Friday, June 3, 2011

A Tale of Two Brandons: Sanderson

I intended to write these posts months ago but never got to them.

Our family's newest favorite authors are Brandon Sanderson and Brandon Mull. By favorite, we mean that we actually pre-order and sit around waiting for the next one to come out. So far, that's a set of three (the third being Ally Condie whose books we have already praised). Mull will get his own post later. This one is for Sanderson.

Sanderson is not the next Tolkein, or the next Rowling, or the next Hickman and Weis, or the next Brooks. He sets out in very different directions, creates unique worlds, and is not at all derivative. Hooray! (I worry when I read "the next ____," in case that makes things clearer.)

To me, his best quality is his ability to come up with new ways of introducing some form of magic. Elantris uses runes; the Mistborn series consumes metal; the Stormlight series absorbs light from ... you guessed it, storms; Alcatraz uses magical eyewear. Each world has its own source of power, different rules for what it lets you do, and very different, well-thought out characters making use of them. He gets in some wonderful commentary without being preachy or beating anyone over the head. There's religious strife in just about all his books, and he deals with it differently and wonderfully in every case. Other reviewers are amazed at his grasp of topics like leadership or government. Each book has been a delight.

Among his shortcomings that only I would care about are that his economics tends to be a little two-dimensional: nobility vs. slaves and peasants with a serious lack of interest in a middle-class. His next series may fix that. There's still only nobles and peasants, but at least there are gradations of nobility within each in an semi-economically-mobile caste system.

My only real complaint is that he is deciding more and more to have too many main characters. My brother points out that this makes him ideal to wrap up the Wheel of Time series, but I just don't care for it. You read 200-300 pages and wonder what has happened. Not much. We set the stage:

  • In his Mistborn trilogy, the first book has two main characters and we stick with mostly them. The pacing is excellent and it's a wonderful book. In book two we have three main characters and a few other people get chapters devoted to their point of view as well. In book three we have at least five main characters, all of them telling a unique story and it just gets bogged down.
  • In Warbreaker, there are three stories being told, but only one of them that matters. The second could have been done in 2-3 chapters and leave it at that. The third was extraordinarily interesting and could have been a separate spin-off book, but really never interacted with the main storyline until the absolute end, for about 5 seconds. In other words, we could have cut at least 500 pages from a 1000 page book. This was the only book of his I almost decided to not finish, mostly due to sexual situations just past the border of my comfort level. I would not watch the movie based on it.
  • In the new Stormlight series, there are four main characters, plus recurring minor characters, and you don't even see the same character twice in the first 100 pages! He tries to chop the book into 4 smaller books and lets you know ahead of time which of the main characters will be in that smaller book, but that means he finishes one of their stories way earlier than anyone else's and you're left hanging over the cliff for that character for more than 400 pages before he resolves it.
Now, his stories and his characters are worth the investment. Mistborn is coming to Nigeria with me (at the moment) to be reread. Even though I can barely put his books down, it's only after 200-300 pages into it that I poke my head up to wonder where the time has gone and what I've learned.

And then he has a totally different, tongue-in-cheek series about a 13 year old named Alcatraz Smedry where, among other things, he mocks himself. A delightful and funny series that you would never guess was written by the same author of the other delightful and thoughtful series (plural). It shows his great versatility. This is the only of his series that Joy and I have shared.

Here's looking forward to thousands of pages more.

1 comment:

Desi said...

We've loved Sanderson! After seeing he was taking over for the Wheel of Time books, we got Elantris to see how he would do. GREAT! (I also think he has done quite will with the WoT series.) We've now read the Mistborn trilogy together and I've read Warbreaker which Rick is on now. We haven't picked up Stormlight or Alcatraz yet, but The Way of Kings just got here from the library.... Great posts about the Brandons! We enjoy a touch of majic in our lives and love the depth of the storylines. Not just rehashing old stories, but these are truly new and fantastic books!