Tag Archives: Robert Jordan

On Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” (Mistborn #1)

10 Jun

Mistborn (2006) by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the Mistborn series.

Mistborn [2006] by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the Mistborn series and opens up a world of metallurgical magic and fantastically written characters.

As much as I love sci-fi and fantasy, my reading list has been relatively abbreviated. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time carried me through high school, and I only read A Song of Ice and Fire when HBO released shots from filming the first season of Game of Thrones. Then there was that annoying four-year gap called “college” where I read only “literary” fiction. So here I am, still playing catch up on the must-reads of genre fiction. Luckily I have good friends who make sure my stunted education is rehabilitated. Someone gave me Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, the first installation in the famed eponymous trilogy, and it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Sanderson is particularly known for his elaborate worlds and magic systems, and his little fantasy peacock feathers are on full parade in Mistborn, where he builds a dark world of oppression and a complex metallurgic powers. The Final Empire has struggled and faded under the oppressive burden of an immortal emperor called the Lord Ruler for a thousand years. Ash from a ring of irate volcanoes constantly falls from the sky, killing flora and fauna, muting the colors of the world. Lower class “skaa” are no better than slaves, eking out their livings on plantations or in the sooty, labyrinthine streets of twisting metropolises–looting, begging, and thieving, which is how we meet our protagonist.

The talented Isaac Stewart designed the map for Luthadel, the Final Empire's capitol city and the main stage of Mistborn. And as we all know, every good fantasy series needs an equally good map. Isaac Stewart is up to the task.

The talented Isaac Stewart designed the map for Luthadel, the Final Empire’s capitol city and the main stage of Mistborn. And as we all know, every fantasy series is only as good as its map. Isaac Stewart is up to the task.

Vin, an orphaned street urchin abandoned even by her brother, is a lowly member of a guild of thieves. For as long as she can remember, she has had inexplicable abilities. She can exert her will over the will of others or deflect attention away from herself when she wants nothing more than quiet or a night without bruises. That kind of power comes in handy when your boss runs elaborate cons to make a living. Vin doesn’t realize that her strange skills are just the promise of something greater, until she falls in with a new teacher, a mysterious man named Kelsier. Vin learns then that she and Kelsier share something vital in common: they are Mistborn–a rare breed of “Allomancers” who can metabolize (or “burn”) metals to exert physical and mental force on the world around her. As Vin’s abilities grow at an alarming rate, so grows her personality–so long oppressed by her overbearing brother and members of the gang of con men–and her involvement with an underground movement of Kelsier-led rebels aiming to overthrow the Lord Ruler.

Kelsier is the perfect secondary character, the supporting cast member who both acts as mentor and foil for Vin. Between Keliser and a fun plot of intrigue and rebellion that never gets old, you already have a good novel. Mistborn is an excellent novel because of the world in which it’s set and, more importantly, because of a multifaceted, unique, convincing protagonist. In Vin, Sanderson gives us a budding hero, one unsure of her own powers and unsure of her motives. She is also the paragon of teenager behavior: she thinks the world of herself in an pure, innocent way, but suffers from a crippling lack of self-confidence. Vin’s flaws make her human, and overall a fantastic character–a fictional being you want to root for, someone who forces your emotional investment. Props to Sanderson for not being afraid to show a woman with social and moral inadequacies. Too often, women in literature, maybe especially in genre fiction, are either portrayed as angels or demons, while humanity (with all its gray, misty depth) is reserved for men.

jaspersandner dot com

You know you have a good fantasy character and a good fantasy series when it generates a plethora of awesome fan art. (From Jasper Sandner)

Vin’s character is further complicated by her incredible skill as an Allomancer. Eleven different metals produce eleven different results when burned. Vin and Kelsier, both Mistborn, are the rare Allomancers who can burn every type of metal, giving them incredible power and incredible advantage over their peers. Whenever Vin burned iron to pull herself up onto a rooftop or  steel to push an armored guard away from her, when she burned brass to soothe emotions of the people around her or pewter to artificially strengthen her body, I got ridiculously excited. Sanderson’s magic leans toward the scientific side and, while not flawless, is perfectly imaginable. I won’t say Mistborn is perfect, but when a fantasy novel makes me want to leave reality behind, I consider it a huge success.

I know these fan-made fake movie trailers are kind of dorky, but can we please, please have a movie? Or, better yet, can we please, please have an HBO TV series? I’m thinking Nokolaj Coster-Waldau would make an excellent Kelsier, in which case we might as well have Maisie Williams be our Vin. She already knows how to stick them with the pointy end.

Read it if … you know how to appreciate a good book! Sanderson’s writing is not just easily ingested, but it’s entertaining and intelligent. Mistborn takes the cake for modern fantasy, and isn’t written like a traditional high fantasy novel. You do not want to miss out on it.

Don’t read it if … you hate good things like puppies and young love. But really, the only reason I could possibly think of for not liking this book is if you’re not a fan of fiction in general, as in not a fan of made up things. Even people who can’t read will still enjoy its appreciable texture and weight.

This book is similar to … very few things, I imagine, that aren’t also written by Brandon Sanderson. Of his many novels, I have only read Mistborn and The Emperor’s Soul. For other well written, cheeky female protagonists, though, check out Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (just the first book in the series!), or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (and the rest of the Time series).

Brandon Sanderson is currently working on approximately ten thousand new projects, which amounts to approximately ten billion new pages.

Brandon Sanderson is currently working on approximately ten thousand new projects, which amounts to approximately ten billion new pages.

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Top 10 of 2013

31 Dec

Happy New Year’s Eve, world! I won’t be like everyone and say, “I can’t believe how fast this year went by,” so I’ll just say, “I can’t believe how slowly this year went by.” We get 365 days and I only managed to read a handful of books! Here’s to a fuller 2014 with more books and more book reviews! For now, it’s time to wrap up the year by reflecting on the important things. Here is my list of the top ten books I read and reviewed this year with excerpts from and links to my reviews on each of them! Enjoy, and thanks to all my followers, casual readers, friends, and family for helping me enjoy myself with this little, whimsical blog.

The Top Ten of 2013

To Be or Not To Be was a smashing success on Kickstarter. Now Ryan North is working on another Shakespeare-Choosable Adventure mash-up featuring none other than Romeo and Juliet.

To Be or Not To Be was a smashing success on Kickstarter. Now Ryan North is working on another Shakespeare-Choosable Adventure mash-up featuring none other than Romeo and Juliet.

10. To Be or Not To Be  by Ryan North

Welcome to the chooseable-path review of Ryan North’s new chooseable-path adventure, To Be or Not To Be, which hilariously takes one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and recreates it as a humorous, illustrated, maybe-but-maybe-not tragedy! North joins with dozens of the internet’s best/most popular Web comic artists to gamify Hamlet: “play” as Ophelia, Hamlet, or King Hamlet Sr., make choices throughout the book, and see where your will can take your character! This was originally a Kickstarter project that set the bar at a low $20,000 goal, but its novelty and the inclusion of some heavy-weight names (plus, who isn’t interested in Shakespeare …? No, really, who isn’t? Because I’m going to give you a scolding), catapulted the book to a lofty $580,905. Although it’s too late to donate to the project, you should still check out the site to see what it took to get this thing off the ground. …

My first experience with James Baldwin was filled with sighs and my own broken heart. Giovanni's Room takes the win for saddest book of the year.

My first experience with James Baldwin was filled with sighs and my own broken heart. Giovanni’s Room takes the win for saddest book of the year.

9. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

How does one even begin to talk about Giovanni? I’m so overwhelmed still, and I can confidently say, that Giovanni’s Room is my favorite book of 2013 so far … maybe. This novel speaks to James Baldwin’s ever-present awareness of his foreignness, his separateness, his Otherness. Giovanni’s Room is one of the truest most tragic novels I’ve read in a long time because it speaks to my sense of Otherness, too. …

Neal Stephenson tackled massive multiplayer online role-playing games AND terrorism in Reamde. What more do you want?

Neal Stephenson tackled massive multiplayer online role-playing games AND terrorism in Reamde. What more do you want?

8. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Richard Forthrast—the billionaire, draft-dodger, former drug-runner, T’Rain founder—and his niece Zula find themselves invited to a figurative party of Chinese hackers, Russian mobsters, ex-military rogues, MI6 agents, and Islamic terrorists (obviously) that even Gatsby would envy, it’s so elaborate and wrought with confusion and angst. The plot that began with relatively simple, moneymaking scheme/computer virus becomes frightening and life threatening. But isn’t that how it always goes? …

Italo Calvino wrote a lot of letters in his relatively short life, and many of them are collected here in Princeton University Press' Letters.

Italo Calvino wrote a lot of letters in his relatively short life, and many of them are collected here in Princeton University Press’ Letters.

7. Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 by Italo Calvino

The bizarre thing about reading other people’s letters, is you get to thinking that they’re writing letters to you… Then you start developing some kind of strange celebrity obsession with those people, maybe more like an infatuation, or maybe like True Love. Not saying that happened to me or anything! But with Italo Calvino: Letters 1941-1985, it’s hard not to fall in love (or fall in respect, whatever) with this magnificent writer, Italy’s premier postmodern author, and one of my personal favorites. …

Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts is the third installation of the Sarah Beauhall series, and arguably the best (so far). Make sure you start reading from the beginning.

Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts is the third installation of the Sarah Beauhall series, and arguably the best (so far). Make sure you start reading from the beginning.

6. Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts

I think, at this point, I can officially classify myself as a Sarah Beauhall fangirl. When I saw the series as Powell’s for the first time, I decided I’d read it on a whim, not expecting anything more than brief entertainment or maybe something to write a scathing review on later. Lo and behold! I have to take back those thoughts of an unbeliever! Forged in Fire is J.A. Pitts’s third Sarah Beauhall installation, and I had more fun than ever. Pitts created a cast of full characters and a massive enough world to keep this series going strongly as Sarah Beauhall uncovers more dark magic, learns about a new secret order, and forms some important human bonds that help her understand the meaning of family. …

As troubling as it is genius, A Handmaid's Tale is a cautionary novel written in Margaret Atwood's iconic prose.

As troubling as it is genius, The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary novel written in Margaret Atwood’s iconic prose.

5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I finally read Margaret Atwood’s dazzling The Handmaid’s Tale and got a bitter taste of how scary religion can be. From my comfy seat in America, looking through my blinders out at the world, I can safely say I feel pretty free in comparison, and that other religions (*ahem* Islam) have gotten a little out of control. But Atwood’s beautiful novel is more like a slap in the face: America, already a so-called Christian nation, is short skip and a hop away from a society mirroring modern-day Iran’s or Afghanistan’s, a society that forbids the interaction between men and women, that “shelters” women with thick cloth and heavy restrictions for their “protection” and “purity,” that uses indoctrination and propaganda to destroy hope, to remove all routes of escape. Atwood’s dystopia is, in the end, much more frightening then the dystopias I grew up with—1984 and Brave New World—because it’s infinitely more possible. …

Do you love mysteries? Do you not love mysteries? Either way, start your 2014 with quality reading and pick up Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy.

Do you love mysteries? Do you not love mysteries? Either way, start your 2014 with quality reading and pick up Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy.

4. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

It’s never more apparent how brilliant Paul Auster is when you start reading him just after you have finished a mediocre novel. The New York Trilogy is one of Auster’s most renowned works of fiction, and–you guessed correctly!–it’s actually three separate novels. In New York, where all magical things happen, several mysteries are being investigated by several characters, some metaphysical shit goes down, people talk a lot about people talking or not talking, excuse me, my name is Peter Stillman. But all that aside, TNYT is a mystery of mysteries. It is the meta-mystery. It transcends. Best to read it while either completely high or sleep deprived.

I don't usually read nonfiction, but when I do, it has to be creepy, like Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City.

I don’t usually read nonfiction, but when I do, it has to be creepy, like Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

3. The Devil in the White City by David Larson

This is the story of two architects, tested on the sooty, soiled grounds of late-19th Century Chicago: Daniel Burnham, an architect of buildings in the age of steel and the director of works of the great World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; and H.H. Holmes, an architect of manipulation, murder, and the macabre who killed dozens of people while staying hidden from the police, just blocks away from the fair’s entrances–both were equally ambitious and worked incessantly toward their respective goals. At the World’s Fair, they represented the city’s two faces: the White City and the hell hole, the symbol of hope and the harbinger of horror. …

John Fowles's first novel The Collector blew everyone out of the water. I myself have been out of the water since I read it in April this year.

John Fowles’s first novel The Collector blew everyone out of the water. I myself have been out of the water since I read it in April this year.

2. The Collector by John Fowles

John Fowles’s debut novel certainly set the bar high. I felt the need to start by reading this book because it seemed to suit me (or suit my obsession with Law & Order: SVUCSI, andCriminal Minds; a girl can’t have too much crime TV), and I stand by my choice. The Collector follows Frederick Clegg in his project to stalk, kidnap, and woo the object of his affections, Miranda Grey, a young art student of the upper middle class. If Clegg were a young gallant knight or the Earl of Rochester, this story could be romantic, or at the very least, kind of kinky. But Clegg is a loner, a man with little to no social graces who happens to really, really like collecting butterflies, so the story has to go the creepy rout. Fine by me, since Fowles can definitely pull off creepy and pull it off well. …

And the winner of the LitBeetle’s Pick of the 2013 is …

Gone Girl is the 2012 thriller by Gillian Flynn and tells the story of Nick Dunne, under suspicion of killing his wife Amy.

Gone Girl is the 2012 thriller by Gillian Flynn and tells the story of Nick Dunne, under suspicion of killing his wife Amy.

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I came to this book without expectations. It seems everyone but I had heard of it and already added it to their Goodreads “Want to Read” bookshelf, but it’s all in character for me, so I shouldn’t be surprised. That being said, I only got to page 16 before I decided I loved this book. Gillian (like my name, so we’re practically twins!) Flynn’s Gone Girl is a perfect specimen for a morbid curiosity. The girl in question is Amy Elliott Dunne, the supposed victim in a missing person’s case. Her husband Lance Nicholas “Nick” Dunne is the supposed perpetrator (because it’s always the husband, right?). Amy and Nick are beautiful, successful, clever, and bursting with love for each other, but when both are laid off, the initial spark of their marriage dies out, and a family crisis uproots them from their beloved Manhattan and lands them in Nick’s rural Missouri hometown of North Carthage, the two are embroiled in a battle of wit, sadism, and manipulation. You won’t be able to tear your eyes away from this train wreck, and you may think you can predict the outcome (and maybe you’re better at that than I am), but you will enjoy the unfolding of this disastrous relationship the whole time. …

A special runner up mention goes to …

A Memory of Light is the final installation of Robert Jordan's beloved fantasy series Wheel of Time.

A Memory of Light is the final installation of Robert Jordan’s beloved fantasy series Wheel of Time.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

So I didn’t technically review this book, but I spent the better part of the first quarter of 2013 rereading Robert Jordan’s modern classic fantasy series The Wheel of Time, which culminated in this joint effort with author Brandon Sanderson. A Memory of Light ended a fourteen-book series and what was, for a lot of fantasy readers, an era of genre bliss. The Wheel of Time was my escapism from the minor horrors of high school, and A Memory of Light was a fitting end.

It would be a mistake to say I’m not obsessed with morbid mystery novels. I am. Just going to come right out and say it. Gillian Flynn’s novel goes above and beyond, taking morbidity to high entertainment. I won’t say Gone Girl is great “Literature,” but I enjoyed it the most out of all the books I read this year, and I think it will stand up to the test of time.

I can’t wait to read another several dozen books next year! Thanks, again, to all my followers who tagged along with me on my silly adventures through literature (and not-literature)! Send me book recommendations and help me make 2014 a more exciting year for books than 2013!

The Complete List

The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan

Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan

Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus

A Spy in the Ruins by Christopher Bernard

The Collector by John Fowles

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Ganymede by Cherie Priest

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

To Be or Not To Be by Ryan North (and Shakespeare)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Vurt by Jeff Noon

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Italo Calvino: Letters 1941-1985 by Italo Calvino

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

The Stranger by Albert Camus

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Honeyed Words by J.A. Pitts

A Lifetime by Morris Fenris

Underground by Haruki Murakami

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Nightlight by The Harvard Lampoon

Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

The Wrecking Yard by Pinckney Benedict

A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

City of Glass by Paul Auster

Ghosts by Paul Auster

The Locked Room by Paul Auster

Suicide Game by Haidji

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

On Rereading Your Youth

10 Jan

220px-Wheel_of_time.svgI mentioned earlier that I’m dredged up an old favorite series from my childhood. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was my comfort food/safety blanket/imaginary friend back when I was a loner in high school. Well, now I’m a loner in the mid-market workforce, so I thought I’d pick it up again (especially since Jordan’s final, posthumous installment was just released) to enjoy myself a little old-timey escapism.

Here’s the thing about rereading the things you loved as a younger you:

Rereading these old favorites makes me feel like I'm failing to act my age. Like this guy. Buy yourself a cardigan and grow up, you punk!

Rereading these old favorites makes me feel like I’m failing to act my age. Like this guy. Buy yourself a cardigan and grow up, you punk!

You start becoming your younger you again. You start saying, “Whatevs,” and, “Eff that,” to your loved ones. You listen to only Green Day and Muse albums on repeat while a single tear poignantly rolls down your cheek. You believe again that everything revolves around you. And most importantly, you remember what it’s like to immerse yourself in a story, to sink below the line that separates analytical reading from emotional reading, bodily reading.

Robert Jordan isn’t a great writer. His novels will never be called capital-L Literature. But he takes the cake at creating a story (even if it is about magic and Dragons and ultimate evil embodied in a big fiery dude) that I not only find realistic but that I envy.

And just like last time around, I have a lady boner for this character. Don't ask me why, since she's as outrageous as a Red Sister in a frat house, but in my mind she's played by Natalie Portman. 'Nough said.

And just like last time around, I have a lady boner for this character. Don’t ask me why, since she’s as outrageous as a Red Sister in a frat house, but in my mind she’s played by Natalie Portman. ‘Nough said.

I won’t spend time reviewing each book of the series. I’ll leave that for the servants of the WoT fandom. The series begins with a poor facsimile of every great fantasy story preceding Jordan, namely Tolkien’s Middle Earth novels, but by book two of this hulking, fourteen-novel series, the author has hit his stride. Jordan takes a typical story–young people coming of age and discovering they bear the mountainous duty of saving not only the known world but the fabric of time itself–and zooms in to a level of detail no one else in their right mind would tackle. And in the end, Wheel of Time became an epic that outlived its author (may he rest in the most incredible peace). Jordan left a legacy that impacted millions of lives by the sheer vastness of his universe: in it, a place for everyone. As a teenager reading the series, I found myself becoming attached to the few female characters who struggled against the gendered roles Jordan created. I found myself (and find myself) growing emotionally with these characters, with these collections of words on paper, and this is the ultimate reading experience, the blockbuster of contemporary books.

Wheel of Time may not be canonized in future English majors’ Norton anthologies, but it reminds me of a crucial spirit among books that must not be lost: quality story. Plot–with all its complications and conflicts and climaxes–can’t be sacrificed even for craftsmanship (albeit there’s a line that can be crossed, and I’m looking at you, Stephenie Meyer) or theory (and now I’m looking at you, Don DeLillo) or branding (I’m looking at both of you, James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks, and now my neck is sore from looking accusingly at all these people, so I’m done). Now, aside from this reread, the only thing left in perfecting my fond childhood memories of the Wheel of Time series is for HBO to create a 14-20 season television series.