Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Sanderson Review

I promise I read other authors...

I finished reading Elantris by Brandon Sanderson about week ago. In order to catch up I'll try to keep this review short. This was Sanderson's first novel, and it really shows. It's not bad, but having read the Mistborn books I can see he's come a long way since. If you particularly want to read his works and haven't started yet, give this one a go first. You'll probably enjoy it more that way.

The premise of this book is great - the once godlike are now akin to lepers. Characters were pleasantly multi-dimensional, at least for the most part. Good and evil were not clearly defined though some were a lot greyer than others. One or two characters bugged me - one too perfect, the other almost comedically evil - a little but I liked that the primary antagonist wasn't acting on "evil" motives. Even the nastiest of characters showed a human side, if only briefly.

The exploration of the magic system through the main characters' discoveries that was seen in Mistborn is here too. The main difference is that in Mistborn things tended to dawn on the main characters as you worked them out for yourself. Here some of them were clear a mile off, and the supposed genius of the characters was blindingly obvious well ahead of time. And the ending was also always going to be the way it was. It was clear very early on how things had to resolve - it was just a matter of how the story got there.

To sum up, Elantris is enjoyable enough and showed the promise that Brandon Sanderson has come good on later on - this book, while very good by general fantasy standards, just isn't up to the standard of his later works.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sad Wolverine with T-rex

Paper wolverine appears to be a little sad about something. Maybe because his claws are so much smaller than robot-skeleton-t-rex's?

I made this paper toy from one of the patterns available at the Mini Papercraft blog a little while ago and have realised I never shared a picture of him. Fixing that today. Parts were a little fiddly to cut out with an x-acto knife but I love the results. The newest one there is Batman. I will absolutely be making one of those in future.

I'll be doing a lot of house-moving in the next week but I'll try to post at least once or twice!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review - The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson

After enjoying the epic trilogy there was one more of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn books to read. This one is set three hundred years after the last one, and the world has come a long way. The world of the first three books is the stuff of legend. The characters I got to know so well appear now in place names, religion, turns of phrase and in one case, as a bogeyman. Eastern street slang reappears in an interesting way - I won't ruin that for you, but it made me laugh.

Instead of epic fantasy this book is a mash-up of fantasy, western and detective. I appreciated the genre mixing, it was well done, and a good genre mix is something I often enjoy. The epic scope of the earlier trilogy is gone, though with a revelation at the very end I began to wonder if that might return. I thought the scope of this book worked well, so I am uncertain as to whether I'd welcome this new setting taking a turn for the epic.

The map at the beginning of the book is well worth examining, it's very interesting to see how things have developed since the end of the trilogy. Place names such as Elendel, Rashekin and Hammondar Bay were highly amusing. I imagine you could read this book without reading the trilogy if you wanted to, but I got a lot out of knowing what had come before, and having quite a bit more understanding of certain things than any of the characters appear to have.

The magic system has evolved with time and the dilution and crossing of bloodlines. The strongest variants seem to have largely disappeared but different combinations of skills allow all kinds of things that weren't possible before. Some established gaps in knowledge from the trilogy have been filled in, but knowledge has also been lost, consequently I was able to gain insight that it's clear the characters couldn't. I found this particularly interesting. In a more epic book I think I'd miss some of the things that are gone but with the story here operating on a smaller scale it was probably best not to have these.

The only significant nitpick I'd have with The Alloy of Law is the main character's name. One of my pet peeves are names that have ambiguous pronunciation (or conventional names with bizarre spellings). I find they distract me from focusing on the rest of the story and ruin my ability to fully immerse myself. Many invented fantasy names are fine - Vin, found in the first three books, is not a problem. Waxilliam, on the other hand, is. The protagonist has a very serviceable nickname, Wax, but while this was used extensively in dialogue it was not generally used in the rest of the text. I would have liked to see Waxilliam reserved for formal use as it would have made things a lot smoother.

On the whole I enjoyed this book. It was a total change of scope, but as it is clearly a totally new story arc this isn't a problem. It was a lot of fun in a well thought out setting. Although there is no release date set Brandon Sanderson's blog indicates that there will be a sequel to this book. I'll keeping my eye out for it, it will be very interesting to see where things go from here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mistborn Trilogy Review Part Two - The Hero of Ages

I've just finished Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, so this post comes with another minor spoiler warning - while I won't tell you exactly what happens no doubt it will be enough to bother some.

Hero of Ages uses several point-of-view characters who are far more spread out than in previous books, and their stories are not bound so tightly together as in the first two books. Each plays a part in the big picture but the parts are more distinct. Although I initially found some more engaging than others they all eventually came into their own.

Several of my concerns from Well of Ascension appeared to be coming over into Hero of Ages. After a while these began to lessen and the pace of The Final Empire started to reassert itself. Examination of the internal musings of characters did not disappear - but thankfully were no longer repetitively focused on feelings and insecurity. One character did continue this to a degree I consider excessive, having finished the book I can see why, however still consider it to have been overdone. Recap wasn't entirely absent either, but was done with reasonable restraint, and shed new light on things rather than simply repeating.

Events from the end of The Well of Ascension appeared to be producing the imbalance that I thought they risked, but as with my other concerns, these sorted themselves out. When the major revelations started coming I found the book far more engaging and enjoyable and thankfully, unlike Well of Ascension it began to pick up the pace. Some revelations were at least partially predictable and gave me the sense of satisfaction from working something out - others completely blindsided me. At the end of chapter seventy-two I realised that there was no chance whatsoever of putting this book down. One of the revelations I had been suspecting was thrown out into the open, proving my suspicions but on a far grander scale than I had been expecting. From here ploughed straight on to the end without so much as looking up from the page. I was left with a fantastic sense of satisfaction, my mind continuing to process and expand ideas.

I couldn't help but draw comparison with David Eddings' Belgariad and Malloreon series. Shortly after finishing Hero of Ages I realised that there were noticeable similarities in the theological goings-on. The execution and detail of these, however, is sufficiently different that I would not call this a flaw, just an interesting comparison.

The Mistborn trilogy's greatest assets would have to be the magic system and how carefully planned it appeared to be - even at the end of this trilogy it is clear that not all has been told, but everything fits together perfectly. The initial description of the magics at play seems logical and well understood, but time and time again the characters find they have more to learn and that it is far bigger than anticipated. This does not feel, as it can in some series, as if the author has tacked more on. Bits and pieces of story from earlier on support every new revelation allowing you to see earlier events in a different light. The Final Empire looks very different once the revelations of Hero of Ages are considered and I am very tempted to re-order the book from the library to see what other implications I did not realise were there before.

Although the middle of the Mistborn trilogy was decidedly lacklustre the beginning and end make it one of the best new fantasy series I have read in a long time. I think I am experiencing a book hangover.

I have already got my hands on a copy of another book set in the same world - The Alloy of Law is set many years later and from the author's notes at the beginning, is a side book rather than the opening of a new series. There notes also suggest that there may one day be three trilogies set up in this world in different time periods – if so I will look forward to reading those.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mistborn Trilogy Review Part One - The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension

That intermission went rather longer than expected - but I'm back again. There's a lot going on at the moment, including packing up to move house. I'll probably have to store a lot of things for some time so the crafty focus from the first few posts might well be lessened , but I'll do my best. For now, book reviews.

I'm currently reading Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, this brief review will cover the first two books The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension. I've kept spoilers to a minimum, but if you are particularly concerned about these things, consider this a warning.

I read The Final Empire over a month ago. I was seriously impressed - my more recent ventures into fantasy reading have been fun, but it's been a while since I've found a series that I've really got involved in. This first book set a blistering pace - every now and then I'd go back to check a detail of a previous event and be amazed to find it was only two or three pages back. This book kept me reading far later into the night than I should have because I just had to read one more chapter, then one more, and one more again until common sense prevailed. I particularly loved that this book, despite being the first in a trilogy, is able to stand on its own as a complete story - the drive to continue reading the series had more to do with a thirst for more than being hurried onward by a cliffhanger.

When I finished The Final Empire I was desperate to get started on The Well of Ascension, but a changeover in library systems (see the lovely new catalogue here) caused a bit of a delay. With the new system up and running I was able to order a copy from far further afield than the older system allowed, and got reading.

The Well of Ascension, unfortunately, just didn't impress me as well as its predecessor. It was still an enjoyable read, and the change from rebelling against an evil emperor to running a government really wasn't the issue. The fantastic pace of The Final Empire was lost to a great deal of internal musing from several characters. There was also far too much recap of the first book's events. I find this disconcerting in a trilogy - it feels like the author does not trust the audience to remember what happened in the first book. In a series which encourages the reader to jump in anywhere constant recap is one thing - though Terry Pratchett's Discworld books manage with very little of it - but in this book it was totally unnecessary. The book could have got to the point with far fewer words. Once the story did get moving it was very enjoyable. I did not dislike the book, but think that it could have been a lot better if it had got right some of the things the first book did.

I have started the third book Hero of Ages, and the opening is promising. One character's developments have me feeling a little unsure - these started at the conclusion of the previous book and feel a little convenient and deus ex machina, however there are interesting things going on and the pace has improved dramatically. The first book is being cast in a new light and revelations are coming thick and fast. I have hopes for this one yet. I will have more to say when I've finished reading.

Now, off to bed to get on with the reading.