narfna’s #CBR5 Review #98: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

steelheartThis wasn’t my favorite Sanderson ever. I had some issues with it on a technical level, but the worldbuilding was SO MUCH FUN that it almost didn’t even matter. (It’s actually kind of a relief to read a book of his I don’t LOVE ALL CAPS because it means he’s only human after all. Dude writes SO MANY BOOKS and they’re ALL GOOD.)

Steelheart, the first book in Sanderson’s Reckoners series, is an extremely creative take on the superhero genre. It’s been ten years since an event people have dubbed Calamity, which granted certain members of the population superpowers. These people are called Epics, and they are all of them huge dickwads: violent, egomanical, emotionally unstable, power-hungry assholes. With the appearance of the Epics, society descended into chaos. Epic after Epic took control over whole cities. The government collapsed. In some cities, Epics rule like monarchs. Such is the case with Chicago, now called Newcago, which is ruled by an Epic called Steelheart, who has the power to turn anything to steel, and is seemingly invincible.

This is where our protagonist, David, comes in. David’s father was a firm believer that one day an Epic would come that would be good and kind, who would wish to help rather than hurt. David’s father is murdered by Steelheart, right in front of David’s eyes, when he was ten years old. Steelheart then demolished the bank they were in and killed everyone in it, except for David. David is now the only person alive to have seen Steelheart bleed. And he’s gone looking for a group called the Reckoners, whose sole mission is taking out Epics one by one. He knows he’s the only person alive that might be able to help them take down Steelheart, and he’s made it his life’s mission to do so.

Like I said, exploring this world that Sanderson created, learning its rules, was pure pleasure. It was refreshing to read a take on superheroes that had the superheroes as the bad guys. It’s a very cynical outlook on human nature, and I found it intriguing, especially given the presence of David’s father, who believed so strongly that Epics could be good. It bodes well for future installments in the series. I also really liked that this book had a self-contained element to it, a beginning, middle and end. It also felt a bit like a crime/heist caper story, which was really fun.

I did have some issues with it. With a couple exceptions, the characters didn’t really grab my emotions by the balls or anything. I didn’t care about most of them very much, and actively disliked the one that kept saying y’all to refer to a singular person. I know I also had some other technical issues with it, but it’s been over a months and a half since I read it, and I don’t remember what those issues were. Also of concern is the protag, David. Because he’s so driven by his mission, he doesn’t have much of an emotional arc. The focus in this book is definitely on plot and worldbuilding, and I’m hoping in future books we get a bit more characterization for him and the others. I know plot and worldbuilding are Sanderson’s strengths, but he can do characters too. I’ve seen him at it.

All in all, a really fun book, and I’m confident/hopeful that the issues I had with it will be addressed in future books. And even if they’re not, I’ll probably still enjoy them.

KatSings’ #CBR5 Review #39-43: See List Within

Another bulk post for you as I play catch up.  I’ve realized if I stop caring about reviewing in the order I’ve read them, it goes much better for me.  So hopefully in the next week or so I’ll actually finish reviewing everything, since I’m still almost 10 books behind.  I’ve almost finished the actual reading of the cannon, but reviewing is a mess still.

39-41: The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

42: Fire Dance by Delle Jacobs

43: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #121: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Sanderson, you and I are done. At least as far as this series is concerned.Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians was too clever for its own good, but that cleverness worked enough in your favor that I was able to get past it. Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, however, is a couple steps too far. The asides became more a part of the story than the story itself, the humor doesn’t work at all as well as in the first book, and I can sense you trying to see how far you can push things before they break.

A girl whose power is waking up ugly? However could that come in handy? I know, she’ll be able to wake up looking like someone else if she just puts her mind to it! No, Sanderson, now you’re stretching, and I’m not going to be doing that stretching with you any longer. It’s not clever anymore. You want to seem like the smartest guy in the room? Go right ahead. I’ll be in another room.


Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #114: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson


Brandon Sanderson is clever, there’s no denying that, yet he’s so sure of that cleverness that it wore on me at times, especially since he’s not as clever as he thinks. In Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, he fools about so much, getting meta and leading his readers up blind alleys, that I wanted him to cool it, no matter how much I enjoyed the results.

It’s sort of like season three of Community if watched with a commentary from Dan Harmon where he’s constantly drawing attention to how cutting edge and meta he really is. Even the author’s bio isn’t taken seriously, with Sanderson writing out some ridiculous and contrived nonsense instead of the truth. He has to keep up the act, you see.

That act which he never lets you forget he’s putting on. It bears some fruits, such as the way in which he took supposed drawbacks, such as breaking things or tripping all the time, and made them into untapped powers. And the world and its magic all seem well thought out enough.

But he can’t stop himself from being silly. Every so often, he has to throw in a rambling side-note to purposefully stop the story’s momentum, all the while drawing attention to the fact that that’s precisely what it’s doing, and it really did start to grow tiresome after a while.

We get it, Sanderson, you like deconstructing the genre in which you’re writing. You make some great observations, such as one at the very end that’s an obvious (and well-earned) dig at Harry Potter. But Alacatraz Versus the Evil Librarians could be so much more than a never-ending stream of self-perceived, self-serving cleverness.

I’ll read the sequel, because you entertained me as much as you enraged me, but if it doesn’t tone things back, I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest.


Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #20: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The RithmatistTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist

Profile: Young Adult, Fantasy, Steampunk

So Brandon Sanderson took a break from his endless list of epic fantasy projects in order to dabble in the ‘Young Adult’ fantasy market.  The result is, in many ways, a well-written subversion of the Harry Potter books.  Of course there’s more to The Rithmatist than that, but it does seem that Sanderson was aiming to distance himself as much as possible from the story of a kid chosen by fate to save the world from evil.  Unfortunately, it’s still the story (and the characters) he ended up writing.

The Rithmatist’s protagonist is Joel Saxon, a super-nerd with an obsession with Rithmatics.  Joel attends the prestigious Armedius Academy, one of only eight schools allowed to teach Rithmatists, not because he is good at Rithmatics, but because his parents worked there as a chalk-maker and a janitor.  Joel has no magical abilities whatsoever, but his obsessive study of the art has given him incredible knowledge its theory and practice.  When Rithmatist students begin disappearing, Joel is drawn to the case but quickly finds himself in over his head.

Read the rest of the review…

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #60: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

rithmatistI’m not entirely sure Brandon Sanderson’s first dip into young adult literature should actually be considered young adult. Maybe it’s just because I’m used to the dreck that passes for most YA these days — a high concept world full of lovelorn teenagers, poorly written — but this felt more innocent than I’m used to with YA, and I’m tempted to categorize it as children’s fiction, despite the age of the protagonist (sixteen). Maybe I’ve just grown to associate ‘romance’ and ‘YA’ together, when I shouldn’t. Because this was also a really smart book (I would expect no less from Sanderson), with some beyond intricate worldbuilding and interesting characters. It actually reminds me a little bit of the first Harry Potter book in the way it sets up the world and its characters, although this book is distinctly more pragmatic than HP, less ‘magical’ and entrancing, and more rational and inquisitive in its methods.

The Rithmatist follows Joel, an ordinary teenager who happens to attend a school of ‘magic’, in a world that seems to have diverged from ours about 1,000 years before the story begins. Joel lives in what we know of as America and Canada, but his America and Canada is one nation made up of 60 islands. Who knows what happend to turn North America into islands, but just go with it. In this world, a European king discovered a sort of geometrical math magic called Rithmatics, which basically involves magical chalk drawings and strategy, and used it to found a religion. People who can practice Rithmatics are called Rithmatists, and only 1 in 1,000 people have the ability. Joel desperately wants to be a Rithmatist. He knows more about Rithmatics than most of the Rithmatic students at his school, and he definitely has more passion than most of them. But Joel is not a Rithmatist. In fact, he only goes to his fancy school because his father died, and because his father was good friends with the Dean, Joel gets free admission. But weird things start happening, students disappearing, and there seems to be strange new Rithmatic lines in use that no one understands. Because of his love for Rithmatics, and because his favorite professor is helping with the investigation, Joel is drawn in as well.

Brandon Sanderson’s specialty is worldbuilding. He is a master at imagining fully realized fictional worlds with intricate rules of cause and effect, social systems, and cultures. That ability is on full display here. Rithmatics is basically magical geometry, and while I like magic, geometry would not be one of my favorite things in the universe. But Sanderson manages to make it interesting, and by the end you have a solid grasp on how the magic works in the book. And yes, it does sound silly in theory, but in execution, it’s actually pretty nifty. But it’s not just the worldbuilding that Sanderson is good at; he always manages to create characters that I can emotionally connect with as well. I really felt for Joel in his struggles to become a Rithmatist, despite being without the magical gift that would make his talents and knowledge ‘useful’ in the traditional sense. He’s the classic underdog, not only because he can’t be a Rithmatist, but because he’s poor and in a different social strata than the rest of his classmates. Sanderson avoids making him into a Mary Sue by having him work for his achievements. The actual plot of this was fun, and it did manage to surprise me in a couple of places, but it was by no means the highlight of the book. I actually think the mystery in this book was more interesting for its implications for future books. (I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that this is definitely the most American fantasy novel I’ve ever read — think native life forms, colonization, magic . . . he even references The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.)

Definitely check this out if you are a Sanderson fan, or a fantasy fan. Maybe even if you’re neither and just like a good story. Here one be.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's SoulTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Short Story

Okay, I lied.  There was one more Sanderson book.  Sorry.  The Emperor’s Soul is a short novella set in the same world as Elantris but removed from the events of that book by significant distance and an unspecified amount of time.  It is a very different sort of work than Sanderson’s typical epic fantasy fare.  As dictated by its size, it is a very focused story with only one protagonist and one storyline.  But there is some surprising depth contained in this small package.  At its heart, The Emperor’s Soul is about understanding people, and in a roundabout way, about the process of writing characters; creating people.

The central figure of The Emperor’s Soul is Wan ShaiLu, called Shai.  With two minor exceptions, the entirety of the novella is told from her perspective.  Betrayed by her partner in crime, a man known only as The Fool, Shai is coerced into undertaking the daunting task of magically recreating the personality of a brain dead emperor.  Under the threat of death, and a rapidly approaching deadline, she must accomplish two impossible tasks: understanding another human being utterly and completely, and escaping the powerful forces that will kill her whether she succeeds or not.

Read the rest of the review…

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #12: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

mb3hcIn a lot of ways, fantasy series like this one are only as good as their final book. I think this is even more true for trilogies, probably because there’s less content to work with. It’s why I always told my students when I was teaching English Comp to make sure their conclusions were memorable. You could write the most brilliant essay ever (or book, or TV show — as we learned with Lost), and if you flub the ending, the rest of your content is somehow tainted. This isn’t true of all stories, but I think it is true to a certain extent, especially with stories like this one where all three books are part of a greater whole, deliberately constructed to tell one complete story with a beginning, middle and end.

All of that is to say that if Sanderson had flubbed this final book, and even more importantly, the last 100 pages or so, the other two books would have been colored in response, and I might have thought less of them and the series as a whole, if what they were leading up to was a dud. Thankfully — at least for me, although apparently the ending to The Hero of Ages did rather upset some people — he nails it. A good ending for me is one that ties a whole story together and illuminates things that happened previously in a new light. It resolves problems and gives you a strong idea of why the author was telling the story in the first place. Also, it makes you feel things. As far as I’m concerned, The Hero of Ages meets every requirement on that list.

I’m not going to go too far into the plot because that would ruin it. What I will say is that unless you’re really, really, really good at guessing endings, you’re going to be completely surprised by how it all turns out. Hopefully you’ll also get the nice sense of emotional fulfillment that I got out of it as well. Character arcs not only end satisfactorily but manage to combine to give an even greater satisfaction. Characters get the endings they deserve.

As a whole, despite how iffy I felt about book two (and to be honest the first 50 pages or so of this one), this series as a whole gets five stars from me. Can’t wait to explore the further novels Sanderson has written in this world (which I think take place about 300 years from the time in this trilogy).

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

wellofascensioncoverI dove right into book two of Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy right after I finished #1. At first it was great, and then it was a bit sloggy, and then it went back to being great. Pretty par for the course in a second book, really. In fact, as a second book, I’d say The Well of Ascension is near the top of the bell curve. (Please note, the following review is chock full of spoilers for book one, Mistborn.)

The Well of Ascension picks up a year after the events of Mistborn. It’s central premise is that even though our characters purportedly reached their happy ending in book one by defeating the Lord Ruler, all that happy ending has really done is cause more problems in the form of civil unrest, anarchy, and collapsiing governmental infrastructure. Vin and Elend and the remains of Kelsier’s crew (so: everyone except Kelsier, then) have to uphold the constitutional monarchy poor naive Elend so dearly believes in while enemies descend upon them from all sides, including Elend’s tyrant of a father. Oh, and there also seems to be mystical and magical unrest of some kind happening as well, and Vin begins to believe that killing the Lord Ruler put into motion events they will not be able to stop. Like, world-destroying, apocalypse type events.

As most of the novel focuses on our characters facing the emotionally and physically draining prospect of surviving a siege, maintaining a government, and living in constant fear of assassination, it’s no surprise that the story starts to wear emotionally on us as readers, as well. Near the middle, as the worst of the drudgery was happening, I literally closed my book and screamed into my cat’s face (she was sitting in my lap being soft) ‘I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.’ I’d have to spend some time with it to be certain, but I’m pretty sure a large chunk of the flab in middle of this novel could have been cut out.

It was a bit jarring at first to have the tone of this one and overall structure be so different from number one, but I’d been warned ahead of time that each book in the trilogy has a very different feel. The first one was all and fun and games (well, mostly) and bringing down the Evil Empire, and this one by necessity is less fun. It’s about cleaning up messes and dealing with consequences. For all of the characters, it’s about figuring out what’s next. Sanderson also continues the emotional arcs each character began in book one as well. Vin, Elend, and Sazed are the main focus, but even the supporting characters grow and change.

All in all, a good second book, but books one and three are a bit more solid (and a lot more affecting).

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #10: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn-coverI really wish I hadn’t gotten behind in my reviews (stupid Canticle for Liebowitz) because it’s been so long since I’ve finished this book that I’m not sure I can do it justice. But I shall try anyway.

Mistborn (sometimes sub-titled The Final Empire to differentiate it from the trilogy as a whole, which is also called Mistborn) is Brandon Sanderson’s second published book after Elantris, which I very much enjoyed when I read it a couple of years ago. It was obvious even then that he had a gift for creating complicated fictional worlds with intricate social systems, as well as systems of magic and politics. He is also rather fixated on placing his characters in worlds that are dead or dying and using that as a thematic backdrop for more character-centric stuff.

The two main characters in Mistborn are Vin and Kelsier, and they live in a stagnant, oppressed world. Both of them are skaa (read: uneducated, oppressed slave/peasant hybrids) in a land ruled over by a man who calls himself The Sliver of Infinity, or The Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler has governed his Final Empire for a thousand years thanks to a set of mysterious circumstances he claims made him into a God. He lords over a world that is covered in ash thanks to constantly erupting ashmounts (see also: volcanoes), and that at night, is covered in a creepy mist that most skaa believe to be dangerous. The people are split into two castes: the nobility, who serve the Lord Ruler, and the skaa, who serve the nobility as slaves. Enter Vin and Kelsier. Vin is a sixteen year old girl who grew up on the streets with her deranged brother, making her way in various thieving crews because of a strange power she seems to possess. She is cunning and ferile and trusts nobody. Kelsier is a hardened escaped prisoner, the only man to have survived the infamous mines at Hathsin (whatever those are). And he’s got a plan.

His plan, in case you were curious, is to rip out the foundation of the Final Empire and bring it to its knees. Also, to kill the Lord Ruler. It’s how he plans to do this that sets Mistborn apart from most fantasy series. He and a chosen bunch of fellow highly, erm, skilled, skaa thieves are going to con, burgle, and revolt the Empire out of The Lord Ruler’s grasp, despite the fact that no skaa rebellion in over a thousand years has managed to do so.

So when I say ‘skilled,’ what I really mean is that in addition to being thieves and con artists (but you know, classy ones), these chumps have magic powers. Not just any magic powers, either, these are Brandon Sanderson style powers, and that means intricate, logical, and like nothing you’ve read before. The magic in the Mistborn series is too complicated to fully parse in a review, and is most likely going to sound stupid if I try to boil it down, so let me just leave you with a feeling: it’s seriously cool.

I don’t want to go too far into the plot in this review because half the fun of the book is watching it play out. There’s a certain structure to these sorts of long-con, heist stories that Sanderson plays with, and it’s really fun. It was also great to read a fantasy book (maybe even an epic fantasy book, I’m not sure) that didn’t follow the usual path. It was also pretty neat to read a story that was purportedly set in a world where the hero actually failed to save the world and defeat the bad guy. The Final Empire exists because the hero failed 1,000 years before, and now Vin, Kelsier, etc. have to try to clean up the pieces.

If you’re a fantasy fan, this is definitely recommended. If you’re not usually a fantasy fan, this might be something that even you will like. Either way, I like it, and Brandon Sanderson is officially on my very exclusive shelf of favorite authors.