Book Review: The Way of Kings

Or 4 Reasons why Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is Brilliant. That’s the review. It’s great. If you need more convincing, then read these handily-titled sections below.

TheWayOfKings

Worldbuilding

Rarely have I met a writer who so smoothly introduced entire new societal structures, cultural norms, religions, and clashing beliefs of conservatism or liberalism into the stream of the character’s normal interactions. And of course, not each people-group or sub-divisions therein agree on cultural norms. They are scandalized by what is commonplace for one culture, scoff at what is considered holy in another.

Enter a world ravaged by regular storms of ferocious rain, lightning, and wind that scour landscapes clean, demolish houses, and toss boulders. How would a world like that survive? The plants recede into rock, animals have chitinous shells, cities are built into cliffs to shelter them from the rain. Enter a society where only women are encouraged to read, write, or pursue mathematics as the ‘feminine arts,’ where men and women eat separately, and even the different styles of food you are allowed to eat are based on gender. Fascinating, right?!

There was no gigantic wad of cultural narrative dropped into the middle of the story, which he could have done, and readers would have quickly forgot. Sanderson integrates a cultural tidbit where it becomes relevant to call attention to it.  Makes perfect, beautiful sense. Yes, there’s lots of it. Lots of deliciously detailed differences, but I never found myself overwhelmed by it or feeling lost in it.

Now, this helps in part because I sit and read several chapters at a time. I absorb whole chunks of information in a swathe of reading delight. If you were to read this book piecemeal, a couple pages every few days, you might find yourself struggling to keep up.

Character Development

There are some characters who stubbornly remain the same despite circumstances, some who struggle to change but are fixed in loops of behaviour, and some who–oh so gradually–find themselves a different person than they were a few months ago.

These realizations, jarring moments of self-awareness, and deepening deviousness are threaded through almost every character the reader journeys with for a significant period of time. Without wanting to give away details, these characters are people who struggle with making right decisions, knowing what the right decision is, making mistakes, finding themselves liking certain mistakes, and either forging a new path or digging themselves deeper into it.

By the time I’m halfway through a novel, or reach the end of it, these people I was learning to know may not be who I thought they were. What an alluring way to read.

Gender-ization

Does your novel feature a painfully ‘strong female character’ that feels like she’s written only because masculinized women are the mistaken trope that entertainment is trying to shove into every cranny instead of a well-written female character? Does your novel have men who prove their budding manhood and growth by sexing half of the other characters in the book?

The above are too-common types of terribly tired characters. They’ve become strong female characters for female readers to look up to who–to scorn the help of men, to fight just as good as men, to be just as tough and care as little as men–end up destroying the point of what a good female character looks like.

People exist on spectrums of physical, mental, and emotional strength. Just because a woman may not be wielding a sword next to the rest of the guys doesn’t mean her sharp intelligence doesn’t make her ‘strong.’ This exploration of what ‘strength’ means is strongly exhibited by Sanderson. We have intellectual, detached historians. We have noble, passionate queens. A shy girl with a sharp tongue.

There are young men who go from shallow dabbling with  longs lists of pretty women to thoughtfully approaching the way they behave. Soldiers who are torn about what it means to kill in order to protect. Whose thrill for glory in battle is dimmed by what it means to act honourably.

Sanderson writes richly embroidered characters who struggle, are wounded, grow, or recede in the strengths and weaknesses inherent in humanness. Not defined by rote gender types of characteristics.

Plot Twists

I won’t say too much on this except that they’re here, they’re subtle, and they’re lovely. I admire authors who can turn a random detail into a spiraling revelation or an unassuming character into something so much more. It makes me wonder what else he’s hiding…

With all the glowing remarks said, Sanderson deserves the high marks.

Score: 5/5

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Book Review: Something More than Night

I really wanted to call this ‘When Prose Gets in the Way of Story.’

somethingmorethannight

Something More than Night started out with tantalizingly imaginative descriptions. The main character detective, Bayliss, spun litanies of description in noir slang. I was intrigued, impressed even, by the metaphors and similes. I had to read carefully, mind on task as he strung together strange descriptions that had me chuckling or cocking my head. But by page 10, I was ready to read without needing to mentally re-shuffle and interpret every line.

This novel was so dense with the cheeky vernacular of a hard-boiled detective and the technical babble of a physics major that I barely saw the story through the mass of verbiage (yes, ‘verbiage’ is a word meaning an “overabundance or superfluity of words, as in writing or speech;wordiness; verbosity.” I now love this word.) 

There was one particular page I have to give a shout-out to before I dive into the rest of this mess (the reason this book was given to me to read by a friend) that was pretty cool. The author split the page into two simultaneous streams of thought, leaving the reader to decide how to read the separate but same paragraphs–I’ll give it that. Now to the rest…

A down-in-his-luck detective (a fallen angel) meets a dame in distress, amidst the mystery of a murdered angel and a stolen holy trumpet. He has a sense of honour to help her out of the mess he helped engineer. The mess ends up being hotter than he bargained for.  The dame gets in trouble, gets rescued. They they sort the mess out and part ways. The plot is simple, the world a half-formed backdrop to half-formed characters, cloaked in the cloying confusion of the writing.

The story sincerely suffers from an unending need to showcase style.

In fact, I’d go so far to say that the noir language mixed with complex physics were the impetus for writing the book, over and above any desire to write the characters or plot. The language was consistently so heavy with slang that it was almost indecipherable without careful word-by-word examination and extrapolation, and the plot literally was a copy-paste of old detective novels. It was even a plot device for the character to recognize–as her grand revelation–that her circumstances were eerily similar to noir tropes. But this did not come off as clever. It came off as an easy save to abruptly end the book.

As evidence to my reading woes, please read the below quote:

“The knoll overlooked a narrow sound formed by multidimensional breakwaters of quantum indeterminacy. Slow ripples of mathematical entropy lapped at the shoreline, eroding the non-Abelian symmetry groups along the waters edge into towering pillars of salt.”

And it continues….

“Not much to see at a casual glance, unless one happened to notice the miniscule refraction of time shadows where formless ontology met the subtlest hint of teleology. I was staring at a dormant topological defect in the Pleroma.”

Now imagine every page is like that. Every. Single. One.

If that excites you, you might want to give this book a shot. If, like me, you started glazing over by ‘multidimensional breakwater of whatsit” to get to the pillars of salt and then glazed again, I wouldn’t recommend it.

This collection of verbiage receives a 2/5.

Book Review: The Malice

I may have library-voice squealed and done a happy-dance in place when I chanced upon The Malice stocked in Chapters. I immediately grabbed the most unsullied copy from the back of the pile, ran in a very stately manner to my husband, and shoved it in his face out of happiness.

I finished Peter Newman’s previous book, The Vagrant, a mere three-and-a-half months ago, and gave that a 5/5, so this was an obvious YES I NEED IT purchase.

The Malice HB.indd

Did you notice she’s carrying a baby goat?! Yes, the goat is a very important character.

We re-visit Newman’s post-apocalyptic landscape through the eyes of a young woman, and an even younger goat, on a journey to make their demon-infested, grotesque world a better place.

The ancient sword called the Malice, is eager to be wielded once more, and when weary hands prove unwilling, the Malice finds younger pliable hands to take their place. The source of the demonic invasion, The Breach, stirs fitfully. It threatens to unleash the most massive demon presence yet, and if world wants to survive, the Breach must be closed.

Here enters Vesper and her baby goat.

Setting off, her father’s jacket hangs awkwardly, bundled at her hands, the sword’s weight almost too much to lift, but she carries them both with pride. Vesper’s idealistic, almost naive, perspective on a world steeped in desperation, selfishness, and demon-creatures seeps out like delicate watercolour to the places and people she runs into. As the reader journeys with Vesper through cities and characters met in The Vagrant, we shift from bleak to hopeful, from hard-set expectations to softening understanding. The settings and characters she intersects with are complex:

  • populaces happily brain-washed into conformity
  • a plague targeting one race in an explosively divided city
  • degrading mental health
  • conflicting senses of defining what makes you yourself
  • diluted ethics versus holding to what you believe to be right and true

Make no mistake, the consequences of this bleak world are just as real. Hurts, impossible choices, and sacrifices tamp this young girl into a vibrant character who lives out of her values and willingly suffers to turn those values into reality. At the end of it all, her father’s jacket fits more snugly across her shoulders and the sword is a comfortable, belonging weight. Vesper’s gleam of innocence is not tarnished, but burnished by the end into what readers only glimpsed at the beginning of the novel.

Between the perspectives of Vesper, the goat, her Harmonized companion, and a demon-infused knight, I was never bored with the characters or wished the plot would move faster. Each got the time and pacing they needed to reveal themselves and push boundaries as characters, and the chapters were equally harrowing and thrilling. Newman’s writing style of clean prose with pinpointed (and sometimes disturbingly strange) descriptions shone brilliantly.

The Malice is a dark and hopeful telling of vast tensions being mended with an open hand and of the toll of trying to change the world.

Again, I give Newman’s work a 5/5.

 

Book Review: The Vagrant

theVagrant

5 / 5

A stunning journey through a devastated world with a mute man, a baby, and a goat.

Depravity is pitted against virtue as the Vagrant, a mysterious mute man with a baby in hand and a goat in tow, struggles against demon-invaders and humans alike. He must reach the Shining City, the last pure city left standing, to deliver a deadly weapon that could save humanity. But the demon forces are on the hunt. And humanity can be just as inhuman.

The Vagrant’s journey seeks to scrape raw your human sense of love, generosity, and kindness. Each interaction is a risk, a gamble, a battle. And just when you think you might snap, therein enters the goat for a snappy bit of humour or a sly smile. Newman’s writing is beautifully wrought and wrenchingly grotesque. The characters are layered, complex, and hilarious. The plot takes you step-by-step through towns, cities, and memories that linger long in your mind afterwards, like twining smoke.

The book was a 400-page, relatively quick, satisfying read. Both myself and my husband read it within a week, were glued to the pacing, and are hungry for the next book. The second novel, The Malice, is due to release May 19!

Pick this book up for incredibly rich writing, a twisted take on an apocalypse, and the degradation of human nature. Highly recommended.

 

“Stick-like people and bloated flies gather in the twilight, both drawn to the still warm corpse of the Dogspawn. By morning they have picked the bones clean. By afternoon half of the people have died, their stomachs unable to accept the rich meat. By evening their skeletons are bartered over by Necrotraders.

In New Horizon nothing is wasted.”

 

Book Review: The Builders

My first official book (or rather, novella) of 2016 was a book about a mouse, an owl, a badger, and a few other crusty critters. I couldn’t wait to get my eyes on it, remembering fond hours of reading Redwall as a kid, and knew that a darker twist to animal tales (I really wanted to write ‘tails’ there, but I spared you) would hit the spot juuust right. And guess what?

The writing was as refreshing as iced tea in a dry, southern heat, and as precise as clipping the hat off your head from a shot a hundred yards back.

the builders

 

A missing eye. A broken wing. A stolen country… The last job didn’t end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain’s company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain’s whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.

I won’t belabor it because this book was a quick read (you could easily devour it in a lazy two days), but this was such a pleasure to delve into. Polansky doesn’t try and breeze over the fact he’s writing about animals, but pricks on just the right details. They may be sentient animals, but their instincts and natures are animalistic after all, and so the shrews are rather shrewish, but you would never call the Captain ‘mousy’–at least, not to his face.

The chapters take us through the Captain recruiting his former band of nasty creatures back for one last job. The descriptions of each new character impeccably describe who that animal is in the few paragraphs given, whether eager to ditch a backwater bar for another shot at mayhem, or stubbornly reluctant to leave an established, quiet life plagued by the sheer number of deaths left in his wake. After the animals are gathered, then comes time to hit their target: The Elder. I’ll leave the plot at that.

There were notes of perfect tongue-in-cheek writing that had me howling every few pages. There were perfect, punchy sentences of dry wit. There were nasty notations of animal thoughts that itched on being all too human.

All packed into a brutish, short plot.

Get this novel into your to-read pile this year. It’s quick, but sharp and clever as an owl’s talons.

With that being said, enjoy this excerpt that illustrates all the above in much less words:

Now a stoat is a cruel animal, perhaps the cruelest in the gardens. They are brought up to be cruel, they must be cruel, for nature, who is crueler, has dictated that their prey be children and the unborn, the beloved and the weak. And to that end nature has given them paws stealthy and swift, wide eyes to see clear on a moonless night, a soul utterly remorseless, without conscience or scruple. But that is nature’s fault, and not the stoat; the stoat is what it has been made to be, as are all of us.

So Bonsoir was a stoat, but Bonsoir was not only a stoat. He was not even, perhaps, primarily a stoat. Bonsoir was also a Frenchman.

Videogames of 2015 (in which I played 2)

I’ve surprised many a co-worker (to my cackling delight about hacking apart people’s perceptions of who I am) when I tell them about my love for videogames.

Yet, the amount of dollars and time needed to have a robust gaming year peppered with different genres across different platforms is something I don’t have the money or time to invest. It leaves me pining after GiantBomb’s robust Game of the Year lists which range from Contradiction: Spot the Liar! (a laugh on the floor FMV you should watch GiantBomb play: video) to Undertale to Rise of the Tomb Raider. (GiantBomb is one of the best videogame websites out there for hilarious videos, insightful reviews, and witty commentary–check them out. They do swear, if you’re sensitive about language). And suddenly I realize just how many incredible games I missed out on over the year.

Because I played two videogames. And technically I only played one. (DLC doesn’t quite count, right?)

VGof2015

1 – Dragon Age: Inquisition (I’m gonna say DLC counts)

 

DAinquisitionDragon Age: Inquisition forced me back into it’s world by adding new DLC–the Jaws of Hakkon and Trespasser–I couldn’t say no to. When do I ever say no to BioWare games? The answer is NEVER. And then I started an entirely new character just so I could play a ‘renegade’ playthrough to explore as many different story and dialogue options as possible. This has resulted in at least 100 hours of gameplay over three different characters. I’m a writer. I have a thing for stories, ok?

Trespasser was the crown jewel of DLC releases, wrapping up Inquisition with hours and hours of  angry Qunari and dirty secrets from ancient elves. Didn’t think you wanted to know anything more about those knife-eared, tree-loving smug ancients? Well, you do. Trust me. You do.

 

2 – The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (minor spoilers ahead)

witcher_3_wild_hunt

Gorgeous, gritty, grey, and exhilarating. I found myself sitting on top of a hill, watching the sun set over tree-carpeted hills, a ruined castle to my left, and was captured by the beauty of this game. Then I chased a rotfiend through a mud-churned battlefield where the creatures feasted on the dead. The Witcher’s world revels in the heights of the beauty of nature, the dark spaces of human wretchedness, and the grey smear of never quite knowing if what you’re doing was the right choice or not.

After playing Dragon Age, the grey choices were unsettling. I got frustrated. I yelled at the screen. I wanted to be the good guy, and the game didn’t work that way. As the player, you can direct Geralt to make certain ‘altrusitic’ choices or ‘unforgiving’ choices, but the world bends the intent of those choices into an unpleasant facet of reality: sometimes good intent doesn’t mean a good outcome.

I wanted to lift a curse from the ghost of a young woman who wanted one last chance to say goodbye to her lover, only to reunite the two and watch as the ghost devoured the man’s soul. Turns out the curse could only be lifted once the ghost had her revenge, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t have the ‘reunited at last, the curse fading to peace’ ending I wanted.

Or how about the time I happened upon a village where children died each year in a ritual sacrifice to a forest spirit. If I killed the forest spirit to stop the rituals, dissenters in the village rose up to kill their priest and half their village. If I saved the spirit, the priest killed the dissenters against him and the ritual kept going. Really game? I DID play that section through both ways back-to-back just to see if I could get it ‘right.’ Nope. Shoulda’ known better.

This pattern continued to the point I had to actively let go of my burning desire to ‘do the right thing’ and simply let the story take me wherever it would and live with my choices. It hurt, but wow. Every corner of this game, each small village, every random encounter has a depth to its characters nearly unrivaled in videogames. I’d wander to the edges of each map to find that one dirt path into a tiny town with a new quest, a crumbled tower that housed a new monster to defeat, and never regretted the time spent on horseback through forests, rivers, mountains, and harpies to get there.

 

Both games are epic RPGs with intricate settings, characters, world history. My passion for this type of grand, story-driven fantasy (or sci-fi) heavily directs my purchases. If it doesn’t have a story, chances are I won’t play it. Which is why the below list features the games it does…

 

2015 Games to play in 2016

soma

How creepy is that? And that’s just the menu! SOMA is from the creators of Amnesia–which I watched people play but would not play it myself due to terror spasms. This game looks like it’s more of a thriller with a rich, creepy story of a research station deep under the ocean. And of course, things have gone horribly wrong.

I’m coming for you, SOMA!

 

cradle

This is Cradle. See all those pieces of paper on the floor? You can pick them up. And read them. ALL of them. That’s how Cradle establishes the environment, who you are, and what your objectives are. You are dropped into this world and, in order to understand yourself, why there’s a robot lady sitting on your counter, and what you’re supposed to do with her, you piece your world together with the scraps of information in this room.

 

bookofunwrittentales

Book of Unwritten Tales 2

You click on everything to put it into your over-expansive inventory to create ridiculous contraptions from the previous inventory junk. It looks goofy and weird with fantasy wit. I’ve heard it’s one of the greatest adventure games out there. So…maybe. MAYBE.

 

undfriedn

I’ve heard so much about Undertale that I’m not sure what to think anymore. It sparked internet outrage on Game FAQ’s when it won the Best Game Ever contest, beating out games like Mass Effect and, ultimately, Ocarina of Time.  It subverts genre expectations, lets you engage with enemies by talking with your ‘opponents’ by using social cues to understand how you should react or killing them if you really want.

 

Did you play something else you loved in 2015 or have thoughts on the two I managed to get through? Looking forward to something in 2016 I should know about? Tell me in the comments!

Best & Worst Reads of 2015

I love the book stats on Goodreads. It’s irrationally satisfying to get an automatic infographic devoted to 365 days of your book choices.

I read 28 books in 2015. 13,483 total pages. And my longest book was roughly 292, 000 words.

Most of the books I enjoyed–as I tend to research a book obsessively before I purchase–but there were a few where my research failed me. Here’s a list of my best and worst reads from 2015 (note: not necessarily published in 2015, but simply what I read last year).

Blog pictures

 

Best

forge

For an intricately woven plot that also manages to be thoroughly thought-provoking, soul-searching hilarity, pick this up. But start with Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series because otherwise you’re going to be right confused.

foolsquest

Hobb will forever be on any ‘best’ list I create. I’ve rarely met an author who has me in honest-to-goodness authentic happy and sad tears on a regular basis. This book in particular carries the Fool and Fitz’s journey to a tortured grey void where old friendships, values, and Fitz’s identity of father versus assassin clash as he searches for his lost daughter. And what he’s willing to do to get her back.

christianimagination

This was a surprising read. I was given this by a friend for some encouragement (after dwelling in a place of uncertainty and writer doubts for some months–I’m still fighting that) and wasn’t sure what to expect, but with names like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and T.S. Eliot, I was happy to give it a try.

This book is a compilation of essays and excerpts from a variety of authors focusing on the relationship between literature, imagination, and the Christian faith. I’d never thought about my passion for writing–specifically fiction–as being so closely tied to what I believe, but this was invigorating. Just as our Creator gave us all these wacky animals and beautiful landscapes, we have a desire to create and explore our imagination as well.

One particular section dove straight into a topic I’ve struggled with which is that Christian authors often create sanitized fiction free of any violence, profanity or sexual content (not needed in great gory detail, but even the simple acknowledgement of it), which does not reflect an accurate world. Stripping a story of realism also strips it of deeper meaning and impact. I was struck by that perspective.

“All life, high and low, sordid and noble, vile and pure, is the province of art. Surely if the Bible is to be our standard we must admit that nothing lay outside the province of the inspired writers…A Christian writer…cannot be a significant writer if his vision does not include the whole of human life, the depths of depravity as well as the heights of aspiration.”   -James Wesley Ingles

MistbornTrilogy

I read all three books in this series in December. The books tugged me in two directions. One one side, I never felt emotionally engaged with the characters. I never truly cared about what happened to them personally–whether they got hurt, turned evil, lived or died–but BOY did I want to scrape every piece of shocking plot twist I could get out of it. And Sanderson did not disappoint. There are ingrained Fantasy genre tropes that Sanderson delighted in threading through the plot, then when it came to a head, smashing my expectations of ancient prophecies and foretold heroes into itsy-bitsy tiny pieces. In fact, he even used a twist I’ve been dying to write.  I might need to pick up another Sanderson novel and see what else he’s cooked up with his typing fingers.

 

Worst (enter the rants)

nightcirc

This is my favourite reviews by Goodreads member Lucy that perfectly captured what I was thinking.

“The [novel’s summary] is a series of filthy, filthy lies intended to make you part with your money. Did the person who wrote the description read the same book I read? Or did he get so bored that he fell asleep and was forced to wing it for a deadline? If that’s the case, I feel for the poor guy since I fell asleep reading this a few times, but I don’t forgive the lies.”

She goes on to list the ‘lies’ the author strung us along with, promising a high-intensity read of characters trained from birth to magically duel where only one may emerge alive, and instead end up falling in love. The truth is much more mediocre. The book dragged, spinning fantastic settings but with bland interactions that merely hint at what could be described as duels, and offered the vaguest scraps of answers to the overarching dangling questions only to keep readers from tossing the book away. If you like unusual but high-society settings with a dribble of romance, it might work for you. But for me? No thank you.

randr

The reviews were high, all solid fours, the written reviews glowing. I needed something for my Kindle lest my nice books get wrecked in our travel to Nepal, and this series seemed promising.

I have never been so let down by my research.

I got to the fourth book out of five. Reader and Raelynx was the book that made me give up. I have never encountered a more blatant copy/paste plot throughout aaaaalll the books.

Every single novel in this series centered around the heroine meeting a dashing man from a totally different background, exclaiming ‘We couldn’t possibly fall in love. We’re too different!’, and then falling madly in love and/or getting married. Every. Single. Book. It was tiresome, boring, and insulting. I knew exactly where the fourth book was headed from way back in book two, and the overarching plot I was interested in flopped to the wayside in a flat, thin climax.

 

And the Most Disappointing award goes to….

harrypotterseries

Yep. You read that right. I’m a book hoarder, a proud nerd, never before had read this series till this year, and I did not like Harry Potter. Not to disregard your potential–and valid–fuzzy nostalgia for the series like a cat sitting just out of reach from your petting hand, but I struggled with a few key things. Like the protagonist. I’ve written about this as a guest post for a very good friend of mine, so if you’re curious, click this!

 

And that’s my list! Tell me what you read this year in the comments so I can add more books to my to-read list.

Keep posted because I’m going to toss up a similar list for videogames of the year in the coming week.