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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: 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: A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

V.E. Schwab kills it again with A Gathering of Shadows, book two in the Shades of Magic series.

This book messed with my emotions in so many ways, which–let’s be real–was in large part what made me pick up book two.

In A Gathering of Shadows, Schwab further explores Red London and the place of the Arnesian Empire amidst its neighbors. She explores this world through the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament that allows mages from around the world to test themselves against one another and represent their kingdoms. The event is a chance for political dealings and and peacekeeping.

As Rhy is coming into his own as heir to the Arnesian throne, Kell continues to rail against the boundaries imposed upon him by his adoptive parents and the self-imposed boundary of his life tie to his brother. Kell is desperate to be somewhere else. To be someone else. To be more than the shame of what he has done. Schwab does a great job with Kell, as while at times I’m quite annoyed with him, I also really feel for him. Ultimately, Kell’s resolve to maintain the boundary between worlds and not submit to the deeper impulses of magic is tested once again.

Lila’s boundaries are only increasing. She is living her best life as a pirate and aspiring magician. Lila finds herself shore bound once more in Red London, as her captain, Alucard Emery, is to compete in the Essen Tasch. Being a a new, dangerous experience that could take her even further away from the life as Grey London street thief, Bard decides that she must compete in the tournament. So she does it, posing as someone else. And she advances to almost the final round. Lila is such a badass. Like her crew mates, I’m not sure if I admire her or am terrified of her. But that’s probably as it should be.

Brilliant work. 5 stars, but damn that ending.

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Book Reviews

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR for some time. It was nice to not be disappointed.

I loved this book.

A Darker Shade of Magic is primarily driven by its characters and their desire to live beyond their station. Kell, apparently a pampered Prince of Red London, longs for the unattached freedom of normal life as he illicitly trafficks items between worlds. Lila Bard, street thief of Grey London, longs for more than what life has given her, for a real adventure.

While Kell and Lila desire freedom, the villains of White London desire power. It’s vile monarchs, Athos and Astrid Dane, are the stuff of nightmares, especially in the way Athos controls Holland. The later is perhaps the most complicated character of the bunch. It’s unclear to me whether Holland would been a “good person” without Athos’s control. Or if he would have simply been a free bad person.

The underlying pain and desire that suffuse this book have lodged the Londons in my mind, and I can’t let go. When I finished this book, I could not wait to jump into A Gathering of Shadows. Five stars.

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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.

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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.

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this week in fandom

This Week in Fandom (1/3/20): Mistborn, Time Travel, and the Magic of That Screen Crawl

Welcome to the first weekly installment of “This Week in Fandom,” in which I’ll briefly explore what I’m currently into and hopefully synthesize my divergent interests into some sort of coherent life. This Week in Fandom is somewhat modeled after Sanderson’s yearly “State of the Sanderson,” in which he outlines his year and the progress he’s made in various projects. However, instead of outlining my own accomplishments, I intend to outline the ways in which I’m enjoying the accomplishments of others.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.

The second book in the original Mistborn trilogy picks up about a year after The Final Empire. Last week [link] I started a series on how belief plays out in this series. So on this, my third time through, I’m digging in and exploring the ideas that have captured my attention on previous reads. This reread is also the start of another pass through the whole Cosmere for me, since we officially have a Stormlight 4 release date. More on what’s going on with Vin and Sazed later as I have a few more Mistborn and belief posts in the works.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

I just cracked into this one, but I’m pretty excited. I read Newitz’s debut novel, Autonomous, last year, and it was great. I veer toward more fantasy than sci-fi, but the approach of Autonomous left me ready to open myself up to the genre. In her first novel, the ramifications of A.I. and bioethics drove the plot forward, so it will be great to see how Newitz takes on geological time travel.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Vol. 6: Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon written by Si Spurrier

Doctor Aphra is yet another Star Wars IP that is a dividing line between fans. Aphra is an archaeologist who plays by her own rules and lives by a “play or be played” philosophy. Her early adventures kept her perilously close to Vader, but these last few books have gone deeper into her back story and her absolute brokenness. Aphra is an absolute mess, but we just can’t look away. Sadly, I believe that Aphra is wrapping up with one final book, but I have found her to be a consistently great addition to the SW universe.

See my review of the latest Aphra book here.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Speaking of Star Wars, I was able to catch the final entry of the Skywalker saga again this past weekend. There is so much to say about this film, it’s place in its trilogy, and it’s place in the SW universe, but for now I’ll settle for just how great it was. I loved this movie. No spoilers here, but Kylo Ren’s *moment* atop the Death Star just wrecked me the first time I saw it. I am so satisfied with this film and remain so glad at the Star Wars revival. It’s not that there weren’t aspects of Rise of Skywalker that I didn’t appreciate, but the Star Wars opening screen crawl just has a certain power. It’s magic draws me in and ensures that I am about to generally enjoy whatever happens next. That is my bias that I don’t care to hide at all.

Other Various Media

I don’t think I’ve binge-watched a show since before my two-year-old was born, but I believe that I’m binge-watching The Good Place. I had heard this show was good, but I can now confirm that it is really good. The show pushes the “sitcom” boundaries and manages to ask deep ethical and metaphysical questions while staying in the comedy lane. Considering the other shows that creator Mike Schur has worked on (The OfficeParks and Recreation), it’s unsurprising what absolute gold this show is.

Currently on the back burner is The Silmarillion. I’ve been intending to take the plunge into Tolkien’s Legendarium since I read The Lord of the Rings as a kid, but have never been able to make it work for me. In order to shake things up, I checked out the thirteen (!) disc audio from my local library an have been listening off and on in the car. To be completely honest, I’m four discs in and can only vaguely describe what I have heard so far. That being said, the audio version is having it’s intended effect. The narrator, Martin Shaw, engages the material in a way that is enchanting and enticing. While it’s been a joy discovering the complexity and depth of Tolkien’s world, I think I have been most captured by the sense of beauty that he attempts to convey. The Silmarillion is rife with wonder.

I’ll sign off with a selection from The Well of Ascension. I have always loved Elend’s journey in this book. Elend finds himself as king of the central dominance. Though he believes in the government that he helped create, he does not believe in himself as king. It takes the catalytic tough-love of Tindwyl the Terriswoman, a specialist in the lives of the great leaders of the past, to get him there. From one of their tutoring sessions:

“Is that all it is, then?” Elend asked. “Expressions and costumes? Is that what makes a king?”

“Of course not.” 

Elend stopped by the door, turning back. “Then, what does? What do you think makes a man a good king, Tindwyl of Terris?”

“Trust,” Tindwyl said, looking him in the eyes. “A good king is one who is trusted by his people–and one who deserves that trust.”

The Well of Ascension, 186