Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moving week capsules

Two quick reviews of books that probably deserve longer reviews.

The Rangers Apprentice Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan
by John Flanagan
Puffin Books, 2005
249 pages

This is a newish YA fantasy series my wife has been telling me to check out for a couple of years, so I finally picked it up while I was waiting for my other book to come in at the library.  (I think she's read the first few books of the series three times in the last two years.  So far, we own the first six)  It's a good start to a promising series.  It felt to me like it took a little bit of time to get into it, but then again I know how tough it is trying to get a story started when you're dealing with fantasy, history, mythology, etc.  It's pretty much your standard mentor/protege story with some very cool action sequences.  "The Ruins of Gorlan" was an unfortunate title choice, however, as the ruins aren't even mentioned until the book is practically over, and then they're just the place where the climactic battle happens. 

Then again, I know that titles can be tough, too.  As I've noted before, you don't really need a snappy title if it's a part of a series.  Nobody really refers to this as The Ruins of Gorlan; it's generally just going to be "the first Ranger's Apprentice book."

Mistborn: The Final Empire
by Brandon Sanderson
Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 2006
537 pages

All of my fantasy-reading acquaintances have been raving about Brandon Sanderson and, I've got to admit, up to this point I've been a little disappointed.  I mean, I always enjoy his stories, but I've never really been awed by them.  They're good, but I didn't see why the man was so unanimously anointed the Next Big Thing. 

Now, I've finally read the first in his Mistborn trilogy. Finally, I'm starting to get the picture.

The Final Empire avoids every criticism I've had for the other two books I've read by this author, Elantris and The Way of Kings. It's interesting from the start, and the narrative is clearly focused throughout.  Because there are fewer storylines, they're much tighter, and it's easy to see how they fit into the thrust of the action very early on. The narrative doesn't bother reminding us of individual character traits at every opportunity (earlier books went out of their way to tell us how witty and clever certain characters were or how pious and confident others were rather than letting the characters' words and actions do it for us).  The characters were believable, three-dimensional, and sympathetic.  Really, I don't have anything bad to say about this book except for the very minor critique that it occasionally feels like you're reading a tutorial on Allomancy. (Which is basically what the protagonist is doing in those moments, but it can get just a little tedious. 

Fortunately, Allomancy is really cool.  I want to see this story turned into an Xbox game.   It would be sort of like MegaMan meets Prince of Persia meets a SquareSoft game.  All of the characters are just about perfect.  The plot twists are surprising and effective, the threat is significant, and (with the exception of a couple moments near the end) Sanderson doesn't rely on any deus ex machina-style conventions to bring the story to an electrifying conclusion.  The modern-sounding dialogue may throw some picky fantasy purists, but I liked it for the most part.

I can't wait to revisit this world with the other books in this series. It's a book I'd recommend to anybody interested in fantasy/adventure stories.


Well, October is nearly upon us, and in honor of Halloween I'm going to designate October as Scary Books Month.  I've opened up The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, and if I get through that before the month is out (let's hope I can manage that!), I'll flip through the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Other suggestions for good monster stories?

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