Month: May 2017

Book Review: Hope and Red by Jon Skovron

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I’m going to try to get back into reviewing books. I’ll probably review some big names from time to time, but I’m hoping I can get in more reviews of some of the lesser-known authors out there (both in trade publishing and self-publishing).

In that spirit, I will start with a review of Hope and Red by Jon Skovron. This one immediately caught my attention when I first heard of it because it sounded like something Brent Weeks would write.

You have two main characters. One of them is a young woman who, as a girl, was the only survivor of a sorcerous attack on her village performed by the emperor’s Biomancers. These Biomancers like to experiment on people, and the empire largely turns a blind eye to these experiments, which are quite disturbing.

These Biomancers were one of my favorite things about the book. It’s a type of magic you don’t see as often in fantasy, and it made me feel that I’d be getting more than just a Weeks clone.

The girl, who comes to be called Hope, ends up being sent to an island where an order of warrior monks lives. The leader of these monks trains her even though they are not supposed to train women, and she becomes quite a force.

The other main character is a charming young rogue who goes by the name Red, on account of the red eyes he gained as the survivor of his mother’s drug addiction. In addition to being a thief, he’s also quite the artist. He comes to play a major role in a slum within one of the empire’s largest cities.

As you can probably guess, their stories end up coming together. Along the way, there’s plenty of action, some good bits of humor, and characters that you want to root for despite their flaws.

It’s also another in the growing list of gunpowder fantasy you see these days. It’s nice to see more and more fantasy moving away from its quasi-medieval roots. Don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of fantasy novels with that setting, but it’s also refreshing to see more varied settings.

I never quite got that feeling I get reading my favorite authors, but this was a very good adult fantasy debut for an author who has written some young adult before. I recently read the second book, and it continues the story quite well, throwing in some interesting new wrinkles.

Rating: 8.5/10

Self-Publishing and Reading Habits

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When I first decided to get serious about writing, I got serious about reading. I looked for all the best that fantasy and science fiction had to offer. At first, this was entirely in the realm of trade publishing. I didn’t think there was anything worthwhile apart from that, or I thought it would be too difficult to find it. But since I’ve become more involved in the SFF community online, I’ve found quite a few self-published novels that I’ve enjoyed.

Now, as I’m embarking on my own self-publishing career, I’m wondering just how much I should read of self-published vs. trade-published books. I find a lot of books I enjoy in both arenas, and some I don’t.

I’m considering reading a lot of the novels by my fellow Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off entrants. I’m not sure how well I can commit to that, however. So far this year, I’ve read only 24 books, and some of them have been quite short.

I used to be a much more voracious reader, but now that I have my own writing career and Engineering school to keep me occupied, I’m not finding as much time to read. That brings me to the following question: Should I focus on all the trade-published fantasy series I want to read, or should I focus on giving my fellow Indies a chance?

I don’t know the answer. In the end, I think it comes down to reading the books that interest me most without paying any attention to how they were published.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

As a side note, my website may not be working correctly at the moment. I changed my domain name when I upgraded my WordPress account. They said it may take up to 72 hours before my site functions perfectly.

Fantasy Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

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I’m trying to get more active with this blog, so I’m going to go through some of the various book reviews I’ve written. Next up is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson

I read The Way of Kings quite a while ago. In fact, it’s been almost five years since I’ve read it, so this won’t be too heavy on plot details. Besides, I don’t like to spoil to many things anyways.

This book is a good beginning to the Stormlight Archive, which looks like it will turn out to be Sanderson’s magnum opus. It’s a huge world with a huge story (more than 1000 pages of it, in fact). There’s a lot of good about this book, but at the same time, it’s setting up a much more massive story. Some of Sanderson’s other stuff stands alone (Elantris, Warbreaker, the first Mistborn book). This does not.

It’s also a major time investment and requires you to trust the author before you tackle it. I suggest reading some of his other works first. They’re not as deep and complex as this, but they’re also faster-paced and serve as better introductions to his work.

Now for the good:

This is a highly interesting and complex world. There’s the threat of an apocalyptic war. There are fierce storms that shape geography and wildlife. There’s conflict between and within nations. On top of all that, you have Sanderson’s great magic, though you should be warned that the magic in these books is a bit more mysterious than you’ll find in Mistborn. I’m sure there are rules for it, but it’s been missing for a long time, and so when it does show up, the characters are still figuring it out.

That brings me to the characters. In this book, Sanderson has crafted some of his best characters. Kaladin makes an interesting and conflicted protagonist. Shallan is annoying at times, but she grows on you as you read (and especially in the second book).

I especially found myself absorbed in Kaladin’s struggles. Some of the things he has to endure are truly horrific, and his character journey is a fascinating one to watch.

There’s also a great deal of mystery in these books. Since it’s the first of a ten-book series, you don’t get as many answers as you normally get from Sanderson. I found this mystery added to the book and helped me get through some of the slower sections.

Don’t worry. There is action. Great action. You just have to wait a while for it.

This book continues one of the things I love about Sanderson’s work. He’s not afraid to use common fantasy tropes. He just put his own spin on them. In doing that, he gives the reader something that’s both familiar and different, and that’s the right balance for me. If you’re looking for something that completely avoids tropes, this isn’t the right story for you.

For me, it’s the kind of story that reminds me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place. Sanderson writes the modern update of classic fantasy that keeps most in touch with the roots of the genre.

In all, this was a very good book, but it did have its slow sections. For those who are interested, I thought Words of Radiance was truly excellent.

I submitted to the SPFBO today.

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For those who aren’t familiar with the acronym, that stands for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. It’s a contest run by fantasy author Mark Lawrence, and it’s in its third year. I’ve read a few of the books from the last year, and I’ve been generally impressed. Now I’m hoping I can have some success with my own work.

Speaking of which, I have my release scheduled for June 30th. That’s the day you can get your hands on Empire of Chains. I will have the Kindle version ready by then for sure, and hopefully my cover art will be in place. If it isn’t, you might have to wait a while yet on a paperback version.

I’m both excited and terrified. This is a path I never would have imagined myself taking a few years ago. But it feels like the right path for me now. It may not yield immediate success, but I’m okay with that. I will not stop writing.

Fantasy Book Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

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I read this a while back, but I thought I’d dig out this old review because this is one of those books that has really stuck with me in some ways.

Elantris was the first Brandon Sanderson book I ever read. Since then, he has established himself as one of my favorite authors.

Why was I attracted to Elantris?

1. It was a standalone (and not terribly long).
2. The concept was really cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a fantasy city that draws on the legend of Atlantis, but does it in a completely novel way in a secondary world?

This novel is probably the least polished of Sanderson’s efforts. You can tell this was early in his professional writing career. But it’s a great book nonetheless. I was sucked in immediately by the first line of the prologue.

Elantris was beautiful, once.

This captured my attention because of the final word, separated skillfully by a comma to emphasize it. As I read, I immediately wanted to know why it wasn’t beautiful anymore. This is an author doing his job. There’s a mystery here, and that’s one great way of showing tension.

When I got to the first chapter, I was immediately sucked into Raoden’s story. Why? Because of this opening line:

Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.

This line, although it might be seen as a break in POV, truly grabbed my attention. I didn’t even know who this prince was, but I already felt for him. Being damned for all eternity sucks. A lot. Anyone can feel empathy for a character in that situation. Not to mention, it adds mystery and gets the plot rolling. Working through mysteries is one of Sanderson’s strengths as a writer.

Now, to the rest of the book:

It has been more than two years since I’ve read the book, so I won’t go into incredible detail here. However, I will mention what Sanderson did well (and what he didn’t).

The good:

1. Sanderson created likeable characters. Note that I said likeable. For many readers, Raoden and Sarene are not perhaps the most interesting characters. But I know I liked them, and I wanted to root for them.

2. The main antagonist, Hrathen. He is not perhaps as likeable as the other two main characters, but he makes up for it by being one of the best villains I’ve ever read. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but I’d describe him as a great example of an anti-villain.

3. The setting. The city of Elantris is one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever read in fantasy, and it has really stuck with me. It’s a city where people, taken by a mysterious transformation, are doomed to live out eternity looking hideously disfigured. Not only that, but for every injury they suffer, their pain remains, building until they go insane. It’s a city without order, where gangs rule the day. It’s this chaos that Raoden seeks to correct once he is exiled there.

4. The magic. As you’d expect from Brandon Sanderson, the magic system is intricate, interesting, and integral to the plot (how’s that for alliteration and consonance!). I’ve forgotten some of the details, but I remember the magic, which you discover later in the book, as a great mystery to unravel. Just like the city of Elantris itself.

5. The mystery. As I mentioned above, mysteries abound in this one. The city of Elantris is a mystery. The magic is a mystery. The character of Hrathen is a mystery. Sanderson achieves a well-developed balance of mystery, intrigue, and action that keeps you reading despite occasional rough patches in the writing itself.

6. The action. Through much of the book, you don’t see big battles, but there is one at the end, and it’s awesome. That’s one of Sanderson’s strenghts.

The bad:

1. The writing isn’t as clean as Sanderson’s later work.

2. The pacing is, at times, a little slow (but not terribly so).

3. The “interesting factor” for two of the MCs, as mentioned above.

As you can see, I can’t find much bad to say about this. Elantris is one of those books that has really stuck with me. I loved it when I read it, and I still love it now. It’s not perfect, but it’s a highly entertaining read that every fantasy reader should at least give a chance.

Rating: 9/10