Tag Archives: brandon sanderson

Constraints on magic

mistbornI’m blitzing my way through Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Mistborn’ trilogy and enjoying it profoundly. He has an effortless way with world-building that’s wondrous without being painstakingly expository.

One of the things I particularly like about the books is that he’s given himself a clearly defined set of constraints within which his heroes operate. "Magic" in the world of Mistborn consists of a set of powers derived from consuming and draining metals (and some variants on that I won’t go into here).

The nice thing about this mode of storytelling is that you’re never confronted with the dread Deus Ex Machina – that scenario where the odds are stacked against our hero, but he says some random spell in pig-Latin that no-one knew he knew, or that has the exact power needed to snuff the baddies’ ambitions (I’m looking at you, Potter).

It means that the world is internally consistent and whilst there are surprises, you never feel cheated by cheap storytelling. I think its an awesome thing and am fast becoming a Sanderson fan.

Good fantasy writing vs the not so good

I’ve been ploughing my way through books this sabbatical. Two particularly awesome books were Patrick Rothfuss’ ‘Name of the Wind’ and ‘Wise Man’s Fear’ – everything I found tedious about Stephen Donaldson’s latest Chronicles is missing from these books. His use of language is precise and accessible, his narrative flow is well-paced and exciting, his characters are compelling and both the present day and historical stories he tells are equally engaging – both of which provide ample dramatic tension and kept me completely absorbed. Great value, too, LONG books, and that’s not a complaint!

Interesting that when John Scalzi, a great sci-fi writer and blogger who I rate, felt similarly about the book and wrote a tribute saying as much on Tor’s best SFF Novel’s of the Decade readers’ poll series – although he did pick up on a ‘stew’ cliché.

I love these polls because they help me decide what to read next…

Here are the top 10:

  1. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – READ
  2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman – READ
  3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – READ
  4. Blindsight by Peter Watts
  5. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
  6. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin – READ
  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – READ
  8. Anathem by Neal Stephenson – TRIED…
  9. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  10. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Which leaves me at least four new places to go when I’m through with my current batch (reading Trudi Canavan’s first book in the Traitor Spy trilogy, and a couple of shortlisted books from the Arthur C Clarke Awards 2011 – Declare by Tim Powers and Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson). I think I’ll try more Brandon Sanderson next as I’ve been so impressed with where he’s taken the Wheel of Time…

I read Raymond Feist’s latest Midkemia novel yesterday (yes, it took less than a day) and was moderately depressed by it. As the first book in his final trilogy in the series it is predictable and absolutely riven with references to his previous books. That’s the problem with writing what is broadly speaking one continuous story over 20+ books and 150 years of virtual history – you end up being tediously self-referential. Politics you don’t care about, characters you’re meant to care about because they’re related to characters you used to care about, &c &c. I’m principally reading this series now out of a desire to know what happens next… which I guess means its good enough!

Epic reading month continues

Three weeks to go before the vacation and two massive hardbacks down – I’ve just finished ploughing through all 800 pages of the latest Wheel of Time novel disappointingly quickly. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I finish it – I’ve been reading the series since the mid 90s, waiting for each new book to come out.

It may be sacrilege to say so, but I actually think Mr Sanderson (commissioned to finish the series when Robert Jordan passed away in 2007) is a better and more efficient writer than RJ – there’s been far less smoothing of Aes Sedai skits in his novels so far – but then Robert Jordan left a lot of story left to be told as we inch closer to Tarmon Gaidon. Only one book left in the series, depressingly, then I will need to bid farewell to another universe… unless, of course, the estate commissions some prequels… and I’m not sure how I feel about that!

Next two hardbacks to read, before I go on vacation and take only digital books with me, are Peter F Hamilton’s Evolutionary Void and the latest novel in Stephen Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Any tips on what to dip into next? Is there any epic sci-fi or fantasy I’ve missed on offer in the Kindle store?

Thoughts on a comment appreciated Smile.

I’ve now got a strange hybrid image of Rand Al’Thor sitting in a multi-purpose hab unit within an abominator class GOU heading to blow the hell out of Shayol Gul. It’ll be very weird in my head by the end of the month….