Cute but Timely

After the mixed feelings Dragons of Darkness left me with and my continuing recovery from that damned cold, I felt up to a novel.  Something that looked lighter, sure, but hopefully enjoyable.  So, as has become my habit this fall, I pulled out a book by Irene Radford.

This is A Spoonful of Magic, a sweet little urban fantasy about family and love.  Daffy (short for Daphne, but she never uses it) opens the book by asking her husband G (presumably short for something but we haven’t the faintest idea what) for a divorce at their anniversary dinner.  This leads to her getting sucked into his world – a world she had no idea existed up until that point.  After all, who would suspect that magic was real?

The focus of the story is mainly on Daffy coming into her own as a person and a character.  An individual who is discovering who she truly is, away from a myriad of influences.  The secondary focus is on her family, namely her children; Jason, Belle, and Shara.  She and G are working to raise the lot, train them, and still be the parents in all of this.  Despite the divorce.

One of the noteworthy opposing forces in the story is a church group.  You know, one of those right-wing fundamentalist types that we see so very much of today.  In fact, that was one of the factors that made me uneasy whilst reading, and prompted me to check the publication date.  It, and a few other notes, were just too timely in today’s environment.  Sure enough, A Spoonful of Magic was released just this year.  Of course it’s timely.

Aside from uneasy implications, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was a quick enough read at under 350 pages, but not as lighthearted as I might have guessed.  It’s not going to be one of my favorite Irene Radford novels, nor a particularly powerful and moving one, but I’m glad to own it and happy to keep it around.  In fact, it reminded me of several of her other books – mostly from the Merlin’s Descendants series.  Which, now that I consider it, I haven’t reread any of those in a while.  Perhaps I should keep it in mind for the future.  Although my Pile could use some work as well…we shall see what strikes my fancy next.

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Many Dragons

For a book titled Dragons of Darkness, there were a number of happy endings, and I was disappointed in this.  Edited by Orson Scott Card, Dragons of Darkness is the companion to Dragons of Light, an anthology I first found and read a few years ago.  I don’t remember too much of that one at the moment, just that I’d read no less than three of the short stories previously, in A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic.  This is yet another anthology, and yet another book my mom picked up for me.  Originally published in 2000, I probably received it a few years after that.

I recognized fewer names in Dragons of Darkness than I had with Dragons of Light, and only one of these stories made it into A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic. Which I had absolutely no memory or recognition of, so I would guess I have never reread that story before and that I may not have fully understood it back in the early 2000s.  That was Orson Scott Card’s contribution, “A Plague of Butterflies.”  The only other name I knew upon purchase was Joan D. Vinge, though I hadn’t previously read her tale of “The Storm King.”  As befits authors whose novels I’ve sought out, both of these stories were distinctive and memorable.

There was one further person whose work I had read previously.  I may not have cared much for “The Thermals of August” by Edward Bryant, but I definitely remember his “Big Dogs, Strange Days” from Immortal Unicorn.  Perhaps if I reread Dragons of Darkness as many times as I have Immortal Unicorn his work might grow on me here as it did there.  But that’s just idle speculation.

I will say that I know a wee bit about one additional author here.  Glen Cook, who contributed “Filed Teeth,” is the man who sold me this book.  He and his wife usually have a table in the dealer’s room of the local conventions and sell an insane number of books that he’s written or contributed to.  This is in addition to selections from other authors, and their table is where I’ve picked up a number of Diana Wynne Jones books over the years, as well as a few others.  “Filed Teeth” was my introduction to Cook’s work, and I have to say that it’s a great way to start because this is probably my favorite short story in the anthology.  It’s a longer tale, subdivided into thirteen sections, but it appealed to me with its loyal soldier protagonist.

I almost wonder if there were so many happy endings just to offset how disturbing some of the unhappy conclusions were.  But I can’t say that it’s a bad thing to have disturbing stories.  As I mentioned, that’s more what I expected from a book called Dragons of Darkness.  Many of the stories are memorable, but there’s only one other I would cite as having truly enjoyed it, that being “Though All the Mountains Lie Between” by Jeffrey A. Carver.

I should also mention that this pair of anthologies, Dragons of Light and Dragons of Darkness, features illustrations mixed in with the stories.  A different artist for each written work, and often more than one image, each illustrating a key line of text.  Point of fact, Glen Cook’s story was illustrated by no less a person than Michael Whelan, one of the most notable cover artists in science fiction and fantasy.  His image of the dragon was also used as the cover on Dragons of Light.  If I haven’t gushed about his art before, well, that was an oversight.  He did my favorite pair of covers for Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen (which I use as my computer background) and has done so many noteworthy book covers over the years up to and including Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, out just half a month as of today.

As a whole, this anthology didn’t really catch or hold my attention, as you can see from how long it took me to read.  Admittedly, I’ve been battling a nasty cold for a week now, which hasn’t helped much, but it’s made me much more inclined to pop in a movie instead of focusing on a book.  Hopefully whatever book I pick tomorrow will be more engaging.

A Brief Overview

Mentally, I guess I’m still on a comic book kick.  So today I was thinking about comic books and movies that truly impressed me in some way, and that saw me digging out Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.  Starting in 1939 and running through the death of Gwen Stacy, Marvels follows photographer Phil Sheldon as he witnesses the coming of a new age for the world with the birth of the original Human Toch and the appearance of Namor.

It gives readers the ant’s eye view of the Marvel universe, seen through the lens of an ordinary photographer trying to support his family.  Here, the density of Marvel characters congregated in New York works to great advantage, making Phil a witness to so many events.  We also get to see how his opinions and thoughts about superheroes change over time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Marvel universe and its history, this is a single book you can consult to get a number of the highlights.  It won’t answer most questions and can’t get very deep into any single characters storyline, but it’s a decent overview.

Phil observes early on that these superhumans are here to stay, and that they aren’t the ones who’ll have to adjust to the world.  Rather, it’s the ordinary people who will have to adjust to becoming spectators to some of the most epic battles of all time.  Except, of course, for the ones in other galaxies and strange things like that.  Which is touched upon as well.

What may be more fascinating than the actual story of Phil’s career photographing superheroes are the notes written by Stan Lee, Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and John Romita explaining how this book came to be and where it all came from.  It gives the casual reader a far better understanding of how intricately intertwined the Marvel universe really is.  Not just “ha-ha, I see what you did there” moments and references in the movies, but seeing how close all these events were to each other in time and space.  A person might move from one end of New York City to the other in order to escape a fracas, only to run into a completely unrelated superhero/supervillain showdown.  The high of the Fantastic Four wedding immediately followed by the start of the X-Men Sentinels storyline.  It’s crazy.

In fact, my only real complaint about Marvels is that it just…ends.  Phil has had it with the world and decides to retire.  His assistant takes a picture of him, his wife, and a random boy who was cycling down the sidewalk as they walked outside to commemorate the moment.  Phil is now a grumpy old man and he no longer feels like fighting the tide of public opinion, so he runs away to retirement.  It’s not a satisfying conclusion to a book that was about the wonder superheroes hold for the common person.

That’s why it seems to work better as an overview of moments in the Marvel universe timeline than as a story.  I think it would have been improved if they had added a page or so showing Phil’s assistant stepping out on her own, or Phil and Doris retired in Florida, and him maybe reflecting back on his career and its end…or just something more.

I guess you could say the ending of Marvels is like Gwen Stacy’s death.  When you stop something with that much momentum that quickly, of course you’re going to snap its neck and kill it.

Picture Book Day

Just because a book has pictures doesn’t make it “light” reading.  It just means it’s likely to take less time to read because half of the content is visually displayed instead of relayed via text.  Which is good, because I didn’t want to spend too much time on this.  Just part of a day.  I suppose I could’ve put on the movie instead, but when dealing with comics it’s best to stick with the original material.

That’s why I reread Watchmen as a precursor to issue one of Doomsday Clock.  As a refresher, because it’s been some time since I last watched or read it.  You know, aside from the changes due to time, the movie is an amazingly faithful adaptation of the comic, down to including the music cited here and there and acknowledging the background of the various characters.  It’s such a good adaptation that when I read the graphic novel nowadays, I can hear the actors’ voices and the soundtrack music playing in the background.

It’s a terrifying story though.  The political tensions, the clock ticking ever closer to doomsday, the uncanny echoes in today’s world…it doesn’t make for comfortable reading.  Which is, of course, what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons intended.  Watchmen is not intended to comfort us and say everything will be okay.  It’s intended to make us look deeper, to stare into the abyss and come to terms with what we find there.

What can I really say about Watchmen that hasn’t been said?  It’s a great book, and my copy says “One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels” right on the cover, in line with the note that this won a Hugo award.  And this is the sort of story that you say “of course it won an award.”  Stories that resonate, that make us feel something beyond ourselves, that’s what we want awards to go to.  It can’t just be artsy or dramatic (which is where so many people complain about the Oscars), it has to encapsulate emotions and forge a real connection with its audience.  It can’t be something that, once you finish it and put it down, you forget about it until someone or something brings it up again.

Watchmen the movie came out when I was in college and, before I went to see it with friends, someone handed me a jump drive with a PDF of the whole comic on it, saying I should read it first.  Well, as someone who generally prefers books to movies, I saw the logic and sat down with my laptop.  Four hours later, I closed my reading window and stared blankly at the wall, trying to process what I’d just read.  Then, just a couple hours after that, I saw that story, with minor changes, brought to life on the big screen.

I wouldn’t call Watchmen one of my favorite books, nor even one of my favorite graphic novels.  But I would call it one of the most memorable and influential, even if I don’t see it as having had such a big impact on my own life.

People say that the United States likes to view itself as Superman, the perfect hero, the Boy Scout, the one everyone idolizes.  People also say that the United States is more like Batman, skulking in the shadows, spying on the world, using its money to do what it perceives to be necessary regardless of what public opinion believes.  Both of those heroes are idealized versions, lacking the grit found in Watchmen.  Or at least, they were idealized until the comic industry decided to take a darker tone with so very many of its properties.

When I reread books, I often go from remembered moment to remembered moment, filling the gaps in between as I go.  Key points stand out, but the pages between them tend to be lost to the intervening months and years.  Not so for Watchmen.  Sure, I was rusty on a few things, especially those elements which didn’t make it to the big screen.  But I remembered almost the entire story.  I think that speaks to how powerful a piece Watchmen is.  Even if I had expected myself to remember the whole story, I would’ve reread it anyway.  Because again, it helps to have everything fresh in my mind as I go to the sequel.

So, issue one of Doomsday Clock.  I did not expect it to be so expensive.  My Power Rangers comics run $3.99 apiece, but this was $5.99.  I used to buy novels for that price, before inflation hit the mass market paperbacks again.  I suspect all twelve issues will be the same price, although I hope not.  The default cover (because for some reason DC wants us to collect covers?) is a lenticular featuring Rorshach with one of his usual “expressions” (read: one of his usual facial patterns).  Tilt it, and those marks warp into three familiar symbols: Superman, Wonderwoman, and Batman.  Furthermore, the iconic clock icon in the lower corner of the cover has Superman’s symbol situated where midnight would be.  All in all, a decent design telling the informed viewer what to expect.  Watchmen meets the main DC universe.

The tone of the first issue takes me back to the beginning of Watchmen, especially when the original was discussing the riots leading up to the Keene Act.  (The Keene Act is the one that forced the majority of the Watchmen into retirement.)  It is 1992, seven years after the events of the first series, and the world looks as dark as it ever did.  Most of the issue takes place in the world of Watchmen, only going over to the main DC universe for a short bit at the end.  To me, it seems this was included to reassure readers that yes, they will be doing the crossover, we just haven’t gotten there yet.

A nice touch is the four pages at the back of the issue featuring an array of supplementary material such as newspaper articles, ads, and even a menu relating to the issues contents.  I always enjoyed those inclusions in Watchmen, as they allowed for bits of extra exposition without detracting from the story as a whole.  They were in-character extras, and it’s nice to see Doomsday Clock continuing with that tradition.  Also at the back are black and white images of the various covers for this issue, each topped by quotes from Watchmen that may help to steer readers towards the mindset the writers seek.

Really, the whole layout is very similar to the the original, complete with font choices, a few pages of story before the chapter title, etc.  Just like the movie, you can feel the appreciation for Watchmen in everything.  Even the color pallet is a factor; Watchmen was done primarily in oranges, greens, and purples.  Off-tones that help set the mood as being somewhat jarring and unsettling.  In contrast, the bit at the end of the book, the main DC universe part, is done primarily in blues because, of course, most comic books rely on the primary colors.  I do so appreciate little touches like that.

It’s a longer comic issue than the ones I’ve been reading of late, forty-four pages long instead of twenty-six or twenty-seven like the Power Rangers.  And yet, it seemed short.  Mostly because, as the first issue, Doomsday Clock needs to establish the world, what’s happened in the past seven years, and lay clues and groundwork for where the story is going to go from here.  Yes, there was some action, but it’s not what we’ve been craving.  Not yet.  All in all, I’ll say it’s a good start, a good hook, and I’m glad I decided to pick up the actual comics instead of waiting a year or more to find out what happens.

Yes, buying the comics will be more expensive than waiting for the trade, but that’s the trade-off of impatience versus cost.  At least this way I can support my local comic shop.  They’re good people and I appreciate that they exist and always have what I want in stock.

I also read some Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers today.  Rereading issue #19 and opening up issues 20-21 for the first time has been interesting.  I have to say, the team writing these comics has definitely been looking to explore the Power Rangers mythos in more depth while still keeping it to the original series.  And also to have fun with…color choices.

The revelation at the end of issue 19 and the story of issue 20 tells me that I might have been wrong in my earlier predictions concerning Grace Sterling…but there’s no guarantee.  After all, it’s not unheard of in any story, inlcuding Power Rangers, for people to switch sides.  More than once, even.

It’s also important to see that Zordon may be a wise floating head, but he’s still capable of making mistakes.  It’ll be interesting to see how he does when confronted with this one and how the teens take it.

Without getting into spoiler territory, these issues continue to show the depth of character and world-building I’ve come to expect from the comic series.  New elements are introduced, old ones are explored, and it’s a fun ride the whole time.  Although now I kind of want to go put on that first team-up between the Space rangers and the Galaxy rangers…

The last thing I read today was an odd old book I found at the convention earlier this month.  Catwich, by Una Woodruff and Lisa Tuttle, is a beautifully illustrated children’s book.  Divided into six chapters, it tells the tale of Jules, a kitten who became a witch, and his adventures helping his human friend.  It’s not the most complex of stories, but it doesn’t need to be.  Woodruff’s art is amazingly detailed and appears on almost every page of the book, including some brilliant splash pages.  It’s a book I can easily imagine being read to a child, as they’d be fascinated by the pictures while the text echoes in their ears.

Sure the story was predictable and simple.  But it doesn’t matter.  Catwitch is a children’s book and doesn’t need to be held to the same high standards as my normal reading.  Oh, it would be nice if I could do so, but I’m not going to make unreasonable demands for something aimed at five year olds.  I’m glad I got the opportunity to read it and examine its lovely illustrations, but it’s not something I’ll keep for myself.  I don’t have any nostalgic attachment to it, which means I can’t overlook the minor complaints about the story enough to retain the book.

So I guess that makes today a picture book sort of day, as everything I’ve read has been as much visual as textual.  That, along with lengths that are rather short in comparison to most books I read, made today a nice break.  Of course, given that I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything, that’s only to be expected.  I’m not sure what I’ll pull from the Pile next, whether it’ll be a novel or an anthology.  At the moment, I’m leaning towards the latter, but only time will tell.

Take a Breath

Today I finished rereading Warbreaker, another Brandon Sanderson book.  Book, not brick, as this one’s under seven hundred pages.  This is, to my knowledge, the only book Sanderson’s set in this particular world thus far and, like his other worlds, this one has some distinct features.

The biggest difference is the BioChromatic Breath.  Every person is born with a Breath, but can give it away if they so choose by saying a simple phrase.  If an individual is able to achieve certain numbers of Breaths, they gain abilities such as being able to distinguish perfect colors and perfect pitch.  These are referred to as Heightenings, and each one takes successively more Breaths to attain and grants a specific ability.  Giving away one’s Breath doesn’t equate to death, it merely makes them a Drab.  This person is…not as alive as a normal individual, but they can function.

People can use their Breaths to Awaken objects and Command them to do simple tasks.  The more complex the task, the more difficult it is to Command, but can be done by a person with enough skill.  Awakening objects also drains color from something the person is touching.  There is no full explanation for what color has to do with it (unless if that’s in the Appendices I don’t read), but it’s called BioChromatic Breath for a reason I’m sure.

Then there’s the Returned.  These are individuals who died and came back to life.  Easily noticeable because they stand roughly head and shoulders above ordinary mortals, they do not age (past adulthood, if they were children when they died) nor do they know sickness.  Returned also have only one Breath when they come back to life, but it is a powerful one, making them of the Fifth Heightening, normaly equivalent to some two thousand Breaths.  In Hallandren, the country in which most of Warbreaker takes place, the Returned are worshipped as Gods.  Most particularly their God-King.

Such is the setting in which we find our two protagonists, sisters from Idris.  They are Princesses, the eldest and youngest daughters of the Idrian King, and their ancestors once ruled what is now Hallandren.  Thus after the last war a treaty was signed and a clause inserted that once she turned twenty-two, the eldest princess Vivenna was to marry the God-King.

Both girls are terribly naive when they leave their highland home for the city, but rise to the occasion as they grow, learn, and become the women they always had inside of them.  There’s a lot of politics in this book, and it’s hard to know who is trustworthy and who is not.

There are two other viewpoints added to flesh out the narrative.  One is the mysterious Vasher, with his strange sword Nightblood.  The other is Lightsong the Bold, one of the Returned gods.  Vasher does a great deal of explaining about the science of this world, while Lightsong provides an insight to the political schemings within the palace grounds.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
So, let’s start by saying I’ve never actually read two different Brandon Sanderson worlds so close together and perhaps I should do so more often.  I pulled Warbreaker initially because by the end of Oathbringer I realized that the talking sword Szeth was given could very well be the one I recalled from the older book.  And now I’m certain that it’s Nightblood in both, because he distinctly mentions Vasher to Szeth.  I think Vivenna too, though I’d have to doublecheck to be certain.  And, unfortunately, I returned the book yesterday.

Yes, I could have kept it longer, but I didn’t want to forget.  Also I had a couple DVDs checked out and those were due sooner.  No reason to pay late fees if I don’t have to, right?

Anyway, Nightblood is not the only connection between the two worlds.  The second thing I noticed was when Siri begins teaching God-King Susebron to read.  He points to the first letter on the first line, and she tells him that the letter is “shash.”  “Shash,” you may know, is the one of the brands on Kaladin Stormblessed’s forehead.  It indicates that, as a slave, he was considered dangerous.  A “buyer beware” sort of thing.

Now, Kaladin’s brand is a glyph, not a letter, but the fact that the name is the same indicates that the languages may have a common root.  This makes sense, given Oathbringer‘s revelation that humans were the Voidbringers who caused the first Desolation of Roshar with their arrival into that world.  Nor is this the first time we’ve seen people traveling between Sanderson’s worlds – that being in one of the stories from Arcanum Unbounded.  Specifically the one featuring Kelsier and the Mistborn world.

The last commonality between Warbreaker and Oathbringer is the name Hoid.  In the former, he is a storyteller whom Siri pegs as being much younger than his efforts made him appear, and he gives a fairly solid overview of the founding of Hallandren for her and the reader.  But in The Way of Kings, Hoid is the name Wit chooses to use when speaking with Kaladin for the first time.  He even reflects that it’s someone else’s name, implying that he had some sort of contact with the other Hoid.  Or possibly another Hoid besides the storyteller.  It sounds like a weird name to me, but it could be common in some circles.

I’ve referred to Sandreson as “the man with a million plans” but not until Arcanum Unbounded and Oathbringer did I really start to appreciate how very much more there was to his planning.  It’s one thing to create the myriad magic systems unique to each of his worlds.  It’s another thing entirely to have done so and also planned on how the worlds connect to and interact with each other from the very start.

It’s kind of like the comic book universes.  Well, multiverses.  Both Marvel and DC have reinvented their main characters multiple times, but the existence of the multiverse allows all versions of those characters to exist simultaneously though in their own worlds.  Hell, that’s part of what Doomsday Clock is doing.  Until now, the Watchmen universe has been completely separate from the rest of DC.  However the new comic will be connecting it to the main DC characters.  I can’t wait to see how it comes together.

But before I do that, I first should reread the volume that started it all.

Quick, Little Stories

After a week of bricks, I needed something short for a change.  I was not, however, expecting to lose power ten minutes before I was supposed to leave for work.  Or to have the power stay out for an hour and a half.  So Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Demigod Files never actually left the house today.

This is a supplemental book for Riordan’s first series in this world, containing three new short stories as well as additional content for fans.  In fact, I can see how at least two of the new tales directly connect into events in the main books, and can guess that the third likely does as well.

All three stories are simpler than the novels, with fewer characters and no Official Quests involved.  That’s not to say they’re not dangerous or deadly adventures, because what would life as a demigod be otherwise?

Overall, there’s really not too much to say about The Demigod Files.  Partly because there’s not much too the book, but also partly because I started something a big longer and more weighty this morning (still before I got power back) and that’s where my mind is.

After all, I couldn’t resist the chance to test my theory…

Challenge Completed

Well, that took longer than the other two, despite being the shortest (by about twenty pages).  And by “longer” I mean it took three full days instead of two and a half days. Words are relative, after all, to the context in which you use them.  And oh my do I have context.

There’s a rush you get when you finish a good book for the first time.  You’ve seen the author’s world lead up to this point, but the story isn’t done.  You can guess at some of what will come, but only so much.  Partly because there are more secrets to be revealed, more underlying truths, but also partly because you don’t want to spoil things, even for yourself.  This is a bit of how I feel, having finished Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer.

I was spending time with my family on Sunday, showing off the library brick to my dad and asking him when he’d be reading it.  He wasn’t sure if he’d read the first two, and asked me about the title.  “Well, there’s a sword with that name, but I’m not sure that’s what it’s about, I said.”  Spoiler alert: my dad hasn’t touched the Stormlight Archive.  I should persuade him to give the first a shot.  But probably on kindle.  These things are not light.

The sword Oathbringer has been around since The Way of Kings, the Shardblade wielded by Dalinar Kholin.  Fitting that the book’s title is the name of his Blade, because Sanderson decided it was time to delve into Dalinar’s past.  In previous volumes we’ve explored the histories of Kaladin and Shallan, but it never seemed to be such a major part of the story as Dalinar’s.  Part of this is simply due to age.  Kaladin is twenty and Shallan seventeen.  Dalinar, to contrast, is in his fifties.  Adolin is Dalinar’s elder son, and he’s older than Kaladin by a few years.  So we start examining Dalinar’s history more than thirty years prior to present day.

On a side note, I don’t like typing a person’s name nearly as much as I used “Dalinar” in the above paragraph.  It’s repetitive and something that essay-writing has cautioned me against.  But some of the titles I could use for him are spoilers and his last name is useless.  Sure, Kholin is a perfectly fine family name.  But it’s shared by every other member of the royal family including Adolin, Renarin, Jasnah, King Elhokar, and Elhokar’s son Gavinor.  Since that family seems to have made themselves central to the plot, it would get very confusing to refer to any of them by last name.  I suppose, on reflection, I could do as many of the characters and refer to Dalinar as the Blackthorn, but I’m still not entirely clear on what that nickname means.

The other interesting thing about the use of names is that most of the other highprinces, nobles just under the king of Alethkar, are referred to solely by family name.  They have first names of course, but those are rarely used.  Obviously this helps a reader to feel closer to the Kholins and other protagonists who use their given names more than family names, but it’s an interesting contrast.  Especially when you then look into lower-ranked characters who have only one name.

But I am digressing and should get back to the story.

From the start, Dalinar’s been told to “unite them,” which he has interpreted to mean he should gather the people that they may stand together against the Desolation and the Voidbringers.  But no one has perfect knowledge, and there are hidden challenges that await him.  Especially secrets that have been hinted at since book one.  And then…then I see the reason why Arcanum Unbounded was released before Oathbringer.  It almost makes me wish I had a copy that I could have reread it as well before the Stormlight Archive.

Let’s just say that what Rick Riordan waited thirteen books to put in a full novel as opposed to a bonus story, Brandon Sanderson is working up to in the third.  I’d have to do some more digging and reading to doublecheck what I suspect, but I think I’m close enough to guess.  Which really makes me wonder what we’ll see from him in the near future, and if there’s any other series he writes that I should look into.

As the euphoria of finishing a book for the first time fades, I think that Words of Radiance may still be my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong, Dalinar’s a good, strong, and fascinating character, but Kaladin’s my favorite.  And since book two has been his best thus far (and with that climax!), that’s going to be my preferred installment at this point in time.  When book four is released some years in the future (at least two, I’m sure), I think there’ll be more Kaladin in it for me, but only time will tell.

It’s very difficult to write about this book without spoiling anything.  Especially because I don’t want to assume that anyone reading this has read any of the bricks at all.  They are large and daunting books and truly rewarding if you are willing to dive in, but not everyone can finish the lot of them in a week.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy, this is a good series to get into.  And a lovely consolation for the 1233 pages of story is the fact that there are still gorgeous full page illustrations throughout and a large number of chapters are relatively short.

Ugh, that was so good.  I don’t think there’s anything I can pick out of my Pile that can even begin to match it, so I should see if there’s anything completely different in there for tomorrow.  And then I should spend some time doing chores, errands, and watching movies so that the brilliance of the Stormlight Archive can fade from my mind and I don’t have to worry about comparing every new book I read to it and finding them lacking.

Challenge Continued

This post is a day late, because I finished the second brick about ten minutes before midnight and it’s taken me a bit longer than that to type up.  Ah well, you can’t have everything.  Besides, it’s not like I’m going to finish the third brick in a single day.  Although my back and shoulders will wish I could have…

Words of Radiance is the second installment of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  Having been introduced to our primary characters and the world in which they live, we now have a chance to watch them grow and begin to accept the roles for which they’ll be known, assuming humanity survives to remember these events.

(We can guess that there will be some form of victory in the end because this epic doesn’t have the same feel as the dystopian stories I’ve read that bleakly conclude with our doom as a species.  This is part of why I prefer older books in general – so much of the modern science fiction and the dystopian subgenre in particular is insanely depressing.)

I both prefer and despise Words of Radiance in comparison to The Way of Kings and it’s all Kaladin’s fault.  As I mentioned last time, he is the chief character in terms of carrying the story.  He’s always in the right place at the right time…or the wrong place at the wrong time.  And in this book it’s a lot easier to remember that the man is only twenty years old.  Previously he acted fairly mature.  But here we have proof of his youth and, well, it’s hard for me to read.

I really truly hate it when I’m reading or watching or listening to a character, especially one I’m attached to, lie.  Or do something they know is wrong.  It doesn’t end well and it’s painful and awkward when the lie is revealed.  I won’t say it doesn’t make sense given the character and his backstory, but it’s still difficult for me to read.  On the other hand, when Kaladin finally overcomes his problems and the climax kicks up into full swing it is insanely rewarding.  When I first finished this book three years ago, I immediately went back and reread from the climax onward.  This is, for the record, about two hundred and fifty pages.  Because these books are bricks.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time comparing this November to last November in terms of reading.  Last year saw the release of At the Sign of Triumph, the ninth and final Safehold book [of this story arc].  Because of this, and my own personal insanity, I spent most of the month rereading the previous eight installments before concluding with the newest novel.  This literally took me almost the entire month.  Part of it is because books four and eight are slogs.  Part of it is because David Weber loves his military and nautical jargon that I generally don’t give a shit about.  But I feel like neither of those reasons truly quantifies how I can read a Brandon Sanderson brick in two days yet need four or more for a David Weber novel maybe half the size.

It could be the writing style.  But I suspect that, at the end of the night, Sanderson’s epic is just telling a more compelling story.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy Safehold and find a great deal to like about the series.  But there are so many people and places to keep track of, and every book covers roughly a year of actual time, segmented by months…the whole thing feels rather slow and unwieldly in comparison.  That’s not to say that time doesn’t pass in the Stormlight Archive – it does and I’d say we’ve seen roughly a year pass from the first chapter of The Way of Kings to the end of Words of Radiance.  Give or take.  But there’s no need to know how precisely time passes when we can be told that the events we saw last were a few weeks ago.

Another touch I appreciate is how Sanderson sets up these books.  There is a Prologue and an Epilogue that bookend the story, which is not at all unusual.  The story itself is divided into five parts, and the title page for each tells you which characters’ viewpoints we’ll be diving into.  There’s no indicator as to who we’re switching to at chapter or section breaks, but it’s made clear within the first sentence or so.

The most interesting thing is the addition of Interludes between the five parts of the main story.  These are also divided up by character, but either introduce people that haven’t been seen before or flesh out background or side characters.  The main story is just that, but the interludes further clarify the world of Roshar and its current events in a way that clues in the reader to what has happened in the background and what may happen in the future.

Admittedly, most of the divisions within the book can seem rather pointless considering the brick’s length.  Being just over thirteen hundred pages tends to do that.  After all, when you think about it, that means each part is apportioned roughly two hundred pages, with another hundred or so left over for the smaller sections as a whole.  Which means that Words of Radiance is generally equivalent to six books from the sixties or seventies.

Obviously Sanderson divvied up his book intentionally, if only to indicate to himself the main goal and story of each section.  I don’t know if he meant to draw the comparison I’ve just made to the old science fiction lengths, but it’s interesting to note.  If I’ve learned anything reading his books, it’s that I should always assume that everything is planned.  His recent collection, Arcanum Unbounded, makes it clear that all of his major worlds, and possibly more than that, are connected in some way.  Possibly like the Marvel or DC multiverses.  And we all know that’s something that should always be planned out.

(No offense to Marvel or DC, but I’m reasonably certain that the multiverse was not one of the concepts that originally created their universes.  Rather it was probably a later addition and a way to tie in a vast number of disaparate stories.  On that note, I really, really hope that Doomsday Clock lives up to its potential.)

Well, next up is Oathbringer, the third brick in the Stormlight Archive and the first new material since a certain short in Arcanum Unbounded.  I imagine it’ll take me a little longer than the previous two for the joint reasons of social life/work and the fact that I’ve never read it before.  Always exciting.

In other news, I got a text today from a friend demanding to know when the second volume of the Dragon Prophecy, prequel to the Obsidian Trilogy and the Enduring Flame Trilogy, was released.  I told her it was new this month, after five years of waiting.  She pointed out that she hadn’t been in a bookstore in months and how should she know, since it had been so long?

Also I bought myself another book today.  It was reasonably priced, unlike most of the other items in the bookstore at Mitsuwa, and should be a nice refresher for me.  I’m debating whether or not I want to stick it in the bathroom, since the format is relatively small factoids that are ideally suited for bathroom reading.  Not that they can’t be read elsewhere, but I do tend to favor things that are longer than a page in most cases.  I haven’t made a final decision on that one yet, and may continue to leave it, along with most of my other decisions, for after I finish Oathbringer.

Challenge Accepted

I realized just about a week ago that the library had laid in two copies of Oathbringer, the new Stormlight Archive book from Brandon Sanderson and that I, as the second of five holds, would be getting an email on Tuesday.  This was when I was still struggling through C.F. Bentley’s (Irene Radford’s) Enigma and I hadn’t even begun to consider when I’d reread the first two books in Sanderson’s epic.  Challenge accepted.

When I refer to the volumes of the Stormlight Archive as bricks, I mean that fairly literally.  You’ve seen me call The Annotated Chronicles and The Annotated Legends from Dragonlance by the same name, although I will admit the trilogies make for longer books.  But think about that.  Those two are omnibi, each containing a full three novels that together tell a larger story.  Sanderson’s books, in contrast, are single novels.  That are just barely shorter than the omnibi.  The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance are the second and third longest individual books in my library.  The longest is Les Miserables at 1488 pages.  To compare, The Way of Kings is 1253 pages and Words of Radiance is 1302.  Chronicles clocks in at 1311 pages and Legends follows at 1157 pages.

I use the term “brick” in very specific circumstances, as you can see.  All of these books are about three times as long as more commonly-sized novels.  Obviously this makes the most sense for the Dragonlance omnibi, comprised as they are of three books apiece.  But I ramble.

The point is that I myself am amazed that I read a book of over twelve hundred pages in two and a half days.  That I have challenged myself to read a total of two thousand five hundred fifty-five pages within a small enough period to give myself a reasonable amount of time to read Oathbringer.  After all, I get the book for just three weeks (I never have known whether I can renew a new release or not) and I don’t want to waste that whole time rereading the previous two installments.

I really shouldn’t find myself rushing like this.  It’s not like I haven’t known for months when Oathbringer would be released.  But as it always seemed so far off, I failed to think and plan my reading around this particular release.  I always get the new Stormlight Archive books from the library as my own copies are paperbacks.  I only suffer the weight of hardcover bricks in order to feed my curiosity about what happens next.  But before I can look at that, I should probably talk about some of the myriad events in The Way of Kings.

The Way of Kings is actually a book within a book.  An autobiography of the ancient king Nohadon, the book seems to use stories and anecdotes of its authors life to illustrate how to be a good leader.  It was the growing obsession of the Alethi king Gavilar, who is assassinated in the prologue, setting in motion many of the events that unfold within this book and the series as a whole.  Thanks to the monarch’s dying words, Dalinar Kholin now seeks to understand what the book means for himself as a person, his people as a whole, and the world at large.

Elsewhere on the continent studies Jasnah Kholin, daughter of Gavilar, a famed scholar and heretic.  She’s a cold, imposing woman, and Shallan Davar’s greatest ambition to date is to become her ward and student.  For a culture that places such an emphasis on separating men and women, it’s interesting to see these two rather independent and strong-willed women operating and traveling on their own.  In Shallan’s case, it’s a freedom she’s never known before, sequestered as she was on her father’s lands.  But her education only begins once she finally catches up to Jasnah…

Lastly, and perhaps the most riveting of all the individual stories in the book, is Kaladin.  And please remember that the man is only nineteen or so, because he’s lived such a widely varied life and learned quite a bit in that short span of time.  He may be darkeyed, but he’s intelligent and well-educated, moreso than some lighteyed leaders.  Not to mention his almost irrational hatred of lighteyes whose authority over him is decreed by something so simple it seems stupid.  Kaladin’s skill with a spear is remarkable, and matched by his understanding of the healing arts.  That doesn’t prevent him from being stubborn, idiotic, or just plain ignorant at many points.  And then there’s that annoying windspren that seems bent on annoying him to death…

Spren are everywhere in the world of Roshar.  No one quite knows what they are, or why, or whether they cause things or are attracted to them.  There are spren of wind and flame, of rot and death, of just about anything you can think of.  But they aren’t always visible.  They don’t seem to be physical, that is to say that they generally don’t interact with the material world.  But they do appear to be everywhere.

The other main feature of Roshar that all readers need to know about are the highstorms.  They start in the east and move westward periodically throughout the storm season.  Highstorms can be mathematically predicted, but at this point no one seems to get it exactly right all the time.  The storms are of incredible force, so much so that the buildings, especially those in the east, are constructed with the storms in mind.  Windows facing west, slopes to the east, etc.  What makes these different from the rain and thunderstorms we know is that something in the highstorms infuses gems with Stormlight.  The light is of a quality with our electric illumination: very bright and steady.  The gems themselves aren’t just lamps though, they are also the currency of the world.  This includes the fact that lit spheres (or marks, as they’re called – possibly terms relating to denominations but I haven’t checked the appendices to see if this is discussed) are seen as more valuable than dun ones, whose light has been extinguished.  It’s simple enough to relight the gems though: leave them outside during the next highstorm.

There are so many more things going on inside of this book, of course, but I don’t know that it’s worth the time to touch on them now.  There’s a lot of politics, geography, philosophy, ethics, religion…so much more.  Oh, and the plot itself.  But between avoiding spoilers and having more to talk about than a single blog post can truly cover, I think it’s best to stop here.  Obviously I’ll be moving on to Words of Radiance and picking up Oathbringer tomorrow as I mentioned.  I don’t know if I’ll finish the second book nearly as quickly, if only because the weekend’s coming and I continue to have this mysterious thing known as a “social life.”

In the meantime, my bricks are calling me.

That Took Too Long

I finally finished Enigma and not a moment too soon, but I’ll get to that later.  For the time, being, let’s talk about religion in space!

Enigma is the sequel to Harmony, written by C.F. Bentley who is far better known as Irene Radford.  The main setting is no longer Harmony but instead the space station Labyrinthine VII, or the First Contact Cafe as it’s better known.  Jake, our male protagonist from before, is now in a position of power to dictate what happens on the FCC, but a number of people would prefer that power in their hands and out of his.  Sissy, Harmony’s High Priestess, is also present to negotiate a treaty between the Harmonic Empire and the Confederated Star Systems in order to deal with the Maril threat.

Things get interesting when an alien ship belonging to the so-called “Squid People” crashes into part of the station and is revealed to have a Maril passenger.  But that’s only the first part of the surprises Adrial, the Maril, has in store for our heroes.

Another nonhuman presence is Mac, the half brother of Labyrinthine VII.  Apparently their Labyrinthine mother had twenty-six children by twenty-six different fathers of twenty-six different species.  The Labyrinthines DNA as a species has deteriorated so much that they’ve been crossbreeding themselves in order to strengthen their genetics before breeding back in with themselves once more.  And A’bner’s kids take on the name of the space station they run (yes, there’s apparently about twenty-six of those too).

Genetics is a big part of Enigma.  It was touched upon in the first book, but mostly in the sense that the Harmonic settlers manipulated their DNA to give themselves castemarks, indicating which of the sevel social classes they were born into.  After about five hundred years of this, there’s been a great deal of decay in the gene alterations with many improper marks appearing – unclear, doubled, wrong cheek, etc.  Some people are even born – gasp! – barefaced!

The title Enigma denotes a mystery, and I think much of the book is structured as a spiral, leading the reader ever closer to what the actual mystery is.  As we round each bend and curve, Radford dangles a tasty new piece of information to lead us ever deeper into the book.  Sometimes we can almost see where she’s going, but other times we just have to trust that the story will take us there.

All in all, I really want to read the third book now.  But amazon won’t deliver it until next month.  This is just as well, since I got an email from the library today saying my hold is in.  And I am not nearly prepared enough for it.  After all, the book just hit stores today.

That’s right, I have Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson on hold.  Which means I better reread The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance as fast as I can because when I checked last night, I was number two of five holds.  The library got two copies, which means I am woefully unprepared.  Luckily, I don’t have to pick the book up for a few days, so I hope to get most of the way through the first brick by then.  That’s 2555 pages of book, so let’s get to it!