Saturday, December 20, 2014

It’s nearly January . . . where did the time go?

This year has been rather disappointing for me in terms of the number of books that I have been able to read. My shift to part time employment in March put a severe dint in my free time and I had to prioritize the gigantic tomes included in my epic Wheel of Time Read Along. Fortunately we are drawing to the close of that series, so I will hopefully get my life back in the spring of next year. We have been slogging through the series since December 2012, so I may need a period of mourning at that point, but at least I should have more time for other things! However, although I have read a lot of pages, I have unfortunately completed a surprisingly small number of titles. Nevertheless, there are have been some definite high points to my reading this year, so I thought that I would share one of my favorites.

Whilst I am sorely tempted to declare Jan DeLima’s Summer Moon as my most favorite read of the year I am afraid that there was one title (well, it is actually two volumes of a series) that I have raved about even more. I have read quite a few of Brandon Sanderson’s titles, so when some blogging friends suggested a Read Along for The Way of Kings I jumped at the chance. Mr Sanderson writes at a prodigious rate and The Way of Kings was announced as the first volume in The Stormlight Archive, which is supposed to be a huge ten volumes in total. Volume 2: Words of Radiance was published in early March of this year, so we read right through both volumes over a twenty week period.

I have always read Mr Sanderson’s works as Read Alongs and I am almost certain that this has contributed to my massive enjoyment of his titles. The restriction of only reading a set number of pages each week and then discussing the book as you go along is wonderful because it allows you to really absorb the rich detail and complex world-building that seem to characterize his writing. I fear that reading at a more normal speed would lead to me missing some aspects of the complexity of his plotting and character development. His worlds are just so lush and rich with tiny points of wonderment that it seems appropriate to stroll through them and enjoy every minute detail.

Firmly situated in the Fantasy genre, The Stormlight Archive is Epic in every sense of the word. We begin The Way of Kings by being plunged into the final moments of an ancient battle that has left almost everything in the world dead or destroyed. We see this through the eyes of an eternal warrior who has fought this battle many times in the past and is destined to fight it repeatedly for eternity. If that is not epic enough to take your breath away, we next move to the present where an unimposing assassin dressed all in white displays the most amazing magical abilities in order to murder a King. We see the attack through the assassin’s eyes and learn how he manipulates gravity in order to outmaneuver his opponents. If you have seen The Matrix, then imagine ‘bullet time’ writ large: the imagery conjured by this sequence alone is worth the cost of the book. The rest of the title builds upon this amazing start in ways that actually made me squeal with delight in some places. Not only do we have an amazingly creative and wonderfully imagined magic system, but we also have original races, cultures, geography, weather, vegetation, wildlife, languages, history, religions, socio-economic structures and a strange fascination with the number ten.

However, perhaps the most exciting creation to define this series is the concept of ‘spren’. These are mostly manifestations of emotions, such as anger or pain, or natural phenomena, like fire or the wind; however, it seems that some spren are different. In The Way of Kings we encounter Syl, who appears to be a normal wind spren although she has taken a special interest in one of our main characters. Only he can see and hear her and she seems to be linked to his burgeoning magical powers in some way, but even she has no idea what she is or why she is different. It is with such intriguing creations that we are sucked into this world and made to care about our heroes. As I would expect in such a complex world, nothing is black and white, so our heroes are flawed and sometimes behave like total idiots, whilst our villains are revealed to have motives that we can understand even if they commit the most unspeakable crimes. Characters develop in meaningful ways and make surprising decisions that can be massively frustrating or jaw-droopingly awesome. This series is original and packed full of surprises, so that even the most jaded Fantasy reader will be delighted and surprised by the interweaving plotlines.

I cannot truly convey how much I enjoyed these wonderful titles in such a short post: honestly, I could write about them for an awful lot longer and go into amazing detail of several hundred things that I LOVED about them. My only criticism is one of pure practicality: these books are both monsters (Words of Radiance is the maximum size that the publishers could bind into one volume) and I would definitely recommend obtaining ecopies for comfortable reading . . . but the illustrations that are included in the text make me want to say that you should get paper copies as well so that you can really marvel at the world that they portray . . .

Here are two of my favorite pieces of artwork, one from each title. If you want to see more, you can view them on Mr Sanderson’s website.

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