Alien Politics and Space Travel: Brandon Sanderson – Starsight

I really loved Skyward – the YA sci-fi adventure I wouldn’t have expected from Brandon Sanderson – so naturally I didn’t wait long to pick up the sequel. After the revelations at the end of the first book I didn’t think Sanderson could deliver another surprise of such proportions. Silly me… it’s like I haven’t learned anything at all from reading all his epic fantasies. There are always more secrets to discover and more twists I didn’t see coming. This review will be spoiler-free, however there will be HUGE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST SKYWARD BELOW!

STARSIGHT
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Gollancz, 2019
Hardcover: 468 pages
Series: Skyward #2
My rating: 8/10

First line: I slammed on my overburn and boosted my starship through the middle of a chaotic mess of destructor blasts and explosions. 

Starsight picks up about six months after the end of Skyward and Spensa and her friends have established themselves as competent pilots in the DDF. Spensa is still her daring, ambitious old self although her mission has changed. The things she found out at the end of the first book lead humanity on a whole new path to freedom from their prison on Detritus. All they want is to live in peace and prosperity, on a planet where aliens don’t constantly attack them. But in order to travel through space, humans have to find – or steal – the necessary technology. Or Spensa has to figure out her abilities and use them for the good of her people…

Starsight was surprising, not only because it has the usual Sandersonesque mind-blowing twists, but at first because the setting and plot were totally different from what I expected. Spensa doesn’t spend much time on Detritus (or in its orbit) but takes an opportunity that arises to travel to the aliens who keep humanity imprisoned and try to steal FTL technology right out from under their noses. Where the first book was about Spensa becoming a pilot, this one is her trying to be a spy… sometimes more and sometimes less successfully. She does have M-Bot with her, however, who not only guarantees great dialogue and some truly funny scenes but who also is more a friend than a sentient machine by now. I really found myself caring deeply about that AI and not just because he’s trying to figure out himself whether he could be called “alive”.
The question of what makes a living being arises on many occasions and M-Bot’s musings on the topic range from ridiculous or funny to really deep and thought-provoking.

When Spensa arrives on the titular station Starsight, she is not only confronted with the problem of how to infiltrate her enemies’ home and steal secret technology from them, but she also meets several different alien species in the shape of people who may even become friends. I was very impressed with all the new side characters introduced in this book. They are each distinct, they have their own personality and mannerisms, and their alienness – although mostly not very striking – does come through. Morriumur the dione and Hesho the kitsen especially grew dear to me, but even the characters I didn’t like were well-written. The difference between how the Superiority live and how Spensa grew up was particularly stark – and the rules for letting “lesser species” becoce part of the Superiorty were… interesting to learn.

The plot, now that I think about it, isn’t actually all that original or all that different from the first book. Spensa is once again put into a cockpit and has to train with other people to defeat an overwhelming enemy. However, the enemy has changed, as have her wingmates. And there’s also the fact that she’s pretending to be someone else in order to steal from the people she’s slowly getting to know… That’s the reason I really liked this book so much, I think. Spensa’s realization that the aliens she’s been fighting on her home planet are also just people – some good, some bad, but each with a life of their own, a family, maybe a pet – happens gradually, and then all at once. It shows not only that the world is bigger than Spensa (and we readers) originally thought but it also makes Spensa grow so much as a person. I was super proud of her!

M-Bot also put me through all the emotions in this book. There are certain things he can’t talk about or do to himself (changing certain parts his code, copying himself, etc.) but he keeps wondering if he could be called alive and what even makes someone alive. I won’t spoil anything but M-Bot is in danger on occasion – after all, he is Spensa’s ship – and I was shocked how worried I got about that space ship. Even if at the end of the series it turns out M-Bot is nothing special, just a very complex AI who’s been programmed with sarcasm, I will love him to bits until the very end!

There was one twist that I saw coming just a bit more than the others Sanderson has in store for us. Let’s just say the Superiority isn’t all that subtle with its politics or its ways to control other species. And maybe the whole “writing for a YA audience” thing just got out of hand for a moment.  Figuring out one plot point  a few moments before the protagonist did made no dent in my reading enjoyment, but I was surprised that the answer to this burning question was something I could actually come up with myself. But worry not: There are more revelations and more twists and more hints about things to come, none of which I expected. Just like after finishing Skyward, I want the next book RIGHT NOW and I don’t know if I can wait two years to find out how the story ends.

If you liked the first book, you will like this one as well. Just be warned that you don’t get to see much of the side characters from Skyward. But I believe the third book will put together all the characters from the first two books in one epic finale and, man, I cannot wait!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Sanderson does YA Sci-Fi: Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

I actually read this book right after it came out in December 2018 but last week I saw I had never reviewed it. As I have turned into quite a Sanderson fangirl, this situation could not remain! The man is known for writing excellent epic fantasy with brilliant twists, so this foray into both science fiction and YA was mostly new. I had read Steelheart – the first in Sanderson’s other YA series – and liked it okay but not enough to continue the series. So to sum it all up: I was very curious to see what Skyward held in store and I was not disappointed.

SKYWARD
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Gollancz, 2018
Hardback: 513 pages
Series: Skyward #1
My rating: 8/10

First line: Only fools climbed to the surface.

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

Young Spensa dreams of nothing more than to become a figher pilot like her father and defend her planet against the attacking alien Krell. Even though her father – and his death – brought shame on the entire family. Because the ace pilot did something so horrible that it cannot be forgiven – he was branded a coward – Spensa’s family has been shunned and Spensa’s chances of even getting into flight school are pretty much nonexistant. Jobs are assigned according to young people’s strengths but pilots tend to come from families who already have established pilots. Needless to say, cowards’ daughters don’t count…

There’s so much to love about this book, starting with the writing style. Sanderson is always immensely readable but when he does YA, he becomes even more so. The pages just fly, you forget the time only to realize it’s three in the morning and you’ve finished most of the book without noticing. It’s truly engaging and Spensa being a highly likable narrator only adds to that. Spensa is dedicated from the get go and she never stops following her dreams, even though many, many rocks are put in her way. I don’t think it’s a spoiler if I tell  you that she does get into flight school (although not easily) because the meat of the novel is how Spensa fares there.

I loved that although she is a gifted young woman, things don’t just fall into her lap. She may be a natural in the cockpit but that doesn’t mean she is immediately able to fly. In fact, Spensa struggles as much as her classmates, if not more, to just get a handle on her ship. The first lessons were filled with hilarious scenes of Spensa and her classmates failing to control their ships. And that’s without having to deal with all the rivalry, people looking down on her for having a coward father, or generally thinking she and her entire family are worthless. Learning to fly takes as much from Spensa as trying to make friends and prove herself worthy of being a pilot. Of course, she also doesn’t believe her father really was a coward and wants to find out what really happened. I can promise you there will be a secret or two waiting in store but probably not what you think.

This being a Sanderson book, you can also expect fantastic worldbuilding. The story is set on the planet Detritus where most people live underground because the surface is frequently attacked by the Krell. That’s why fighter pilots are so important as they are the only defense humans have against this alien threat. I loved how the world was set up, how the differences between the rich and the poor are made clear (it’s not pretty, let me tell you that) and how these people’s entire lives are based around the fact that you can’t see the sky. Questions of class differences are raised on many occasions and since we follow the underdog Spensa, it’s easy to side with those less fortunate. However, even the spoiled rich kids aren’t one-dimensional. Sure, they may have had an easier life than Spensa but that doesn’t mean  they don’t suffer from their own problems and challenges – they are simply different ones.
Another prominent theme is the question of what makes a hero. Spensa has heard many tales from heroes of Earth but she herself is still trying to figure out who she is, how she can be a hero, and why her dad seemingly wasn’t the hero she had always thought. The question isn’t discussed in detail (maybe because Sanderson thought it would be too much for a YA audience?) but I liked that it’s a constant that keeps coming up and makes you think about heroism yourself.

Now I’ve already said a whole lot and I haven’t even mentioned the sentient spaceship M-Bot, or Spensa’s snail friend Doomslug. It does take a while until Spensa finds that spaceship but trust me when I tell you it’s one of the highlights of this novel. Spensa finding an abandoned spaceship is one thing (and a pretty cool one at that) but said space ship literally having a mind of its own makes for some hilarious dialogue and wonderful dynamics between these characters.
The side characters were also interesting although they didn’t stick in my mind as much as Spensa or M-Bot did. And that’s maybe the one reason why I’m not rating this book higher. Don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun reading this but unlike other books by this author, the details didn’t really stay with me all that long. I had to look up character names so I could write this review (which isn’t a bad thing, especially when you read a lot of books, but I never for a second forgot any of the character names from Sanderson’s other books). The same goes for certain plot elements. I remember loving every page and enjoying myself thoroughly while reading it, but by now the details are a little hazy. However, that’s about the only negative thing I can say about this.

This wouldn’t be a Sanderson novel if it didn’t have a whole lot of unexpected twists in store. And it’s the same pattern as always – I think I see something coming or at least I think I have a vague idea what the twist will be about, and then it turns out I’m completely wrong and Sanderson comes up with something I totally did not expect and which knocks me off my socks. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter because you should all have as much fun as I did discovering what’s really going on and having your expectations turned upside down. It made me incredibly excited about the second novel Starsight (which I’m currently reading*) and I can’t wait to see what revelations are waiting for me this time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Brandon Sanderson, it’s that I can trust him completely to take me on a wild ride and always deliver a fantastic ending.

*Sanderson does a brilliant job of reminding his readers what happened in Skyward in the first few chapters of the second book. So if you also read this a while ago and are worried that you don’t remember enough details or characters, don’t worry. Just dive into the sequel, it will all come back. 😉

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very, very good!

P.S.: This is one of the cases where I have a massive cover preference for the UK editions. I really don’t like the US covers for this series. I think the illustrations are beautiful, but they just don’t fit the novel very well, in my opinion.

 

The Epic Goes On: Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer

By now my faithful readers know the reason why I’m always so late to read Sanderson’s latest instalment in The Stormlight Archive. It’s not because I’m not super excited and want to dive back into the world of Roshar. It’s because Graphic Audio take their time to produce a quality audiobook with full cast, music, background noises and so on – and I love listening to this story that way, sometimes reading along in the book, looking at the illustrations. But the time has come, I have caught up, and I can say Oathbringer continues the epic epicness of the two predecessors. SPOILERS for The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance below!!!

OATHBRINGER
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2017
Audiobook: 41 hours
Hardcover: 1248 pages
Series: The Stormlight Archive #3
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Eshonai had always told her sister that she was certain something wonderful lay over the next hill.

In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.
Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.
Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together–and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past–even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.

The Stormlight Archive, as vast and daunting as its world may seem, follows a pretty clear structure. The first book focused on Kaladin (still my favorite character, just sayin’), the second was all about Shallan and her past, and this one is Dalinar’s. We know already from the first two books who Dalinar is and we also know his reputation as the Blackthorn, a powerful war lord who has won every battle his king sent him out to fight. But there are holes in Dalinar’s memory. Oathbringer fills in those holes and lets us see not only why Dalinar is the man he is today but who he used to be and what made him become “our” Dalinar. That alone was worth 1200 pages if you ask me.

But there also happens to be a few new threats on the horizon (one of them literally). The Everstorm is here, the Voidbringers are back, Roshar is in turmoil, the Knights Radiant are coming back… there is a lot to do if these characters want to bring some sort of peace to the world. And as you may guess from the massive amount of pages in this book, a lot happens. Dalinar is desperately trying to unite the kingdoms by inviting all the kings and queens to talk, a task that proves more difficult than expected, but vital if humanity is to survive long-term.

Kaladin visits his old home and learns some interesting things about the parshmen, things that already have an impact in this book but will probably become even more important later on. Shallan continues training her abilities by slipping into her various personas. This led to some truly exciting and hard-to-read character development on her part. I didn’t expect to care so much about her because, again, this is clearly Dalinar’s book, but Shallan’s story was just as intriguing. Especially the ending of her storyline felt mostly satisfying. Mostly because – as much as I dislike forced love triangles – I was rather a fan of this particular triangle. Shallan engaged to Adolin, but clearly interested in Kaladin, who in turn is drawn to her. I’m not saying the triangle is officially completely resolved by the end of the book but I’m pretty sure things are set now.

A Stormlight Archive book wouldn’t be complete without epic battles, and boy do they get epic! I thought the battle on the Shattered Plains from the first book couldn’t be topped, both in scope and in emotional impact. But hey, Sanderson did it. There are several fights in this book and what I liked was that they aren’t won by numbers or superpowers, but rather by key decisions made by certain characters. Describing a battle must be incredibly difficult, describing reading about a battle would simply be boring, so I’ll just leave you with my assurance that the epic battles are truly epic.

Another thing I adored and hope to get more of in future books is Shadesmar. We first enter this other realm with Jasnah Kholin in Words of Radiance and ever since then, it has been my own personal nightmare fuel. But of course, with a Sanderson book, even nightmare places adhere to certain rules and as such aren’t that scary. You just have to know how to navigate them. Shadesmar comes into play again in Oathbringer and while it doesn’t take up much of the novel, I was so excited to learn more about this place. I have more questions now than I did before but I’ve come to trust Brandon Sanderson to answer them when the time is ready.

As for world-building, need I really tell you again how great it is? I am still fascinated that every book opens the world up a bit more, makes me question new things that happen and want to understand the bigger picture. I believe this could be quite frustrating for many readers and if I didn’t know Sanderson’s works, I might be frustrated too. One question gets answered (sort of) and a hundred new ones appear. One mystical creature becomes a little clearer – spren, for example – and he introduces new ones that make absolutely no sense. Yet.

I did think this book wasn’t as good structurally as its two predecessors. That may be because by now, too many characters are protagonists and Sanderson tried to give each of them enough time and space. In certain scenes, the jumps between characters were decidedly too fast and too frequent for my taste and I get why it was done that way – to convey how stressful and fast the situation is moving forward – but I don’t like being ripped out of a POV every single page (or every minute in the audiobook). I also thought certain plot strings, like Shallan’s involvement with the Ghostbloods, were mentioned only to keep them alive long enough to become important again. Which may only happen in book seven, for all I know.

I realize now that I’ve written quite a bit about this book without really saying much, but that’s the thing. I don’t want to spoil anything, not the quieter character moments that make the series so special, no details about the battles, because I want you all to experience the book the way I did. With no pre-formed ideas about the plot, simply with the knowledge that it’s a journey worth taking and that none of these 1200 pages is wasted.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance

There’s a reason Sanderson’s books are sold as Epic Fantasy because when he wants to go epic, he goes EPIC. This is the second book in the Stormlight Archive so if you haven’t read the first, steer far away from anything below this introduction. There will, by necessity, be spoilers galore for the first book and even then it’s going to be hard talking about this series spoiler-free.

WORDS OF RADIANCE
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2014
Hardcover: 1087 pages
Graphic Audio: ~ 37 hours
Series: The Stormlight Archive #2
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Jasnah Kholin pretended to enjoy the party, giving no indication that she intended to have one of the guests killed.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.
The Assassin, Szeth, is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.
Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.
Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

First of all: I have no idea how to review this book. There is so much going on, the universe expands, the characters grow into their powers, new storylines are introduced, and it’s all just SO MUCH. Which, I guess, is why this beast of a book is over 1000 pages long. But I’ll do my best in what will probably be an extremely vague review. Most importatly, I loved reading it and these 1000 pages felt like a mere 200.

If The Way of Kings was Kaladin’s book, this is clearly Shallan’s. The story continues seamlessly from where the first book left off, continues and (finally!) intertwines Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar’s tales, and answers some burning questions, while throwing up a whole bunch of new ones. Oh, and did I mention the epic battles, powerful magic, lovely bickering, and world-building? Well, you’ll get all of that too for the price of one book.

Having fallen in love with Graphic Audio a few years ago, I almost don’t want to consume Sanderson through any other medium anymore. I did buy a hardback of Words of Radiance (and  my copy of Oathbringer is pre-ordered of course), but the whopping 37 hours of Graphic Audio, what with all the voices I’ve gotten used to, the theme music and the sound spren make, I absolutely prefer having read this gigantic book to me. I can only continue to recommend these audiobooks!

But on to the actual story. It opens with a big smack in the face with a Jasnah flashback that (literally) opens whole new worlds for us readers to think about and consider. In the present, Shallan is trying to make it to the Shattered Plains, Kaladin is coming to terms with his powers and his new position under Dalinar, and Dalinar is still seeking to save the world somehow. From whatever it is that threatens it. From these starting points, so many things happen, I couldn’t possible sum them up but, to me, the magic system and the world building became much more clear in this book than in The Way of Kings. What at first appeared to be random or existed by evolution turns out to have more complex backgrounds and it was so much fun discovering how new information made events from the first book appear in a different light. We learn a lot about spren, about what is probably the Big Bad for our heroes to fight, about history and culture in Roshar… oh man, there is seriously so much to discover. I especially liked the interludes which usually have nothing to do with the main story but are put in as an added world-building bonus, if you like.

Without giving too much away, there are a few things I want to talk about. For me, even in the first book, when they hadn’t met yet, it was clear that Shallan and Kaladin would make a kick-ass couple. Having them finally meet and turn out to be MY FAVORITE  THING IN THE WORLD OF FICTION – a bickering couple that slowly builds respect for each other – was the best part of this book for me. Also, the fact that they both have powers that they are hiding from others makes for some hilarious scenes. In case it’s not obvious, I’m shipping these two hard! But it’s not only Shallan and Kaladin who grow as people and who show different facets of their characters. Adolin, whom I liked in the first book, but thought of as slightly childish, feels like a more rounded character, more grown-up, more focused on what’s important, and I have grown even fonder of Renarin, who is kind of the underdog of the Kholin family but who shows that he is just as important and strong (in his own way) as his brother.

Politically speaking, a lot of stuff happens in this book. Action-wise, a lot of stuff happens in this book. I couldn’t possibly go into detail about all of it, but let me say that Sanderson knows how to write battles! Whether it’s two Shardbearers going at each other, or entire armies clashing on the Shattered Plains, do not expect to remember to eat or go to the bathroom while you’re reading this book. Much like in the Mistborn series, the magic also feels very naturally a part of the fighting. When Sanderson writes about lashings or someone sucking in Stormlight, there is no need for long explanations on what that means, it’s just like someone saying “He picked up his sword”. The magic is an organic part of this fictional world and it just works. I still have a billion questions, especially considering the Cosmere, but man, that was an awesome book!

As I said, this was Shallan’s book, and just like we got Kaladin flashbacks in The Way of Kings, we get Shallan flashbacks in this one, fleshing out her past, her reasons for hunting down Jasnah Kholin, and more information about Shallan’s family. Some of these were not surprising, but there were a few revelations that I found quite chilling. And knowing what Shallan has gone through makes her character all the more impressive. The way Kaladin deals with grief (and he’s had his share of that!) is very different from how Shallan deals with hers, but I liked both of them better for it.

Now, after a bit of a book hangover, I am just super excited to see who the next book will focus on (I think it’s Dalinar) and how the new – huge – discoveries of this one will shape the world of Roshar. I could honestly just drown myself in this world and never come up for air. If you have a bit of time on your hands and want to truly immerse yourself in an epic fantasy world, trust the legions of Sanderson fans and give this series a try. The page count may seem daunting at first, but I’ll bet you’ll wish for even more pages as soon as you start reading. I certainly am.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – EPIC!

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Brandon Sanderson – The Bands of Mourning

I can’t believe it. I am actually all caught up on a Brandon Sanderson series. Granted, it’s only one of his many book series and I still have a prequel-novella to read but novel-wise, I am up to date. And now I have to wait first for the next book to come out and then for Graphic Audio to adapt it. Ah, the beautiful agony that is waiting for books…

bands-of-mourningTHE BANDS OF MOURNING
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2016
Hardcover: 447 pages
Series: Mistborn #6
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “Telsin!” Waxillium hissed as he crept out of the training hut.

With The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.
Now, with The Bands of Mourning, Sanderson continues the story. The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

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Vin’s story is long over but her victory over the Lord Ruler has left its marks on the world. It also left physical relics, such as the fabled metalminds which the Lord Ruler used to make himself practically immortal. Wax and Wayne get tangled up in another adventure that has them search for these Bands. Marasi, Me-Laan, and even Steris, get to be part of the crew and they pick up some new friends – and enemies – along the way.

As in Shadows of Self, it felt like a number of sub-plots were being juggled, but juggled rather hectically and without as much planning as in the first Mistborn trilogy. Where plot strings beautifully wove together to create a bigger whole at the end, here it feels like every book introduces new side plots, new political factions and character side stories, only to unceremoniously drop some (Wayne’s attempts at redemption, or his obesseion with their weapons supplier, for example). Others feel like they should have been foreshadowed way earlier but were instead thrown in quickly and info-dumpy to prepare for the scenes to come.

But I was pretty forgiving of that because of the sheer creativity that is coming from this author. After having explored this world and magic system for five books (of not inconsiderable size) I loved how Sanderson still manages to find a new way (or several, really) to use this type of metal magic. There is very little I can say without spoiling but if you’ve come this far in the series you already know that there’s always another secret.

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This book also took me on quite an emotional joy-ride. Not only was there a lot going on and it was a thrill to follow the characters as they solve problems each in their own way – I will never forget Spoiled Tomato – but I have also come to love all of them for being who they are. Marasi has grown into herself and trusts as much in her instincts as in statistical data, Wayne is slightly more serious, although you still mustn’t take away his hat. Ever! And Wax, who has been through so much, is put through hell once more. The biggest surprise was Steris, in her cold mathematical manner, who showed kindness and courage and creativity in the face of danger. So yeah, I love that gang!

One more aspect took me by surprise, in a very positive way. I had only read one romance penned by Sanderson and while I liked it, many people found it silly. Here, however, we find romance in an unlikely place and I was quite surprised at how much I rooted for this particular couple to work things out. It also shows a deft hand at writing character – Sanderson may have shown us certain aspects of these characters in the previous books, but that doesn’t mean we truly know them. In The Bands of Mourning, almost all of them got to show a different side of themselves and it was great fun to discover how amazing this group truly is.

The very end, of course, dangles a new bit of information in front of our noses, only to end in a cliffhanger. The main story of The Bands of Mourning may be resolved, but Wax’s tale is not over yet, and in the big picture, we have only seen the slightest glimpse of what the Cosmere has to offer.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Here are my opinions on all the previous books in the series:

 

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Brandon Sanderson – Shadows of Self

Aaaaand Mistborn continues to be great, although there is a clear departure from the light-hearted The Alloy of Law to this new story arc. While Alloy was just a bit of fun and can technically be read without any prior knowledge of the other Mistborn books, Shadows of Self is set deeply in the world that we first came to know through Vin’s eyes. The tone also shifts and is more serious again as Sanderson delivers one of his most heartbreaking twists yet.

shadows of selfSHADOWS OF SELF
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2015
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: Mistborn #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Waxillium Ladrian, lawman for hire, swung off his horse and turned to face the saloon.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.
The trilogy’s heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are “twinborn,” meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.
Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.
This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.
Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they’ve been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

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Wax and Wayne are irrisistible (especially Wayne). And they’ve got another case on their hands, but this time, they don’t work nearly as alone as they did last time. Marasi has become a constable and helps them wherever she can, although her personal relationship with Wax seems strained, compared to their easy banter from the first book. Which is only natural, considering that Wax is coming more and more to terms with marrying Steris, Marasi’s cousin.

One surprise of this new series was that characters turn out not to be as one-dimensional as they seem at first. Steris in particular turned out to be more than what she likes to show in public. But in Shadows of Self, Wayne also gets to show a side of him that doesn’t fit with his cocky, fun, light-hearted side. It made him an even better character to know that – like anyone else – he has darkness in his past and he can’t just shake it off.

But the most tortured soul in Shadows of Self is definitely Wax. His past confronts him in several ways, but especially the loss of his wife in the Roughs haunts him with every move he makes. It was also Wax who was hit hardest by the ending. I cried big tears for him, that’s all I’m saying. And I am very curious to see how these new developments impact his character development in the rest of the series.

Plot-wise, this was a bit of a mess. Sanderson tries to juggle many, many plot-strings at once. There is the one started in The Alloy of Law with Wax’s uncle conspiring for his own ends, there are the terrorist attacks that Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are trying to figure out, the kandra make a new appearance and wrap up a whole of lot of history since last we saw them. There are labor strikes and unrests, there are politics and police procedures, several religions trying to gain the upper hand… you see what I mean when I say it was a bit too much for one book, especially one comparatively short for Sanderson. I commend him for making the best of every scene, getting out the most of each line, having his text do world-building as well as advancing the plot at the same time. But as a reader, it still felt a bit overwhelming, not knowing which aspect to concentrate on.

I think that piece of legwork was simply needed to give the next book in the series room to breathe. A lot of things have been established here that can be used later without re-explaining them. I appreciated that – despite the abundance of themes – there was still time for character growth and development. The introduction of MeLaan promises a lot of fun for future books, and meeting old (very old!) friends again gave me some readerly joy, even if it was bittersweet.

Although things are resolved at the end of Shadows of Self, this was one of the most devastating endings Sanderson has ever written (at least of the ones I’ve read). It’s a perfect balance between telling a story with a satisfying ending but leaving enough questions open for the next book. He’s always been good at that but this time, it’s the emotional plot strings that are left frayed and I worry for Wax as a person more than for the larger world and its fate. Well… I guess there’s no way around it – I’ll just have to pick up the next book and find out what else lies in store.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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If you haven’t read the the Mistborn Series at all, here are my thoughts on the other books.

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Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings

This is a seriously big book! I mean really, really big. It’s a good 1000 pages long, it features one of the best character arcs I could have wanted and begins a huge, epic tale of war, finding truth, rediscovering history and, you guessed it because it’s Sanderson, intricate magic systems. While I started reading the hardback book, which also has beautiful illustrations by the way, I did end up buying the Graphic Audio audiobooks again. More on that after my thoughts about the story itself (but spoiler: it was totally worth it again).

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THE WAY OF KINGS
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2010
Hardcover: 1007 pages
Graphic Audio: 37 hours
Series: The Stormlight Archive #1
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast.

Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.
Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.
In one such war on ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by ancient text The Way of Kings, troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.
Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

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This is a very difficult book to review because there is so much going on, although the time covered in-world isn’t even that great. Since we’re following three protagonists, I’ll break this up into three parts, starting with my favorite. Because I can.

Kaladin Stormblessed stole my readerly heart immediately. He is a slave who was once a soldier and he’s basically given up on life. We meet him as he is transported and then sold to a Highlord waging war on the Shattered Planes. The Shattered Plains by themselves made me go Woah! because it is such a cool world-building idea. The illustrations in the novel show a place that looks like wet earth left to dry in the scorching sun broke into lots of little pieces, almost a mosaic of ground with chasms between the single plateaus. It’s not just a piece of world-building for easthetics’ sake, but the premise for Kaladin’s entire existence in this book.

Twenty years ago, the king was murdered. An assassination ordered by the Parshendi, a race of human-like people who had just made peace shortly before apparently changing their minds and killing the king. So now there’s a sort of revenge-war going on that has warped into something quite different. With the use of bridges, the High Lords cover the Shattered Plains to meet the Parshendi and fight them. But on some of the plateaus, there are gemhearts – a sought-after type of riches and glory and whatnot. It’s way too much to explain here (which is why Sanderson wrote 1000 pages, duh). The important thing is that Kaladin becomes a bridgeman, a person who – along with other slaves – carries a bridge at a run, puts it down for the army to cross, crosses himself, then picks it up again and repeats until the assult is done. And then do the whole thing on the way back again. It’s absolutely gruelling but also has some of the best descriptions in the book. The utter hopelessness that takes hold of Kaladin permeated his early chapters and gave the novel some serious atmosphere.

Through the course of the book, Kaladin changes, grows, learns things about himself and faces his past. That’s all I’m willing to say, spoiler-free, but his character development was simply stunning and I looked forward to his chapters the most. He also becomes friends with a spren, a sort of Sanderson-esque Tinker Bell. She’s awesome!

Next there is Dalinar, a High Lord on the Shattered Plains, showing the war from another perspective. He’s got his own problems, apart from running assaults and fighting a war he no longer believes in. During Highstorms (oh boy, another bit of world-building too intricate to describe. It’s just a really big storm, you guys) he is haunted by visions. It’s the Stormlight Archive version of VR where Dalinar sees stuff and can interact with the people he is shown. Sometimes he “wakes up” in somebody else’s body. I won’t say I understood all of it – which was definitely on purpose on the author’s part – but it was damn thrilling to read. I liked Dalinar a lot, not just because he is basically a lonely Stark in a Lannister world, but also because his story line creates such a nice balance to Kaladin’s. Where we follow the lowliest of slaves, doing the hardest and most dangerous job during the war, Dalinar shows what it’s like on top of the food chain, being the man who commands slaves to run into their death. Except, Dalinar being a Stark, he doesn’t waste bridge crews the way his rival Sadeas does.

Dalinar’s story served pretty much to make sense of the societal norms. We learn things like reading and writing being a woman’s job. Men need glorified secretaries if they want stuff written down or written stuff read to them. I found this incredibly silly, but then again, so is the idea that people are “sorted” into castes based on their eye color. Lighteyes are aristocracy, darkeyes are on the bottom. I suppose it’s not much sillier than dividing people by their skin color, but picking eye color made it all the more obvious how arbitrary and stupid it really is – picking people’s station by physical differences. Dalinar’s story is the one that delivers the most exciting battle scenes and offers a seriously AMAZEBALLS epic ending. All balanced with a nice dose of world-building. Well done indeed.

way of kings alternate two covers

My least favorite story, I’m sad to say, is Shallan’s. The only female protagonist got the worst deal, if you ask me. She is far from the Shattered Plains, and she has a plan of her own. Shallan arrives in Kharbranth, a city hewn into stone, to become the apprentice of the notorious Jasnah Kholin (who’s related to the current king, who is thus related to the guys fighting on the Shattered Plains). Jasnah is a scholar, so much time in Shallan’s storyline is spent with books, in dusty rooms, establishing more of the world, this time from a woman’s perspective. Another silly bit of world-building is that women (at least aristocracy) have a “safe pouch” in which they keep one of their hands hidden. Showing that hand is equivalent to me letting a boob hang out in public, so one hand is always sewn inside whichever garment Shallan wears. I hope there’ll be some cool explanation for that because it seems incredibly stupid and hindering in daily life. Seriously, I need to use both hands all the time.

Shallan’s story takes a LONG time to pick up pace, but when it does, it is both weird and creepy, and wonderfully exciting. She is the one who discovers this book’s big plot twist at the end, and it wasn’t even a cheap one. I really liked how it changed my world view (for the world in the novel, that is) completely and puts things into a different light. Shallan’s story isn’t bad, but it felt to me like much less care was put into it compared to Kaladin. I fully believe Kaladin was Brandon Sanderson’s favorite bit to write and that shows.

Lastly, there is another character who shows up much less frequently, but who is another constant. Szeth the assassin probably has the worst job you can imagine. He’s an assassin who has to kill whomever he is commanded by his current master. The only person he can’t kill is himself. And he yearns to die! We know very little about Szeth, except that he’s got some seriously cool tricks up his sleeve but, boy, do I want to know more about him.

All things considered – also the ones I didn’t even mention here, like Shardblades and spren, stormlight-infused gems and Parshendi armour – this is one hell of a book. It has epic battles, great character development, the right amoung of flashbacks, plus interludes following completely different characters in different places. As a series starter, the book did a lot of groundwork for the world-building, and there is no shortage of that, but it kept a nice balance between plot and exposition. We are thrown just enough hints to get us intrigued but Sanderson skilfully leaves many questions open for later.   It is a long book, yes, and it’s only the first part of ten (!) but I honestly can’t wait to read on and find out more about this world, follow these characters and see how everything is connected.

About the Graphic Audio edition:

Graphic Audio is usually unabridged recordings with a full cast, great sound effects and background music. This time, I noticed that some bits were abridged, although nothing important. It’s clear that “Kaladin said” and “Shallan thought” were left out, because we hear their actual voices saying or thinking stuff (thoughts have a sort of echo to distinguish from regular speech), but sometimes when I read along in the book, I noticed that a sentence or two of description was dropped. Again, nothing vital, and I can’t fault Graphic Audio the cuts in such a long story. I did follow along in the book quite a bit, if only for the illustrations and chapter headings. I also recognised some actor voices from the Mistborn series, and I must commend them on the excellent job they did – although all I have to go on is their voice, they truly sounded like completely different people.
Now I’m facing the difficult decision of whether to wait for the next book to come out as a Graphic Audio or to start reading my hardback copy. We’ll see how long I can wait…

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Seriously excellent!

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Brandon Sanderson – The Alloy of Law

I have made no secret of my love for Graphic Audio and the way they do audiobooks. With a full cast of actors, fantastic narrators, sound effects and music, it’s my favorite way of listening to a story. It took me a while to get over Vin’s story in the Mistborn universe but now I am ready to read the next chapter set in that big sprawling world of allomancers.

alloy of lawTHE ALLOY OF LAW
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2011
Ebook: 332 pages
Audiobook: ~ 8 hours
Series: Misborn #4, Alloy Era #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Wax crept along the ragged fence in a crouch, his boots scraping the dry ground.

Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity – railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.

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It was hard for me to accept a story set 300 years after Vin’s tale and my mind buckled a bit when Waxilium Ladrian used his allomancy in combination with guns. But I quickly fell into this new version of the Mistborn universe and I really enjoy the different vibe of this story. Other than the epic scope and Dramatic And Important Tale of the first Mistborn trilogy, this is a much lighter, more fun read that makes the pages fly even faster.

Wax is a twinborn, somebody who can use both allomancy and feruchemy, and he has just returned from the Roughs to the city of Elendel to take over his dead uncle’s estate and keep the family name going. This premise already set off an explosion in my head because of course everything hails back to Vin and Elend’s story and there are tons and tons of references to the first Mistborn trilogy. Some are in plain sight, such as city names, others are woven into the world building. A religion may be based on real events (but twisted, of course, as history handed down the story and invariably changed it in the retelling), or swear words based on actual people. Sanderson is a smart man so he doesn’t give a lot away but just enough to get me to bite and break my brain trying to fit everything into its place. I really enjoy that sort of thing.

alloy of law GABut of course, a new era of allomancers means new characters and this was what worried me. Unnecessarily, as it turns out. Wax and Wayne, the cheeky but adorable friend, took my heart by storm. Marasi turned out to be great although she blushed a bit too much for my taste. Although she doesn’t appear for long in this book, I also really liked the gun specialist Ranette. Another female character, Steris, was a completely over the top heartless, practical, stoic woman whom we’re not supposed to like but who showed some real emotion towards the end. I was actually impressed and hope that she gets to develop more in future books.

The plot is fast-paced and fun. Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are investigating the Vanishers, a group of criminals who rob train cars, but so quickly nobody understands how they do it. They also kidnap women and nobody knows why. Being a former lawkeeper, Wax can’t help but stick his nose into the case and he and Wayne banter their way to the truth. Dialogue, especially funny dialogue, is something that Sanderson didn’t have down all that well, at least to my taste. But Wayne – who is definitely the heart of all that’s fun in this book – bantered his way merrily through the entire book. He cleverly cons people using his allomantic powers and it’s just pure fun to watch.

Speaking of allomantic powers – allomancy leveled up! I was surprised at how many things stuck in my brain from the first Mistborn trilogy, like which metal gave you which power and so on. Now there’s a complete new set of rules to learn, but unlike Kelsier’s lessons to Vin, there are no chapters dedicated to explaining allomancy and feruchemy, or how they can be combined. It’s all kind of clear from context, at least the abilities of the protagonists and the villain. I especially love that there is now a power that can manipulate time. This opens so many doors to cool places I can’t wait to continue reading this series.

The writing was Sanderson lite. At less than 400 pages, this is a short book, but it is right just the way it is. The lower page count doesn’t give Sanderson enough time to dive into his new world endlessly but gives us just a big enough taste to keep us wanting more. The plot happens quickly but doesn’t feel rushed, the characters get enough time for development to make them sympathetic but there’s room for more. And there was even enough time for a few surprises about which I can say nothing because spoilers in Sanderson books are really, really huge things.

All things considered, this was a Hollywood movie in book form with guns and action, witty banter, great new superpowers and a well-known setting in new clothing. I am hooked!

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

About the Graphic Audio version:

Graphic Audio did a perfect job of keeping the Mistborn universe alive. They use the Mistborn theme to set the tone, the narrator is the same one who told us Vin’s story, but the character actors are (mostly) new. Of course, certain actors from the first trilogy play new characters here, but they changed their voices and accents in such a way that I didn’t find it distracting at all. When allomancy is used, the same tingling sound effect is used that I heard so many times when Vin was learning how to push and pull metals. It’s the perfect combination of old and new.

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Second opinions:

 

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Brandon Sanderson – Steelheart

So, after reading The Fifth Season, a major book hangover took hold of me. I tried reading ten different books that I had all been looking forward to, but nothing seemed right. Instead, I decided to pick something completely different from Jemisin’s magnificent post-apocalpytic novel.  And because I knew it would be exciting and could be read quickly, I went for Brandon Sanderson’s superhero series. This was exactly what I needed to get me back on my reading feet, so to speak.

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STEELHEART
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: The Reckoners #1
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.
Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

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This book has all the ingredients for a Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately, it also has about the same amount of depth. So one day, out of the blue, superheroes appear all over the world (although of course mostly the USA, because the rest of the world is not interesting, right?) but instead of being vigilantes helping keep the peace, they turn to evil and make the world a really shitty place.

I had a whole, level-headed review prepared but I deleted it all because I need to rant a bit. I liked the book for its entertainment value, don’t get me wrong. But I get the feeling that either Sanderson’s heart is not in this series as much as in his Mistborn universe or the Stormlight Archive, or he took this whole “writing for a teenage audience” thing a step too far. Because comparatively, this book reads very dumbed down. Sanderson can do better!

So, one day, supervillains popped up all over the world. But is it all over the world? The setting of David’s story is Newcago (a name so stupid it made me cringe every time it came up) and, from reading this book, it seems like the rest of the world doesn’t really exist. There are mentions of other places in the USA and, I believe, Paris comes up once. But there is no clue as to how the rest of the world coped with this event. We learn that Steelheart, the strongest of the Epics in the area, rules over Newcago. The pecking order among Epics is pretty clear. Those with the stronger powers (or better hidden weaknesses) are on top, while lesser Epics either work for them or die trying to take over.

But, again, what about other places? I didn’t really expect to find long explanations of how other countries handled the Epic problem but there isn’t even the slightest hint as to the effects Calamity had on the rest of the world. I very much doubt that the entire globe would react the same way (because duh). There must be places with a higher or lower Epic density, there must be safe havens without Epics, there must be cities and countries that work completely differently. Alas, we don’t know because America is all we get.

Fine, world-building rant out of the way, let me move on to the characters. They are your standard Ocean’s Eleven, heist story, Mission Impossible crew. One boss with a sinister past, one hacker, one gun specialist, one hot girl (who, OF COURSE, is the protagonist’s love interest), and so on. David joins the Reckoners almost by accident and manages to sway their plans so easily, it makes them look like fools. Now it’s all about David’s revenge on Steelheart for killing his father. To achieve this, they have to get rid of some other Epics first. And this part, the actual plot, was pretty gripping. There are edge-of-your-seat action scenes, moments of bonding between the characters, and secrets. Lots of secrets.

Some of these secrets are blatantly obvious which makes me think even more that Sanderson dumbed down his story on purpose. I know that he can set up awesome twists that are difficult or even impossible to guess. In Steelheart, the clues are all over the place so the surprise at the end isn’t all that surprising. The same goes for Steelheart’s weakness, the one thing the Reckoners need to find out in order to kill him. After so much build-up, after David’s careful, meticulous research, I expected something… well, epic. But Steelheart’s weakness, useful as it may be for him, was pretty meh.

There are some really cool ideas in this otherwise trope-laden  story. An entire city turned into steel, cool gadgets, and a Pokemon-like index of Epic’s weaknesses and strengths. The ideas are all there. What’s lacking is depth, in every aspect. The characters are cardboard and, with the exception of the reveals at the end, none of them really seem to have a backstory, none of them had lives before joining the Reckoners. Or at least the author didn’t find it important to show those lives to us. Even David’s past is wrapped up in a sentence or two. I don’t believe that a teenage boy, no matter how set on revenge he might be, does nothing else in his entire life than devote his time to killing one particular Epic.

So, overall, the only thing this book has going for it is plot and fast-paced writing. Which is exactly what I needed after the dense, deep, and truly epic The Fifth Season. So for me, Steelheart was the right book at the right time. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is very little meat to it. It’s fun, it’s a quick read, it has great action and cool ideas. If this book is on your TBR, save it for a time when you want something light and not too serious.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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Brandon Sanderson – Elantris

After my massive book hangover caused by the Mistborn Trilogy, I thought a nice little standalone title would be just the thing. I’m using the word “little” in its widest sense here. Elantris wasn’t bad by any means but it didn’t compare to Sanderson’s later books. Despite the huge commitment, I’ll probably stick to the long epic series in the future.

elantrisELANTRIS
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2005
Paperback: 638
Audiobook: 27,5 hours
Standalone
My rating:
6,5/10

First sentence: Elantris was beautiful once.

ELANTRIS WAS A PLACE OF GLORY
The capital of Arelon, the home to people transformed into magic-using demigods by the Shaod.
But then the magic failed, Elantris started to rot, and its inhabitants turned into powerless wrecks.
And in the new capital, Kae, close enough to Elantris for everyone to be reminded of what they have lost, a princess arrives. Sarene is to be married to unite Teod and Arelon against the religious imperialists of Fjordell. But she is told that Raoden, her husband to be, is dead.
Determined to carry on the fight for Teod and Arelon’s freedom, Sarene clashes with the high priest Hrathen. If Hrathen can persuade the populace to convert, Fjordell will reign supreme.
But there are secrets in Elantris, the dead and the ruined may yet have a role to play in this new world. Magic lives.

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After the Mistborn trilogy, any Sanderson book was going to have a hard time keeping up. If it hadn’t been for Graphic Audio, his first (published) novel would have been my last choice for the next Sanderson read. But you know how I feel about the full cast, unabridged amazingness of Graphic Audio. A standalone novel – as opposed to three books with three audio files each – presented a welcome opportunity (at least for my bank account). I apologize in advance for any misspelling of names (ugh, the names!) because I only heard them spoken out loud and didn’t read along in the paperback.

Elantris used to be a city of gods until one day it wasn’t anymore. Anybody afflicted by the Shaod is now exiled to Elantris, to live there in eternal pain, or die of madness. Raoden, prince of Arelon, is perhaps a bit too much of a hero, right from the start. In Elantris, he immediately questions the status quo and starts a revolution. To be fair, the status quo is chaos, murder, theft, and pain – so Raoden represents what any sane person would do in his place. With the help of Galladon, who unfortunately grows into a stereotypical sidekick, Raoden turns Elantris upside down and helps its people find some peace and happiness within its grimy walls.

On the outside, we follow Princess Sarene, Raoden’s betrothed who finds herself minus one husband (believing him dead when he’s really in Elantris) and has to navigate the politics of the court. Likable as she was, her character was very overdrawn – the intelligent girl pretending to be dumb in order to manipulate people into trusting her? The beautiful girl who also happens to be a master swordfighter? Yeah, Sarene is cool but at times I found her skills and accomplishments a bit too perfect, too forcefully surprising. She is WonderWoman, she can do anything! A flaw here or there would have been nice.

art by Alain Brion

art by Alain Brion

As far as plot goes, this book took a long while to get going and never really found its focal point. We see Raoden convincing the Elantrians to work together and make a better life, we see Sarene manipulate her way around court to make the king see reason and save the land. There is also a religious war going on in the background, an element that I found completely unnecessary. But I guess if it’s Epic Fantasy, it needs some kind of war and religion seems as good a reason as any. Once Raoden sets his mind to figure out Elantris’ secret (why did Gods suddenly turn into sickly immortals, doomed to eternal suffering and all that), other plot strings are dropped. Sarene takes her sweet time to get into any contact with Elantris and only then do things really get interesting.

The novel clearly has pacing problems, with the ending being full of events and action sequences, the beginning an undecided build-up and introduction of characters who aren’t all that important. It is clear that Sanderson has honed his craft since he wrote Elantris and because of that, I actually find nitpicking this novel quite fascinating. The overly perfect protagonists, the random scenes that don’t have any impact on later events, the characters who quickly peek in, then either drop away, or are revealed to be somebody else – which, by the way, didn’t really have the impact it should have. Neither revelations about Sarene’s family touched me in any way, nor the secrets Galladon reveals to Raoden. They felt cheap, forced in for shock value, but left me utterly indifferent. It feels like Sanderson was still trying out his plot-twisty ways to find his footing. Well, he must have found it some time after writing Elantris.

The relationships between characters were my favorite part to follow, in part because the world-building didn’t do it for me, and the naming conventions were atrocious. The world is your generic fantasy map with different peoples living in different countries. Some cultural differences are shown but none of them revolutionary or original. Religion obviously plays a part but other than using different gods’ names for cursing, the main characters weren’t very religious. The names really take the cake, though. I looked up how to spell some of them and never in a million years would I have thought the someone pronounced “tell-rhy-eye” would be spelled “Telrii”. Sure, it makes linguistic sense in a way, but it goes so much against my instincts that I would never have managed to read an entire book with names like this. Having them read to me was fine but reading myself would have tripped me out of the narrative every time.

The ending came in two distinct parts for me. On the one hand, the secret about Elantris is out of the bag, on the other hand, Sarene and Raoden reach the conclusion of their character arcs. While the revelation about Elantris didn’t elicit more than a shrug and an “okay”, I actually loved how Sarene and Raoden developed and grew closer together. They didn’t grow as separate characters so much (being perfect from the get go) but they did get to know each other and form a believable bond. I would have liked more information on their floating companion magic-roboty-creatures but maybe the author saved this bit for a sequel?

Altogether, this wasn’t a bad book. I am certain that I would have liked it less if I hadn’t listened to the audio version and even that didn’t grab me as much as Mistborn. However, I’m now on a quest to read All The Sandersons and this is one more book to strike off my list. On to more books in the Mistborn universe!

MY RATING: 6,5/10 –  Okay

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Second opinions: