#MSTReRead Update

So I’ve just finished The Dragonbone Chair, and have moved on to Stone of Farewell in my Great Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn ReRead.  You can read my first post on the subject here.

Basically, I’m rereading the series in preparation for the release of The Heart of What Was Lost, an interim novel set between To Green Angel Tower and the forthcoming sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.  Instead of blogging the whole reread and bogging you down with plot recounts and such (not that that doesn’t have its place), I’m sharing my thoughts on Twitter under the hashtag #mstreread.  Here are my latest tweets.

 

And then this happened…

More to come!

‘Exile’ Featured on Benjamin of Tomes

Booktuber Benjaminoftomes recently read and reviewed Exile: Part 1 of the Book of Ever on his YouTube channel.  Check it out below:

Bookish Lifestyle Calls ‘Exile’ ‘A Journey and an Experience’

buttonTiffany from Bookish Lifestyle recently reviewed Exile: The Book of Ever Part 1 and gave it four out of five mustaches.  Here are some of her thoughts:

The main character Ever was wonderful and you could tell from the start that she was different and followed her own heart, but she also let on that she believed a higher power was willing it.
  The characters themselves were extremely well written.  There was not one person that I did not feel I couldn’t envision.  Ever was spectacular and original, crafted to gain the readers attention.  Ever is strong willed and is the kind of girl that you want on your side.  Not because she is fearless, but because she is afraid and still moves forward.  This is something that the other POV that you occasionally get, sees when most others do not.  Jared came in a little quick and seemed like her could possibly be a problem (love triangle), but he doesn’t come out that way once you know him.  Beyond these two there are still many characters that stand out, but to even give short details would consume this review.

‘Exile’ in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

Exile AMZN-EPUBSo I’ve entered Exile: The Book of Ever into Mark Lawrence’s awesome Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, which I talked about here just a few days ago.  (Exile is free for Kindle through this Monday, by the way.)

My book got sent over to be reviewed by the excellent people at Fantasy Faction, which is very exciting for me, as I’ve been a reader of theirs for quite some time now.

dragonlogo2

Mark Lawrence will be updating his post (linked above, and here) as reviews start to trickle in, and you can also check the individual blogs for updates as well.  If you happen to be talking about the Blog-Off on Twitter or another social media site, be sure to use the hashtags #SPFBO and #SelfPubFantasyBlogOff!

The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan

The-Dark-DefilesReading a Richard Morgan novel is like trying to find your way through a delightfully twisted hedge maze in the dark–if that hedge maze were the haunted remains of a long-dead race of demonic overlords jury-rigged into use as the headquarters of a robotic brothel and the dark was composed of the ectoplasmic innards of human history.  It’s not your average piece of fiction, and the experience of reading it isn’t your average walk through your mother’s manicured garden.  And let’s face it–if that’s what you were looking for, it’s unlikely you would ever have picked up a Richard Morgan novel in the first place.

If it’s not obvious from the paragraph above (and, in true Richard Morgan style, I like to think, it may not be), I’m a Richard Morgan fan.  I haven’t read through his entire catalog (yet), but when I heard the author of Altered Carbon was trying his hand at epic fantasy, I happily started waving money in his general direction.  He didn’t disappoint.

Continue reading

Words of Radiance

I wanted so much to love Words of Radiance; I wanted it to be the rebirth of classic epic fantasy that we’d all been waiting for (i.e., non-grimdark), a doorstopper tome that not only justified its size and its existence but that reawakened a passion in me lit by the likes of Tolkien and Tad Williams and early Robert Jordan.  Maybe my expectations were too high.  Maybe I’m simply at a different place in my life.  But as much as I liked the novel, the second installment in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, I found that I could not love it.  Not unconditionally; not the way I love some others.

It’s hard to write about Brandon Sanderson without writing about epic fantasy as a genre, as he has taken Robert Jordan’s place at its forefront: his are the novels that fans wait for, the ones that hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, the ones that form the backbone of the genre.  If there’s a fantasy mainstream, Brandon Sanderson is it.  Bestsellers of this type are rarely examples of the literary avant garde–especially when it comes to epic fantasy–but the older I get, the less patience I have with bloated series that prioritize world-building over character and story.

Words of Radiance is an exercise in excess, even more than its predecessor, The Way of Kings, and its overwhelmingly positive reception is a perfect example of the growing tendency (among fantasy book bloggers, mostly) to excuse bloated, clumsy story-telling simply because epic fantasy is supposed to be that way.  Is there an argument to be made that you shouldn’t complain about epic fantasy being too long, because epic fantasy has always been too long?  That complaining about length in a ten-book series of thousand-page novels is silly?  Yes.  But that argument ultimately ignores the fact that we have accepted this gluttonous, kitchen-sink version of epic fantasy more due to a lack of other options than because it’s what we really want.

Which is not to say that there aren’t people who want what Sanderson’s dishing out: The Stormlight Archive is fantasy that rewards the true nerd, the one who reads the wikis and follows the rumors and has theories on every possible unresolved plot point.  Much like The Wheel of Time before it, The Stormlight Archive presents world-building so complex that only the most die-hard fan is truly rewarded, the one willing to reread it until things make sense, the one willing to comb through forum posts until each and every secondary and tertiary character is analyzed and discussed, every artifact catalogued, every magic system codified and cross-referenced.  Simply put, you need a Ph.D in Sanderson to truly understand Sanderson.

It’s not just that this is a big, long series; Mr. Sanderson has spent most of his professional career linking all of his adult fiction together into the overarching world of the Cosmere, the universe in which all of his books take place.  And it’s here that we really see the complexity of The Stormlight Archive, as much of the content references or at least relates to other characters and other books.  This series is to be something of a keystone for the Cosmere, and more so than any of the series that preceded it, it requires a working knowledge of Sanderson’s larger oeuvre. Can you read The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance without having read any of Sanderson’s other novels?  Sure.  But a lot of it won’t make sense to you.  The world of Roshar is vast and complicated enough to be overwhelming to those who have read the other, connected series; Sanderson neophytes have little hope of understanding the deeper, central conflicts that the books often refer to.  Some of the interludes and all of the chapter epigraphs will be almost nonsensical, and arguably the main antagonists of these two books are quite vague and poorly defined in the absence of external knowledge.  I’d imagine the experience would be similar to watching the film adaptations of The Hobbit without having read either The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit itself, or seen the Peter Jackson Rings movies.  You could enjoy the story, enjoy the action, but the foreshadowing and allusion and most importantly the central meaning of it all would be a bit over your head.

Despite these complaints, I did enjoy many parts of this book.  The world-building is creative and self-indulgent in a way that only an experienced reader of epic fantasy could appreciate, the action is gripping, and the climax is exciting. The pacing, however, needed a lot of work.  It’s almost a cliche to say this at this point, but boy, did this book need some cutthroat editing.  The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance might have a great fantasy story inside them, but in order to get at it you’d have to combine them into one novel and cut around two-thirds of the word count like Friday afternoon math class.

A big part of the problem is geographic: the characters are all still in exactly the same place as they were in the first thousand-page novel of this series.  There’s very little physical progression.  Instead we get a lot of will-he or won’t-he waffling as Kaladin, one of three main viewpoint characters in this book, struggles with a destiny that was obvious on page one of book one, and chapters of self-indulgent, meandering thinking from Shallan.  Both are bad habits he seems to have picked up from Robert Jordan: a lot of the supposed dramatic tension in these books is very reminiscent of that of Mr. Jordan’s later Wheel of Time novels.  Otherwise serviceable plot and character arcs–such as a hero struggling with his destiny, or a character investigating a lost, ancient secret–are treated as far more mysterious than they actually are and drawn out to the point of absurdity. Remember Rand al’Thor’s internal struggle about whether he should be “hard” or try to find some humanity and laugh again?  Remember how drawn out that was, how endless and stupid it became?  This isn’t quite that bad, but it’s in the ballpark.

In the same way, Sanderson’s Kaladin takes so long to become the Knight Radiant that he obviously is (around two thousand pages and roughly 800,000 words, by my count), that the pay-off, however gripping and dramatic, was always destined to be anticlimactic.  Words of Radiance and its predecessor are essentially two thousand pages of getting a few characters into a position where they have some idea of who their enemy is and what their capabilities are. Shallan Davar, on the other hand, is essentially a lens character, one whose “investigation” in the lost city of Urithiru allows the author to infodump about the world and its backstory without it seeming like that’s what he’s doing–except when it does.

Shallan’s main purpose in The Stormlight Archive so far seems to be that she has an idea of where this city is; to that end, we are treated to hundreds of pages of Shallan bathing, and talking to her familiar-like spren, Pattern; Shallan drawing, and talking to Pattern; Shallan thinking, and talking to Pattern; and Shallan ordering people around, and talking to Pattern.  Occasionally, she gets to be precocious and do something like get trapped in a chasm or active an ancient device. Her backstory, which takes up the flashback chapters of this novel (another indulgence that only adds to the word count), is another example of drawn out scenery-chewing that William Shatner would envy.  For two books now we’ve been reading about the shocking, mysterious event that occurred behind closed doors in Shallan’s family home, the one that resulted in her desperate situation in the first book.  In Words of Radiance, you find out what it is.  Be prepared to meh. And that’s just this book.  There’s eight more of these, guys.

There are some things to love about Words of Radiance: timeless moral struggles, brave knights, honor, gripping duels, indulgent magic, conversations with gods, an admittedly thrilling last act.  But they don’t make up for the novel’s flaws. And that, unfortunately, is how I’ll continue to think of this book and this series, until and unless things get a lot more interesting from here on in: as an epic fantasy great in concept, but flawed in execution, one that could have been truly legendary but for its tendency to drown in its own excess. It kills me to say that, because I think ten years ago my opinion might have been different.  But that was before I was a writer myself. I know I’m in the minority here, both from the book’s sales and from having talked to people who have read and loved it.

The whole process of reading it and thinking about it have made me think a lot about my own relationship with fantasy.  Have I gotten too old, too jaded, too snobbish for mainstream fantasy?  Would I think some of these same things about my favorite epic fantasies if I read them for the first time at this age–if I were divorced from the warm glow of nostalgia that comes from re-reading them?  I don’t know.  I hope not. To those for whom The Stormlight Archive is that life-changing favorite book, my sincerest apologies.  But it doesn’t matter what I think.  All that matters, when it comes to fantasy, is that sense of wonder, that sense of awe.  I felt glimpses of it in Words of Radiance, and because of that I intend to read the rest of the series.  I hope it will shine through brighter there.  If you’re already seeing it, don’t let me stop you.  Shine on.

The Broken Empire

3cover2

Mark Lawrence writes grimdark epic fantasy the way Wes Anderson writes dialogue: with a wink and a nod.  The wink is intense and the nod grave, bespeaking a hideous sense of irony underlying the story.  It keeps you turning pages.  This isn’t to say that he can’t be deadly serious–the three novels of The Broken Empire trilogy are some of the darkest, goriest fantasy I’ve read–or that he takes his subject matter lightly–his work questions the very nature of humanity and its tendency toward violence, drags its characters through the latrine pits of the human condition, and brings them out with all the baggage you’d expect.  The horror might be knowing and darkly funny, but it’s never absurd.  Absurdity connotes uselessness, and everything that happens in these books is useful to someone, if only someone’s inner demon.  But for every horrific act his protagonist, Jorg Ancrath, commits, there’s an unspoken meta-textual question.  Dare I? the author asks.  (He dares.)  Do you want me to, dear reader? (NO!  Don’t!  Yes yes yes yes yes do it, please do it.)

The first two books of the trilogy, Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns, end with explicit challenges from the narrator, who tells the story in the first person: you want reasons, come take them.  You don’t like what I’m doing, come stop me.  It’s a powerful bit of dialogue, almost Socratic in its directness.  Jorg Ancrath is the ultimate antihero–the villain, set not only on revenge but on acquiring power for its own sake, whom you root for even when he’s committing atrocities.  For every person that stopped reading one of Lawrence’s books because they were too graphic or shocking, there were three others who found themselves inevitably drawn in by the sheer, bold humanity of Jorg’s voice.  Evil is much more challenging to us when it’s self-aware: Jorg knows he’s a sinner, knows he’ll always take blood and chaos over peace and order whenever the choice is presented to him, sometimes because it’s necessary and sometimes simply because it’s his nature.

One thing that makes it all so much fun is the fact that Lawrence’s prose proves more than equal to the task at hand: these are some of the most quotable books I’ve read in recent memory.  How can you not love a man who can write “The biggest lies we save for ourselves,” or:

“I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears. The spirits of the dead have nothing on it. The dead one tried to show me hell, but it was a pale imitation of the horror I can paint on the darkness in a quiet moment.”

The fact that the Hundred Kingdoms are presented as a far-future, post-apocalyptic version of future Europe, set a thousand years after a massive nuclear war, only serves to underline the point Lawrence seems to be making.  Men are violent, apt to destroy themselves.  Destruction comes in cycles.  Sometimes it takes a violent man to end a destructive cycle.

To focus too much on the violence of the story would be to miss the point, however: the final choice Jorg makes in Emperor of Thorns, however violent in its own way, is fundamentally different from all of the others.  It’s just as self-aware, but entirely unselfish.  And it’s what ultimately makes him a hero, despite his tarnished soul.

I loved these books, loved the twisted future they portray, loved the extremity of the characters and the surprising magics they wield, loved the ghosts that haunt them and unchanging humanity at the heart of it all.  Read them.  I dare you.