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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

Fireweaver is finished.

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Today, I finished the first draft of Fireweaver, the second book in my Sunweaver series. That’s two books down and one more to go. This series will probably come out once I get my entire World in Chains series out to readers, so it’s still a while down the road before it will be ready for readers’ eyes.

I had a big push these last two days, writing over 11,000 words over the two days combined. That often happens to me when I get close to the end of the book. I become so excited about what I’m writing, and the words simply flow.

This one has a few rough spots that I need to smooth out when it comes to revisions. I won’t deny that. But for the moment, my revision efforts will be focused mostly on The Shadowed Land, book 2 in World of Chains. I expect to start writing the last book in the Sunweaver trilogy soon.

I’ve discovered that the best writing method for me is to write an entire series before moving forward with it. I tend to write without a definite plan in mind, so there are sometimes inconsistencies between books that I have to iron out before I can publish.

 

In other news, it should be less than two months before I get my cover art for Empire of Chains, the first book of World in Chains. I’m not sure about the timetable for the rest of the series just yet, but Empire of Chains is still on track for this summer.

Fantasy Video Games: Distraction or Inspiration

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As a fantasy writer, I am naturally a fan of the genre in all its forms. Books, movies, video games–basically, if it’s fantasy, I’ll probably be a fan of it. But that raises an important question. As a fantasy writer, should you focus on books alone, or should you branch out into other areas for inspiration?

Personally, I think there’s a lot to be gained from fantasy video games. But I could be biased in that. Part of the reason I got into writing fantasy was from playing some of my favorite Square RPGs as a kid on the Super Nintendo. Those games helped me fall in love with the genre (and then I read Harry Potter, and I was doomed to be a fantasy fan and writer for the rest of my life).

One of the biggest places where video games help me is in crafting my settings. The best video games these days, in all their beautiful graphical glory, depict some absolutely stunning settings. I’m a pretty visual person, but I would have trouble coming up with some of these settings on my own. However, now that I’ve seen these beautiful images, I can use them as inspiration and make them into something that’s all my own.

Some of the best story-driven games also feature characters you fall in love with. The great thing about these games is that they are usually forced to show instead of tell. Generally, in a video game, you do not see a character’s internal thoughts. Everything must be conveyed through dialogue and visuals. And some games do this quite well. For example, I recently played the remastered version of Final Fantasy X. I felt such a strong connection to the characters in this one, and the story had me in tears a few times.

When it comes to stories, though, you have to be careful about how much inspiration you take from video games. In an RPG, you face a lot of minor battles, which are interesting in that format. In a novel, however, you cannot have your characters fighting Slimes every two pages. That’s going to get old very quickly. If you’re going to have battles, you have to be careful about which ones you show, or you’ll risk making your story repetitive.

Then we come to the all-important question. How much time should you spend playing fantasy video games? These games can use up a lot of your time, and if you’re not careful, you’ll spend your time playing games instead of writing.

As a writer, you should always focus on your writing. Whatever your writing goals are, it’s important that you hit them with consistency, and if playing video games is using up too much of your time, you’ll have to cut back.

Consistency is Key

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When it comes to writing, I’ve heard from many writers that the biggest thing you need for productivity and longevity as a writer is the ability to write consistently. You don’t write only when you’re inspired. Even when you don’t feel like it, you sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard (or typewriter or longhand, if you’re so inclined). It doesn’t matter how you get those words down. Just get them down.

I recently wrote about setting word count goals. I’m not sure I’ll make my 50,000 words a month goal, but that’s okay. I’m writing consistently and productively. I’ve hit at least 1,000 words 10 of the last 11 days. Over that time, I’ve written over 18,000 words. Per day, it doesn’t seem like a lot of words, but those words add up. At this write, I should manage three books in a year without too much of a problem. Of course, there’s also the revision process, which I need to get better about.

Word Count Goals

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For those of us who are writers, word count goals are a love them/hate them kind of thing. We love them when they remind us to keep our butts in the chair and our fingers on the keyboard. We hate them when we feel like we can’t ever reach them.

There are many benefits to word count goals. You see this from something like National Novel Writing Month (or as it’s more commonly known, NaNoWriMo). A lot of writers take advantage of this month to actually finish their stories.

However, it has its drawbacks. Some writers cannot write at the 1,667 words per day required to hit that goal and do so while writing something that isn’t complete crap.

Thankfully, I’ve never had that problem. I believe I’ve finished early every time I’ve ever done NaNoWriMo. But it is a problem for a lot of people, and what’s the point of writing a novel if it’s so bad you’re just going to scrap it? You have to find some middle ground.

And that means you have to set some kind of goal. It could be a daily word count goal or perhaps a monthly word count goal. That’s what I’m leaning toward at the moment. Due to an unpredictable work schedule and varying amounts of schoolwork, it is difficult for me to set aside the same amount of time every day for writing.

That means that there may be days where I write nothing or crank out just a few words to keep the creative juices flowing. On the other hand, there may be also days when I hit 5000 or more words. In fact, I wrote over 12,000 in one day when I was finishing up my World in Chains series.

The point I’m trying to make is this. Come up with a word count goal you can actually stick to. In some ways, it’s like dieting. Most diets don’t last because people take on more than they can handle. That’s not the way to do it with word counts either. You’re just going to end up resenting the time you spend writing, and if you aren’t enjoying yourself, what’s the point?

So that’s the key. Find out what word count goal you’re comfortable hitting (whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly). Then hold yourself accountable to that goal. It sounds simple stated like that, but it isn’t always easy to put into practice.

Let’s hope I can do so myself because I need to get better about writing consistently.