You Know You’re Jealous
May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
My backyard. She is beautiful, no? And on one of the finest long weekends I’ve seen in awhile.
Which is where I’ve spent most of today just lazing around (after waking up late and having a wonderful pancake breakfast, of course), reading a book. Which book, you say? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Week 19: Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson
For those of you who don’t read fantasy (and/or live under a rock), Brandon Sanderson is one of the most prolific and popular fantasy writers in the past ten years. He took a look at modern fantasy, with it’s predilection for gritty, low-magic, hopeless dramas, and flipped them off before flying away on a dragon’s back while shooting lightning bolts from his hands (I can only assume there was a babe, possibly in a chain-mail bikini, riding along with him).
That, or less metaphorically, writing some pretty dang good high fantasy.
This story is part of his Mistborn series, but not directly linked to the prior three books (Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages). Instead, it takes place about three hundred years after, in a world where steel and electricity have begun to conquer the old world of magic and wonder.
Did I say “conquer magic”? By that, I mean of course that “magic is totally still around and people use it to do cool stuff while wearing fancy 1800-esque clothes and shooting guns at bad guys”. I can understand how you didn’t pick that up at first. I tend to move in mysterious ways.
This story presses all the buttons that I love being pressed. Magic? Check. Guns and fancy clothing? Check. Western mindset and wonderful “gritty lawman” characters? Check, check, and check. It lacks dragons, true, but I think we can overlook that for now. It’s part of a series, so that regrettable error can be repaired later.
Long story short, Sanderson likes to wrap up his longer stories within the confines of shorter, themed stories. I’ve heard him describe Mistborn as a high-fantasy that feels like a heist novel. In this case, it rolls pretty much like a mystery that, of course, is one part of a much longer story.
Now, the million dollar (or in this case, about $15) question: is it any good? Well, it’s a Brandon Sanderson book. This is the man who was chosen to finish the Wheel of Time series. Say what you will about it, but the WoT is one of the most recognizable brands (I shudder to think like that and use that word, but it’s kind of true) in fantasy these days. They wouldn’t trust it to an amateur, and Sanderson is no amateur.
That said, I found myself reading the Mistborn series and rolling my eyes throughout it. Sanderson likes his incredibly detailed and specific magic system (which is very, and too, scientific at points), rather straight-forward (not simplistic, though) characters, and plots that surprise no-one. I caught myself saying that “Man, his characters are too obvious in their motivations and spend too much time letting everyone know what they are. His magic, though interesting, is being explained so much that I’d have to be a child or a simpleton not to understand it at this point, and his bad guys? Pschaw!”
I then looked up and realized that I was complaining this way after compulsively reading all three of his Mistborn books as quickly as I could, so take my criticisms with a grain of salt (or…copper? Dohohoho Mistborn joke).
That being said, I object to my objection, but it took my post last week about The Avengers (and a conversation I had with someone I work with) to realize why I feel like I feel about Sanderson: as Joss Whedon is to my movies, Sanderson is to my taste in books.
So let’s be clear: he’s good. He can tell a good story and make cool characters. However, he makes choices that I disagree with. This doesn’t make him wrong, but he just has an opinion about things that I don’t share.
Case in point: one of his characters in Alloy of Law has a dialogue about how hard it is for him to help everybody who needs it, and argues for the basic decency of all people. He really comes across as a saint, which is a common trait in Sanderson’s protagonists. They are always good, and not just good, saintly. Is this a problem? No, not at all. Those people exist, are worth emulating, and, most importantly, are worth telling stories about.
I just think that characters, especially the saints, need to drag themselves in the mud for awhile. I have a character who wants to do good, and who can’t help but help others or feel guilty if he can’t. He, however, is an amnesiac drunk who has nothing and no-one. I’ve spent too long in the gutters of history, seeing how people are almost (and the almost is incredibly important) never “truly” good. They are (I, too, believe in the decency of most people) conflicted, inside and out. I think it’s important to show that, and then show how the really good can overcome those conflicts, because if you show how conflicted the heroes are about being heroes, it makes it that much easier for someone who isn’t a hero to become one.
I’d say go read this book, if only because Sanderson can write action like no-body’s business, and that, at least, is a damn good skill to learn.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back outside and enjoy the rest of this long weekend (unless you’re not in Ontario, in which case….hahahahaah! HAHAHAHAAHH!)!
– John, wishing to offend no-one, has only this to say: HAHAHAHAHAAHAAH!