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Book Reviews

Review: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning will blow your mind with its developments related to the world of Scadrial and events in the Cosmere. Which may be it’s greatest weakness as a Mistborn novel.

The character development and emotional payoff in this book feel weaker than Shadows of Self, while the latter was weaker in terms of world building and general nerdiness.

I might be creating a false dichotomy here, but I felt similarly about Oathbringer (Stormlight Archive #3) in that each book had so much cool Cosmere stuff that characters took a back seat. Though Oathbringer had a better balance.

Don’t get me wrong, this book had some great moments for Wax and co. I mean, Steris. So so good.

Another respectable Mistborn novel. So much promised for book 4!

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Cosmeric Faith Uncategorized

Cosmeric Faith Part 4: The Path

In this post, I want to consider the two main religions in the Wax and Wayne books and why I think the Path is one of the great contributions of the Cosmere to the world.

In Mistborn Era 2, the people of Elendel are primarily divided into two religious groups, Survivorists and Pathians. While both groups acknowledge Harmony as God, the latter pursue individual relationship with Him, and the former see him as more of a force. Survivorists look to Kelsier as their primary advocate and guide. So it seems the Pathians are the theists while the Church of the Survivor is more deist.

These are not the only two religions practiced in the basin, not to mention the rest of Scadrial. There is mention of Sliverism, which apparently focuses on the Lord Ruler. Though, despite his quasi-redemption, I’m not sure who would want to continue revering Rashek. The Church and the Path, though, have primary purchase on the devotional lives of the citizens of Elendel.

The Church of the Survivor somewhat parallels “high Church,” establishment Christianity. It is a religion of grand cathedrals, a religion of power with the death of its Hero at the center of its theology and ethics. It is the juxtaposition of weakness and triumphalism at the paradoxical heart of Christianity. As the more deist of the faiths, the Survivorists do not seek either deep personal communion with God or spiritual experiences in general. Amusingly, as Wax observes, Survivorists reverse the mists yet worship under grand glass domes. The mists are allowed in for certain special liturgies, but in general they are appreciated from a distance.

The Path has many different parallels in our world. It is like a mix of the simple, quiet faith of Quakerism (though the Path seems to have little focus on the community of the faithful) with elements of Buddhism. Indeed the Eightfold Path is central to Buddhist practice, and one name for early Christian faith was”The Way.”

Devotion in the Path primarily consists of solitary meditation. Not the grand worship of the cathedral, Pathians meet commune with God in stillness–in small Pathians temples, stagecoaches, or wherever.

More than Divine interface, however, the Path is primarily about how to be in the world. The Path is inspired by the humble, humanistic Terrisman-become-Deity, Harmony. It is not so much the way toward fulfillment but a way. A way that sees all of the other ways and loves them for what they are. It is about doing more good than harm.

The Path has the self-effacing quirkiness that one would expect from a Sazed-inspired faith. Harmony is not so much adored as appreciated. Revered, perhaps, but not worshipped. In fact, as in some Eastern devotion, worship of God may be more of a hindrance than a help on the journey. And as Ironeyes notes at the end of The Alloy of Law, Harmony expects the faithful to disagree with and challenge Him.

Brandon writes with a very open-minded take on religion. There are the devoted and the nominal in Mistborn. Hrathen and Dilaf show religious zeal in two different stages, the former going cold and the latter burning and consuming everything in its path. Lightsong is the god who does not believe in himself. There is the atheist Jasnah in Stormlight and the atheist-turned-deity Sazed in The Hero of Ages.

I think Sazed/Harmony acts as a focal point for all of these differing views. He has experienced it all and tried to consider all sides. Sazed has taken the treasury of faiths of the past and combined it with his his own humble godhood and left the Path, which I think is just the humanistic take on devotion that we needed in fantasy. This is not the theistic fiction of Lewis not neither is it atheistic or ambivalent toward faith. Some sort of devotion or belief is fundamental to being human in the Cosmere. But the details are less defined. There are many roads. Journey before destination, etc. And as I’ve written elsewhere, the Path is humanistic, as it shows that faith is part of life because it represents humanity’s striving for the best of itself.

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Book Reviews

Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

I love this book. While at first I did not warm up to Wax and Wayne as I did to the Crew, this book just may be my favorite Mistborn novel.

Among other things, it’s a signpost of Sanderson’s growth as a writer. He nails religious doubt in a way hoped for by Hrathen’s arc in Elantris.

Oh and the interplay if genre in this book is excellent and I believe an indicator of the dynamic future of the series. Sanderson dances between spec fic, thriller, and even horror in this one.

Feelings run high is this book. Wax is confronted again by the tragedy of his past even at he continues to struggle with the boundaries imposed upon him by high society. Marasi makes more room for herself in the world and pushes toward her future.

This book is everything one might want in a sequel. It’s a bridge that can stand on its own. Although in fairness, it’s more of a book 1 of 3 with Alloy of Law being a sort of prequel.

Five stars.

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Book Reviews

Review: The Alloy of Law

Third time through this book, first review.

This may not be peak Sanderson, but it’s certainly a testament to the power of his craft that my opinion of this book has become more favorable with time.

What started as a standalone novel between eras of the Mistborn series became the jumping off point for the Mistborn era 2 steampunk fantasy quartet.

The Alloy of Law follows Waxillium Ladrian, a Twinborn (one who has access to Allomancy and Feruchemy) back in the city in which he was raised, Elendel, after spending two decades as a Lawman in the “Roughs.”

Much like the Ascendant Warrior, Vin, centuries before, Wax finds that he must negotiate two sides of himself and discover the alloy of his true identity.

Wax’s counterpart, Wayne, is the major comic relief of the book. Remaining btrue to the spirit of the Survivor however, his topsy-turvy take on life and sense of humor are born of a deeply tragic backstory.

Readers of the original trilogy will be delighted by all of the allusions to its beloved characters. Sanderson clearly had a lot of fun playing with a new cast centuries later in the same world.

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Book Reviews

Review: The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hero of Ages is about how the end of the world might not be a bad thing.

Vin and Elend are given an end to their story as the power couple, having searched their own depths, are able to turn toward saving the world.

Spook finally comes into his own yet finds that his success is wrapped up in Ruin’s plans. His shame is instrumental in the world’s salvation.

But it’s Sazed the depressed Terrisman and his cynical yet desperate-for-hope takes on religion whose story Brandon is really here to tell.

This novel is Sanderson at his most Sanderson. The interplay if gods and humans. The existential, religious crisis. The emotionally insecure heroes. Lore that the reader somehow cares about that two books ago wouldn’t have made any sense.

The Hero of Ages is key to the unfolding story of the Cosmere and an excellent novel in its own right.

Five stars.

View all my reviews

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/31/20)

Graphic Novels/Comics

I’m behind on writing this week, but it’s okay, I compensated by reading a lot. In order to meet my lofty 2020 reading goals, I need to count graphic novels and comic books (TPBs not single issues–I’m not a total barbarian). This past week I caught up on some of the comics I had waiting on the shelf. Several upcoming reviews in the queue:

  • Kick-Ass (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr.)
  • Blackbird Vol. 1 (Sam Humphries, Jen Bartel)
  • Trees Vol. 1 (Warren Ellis, Jason Howard)

For now here are reviews of Adventure Time vols. 5-6 (Ryan North) and Captain America, vol. 2: Captain of Nothing (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

On deck to read once I finish the aforementioned reviews:

  • Kick-Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl (Millar, Romita Jr.)
  • Adventure Time vols. 7-8 (Ryan North)
  • Watchmen (Alan Moore)–somehow I have never read this
  • Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (Damian Duffy, from Octavia E. Butler)
  • Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests (Ellis, Howard)
  • Superman: Year One (Frank Miller, John Romita Jr.)
  • Invisible Kingdom (G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward–I actually have all six issues of this series on order, as the first run was amazing.

I’m always looking for recommendations of great graphic novels/comics. I generally stray from Marvel/DC, but only because of the sometimes sharp learning curve and extended history of certain characters. I will definitely check out mainstream superhero books that pique my interest and seem moderately self-contained (and so Superman above). Have any other suggests? Let me know in the comments!

Books

Otherwise I posted one other review this week–Annalee Newitz’s spec fic time-travel novel, The Future of Another Timeline. Find that here. I enjoyed this book, even more than Newitz’s debut, Autonomous. In both, Newitz weaves together the political, the social, and the personal with technology.

I finished The Hero of Ages this week (my third time through Mistborn Era 1) as part of my reread of the novels in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. I’m to the Era 1 short fiction (“The Lost Metal,” “Mistborn: Secret History”) from the Arcanum Unbounded collection. This is a bit of a deviation in my Sanderson reading plan, as I typically read the books in more or less published order (though always leading into The Stormlight Archive).

Tor, 2015

I also finally picked up a book that has been on my TBR for a long time: V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. I’m enjoying it so far! My introduction to fantasy was really through magic “systems,” e.g. The Wheel of Time and anything by Brandon Sanderson. While I clearly still dig Sanderson, my interests have been verging more toward the “low magic” side. Not that these types of magics don’t have rules, but the rules are neither necessarily clearly defined nor intricate. I’m thinking of someone like Neil Gaiman here, especially The Ocean at the End of the Lane. As it happens, Gaiman is one of Schwab’s big influences, so. Look for a review of the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy next week!

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/17/20):

This week, I finished up my third pass through Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension. See my review here.

For more Sanderson and Mistborn goodness, check out the most recent post in my “Cosmeric Faith” series.

With passing of Rush drummer Neil Peart last week, I opened up the week with a bit of a retrospective of his work and its impact on my own life. For that post, go here.

This week, back at work after a few days off, digging into writing, and life, etc., etc., I have been trying to focus on actually playing when my two-year-old is therefore it. I’ve been startled recently by my own propensity to toward distraction and “what’s next?” while my son just lives *here* in this moment. More on that in What Kids Know.

Speaking of having some time off recently, my wife and I watched A Marriage Story (d. Noah Baumbach, 2019) on our anniversay. Still unclear as to whether it was fitting or not. But I really enjoyed this film. Check out my review here.

I’m still working through Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline, slowly but surely–more on that next week hopefully. Also next week, look for my review of Disenchantment season two!

I’ll leave you this week with a quote from Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse, the main tie-in movel with The Rise of Skywalker which, yes, I am also reading (audio books, man). I have a lot to gush say about this novel, so more on that soon. For now, the book leads with Poe Dameron dealing with the fallout of his boneheaded, mutinous moves in The Last Jedi. Seeing Poe have to deal with the film’s events and his own actions has been satisfying, and I’m excited to finish the book.

“Was he talking about former Imperials, or was he talking about himself?”

Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse (2019)

While not wallowing in self-pity, which would have been out of character and nearly unbearable, it is striking that Poe can identify himself with former Imperials. His own experience of shame due to misguided actions has made room for empathy and open-mindedness toward others. He puts it beautifully later on, talking to a rag-tag group of Resistance sympathizers, some with questionable backgrounds:

“Many of us have dubious beginnings. It’s how we end that counts.”

Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse (2019)
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Cosmeric Faith

Cosmeric Faith Part 3: God is Broken

Spoiler warning: Heavy spoilers for the original Mistborn trilogy, some spoilers for the later Mistborn books, and references to Elantris and some Cosmere lore.

By the end of book two of the original Mistborn trilogy, Sazed, Keeper of Terris and resident religious scholar and optimist, has been crushed by loss and the meaninglessness of life.

While an expert on many different religious faiths, Sazed does not subscribe to any of them in particular but rather to “them all.” Sazed believes in providence and is generally hopeful in a positive future for the world. He maintains an optimistic stance despite the adversity in his own life and in the life of his people. The Keepers, like Sazed, were persecuted by the Lord Ruler because of their feruchemical abilities, and Terris women were forced into breeding programs in order to maintain a lack of magical abilities in new generations of the Terris people.

Sazed is a man on the margins who has somehow kept to hope and devoted his life to fighting for what is right for his own people and all the peoples of The Final Empire.

But even as Vin and Elend are at an apparent zenith in their own journey, Sazed has been brought low by the reality of death and the tragic circumstances of life.

The trigger for his despair is the death of the woman he loves, Tindwyl. Despite the odds being against them, Sazed and Tindwyl had been reunited and were spending loving hour together researching the problems plaguing the world. Though Sazed sees himself as inadequate and unfit for Tindwyl since he is a eunuch. But Tindwyl loves Sazed, and it looks as if they could truly have a meaningful life of love together ahead of them.

After Tindwyl’s death in the defense of Luthadel, Sazed thinks:

Surely her love for him had been a miracle. Yet, whom did he thank for that blessing, and whom did he curse for stealing her away. He knew of hundreds of gods. He would hate them all, if he thought it would do any good.

The Well of Ascension, 725

Having no specific devotion, Sazed has nowhere to direct his pain and frustration about what has happened. Sazed experiences a depth of pain and brokenness, and his own optimism becomes a part of the problem. The open-minded relativism that protected Sazed and allowed him to cross-boundaries in the world is now part of what is destroying him and bringing him to his absolute lowest point.

Which makes him the perfect candidate for godhood.

Sazed becomes the god Harmony at the end of The Hero of Ages as he takes up the power of Ruin and Preservation. Despite his great power though, he is not omniscient or omnipotent. He has boundaries. Sazed discovers that he is only a part of “God.” As readers of the Cosmere are still learning, “God”–Adonalsium–has been broken. Those who broke “him” are now Shards of that power. Sazed is a piece of God.

It’s is Sazed’s own brokenness and discovery of the apparent meaninglessness of life that prepares him for divinity. Sazed is also a believer in and supporter of the human. Rather than looking from the heavens down, in all religions and mythologies, Sazed sees the meta-human. The various beliefs and religions that have come about on his world emerge from the people, and that’s great. So when Sazed sees that there is a “higher power” out there, he can come at it as a broken human. God is broken, and that’s okay.

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Book Reviews

Review: The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, The Well of Ascension is a great “middle book,” but it definitely feels like a middle book. Brandon sets up lots of Book 3 stuff in all the right ways (it was clearly conceived as a single run from books 1-3), but the pacing in the first half of the book seems off. The now classic Sanderson ending to this book makes the reader forget about the flaws of the first chunk, but looking back critically, I’ve changed my four-star rating to three. Basically, I found myself spending the whole time hoping all the cool stuff in The Hero Ages would be happening instead, and it felt like Brandon wrote it that way too.

The love story is quite frustrating. I can see how everything happening with it was important for Elend’s and Vin’s growth, but they were just the worst viz -a-viz their relationship with each other. And then there’s the main reason that you can tell this is book 2 of 3: Zane, who was such a throw away character. Yes, there important in-world things with his character–the voice in his head and who/what/why he hears–but otherwise he was fancy way to give Vin something to do over the 700 pages in which Sazed and Elend has character development that they needed.

Speaking of Sazed, though, more and more the characters of the original Mistborn trilogy feel like clever ways to tell Sazed’s story. Without spoiling the next book, let’s just say that there Brandon needed to do some ground work on everybody’s favorite Terrisman so that he’d be ready for what’s coming up. Each time I come back to these books, I find Sazed’s story the most satisfying. Much like with Hrathen the priest in Elantris, Sanderson seems to really be in his element writing about his characters struggling with faith. Sazed’s story will crush you in all the right ways as a reader and is a large part of what keeps me in the Cosmere.

View all my review

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/10/20): Say Hello to Heaven

The Good Place

This week I jumped back into The Good Place. The Soul Squad has given up on making themselves good enough to get into the Good Place, but they’ve turned their attention toward helping someone from each of their pasts get there. Unable to carry on in ignorance, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, are perhaps more free than ever to truly pursue the good. They ironically chase the best for those who hurt them, as Michael explains that they are eligible to enter the real Good Place, knowing the truth of the eternal game as they do.

I really want to see what happens in the upcoming final season of this show, even though I think it peaked in season one. The show has been interesting and engaging but in the big reveal/turnaround at the end of the first season, there was a certain something lost for the audience as well as the main characters. Giving more weight to Eleanor’s story has been a strength of season three, and Michael’s role has been very satisfying. However, that first season just felt so perfect, and like Chidi and co., viewers just can’t go back to the life they once knew.

The Future of Another Timeline

Made some progress in Annalee Newitz’s second sci-fi novel this week. Her interweaving of technology, speculation, and social issues is really engaging. This book really brings life to the concept of “speculative fiction.” I’ve been delighted by the ways in which Newitz has written a definite time-travel book without being cliche or only playing into sci-fi tropes. I’m at the point in The Well of Ascension in which there’s no turning back, so I’ll probably put a temporary pause on this one for a few days.

The Well of Ascension

I’ve been somewhat disengaged with this one. I’ve been wondering if that was due to it being my third time through, but I think it owes mostly to the book itself. It’s got some typical second book foibles. It takes some time for things to pick up. A lot needs to happen before book three which needs to happen…in book two. The love story is also super frustrating and annoying. (But then again…see the quote at the end of this post)

But! Today I crossed the threshold into the pre-Sanderslanche zone. The Sanderslanche is my lazy term for the end of every Brandon Sanderson book (Sanderson + avalanche, get it?). After a haphazard Google search I feel fairly comfortable taking credit for the term.

Brandon really brings it home for the end of each of his novels, and it’s one of those things that keeps readers coming back and makes true commitment out of curiosity.

The Well of Ascension is no different, and now that I feel the ‘slanche coming. There’s no turning back.

Other Various Media: Comics and The Silmarillion

If I’m going to make my lofty reading goals for the year, I need to jump into some comic books and graphic novels. I don’t feel great about counting some of these as a book toward the total. But I also like to see that I’ve read x amount of books and feel that totally unearned sense of accomplishment.

On deck for comics: more Star Wars

Kick-Ass, Book 1 by Mark Millar

Blackbird by Sam Humphries

Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Adventure Time, vol. 5 by Ryan North

I have made no progress through the audio of The Silmarillion, and I probably won’t until I finish The Well of Ascension. I’m at that dreaded point in the Tolkien master-work where I wonder if I need to start at the beginning again.

Well, there’s another week in my fantastical adventures. From everything I’m hearing, I’m excited to dive into the newest series of Doctor Who after I’m caught up on The Good Place. Otherwise I’ll be a puddle on the floor from the emotional weight of the Well of Ascension ending.

So what did your week in fandom look like?

I’ll leave you with another selection from The Well of Ascension that points back to last week’s. Last week I looked at what Tindwyl of Terris thinks makes a good king, namely, trust. In the following snippet, Zane comes to make Vin run away with him, and she almost does it. But then she finally chooses Elend. Zane asks her why:

“Tell me what it is!” Zane said, tone rising. “What is it abgout him that draws you? He isn’t a great leader. He’s not a warrior. He’s no Allomancer or general. What is it about him?”

The answer came to her simply and easily. Make your decisions–I’ll support you in them. “He trusts me,” she whispered.

The Well of Ascension, 584.