I read one of Sanderson’s works about three years ago now (I think), called Elantris. I can’t remember what the reviews were like at the time, but I honestly recall being not-extremely-impressed for the most part. There were definitely aspects of the book that I liked, but overall, when I was done with the book and had put it into its spot on my shelf, I didn’t think about it anymore afterward. That’s usually a sign to me that I didn’t really get much out of a novel.
Soon after I read that novel, I was confronted with the news that Brandon Sanderson would be finishing up the late Robert Jordan’s epic saga, The Wheel of Time (tWoT). I wasn’t extremely happy, but I saw potential. You see, I have been reading tWoT since 1992-ish, which means I’ve put eighteen (and at the time of the news of RJ’s untimely death, fifteen) years of my life into this series. It did not bode well with me that some author with whom I had not had the most pleasant experiences with so far was going to finish up the fantasy saga of modern times. At the time, I had always thought Harriet (RJ’s wife) should have gotten Tad Williams to complete the series, but c’est la vie, that ain’t the way the world works. Well, I waited in anticipation, and around this time last year, The Gathering Storm was released. I read the entire novel in three days.
After I had read the novel, which did a great job of progressing the story, I put the book on my shelf and put it out of my mind. Nothing in particular stuck out to me as overly bad, but nothing stuck out to me as overly good either. My thoughts about the book were, overall, not extremely positive – but not extremely negative either. Many of the scenes in the book were filled with bad-assery – characters being awesome, saying awesome things, and living through awesome situations. Sections of it were written almost like fanfiction – things played out exactly how I had always hoped they would, and some in much better ways than I ever could have imagined. However, many of the scenes left me doing the literary equivalent of a double-take. The scene of Semirhage’s spanking, as well as the Hinderstrap chapter(s) both left me with a bit of a “… wait… wha- huh?” feeling, and left me shaking my head.
By the end of the book, I had a love/hate relationship with it. I thought Sanderson overall did a great job moving the story along, and he took the main protagonist to some very dark places, but I also nitpicked a lot of the story-telling choices he made (because that’s what people like me, who aren’t actually writing novels and selling them do! :)).
I re-read the book again about a month ago, in preparation for Towers of Midnight coming out very soon now, and found myself actually enjoying the book for the most part. If before, it was an even 50/50 love/hate split, now I would call it more of an 80/20 love/not-love split. Definitely still parts in the book that I have serious problems with, but for the most part, I believe Harriet, Tor, and Co. have made a great decision in choosing Sanderson to complete the series. I’ll let you know for sure once Towers comes out in a couple months.
(Whew, that was a lot more preamble than I was expecting. Anyway…)
I have decided to give Sanderson a more fair shot. Elantris was an earlier book, so maybe it’s not the best representation of his work. His “collaborations” with Jordan are just that – collaborations, and so perhaps I should not (have) judge(d) Sanderson so severely from that book. Therefore, I have picked up The Way of Kings (tWoK), the first in a probable ten-volume series, which was released just a few weeks ago. I am almost half-way through (a more developed review to come once finished), and here are a few stream-of-conscious-type thoughts I have about it thus far.
1 – Sanderson very obviously wants his world to have a unique feel to it, and has put a lot of thought and effort into the world-building aspects. He has created entire races, species of plant and animal, ecosystems, and geological phenomena to give his world a one-of-a-kind feel. Unfortunately, so much of it has been introduced at once, with very little explanation, that it leaves me (the reader) feeling like I don’t ever really know what the hell is going on. I find that to be a bit sad, because there seem to be so many things that I really want to immerse myself in, but I can’t, because I’m not sure what’s going on with a lot of it. Granted, I’m barely scratching the surface of this possibly ten-thousand-plus-page-saga, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a bit lost with all the “wonder” and crazy fantastical goings-on happening so far in the book. Plus, has anyone figured out specifically what a “safehand” and a “freehand” are?
2 – I have problems with names that are hard to pronounce. Frodo, Samwise, Gandalf, Simon, Josua, Rand, Perrin, Pug, Garion, Vlad… these are all names of relatively-famous fantasy characters, and all of them roll off the tongue pretty easily. I’ve already come across a lot of names in 500+ pages of tWoK that I have to sound out to figure out, and that makes me squirm a little bit. Maybe that’s nitpicky.
3 – I don’t know if I’m really supposed to like the person who I believe is the main protagonist at the moment. Kaladin seems the most clear-cut protagonist/central-hero-type character in the story so far, but it’s also very obvious that Shallan and Dalinar, and possibly even Szeth, are all very integral to the story as well. Like I said, Kaladin seems the most likely hero of the story at this point, but I’m having problems really liking him – he reminds me too much so far of Perrin’s less-favorable characteristics in The Wheel of Time; namely, his moodiness.
4- *spren are weirdly awesome, especially Syl. *spren (Fearspren, Windspren, Lightspren, Creationspren, etcetera) are apparently little elementals that show up and harass/annoy/coerce/comfort people whenever there is a lot of wind, or people are feeling a lot of fear, etcetera. I haven’t really figured out yet what they’re up to, but I figure they’ll be important in some way, and they are a very neat addition to a new world that I haven’t seen before.
5 – The characters are all unique, and so far, all seem to have a purpose! This can be extremely important to someone like me who did honestly get a little tired with the thousands of named characters in the Wheel of Time. So far, I haven’t felt like any of the characters are there for non-essential purposes.
6 – No padding! At least, so far, I don’t feel that any of the book is relying too much on unnecessary padding. Of the 400-ish pages I’ve read so far, I feel like everything I’ve read has been important (even the parts I don’t understand yet), so that’s good.
So anyway, looking back over my thoughts, I’m pretty sure a lot of this has more to do with beginning-of-the-book-isms than any actual flaws (except the hard-to-pronounce names), but I’m intrigued enough to figure it out. I think I’ll write up my thoughts when I finish the book, which will probably be around Friday of next week.
Cheers for now.