. It is here that Elantris displays a nice social commentary on the effects of various diseases, with the Shaod having some fairly similar qualities to cancer. The magic system in Elantris is similarly as broken as the Shaod: the magic was once controlled by the drawing of symbols, but when drawn now, they hover for a moment in the air, fizzle and die. The city of Elantris itself has even become completely run-down, covered in a thick, slimy grime. It is this bleak scenario that Sanderson paints within the opening pages of Elantris.

The story of Elantris follows three main characters: Raoden, prince of Arelon, Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, and Sarene, princess of Teod. Royalty and high ranking religious officials can sometimes be tricky characters to pull off; Sanderson does so in Elantris in wonderful form. These are characters that you get to know, feel for, and similar to George R.R. Martin’s work, you’ll occasionally find yourself confused as to who to be rooting for. Absolute quality characterization.

Elantris has similar elements when compared with Mistborn: characters you love, with seemingly unobtainable goals, with undercurrents of justice, truth, and hope. Sanderson is a master of building up what seems like a completely impossible feat, and somehow finding his characters working through it. The idea of a character in a seemingly hopeless situation (in Elantris‘ case characters with a disease that has done everything to kill them but stop them from walking around), but finding hope, and an optimistic view despite all odds is one that I heard refrained in Mistborn,  but again is one that Sanderson accomplishes to a resoundingly satisfying effect.

Sanderson mixes in various elements of truth in Elantris, one that I found particularly familiar being the following:

“We have no slaves in Teod, my lords, and we get along just fine. In fact, not even Fjorden uses a serf-based system anymore. They found something better – they discovered that a man will work much more productively when he works for himself.”

Elantris is chock full of little gems like this one.

Elantris is a fantasy novel that gets it right. It moves quickly, contains vivid characters in situations you can relate to, introduces a truly unique and inventive magic system, and underpins the whole thing with themes of hope. The first 500 pages went by quickly, and the last 100 or so were the most entertaining pages of literature I’ve read in a long time. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if Elantris doesn’t end up on your shelf.

You can purchase Elantris over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn

mistborn

Mistborn has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently, and came highly recommended to me by a close friend who has recommended other gems in the past such as Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. With Brandon Sanderson co-authoring the final novels in the Wheel of Time series due to the passing of Robert Jordan, its no wonder his earlier works would fall under scrutiny. While not his first fantasy novel, Mistborn: The Last Empire, commonly referred to as just Mistborn, is the first novel in a trilogy of novels titled the Mistborn Trilogy. The subsequent books are The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. I feel this needs a little clarification, as from reading the book jacket and inside covers, it can be rather confusing as to the order of the novels. For instance, the inside cover of my paperback edition lists three books: Elantris, Mistborn and The Well of Ascension, making it look like Mistborn is the middle book in a trilogy. Also, the preview chapter at the end of the book is from The Hero of Ages, book three in the series, leading to more confusion. Maybe Tor should reevaluate for subsequent editions.

The novel takes place mainly in the city of Luthtadel and the lands surrounding it. Luthtadel is a city harshly divided into an upper and lower class; a government rules with an iron fist over the nobility and the lower class “skaa”. Sanderson deals masterfully with the theme of ruling governmental bodies, the politics both within that ruling body and their relationships with external parties. Mirroring this are the novel’s main themes of belief, trust, and hope that live in the spirit of the lower class. We find these themes recurring frequently throughout the novel.  Here are a few samples:

“Belief isn’t simply a thing for fair times and bright days, I think. What is belief – what is faith – if you don’t continue in it after failure?”

“Once, maybe I would have thought you a fool, but…well, that’s kind of what trust is, isn’t it?  A willful self-delusion?  You have to shut out that voice that whispers about betrayal, and just hope that your friends aren’t going to hurt you.”

A good portion of the action in the novel takes place in the houses of the nobility, throwing balls which are attended by the nobility and overseen by the royal “obligators”.  Other scenes include the palace of the Lord Ruler, the hideouts of the rebel skaa located throughout the city, and at night, when the entire city stays indoors and mist blankets the city.

The characters that make up Mistborn’s band of rebel skaa are unforgettable.  Vin and Kelsier take center stage, with Marsh, Kelsier’s brother, and Kelsier’s assembled crew fleshing out the rest of the group.  When the rest of Kelsier’s group is first introduced, I felt like I was reading a fantasy novel spiced with great characters from the world of comic books, each having their own special power.  The difference with Sanderson’s Mistborn characters, and many of the characters I read about in my childhood in comics, are that Sanderson’s are believable.  The system of magic created in Mistborn is unsurpassed in its impressive originality and astounding authenticity.  It makes you feel like the 40-foot-high jumps and acrobatic maneuvers from games like Assassin’s Creed are real; they have real consequenses if the user of the magic does not know enough about it, or miscalculates to a small degree.  It also has limits.  If the user of the magic “burns” up his or her resource, they have no more.  I won’t get into too much more detail, of which there is plenty, but suffice to say the magic system in Mistborn is a true gem.

Sanderson moves the plot of Mistborn along at a pace perfect for the unfolding story.  While there are a lot of scenes that recur in a similar setting (the balls), there is always enough new story, whether its the character Vin learning about the politics taking place, or just plain action, the time spent in these pages is well worth it.  The plot idea of a band of underground thieves working against the nobility brings Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora to mind, and the overarching theme of overthrowing an all-powerful being has definitely been done before.

Mistborn is an extremely satisfying stand-alone novel, even though its only the first in a trilogy.  If you haven’t read any of Sanderson’s work, I would highly recommend you go out and pick up Mistborn.  Action-packed, with great underlying themes and a rowdy bunch of characters with truly original powers, this is certainly not one to miss.

You can pick up Mistborn over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 8 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews, The Mistborn Trilogy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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