Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

ElantrisHoly cow, has it really been eight years since I first read this book? It was definitely long overdue for this re-read, and this time I got to make a bunch of other people read it for book club! I love this power.

Eight years ago I was taken in by the first sentence — “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” This year? Same. Is that not a great sentence? Is Brandon Sanderson not a master of sentences? Ugh, so good.

I’ve explained the story pretty well in my first post about this book, so I’ll let that all stand and talk about how this holds up to a re-read. Spoiler: pretty well!

It turns out that I retained only the vaguest of details about the book, except for the one big reveal about why Elantris’s magic stopped working, so it was pretty much like reading the book for the first time. Except, of course, that I am a different person now, and so the constant sexism toward women, and, conversely, the Sarene’s constant commentary on the backwardness of Arelon rankled. Did Sarene have to be an underestimated and ignored component of Arelon society to achieve the books results? Probably not! Also, I’m not not a fan of stories where the characters are witty and smart and have answers for every problem thrown their way (see: everything Sanderson and John Scalzi have ever written), but it becomes tiresome after 600 pages to keep reading things like, and then Sarene was witty and smart and had all the answers, and so did Raoden, and then Hrathen used this against them, but it’s cool, Sarene and Raoden just invented better answers.

That aside, the plot is still really well done and the ideas of government as rule by the wealthy or rule by religion are almost creepily relevant today. I found myself drawing more than a few parallels between the power-hungry characters of the book and certain political figures who have recently come to power. Oh, politics. You never change.

I also still love the world that Sanderson built for this story, with its weird magic Aons and familiar world religions and strangely small footprint on what I presume is the Earth. Sanderson has written a couple of other stories meant to take place in the same world, but what I really need is a book about Dreok Crushthroat and maybe one about Fjordell before Wyrn Wulfden.

Probably the thing I liked least about this re-read, and this is a really weird thing, is that my husband listened to the book while I eyes-read it and it turns out that all of the proper nouns in the book are pronounced VERY DIFFERENTLY from how I think they should be pronounced. I would hear Scott listening to the book and be like, who the heck is Ay-hane? Oh, Ahan. And See-in-ay-len? Oh, Seinalen. Darn your vowels, Sanderson!

But hey, if you eyes-read it, you can do like my book club mate and just give everyone names like Bob and George and not even worry about it!

Recommendation: Totally worth a read, especially if you need a book where the good guys win. (Spoiler?)

Firefight, by Brandon Sanderson

FirefightMy reaction upon getting the email from my library that my hold on Firefight had finally come in: “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

But of course, I was in the middle of another book, so Scott got to read it first, and when he stayed up way too late two nights in a row reading it I knew it was going to be good. When it was finally my turn to read it, I finished it in an afternoon (I might read just a touch faster than my husband does).

And it’s pretty dang good, guys. Not as great as Steelheart, but I’ve read enough series to know not to expect equal greatness from sequels. But if you’re looking for the action, intensity, and amusingly awful metaphors of the first book, Firefight does not disappoint.

In this go, we are in a post-Steelheart Newcago, where the Reckoners are working to protect the city from harm. Unfortunately, a bunch of non-Newcago-an Epics keep showing up and trying to kill off the Reckoners, and it soon becomes clear that they are being sent by somebody. That somebody is Regalia, the Epic running the waterlogged city of Babilar, formerly known as Manhattan. Our metaphor-challenged hero, David, travels to Babilar with Jon Phaedrus, the Reckoner leader, secret Epic, and former friend of Regalia, to see what’s up and what they can do about it. But David’s not really on board with the mission — he’s more interested in figuring out a way to keep former Reckoner, formerly secret Epic, and crush-object Megan/Firefight from becoming the kind of evil Epic that all Epics seem to eventually become.

Soooo there’s more of that gross swoony love stuff than I would particularly prefer, but it’s actually pretty well integrated into the regular storyline so I can forgive it. Sanderson does a great job breaking out the world-building again for Babilar, a city supernaturally covered in water and somehow growing phosphorescent plants inside the abandoned buildings, including some trees that grow fortune cookies for reasons that are actually pretty cool. And he brings in more backstory to the world as a whole, explaining more about how the Epics came to be and the source of their powers and weaknesses. Sanderson also breaks out my two favorite things, suspense and intrigue, as the various players in this story maneuver against each other in ways I wasn’t always suspecting, with real motives only realized at the last second or sometimes even later.

It’s not a perfect book, but it’s super entertaining and my only regret is that I have to wait until “Spring 2016” (according to the end of the book) to find out how it ends! I will keep my fingers crossed for another Mitosis-style ebook to tide me over.

Recommendation: For lovers of Sanderson, Steelheart, superpowers, suspense, other things that start with s…

Rating: 8/10

Weekend Shorts: Mitosis and Nancy Drew

I’ve got two very different stories to talk about today — one a delightful interlude to tide me over until a sequel, the other a horrible travesty upon my childhood. Which to talk about first…

Mitosis, by Brandon Sanderson
MitosisOh, let’s start with the good. I like good. I like Steelheart. I like this story, which starts with our good friend David really super extremely excited about… eating a hot dog. I mean, I get that he hasn’t had one in ten years, but… a hot dog? I’d be more excited about, like, pizza, although I don’t really like Chicago-style pizza… this is not the point! Although, pizza, yum.

Anyway, there are hot dogs eaten and also we find out — spoilers if you haven’t read Steelheart yet, which, go do that now — that the Reckoners have managed to more or less reclaim Chicago, although they can’t do much about that steel everywhere, and also that David is being called “Steelslayer” and given all sorts of credit for defeating Steelheart. So of course another Epic, this one aptly called Mitosis, shows up in Chicago demanding to speak with David to find out what really happened. We learn a little bit more about the Epics and their powers and weak spots, and we get a decent setup for the upcoming Firefight, and all and all I am entertained.

The Demon of River Heights, by Stefan Petrucha
The Demon of River HeightsAaaaaaaaaaaaaah. So you may remember that ages ago I partook in a Nancy Drew Challenge in which I was going to read all of the 56 original (well, “original”) Nancy Drew books, except I only made it to 11 before I was like, I think I can predict the next 45 just fine, thanks. But I read and loved all 56 as a kid, as well as all eleven billion of the new Nancy Drews that were out in the early nineties, so I couldn’t help myself when I realized that this graphic adaptation existed in my library. Please, help yourself and avoid this!

For one, this graphic novel suffers from the all-too-common GIGANTIC BOOBS problem, with even sporty George sporting a rack larger than mine. I’m not sure the artist understands the audience for Nancy Drew stories. Secondly, it suffers from the same predictability as the original series, except with more explosions. Thirdly, it was published in 2005 and is a ridiculous time capsule of mid-aughts technology, you know, when smartphones were this crazy new thing that had yet to take over the world? So Nancy drives this hybrid car, which she keeps forgetting to put gas in, and also keeps losing cell phone reception, which, fair. But then George has this fancy not-iPad with “wifi and cell-phone dial-up” that, I shit you not, she uses to look up how to fight a bear while Nancy is FIGHTING A BEAR in the MIDDLE OF THE WOODS. So there’s that, and actually that’s just a few pages in so if you want to pick up the book just to enjoy Nancy punching a bear in the face I think that’s probably totally legit. I can only imagine what will happen in the rest of the series, because I am NOT reading any more of it. (Unless you tell me it’s awesome, then maybe.)

Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.”

I gave this book to my husband to read first, since he’s a bigger Sanderson fangirl than I am and I can trust him to tell me if a book is worth reading. He flat-out loved this book, and when he was pestering me to put it on the top of my TBR he kept waxing poetic about that first line, “I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.”

So I started reading it, and I read that first line, and I was like, all right, that’s cool, I guess. But by the end of the prologue, when our narrator repeats that line? Sold. Sold, sold, sold.

The premise of this book is that one day, people start waking up with superpowers, which is awesome, and then proceed to become supervillains called Epics, which is… less awesome. No person who gets these powers becomes a hero; all of them seem to be out to become the most badass subjugator of regular human beings. The titular subjugator, Steelheart, is the more or less benevolent dictator of Newcago, a Chicago which has turned to steel because Steelheart, you know, and is also constantly under darkness to protect another Epic called Nightwielder.

But our narrator, David, is not content to live with the status quo, not leastly because Steelheart killed his father in the prologue and should therefore prepare to die. He finagles his way into an underground (literally; much of Chicago’s population lives underground these days) resistance force called the Reckoners, who kill off minor Epics here and there and who are a little put off by David’s half-baked plan to take down Steelheart. But of course they are swayed to it, and so we get to watch the plan finish baking and culminate in an epic battle (get it?).

It’s a pretty good story, with the villains and the heros and the intrigue and the fighting, but where it is great is in the humor. The most obvious source of humor is David’s inability to craft a good metaphor, or a bad one, or really any kind of metaphor, although once he explains them to himself or others they make a weird kind of sense. But there is also the fact that these Epics end up with some really terrible names like Fortuity and Refractionary, and that one of the Reckoners has decided to embrace his Scottish ancestry even though he’s super Southern, and it’s this sort of constant background humor that really made me fall in love with this book.

I do have one complaint about the book, and this is pretty spoilery so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you haven’t read it yet. There is a hint of a completely unnecessary romance subplot throughout the book, and so when the one main female character was taken out of the equation I was disappointed that the one main female character was gone but happy that at least there wouldn’t be that lame romance subplot. But then later a thing happened and I ended up feeling exactly the opposite way, so… yeah. I am keeping my fingers crossed for no lameness in the second book, but it’s a YA novel and I hear that romance stuff sells books.

Other than that frustration, which is not an unusual one for me when it comes to YA books, I really super enjoyed reading this book. It’s fast and fun and has a great premise and I highly recommend it to anyone who needs some brain candy this winter.

Rating: 9/10

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson (3 April — 9 April)

Hmm. What to say about this book. Well. It’s one of those epic novels, and the first in its trilogy, so there’s something. The general plot follows a rebellion: the nobles are subjugating (as they do) people called skaa, who are not really different from the nobles but hey, someone needs subjugating, yes? And there are some skaa who don’t like the life they have and who want better. And there are some crazy skaa who decide to rebel. But not just like, “Hey, let’s rebel!” but like, “Hey, let’s rebel in like a year and spend that time making this rebellion AWESOME.” So they do. But things, of course, go right and wrong on a whim, and then there is epic fighting. Sweet!

So that was good.

Now, the fantastical conceit in this novel irked me for about the first three or four hundred pages. It is this: certain noble people who have some good genes can use magic. And even certain-er noble people with excellent genes can use lots of magic. But the magic comes from, um, swallowing metals. And then “burning” them. So, like, you can “burn” iron to pull on something made of metal, like a coin or a piece of armor. And you can burn tin to enhance your senses. And you can burn bronze to see if other people are using magic metal flakes. Not so irksome, you say? But, see, I know these things because Sanderson KEPT TELLING ME EVERY TIME SOMEONE USED A STUPID METAL. “Oh, this guy used pewter and got awesome strong!” “Falling was okay, because her pewter-enhanced muscles were awesome strong!” “If only she had some pewter, so she could become awesome strong!” Oh. My. Gosh.

But then at the end it seems Sanderson decided to trust the reader, and of course then I got confused about whether a metal was being used or not. -sigh-

Whatever. The end of the book was totally worth it, and it was great that his main protagonist was a girl, and I definitely want to know what happens to all these cool characters in the next book. But I swear, if I get babied about again, I’m going to swallow some pewter and then throw the book in the general direction of Brandon Sanderson.

Rating: 7/10
(Chunkster Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson (9 February — 11 February)

This book was awesome. The end.

Okay, okay. But really! Awesome! I was drawn in from the first line of the first chapter (not counting the prologue, because that was whatever): “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”

Indeed. Raoden has been taken by the Shaod, which used to turn random people of Arelon into the supposed gods of Elantris, but which stopped doing that ten years previous and now turns its victims into perpetually decaying (but never dying) hulks of flesh. Raoden finds himself thrown into Elantris, now little more than a prison where gangs fight over the ritual food newcomers bring (everyone is very hungry, though they don’t technically have to eat) and every injury, no matter how slight, lasts forever. Instead of becoming crazy like many Elantrians, however, Raoden chooses to make a better life for those inside and see if he can’t find out what caused the death of Elantris in the first place.

Meanwhile, Raoden’s betrothed, Sarene, arrives in Arelon a week before her wedding, but only just in time for the prince’s funeral. Oops. Sarene, whose political marriage is still valid due to a fancy clause in the contract, decides she’s still going to do what she set out to do, which is keep Arelon and her home of Teod protected from those who would destroy them.

Also meanwhile, those who would destroy Arelon and Teod send out a priest called Hrathen to pave the way for the conquerors — those of the religion of Shu-Dereth. Hrathen is to convert the Arelenes within three months or the people will face death. His carefully laid plans start to unravel, though, with the influence of Sarene, Raoden, and a religious zealot called Dilaf who is out to destroy Elantris.

So there’s a lot of story here. But it’s all really well told and all of the pieces Sanderson gets you curious about tie together at the end quite spectacularly. There were a few things I found extraneous and rather deus ex, but I will forgive those because everything else was so, well, awesome.

Rating: 9.5/10
(Chunkster Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)