Series Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

14 04 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 45 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 48 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Big sweeping epic fantasies and I don’t always mesh well together for many reasons. First, magic tends to annoy me. I think it can be all kinds of cool when some crazy old sorcerer unleashed hellfire and damnation down upon the wicked, but when every problem is solved by a twinkle of the nose or some demon released from the nether regions, and magic becomes more important than characters, I lose interest. And while I love characters, after the 300th one appears in their cardboard cutter glory, and they are all named, Taragon, Sharagon, Sh’othan, Larry of the Sharaghon Forrest, Troctadon, Bill, Z’Atmothathalogabn, and… I WANT THEM ALL TO DIE. Also elves. OK, in the right context, elves can be sort of fun, but when they show up in their Tolkenesque glory in the first five friggin’ minutes of a book, I tend to want to scream GO BACK TO MIDDLE EARTH YOU POINTY EAR BASTARD! Maybe I’m speciest, I just don’t trust them. Yet, when I do fall for an Epic Fantasy, I fall hard. I fall like a YA protagonist after just meeting her first Vampire. I lie awake wondering if the book will call me the next day. I wonder if I read the book too much it will think I’m creepy, but still go back to it over and over again. I have spent months, reading and rereading Fantasy series. I have spent hours refreshing author’s websites when they are supposed to announce when the next book is coming out. This is why I am often hesitant to jump into a big fantasy novel. It becomes either my bane or my existence. Luckily, this is why god created other awesome people to motivate you into important life decisions like dedicating 100 hours of your life to listening to the AWESOMEST SERIES EVER. So, yeah, thanks. You know who you are.

So, what is The Stormlight Archives series by Brandon Sanderson about. Well, I’m not going to even try. If I could do justice to a summary that would truly give you an idea of the nature of this book, I would be a much better writer than I am and probably should concentrating on trying to fuck with people’s brains they way Sanderson did with mine. I think often, especially with hard core readers, there is a sense when reading where you think… “You know what… I could do this.” With Sanderson my reaction was “How in god’s name did some human being imagine this with his brain thing than manage to transport it from the twisted regions of his mind to words on a page. WHAT FOUL MAGIC IS THIS?” Truly, Sanderson has created a world that is truly breathtaking. From the otherworldly creatures that react to the emotions of the people, to a shattered land serving as the field for a massive battle. It’s full of dark beauty, fascinating magic, deep secrets and something tickling along the edges of the narrative letting you know there is even more than you can possibly imagine. Yet, the true beauty of this novel is the characters. Sanderson tells the traditional fantasy origin story in an entirely unique way. He creates a character, strips them down to their core, then builds them back up piece by piece. Along the way, they become real to you. Not just some powerful mage, or savvy political leader, but a real broken person, with flaws who manages to pull you entirely into their world. Sanderson surrounds his key players with an assorted menagerie of colorful characters, allowing you to see the growth of his protagonists through how they affect those around them. Bridge 4, a collection of slaves forced to carry bridges in suicidal battle runs, is one of the most wonderful group of characters I have read in a while. Their transformation from beaten down slaves, to an effective unit is so brilliant, it makes you almost want to to start running these death marches yourself.

Then there is the action. Holy shit, the action. There were moments where I just had to stop where I was and absorb some scene of pure baddassery. I became so mesmerized, I ignored those around me for the much more interesting people performing crazy ass action in my brain hole. I’m lucky I was never in the middle of traffic when these scenes came, because it’s hard to finish listening to a book after a F150 runs you down. The Stormlight Archives is the rare fantasy novel that is about war, but never glorifies it. Sanderson allows us to accompany his characters into the battles, giving as an intimate look at chaos, letting us see the full horrors of these event. Yet, there is some level of hope at play within the context of the team, and the players assembled. These are characters that make each other better, that build each other up, become a true family of choice, setting the basis to allow the events to build. The individual fight scenes rivaled the visual splendor and choreography of the best superhero films. These fights go beyond the “so and so punched so and so in the face” battles, but took place in multiple dimensions that break the laws of physics, yet never become muddled or obfuscated. Sanderson creates a vivid conflict in your head, and leaves you breathless as you follow each movement, each action and each new mind bending discovery.

Another fascinating element that Sanderson sneaks into the plot is the self defeating nature of isms. His society is built on highly structured class-ism based on the arbitrary physical attribute of eye color. The division between the Noble Bright Eye class, and the peasant dark eyes, creates levels of conflict that plays out in multiple ways throughout the tale. Sanderson shows how such and arbitrary class structure creates self defeating scenarios and ingrained suspicions among people who are essentially good and should be allies. It adds a level to the tale, that while on surface seems almost cliché, yet Sanderson subverts the clique effectively making it unique in his hands. Also, I found the division of labor between the sexes to be quite interesting. Men have deemed reading, writing and scholarly pursuits to be feminine qualities, when they focus on the more physical. So, while women are viewed as subservient, they control the knowledge, and well, we know what that means.

This is my problem with reviewing something like the Stormlight Archive. I just want to scream, AWESOME! READ THIS NOW. There is so much here that I simply loved about this book, that I can’t even scratch the surface. I want to yell “Dalinar is such a badass” and you just understand what I mean. Or, THANK GOD SHE ASKED HIM ABOUT POOP and you just shake your head knowingly. Because, there is so much here. So many aspects that I want to frantically point out to you like a frat boy looking at Christmas lights while tripping on LSD. And what’s the hardest thing to reconcile, is I may never have read it. So, if you even think you might possible like Epic Fantasy, read this.

If you can listen to two people read a book for almost 100 hours and not once want to stab yourself in the ear with a rusty fork, then those narrators are doing something right. At no point did either Micheal Kramer or Kate Reading make me want to stab myself in the ear with a rusty fork, in fact, their reading made me want to protect myself from any sort of rusty fork in the ear related injury. These two talented narrators brought this story alive in a brilliantly vivid way. I love how you could hear the character development in their voices, with Shallan going from a seemingly flighty naïve girlchild, to, perhaps, the pivotal character of Words of Radiance and Kalidan developing from a man with nothing to live for to a leader of men. Kramer does a wonderful job guiding us through this brokenness and rehabilitation of Kalidan as well as showing us the turmoil of Dalinar’s struggles with his own sanity. Plus, his Bridge 4 character never failed to put a smile on my face. One thing I especially liked about Kramer is he gives his characters a wide range of exotic sounding accents, without falling back onto the annoying Elizabethan feel that many people seemed to think fantasy novels require. One of the problems you face with two different narrators is the dissonance of shared characters. This isn’t too much of an issue here. Sure, Kramer’s Shallan sounds a bit more imperious than Readings, and Reading’s Kalidan a bit younger than Kramer’s, the two POV’s don’t really come together to late in the series and by that time the narrators have had such a strong grasp on the material, you are fully engaged in the story. So, yes, The Stormlight Archive is now my newest Fantasy obsession, so please forgive my creepy book stalking during the wait for the next book in the series.

Advertisements




Audiobook Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

13 11 2013

Steelheart (Reckoners, Bk. 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult SuperVillian Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness. Steelheart is a good start to an intriguing new series.

Grade: B+

Over the past few years there seems to be a real glut of superhero tales in prose form. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. I am one of those weirdos who loves superheroes, grew up on Superman and Batman and the Superfriends, but never really got into comic books. So, despite all my comic book loving friends telling me about all the awesome, dark and twisted tales being told in the comic book medium, I stuck to my books. Yet, there has always been a part of my brain that loved superheroes, that wanted to explore the many twists and turns people the subgenre can explore, without all the awesome artwork, and trying to figure out just who was supposed to be talking. So, now all these superhero books have come out, from a wide variety of authors exploring many aspects of advanced beings with powers that seem to defy traditional human limitations. So many, that you’d think that one would sort of start getting sick of them or at the very least that the various angles and twists on the genre would be totally used up. Luckily, so far, this hasn’t been the case.

With Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson has once again flipped the genre on its head, exploring the darker sides of enhanced humans, embracing the super but reassigning the concept of heroes. In Sanderson’s world, there are no selfless heroes using their powers for the betterment of humanity. Instead, Epics, people who have manifested superpowers, all use their power to subjugate and rule over those without powers. With Steelheart Sanderson explores the idea of the corruption of power, and looks at whether these powers enhance humanities dark side or some other force is at work.

When David was young, he witnesses Steelheart, the seemingly invulnerable Epic who would come to rule an apocalyptic Chicago with a steel fist, kill his father. He also saw Steelheart bleed. Years later, David dreams of joining the Reckoners, a group of regular humans looking to take down Epics. David believes with their help, he can finally discover the Steelheart’s weakness, and kill him. Yet, when he finally meets up with the group, he finds his desire for revenge and his core belief in the essence of Epics challenged by one intriguing girl, and the group of odd characters.

While Steelheart had a lot of awesome in it, some cool characters, a wonderful set up, and some really brisk, high concept action, overall it felt a bit uneven. At times, I felt it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a Young Adult novel, or an Adult novel. There were definitely a lot of YA tropes used, but they seemed to fit awkwardly within the overall scope of the novel. The use of situational slang came off as annoying, instead of a natural evolution of the world Sanderson created. The fact that everyone used the exact slang in the exact same way, whether they are a younger person who grew up in the world of Epics, or an older person spanner both the pre and post Epic world made it feel a bit forced. The world of Newcago, came off a bit too clever. Luckily, the unevenness of the book was more than made up for by the sheer fun of the novel. You could tell Sanderson was having fun creating new and interesting Epic types, and allowing them to wreak havoc. I also liked the fact that there were no superheroes, yet an almost religions group who believed that eventually heroes will come was a nice touch. Mostly, I enjoyed the way he flipped the concept of "with great power comes great responsibility" on its head, exploring the corrupting influence that may be the true essence of the tale. Overall, despite it being uneven at times, Steelheart was a heck of a lot of fun. Like a blockbuster movie, you can forgive some awkwardness in the story, because the bells and whistles of the tale distracted you just enough with their awesomeness.

To make matter even better, one of my favorite narrators, MacLeod Andrews brought his many talents to the reading of Steelheart. Andrews managed to give the book a true blockbuster feel, with characters that jumped, action the ripped across your mind and a feel of something bigger than reality, yet he did it all with a bit of an edge that defied the polishness of most big screen movies. Andrews does a great job with David, a young man hovering between the naiveté of youth and the forced maturity of someone who grew up orphaned in a changed world. Andrews has a way of giving characters a unique spin that makes than stand just a bit taller.  It was a highly affective performance that allowed me to care more about these characters than I might have in print. Steelheart is a good start to what can become a truly intriguing series.





Audiobook Review: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

5 12 2012

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible Frontiers

Length: 2 Hrs 8 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Legion is the kind of story that totally defies genre. It’s simply a fascinating tale with an amazing character that should please anyone who has two spare hours and needs something fun to fill up that time. Don’t let any misconceptions of prejudices of genre writers to allow you to miss this fun little story.

Grade: A-

Note: Legion is currently Free to all Audible members until the end of 2012. Even if you are not sure you will listen to it, you should hurry up and download it anyway. You never know when you will find yourself needing two hours of quality audio to listen to.

I am usually a pretty good planner when it comes to my audiobook listening. I create a general weekly listening plan, but I build flexibility into it in case a surprise release comes out or I receive a review copy earlier than I was planning. I typically fill my MP3 Player up with about a weeks worth of audiobooks, and have a bunch of books from my backlist To-Be-Listened-To pile there just in case I really don’t like an audiobook, or my mood calls for something different than I had planned for. Because of this, I usually find myself with a lot of options. Yet, last week I planned poorly. I had just finished a longer audiobook series, which, although spread out over a few books, I planned as a single post. Because of this, I had a bunch of shorter audiobooks planned out in order to give me plenty of material to post this week. Yet, I figured the timing out poorly and was left with two hours of time to fill. I didn’t want to start a longer book, because I was really looking forward to starting the new Harry Bosch book the next day, but all the audiobooks I had on my player were all 10 hour plus. Luckily, I remembered that months ago, I had downloaded a free audiobook on Audible called Legion by Brandon Sanderson and I could pull it up on the Audible app on my phone. I had never read Sanderson before. I have heard quite a lot of good stuff about him, but he typically writes Fantasy Epics, and while I have enjoyed a few epic fantasy series in the past, it’s not my favorite subgenre. One of the problems with epic fantasy, for me, is they take a lot of commitment. For example, Sanderson’s Mistborn series is about 90 Hours of audio spread over three books and a novella. Even for me, that’s around two weeks of listening. Yet, I decided Legion was the perfect choice to fill up my two hour gap, particularly because it was narrated by the rock star of audiobook narration, Oliver Wyman.

I absolutely love Legion. I mean, a love so enthusiastic that I would give it a huge manly bear hug without bothering to take a moment to glance awkwardly around for witnesses. Legion introduces us to one of the most interesting characters I have met in a long time, Stephen Leeds. Leeds, called Legion, has a strange blending of genius with an almost pop culture mental illness that allows him to create other tangible personalities to filter his genius through. Or something like that. There really is not way to truly explain what this character does, because the character himself doesn’t truly understand it. Leeds works a as a sort problem fixer cum detective. His specific mental condition combined with what we can only label genius, allows him to approach issues that most traditional people, no matter how brilliant, wouldn’t have the mental flexibility to take on. Now, I’ll be honest, I enjoyed this character so much, I would have probably raved about a tale of Leeds solving the mystery of who was stealing food from the workplace fridge, but, instead, Sanderson creates a plot that tickles all of my speculative fiction buttons. The story takes on time travel, a missing person mystery, the potential for science to change our very existence, and even the nature of religion it self. It’s a wonderful little story, with a touch of action, a whole lot of humor and just enough of a taste of a series mythology that I may be saying a prayer everyday for a novel sized book featuring this character. Legion is the kind of story that totally defies genre. It’s simply a fascinating tale with an amazing character that should please anyone who has two spare hours and needs something fun to fill up that time. Don’t let any misconceptions or prejudices of genre writers to allow you to miss this fun little story.

Legion is the perfect little audio-novella to highlight the skills of Oliver Wyman. Let’s face it, I’m not all that sure that Oliver Wyman is entirely sane. It’s hard for me to believe that those great voices he consistently brings to his work aren’t actually self aware creatures already living somewhere within Wyman’s head. Hiring Wyman to read your audiobook is like getting 20 people for the price of one crazy, hirsute hermit. Wyman brings his own style of crazy and his vast menagerie of voices to his reading of Legion, making it a highly memorable listening experience. I have this crazy image of Wyman sitting in his small studio, with 5 empty chairs around him for all his alternate voices as he brings this tale to life. Leeds is a character who is just made for audio, and I enjoyed every darn minute of the experience. My only complaint is that it was too short. I need more. Much, much more.