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A Reader of Fictions: It's Been a Long, Long Time - Perry Como

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Been a Long, Long Time - Perry Como

The Way of Kings
The Stormlight Archive, Book 1

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: high fantasy, epic
Pages: 1007
ARC Acquired From: TOR

Brief Summary:
Summarizing fantasy novels, as I have actually heard the author of this novel say, is a tricky venture. Even the best of fantasy novels sound absurd when explained in short bursts. The back of the ARC copy is no help either, giving only a brief entry to three of the main characters of this lengthy tome. To sum this up as simply as I can: A fantasy world full of strange powers and races has been warring and generally going about their ways, until the powers of the past, long lost to people, begin to return.

This is the first book in The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson is obviously much indebted to Robert Jordan in the scope of the novel, but I do not see that he particularly copied the elements of the fantasy world or the nature of the characters. Like many fantasy novels of epic scope, Sanderson takes quite a while to establish the functioning of the fantasy environment and to build up a stock of characters. Getting to where I particularly cared about any of the characters or felt swept up in any of the action scenes took a few hundred pages. From the beginning though, I was impressed with some of the elements of the society, particularly what can be done with Stormlight (this leads to some really awesome battle scenes!).

The society has some interesting quirks with regards to gender. Women can be quite powerful, especially since they are the only people who can read. Yup. It is shameful for men to be much educated; reading is especially dangerous. Way to alienate much of your audience, Sanderson! (Just kidding) Seriously though, I was unsure how to feel about this: glad to see women given power or irritated to find yet another world where some things are women's work and others only for manly men. Women also (at least in Alethkar, where most of the book is set) have to cover their left hand, their 'safehand' in public; to do otherwise would be indecorous. That's a little weird. I know weird fashions happen. I could accept the hands needing to be covered, but why only one? A concession to the fact that a woman with covered hands couldn't actually do anything? Other quirks in the society that would be good to know are that the people reverence lighteyes (blue and probably green), who form the aristocracy, and that spren, spirits of sort, are attracted to pretty much everything (firespren to fire, rotspren to an infected wound, etc.).

The characters are, obviously, numerous. The back of the book (as I mentioned earlier) detailed only three: Dalinar, Kaladin and Shallan. Dalinar is the uncle of the King and a High Prince of the powerful country of Alethkar (blah blah blah). He is a warrior, but one who endeavors to do the right thing, rather than to show up others and increase his own wealth. Visions he has been having of what may be the past have started eroding his credibility, even with his own sons. He and his eldest son, Adolin, are interesting men who I look forward to learning more about in the future. Dalinar definitely took a while to grow on me though; his macho man stuff did not particularly attract my interest, but his visions made for good fun, along with his ideals (especially in comparison with all of the jerks in Alethkar).

Kaladin is Stormblessed, which basically means he is one lucky s.o.b. He also can wield a spear something fierce. He was the first character I really grew attached to. His manly, spear-wielding abilities definitely had something to do with it, especially when packaged in a young man (where do I sign up for one of those?), but what really interested me was something else. He attracts a windspren, which is a sort of spirit thing. This is not a common occurrence; it shows he has some sort of power, and, well, I love powers. Kaladin gets thrown down about as low as a man can go on the totem pole of life (since women are on an entirely different totem pole). Thankfully, he has the strength and awesome new powers to start pulling himself again. I would probably read the sequel just to find out what happens to Kaladin.

Shallan is one of three female characters to receive a decent amount of page time. She is a young girl whose family has fallen on incredibly tough times (they're being hunted down by creditors and some kind of fantasy-world mafia). She travels to meet the king's sister, a great scholar, to become her ward and steal a powerful artifact, with which she should be able to save her family from utter ruin. Shallan appealed to me at first for her sharp wit, but soon irritated me with her whining. All through the book, I flip-flopped about how I felt about her character, for those exact reasons. She could be an awesome character once she increases her own sense of self (yes, I know how hard that is) and becomes a force to be reckoned with (which will be aided by her burgeoning powers).

While I did enjoy this book, I recommend it with caution. It is long and, as observed above, reading it takes a long, long time. These fantasy novels generally attract the kind of nerds who will enjoy them (like me!). I do not think Sanderson has quite got it yet. For example, a number of characters are introduced and go through scenes which have no impact (that I could tell) on anything within this volume. While they may come into play later, it is a bit clunky and made getting into the book that much harder. Nevertheless, I think there is definitely promise in this first book and hope that the series can fulfill that.

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