“What you saw belongs to you. A story doesn’t live until it is imagined in someone’s mind.”
“What does the story mean, then?”
“It means what you want it to mean. The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. Too often, we forget that.” – Hoid, “Wit” ,The Way of Kings
When I find a book that I like, I usually voraciously consume every other book written by the same author until I get to the point where I sit starving, waiting (and sometimes pleading) for the author to publish his next work. I once did this so blindly that I only realised, after months of bemoaning the authors lack of work ethic, that he was long dead and would no longer be satisfying any of my cravings. The authors don’t need to be Tolkiens or Atwoods or have won some high brow awards – they just need to have written books that I have enjoyed reading and I will usually buy everything they have ever written. Brand loyalty or what!
Obviously, this means that I get the good with the bad, but I am a pretty loyal reader and it takes quite a bit (like Modesitts recent formulaic disappointments) to make me stop reading a favoured author. As a teenager, I loved David Gemmel’s Legend that I have every single work he ever published – every single one – all in spite of the fact that Gemmel, while writing great heroic fantasy, is not really going to win any awards for flowery prose. Over the years I have collected many authors and the most recent addition to the bunch is Brandon Sanderson.
I started listening to Writing Excuses years before I ever bought one of Sanderson’s novels and decided that I had better actually read one of his publications – especially after enjoying his writing advice and watching his course videos here , here or here. He is just one of many who debunk the old adage that those who can, do and those who can’t teach. Just watch or listen to a few of his podcasts or lecture videos and read Mistborn, Steelheart or Way of Kings and you cannot help but agree with me. Some teachers CAN.
I started with the Mistborn Trilogy last August and I enjoyed Vin and the Ashmounts, but it was not until I read The Way of Kings that I was hooked. I forced myself to read Steelheart even though it’s a YA Sci-Fi (not really my typical read) just to keep me happy while I waited for Words of Radiance to be released earlier this month. (I have a feeling I am going to have to start on his older works to tide me over until Stormlight #3 is available.)
The first two books of the Stormlight Archives get a great thumbs up from me – easily 5/5 stars and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Fantasy genre. The books contain great characters set in a wonderful world filled with intriguing mythology and Sanderson invents yet another magic system that is refreshingly creative and interesting. The action will keep you ignoring your children’s cries for supper and you will probably miss out on your usual bedtime. Simple instruction: if you like Fantasy, stop messing about and buy the books!
Now, on to the real reason for my review: What things can I hope to take from Sanderson’s work to help me improve my own writing. Since deciding I want to become a writer I have not been able to read a book without dissecting its innards – especially if I enjoyed it and the Stormlight Archives are no exception. So why do I like Words of Radiance and the Stormlight series?
I had no idea that each book in the series is intended to focus on another character while continuing the story and I wonder if Sanderson will be able to continue this for the full 10 books he has planned. As a writer it sounds like a clever idea but as a reader, who likes to latch onto a favourite character, I wonder if a particular ‘episode’ from the POV of a least favoured character will keep me interested. Truth be told, I did not really like Shallan much in the first book and I struggled to force myself to read some parts of the second when all I wanted to know was who Wit was (Brandon incognito?) or where the Assassin would strike next or if the Kaladin would regain his powers. I must confess, I speed read the flashback interludes that involved Shallan – just slow enough to pick up the connections to the present plot but fast enough to get back to the action. Only time will tell how future books go and how I take to them.
I love the mythology Sanderson has created and how the characters discover it at the same time as the readers do. He has made such a rich and comprehensive history to be rediscovered (and discovered) that I felt like all the on-line fan sites are in danger of spoiling all the fun… the sites are inevitable but I wish they would be a little more careful in hiding critical twists etc.
I like the way in which Sanderson seems able to click everything into place – the links between the magic/superpowers and the mythology and planes all fit well together, almost seamlessly. It’s something that struck me as so important that I have come to realise that I need to build into or rework what I have done for my own novel. Not start again with the world-building, just find a more organic link between everything rather than have these isolated histories and abilities.
Sanderson’s creation makes having Tolkienesque powers in isolation of an evolutionary link between them seem pretty mundane and, well, unbelievable. Sanderson’s approach somehow makes things fit and the suspension of disbelief becomes less and less of a major factor once the logical part of your mind has accepted the ‘new’ laws of the Roshar world.
Even the perversion of the magic due to broken contracts and dead vs. living magic parallels to some extent to clerical powers gifted by gods verses necromancy stolen from dead gods and seems similar enough to classical magic that it works very well as a plot device, magical ability explanation and mythology all rolled into one.
In my opinion, a great plot with wonderful characters and all the other clever things Sanderson has thrown into the work pale in comparison to how he has thought through everything and more importantly linked it. I fully understand the time that it must have taken him to build the foundation for the books – and I can only imagine how long it must have taken to weave everything together before he could even begin to write anything with the potential to survive his target of a 10 book series.
I’d settle for being able to write 1…..