Review – The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan (2015)

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Hardcover, Second Edition, 448 pages
Published July 28th 2015 by Tor Books
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Few books gathered more anxious and excited energy in 2014 and early 2015 than The Dinosaur Lords. Armed with a brilliant piece of cover art, a big publisher, and a very unique and (potentially) exciting premise, the novel seemed poised to take off upon it’s release. However, following it’s late July arrival, talk of it all but disappeared in the fantasy communities, and the reviews coming back at that point were tepid, at best. Why?

Well, mostly because it’s not a very good book.

The synopsis on the book cover implied, essentially, that we were entering into a world where dinosaurs of all types are present, and humans have harnessed the powers of some of them to be used as mounts or weapons. Sounds epic, right?

If only. We’re thrown into some action to start the book, in the only manner that would be acceptable in a book like this – a skirmish, wherein mounted dinosaur knights ride in and sway the course of the battle. This is going to be great! Except then it falls flat on it’s face. The dinosaurs, for the majority of the book, become little more than an afterthought – a talking point. And unfortunately, when they are mentioned, it’s in the most bland ways possible – discussing constantly how their body weight is their real weapon, how the knights are just an ancillary piece and that the dinosaurs are the true weapons, etc. However, the dinosaurs are vastly under-utilized, and despite being the cover schtick and main focus of the blurb, they are far from the main focus of the novel.

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Yes, this is his actual author photo from Goodreads

This might be a minor complaint, if the rest of the story, characters, and world were intriguing enough to carry the book. However, they simply aren’t. The book surrounds a handful of main characters, most of which were of varying levels of ‘being awesome’. I very rarely felt like they were in true danger, as one of them would always come up with a plan to save the day. Some of them, especially Rob, were uninventive and very boring – very little character development occurred over the course of the book. He essentially spends his time praising or worshiping other characters, and doing very little for himself.

The worldbuilding leaves a TON to be desired. With the concept of the novel in mind, and knowing that there are dinosaurs and ample room to develop somewhere for them to live, Milan instead injects the novel with “Paradise“, a cookie-cutter pseudo-medieval world. However, despite the dinosaurs and medieval-age technology, there’s a lot of modern twists – a lot of Spanish influence, money in the form of Pesos, people measuring things in the metric system. On top of that, it’s frequently referenced that there was a previous world that people came from back in history, but there was no explanation at any point as to how they got to “Paradise”, no explanation for how the dinosaurs were tamed, no explanation for how this planet even works. It’s very disappointing, and a very lackluster job of developing a setting.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only writing blunder. The prose of the book is acceptable most of the time, however there are a pretty large number of errors in judgement that bring the book down. I noted multiple times in my updates that the book was boring – and that is true, the plot moves at a glacial speed, despite the relatively short page count of the book. There are long speeches early on that involve a lot of characters we do not know, nor do we have any vested interest in, so they come across as hollow and lacking consequence. The dialogue itself is rough as well – often stiff and unrealistic conversations, laden with profanity that would make Joe Abercrombie blush. I’ve no problem with naughty words, but they need to be used appropriately, and they’re just flung around like the crew are proverbial sailors.

The structure of thoughts and dialogue are even worse. I lost track of the number of times there was a line such as “xxxx, she thought to herself” in the middle of dialogue. I appreciate jumping into the head of POV characters, giving some insight as to what they’re seeing and feeling, etc. But Milan interjects almost every conversation with multiple instances of this, and it comes across as extremely clumsy and amateur. It breaks up the flow of dialogue, and often adds next to nothing to the situation. He also struggles with repeating himself – repeating phrases, repeating descriptions, repeating certain points. Perhaps the most egregious is his use of simile – multiple times, he compared falling soldiers to other falling items – namely describing one as dropped cutlery, and another as, I believe (not going to go back and find exact quote), “like pots and pans being dropped off a castle wall”. OUCH.

There were some other cringeworthy moments, such as one of the most vulgar sex scenes I’ve ever read. As with profanity, I have no aversion to smut in my books, as long as they’re used well. However, mentioning the female’s “bush” at least 4 times during a sex scene is just awkward at best, and really terribly written at worst. I also wonder if Victor Milan has either had sex with a woman, or knows women – his main female character is permanently horny, almost voraciously so, and in the aforementioned sex scene she orgasmed explosively within the first few seconds of their sexual encounter, and the orgasm lasted throughout their sexual escapade. I actually said “What the hell?” aloud after that scene – was like a teenager who had only ever read smut on the internet had written it.

All of these components add up quickly to form the basis for a very dull, disappointing book. One with a lot of potential, ideas and concept wise, but lacking sorely in execution. I struggled to find positive things to say about it – it’s far from the worst book I’ve ever read, but it made up for that gap by being such a letdown, such a missed opportunity. The writing was sub-par, and the decisions that went into the book even more so. The Dinosaur Lords had churned up a lot of hype and excitement, but in the end, left the reader with little satisfaction.

Rating: 1 / 5 

Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (2014)

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Paperback, 306 pages
Published April 10th 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton
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It’s certainly a relevant point to say that the SFF genre, as a whole, has a need for some diversity. We have no problem believing, accepting, and creating fanciful alternative worlds, continents, planets, the works – however, we always seem to create these in an caucasian-centric, Western-style world. Sure, Westeros, Elan, or any of the other magical worlds we know and love are interesting, unique, even extremely creative. But at the end of the day, they’re still Western worlds, with Western people and cultures.

Which is all well and good, most of the time. It’s tried and true, it’s popular and it’s worked, and us white folk are plenty comfortable with it, because it’s what we know. However, at this point in time, it seems like we should be able to diversify a bit, and appreciate other cultures, appreciate their lore and customs, and appreciate the people and places that exist outside of our western world. And it stands to reason that we should be able to come up with some creative, non-anglo worlds, does it not?

One would think.

However, the unfortunate truth in my reading world is that many of these are not successful. I adore the idea of an African, Asian, or Middle-Eastern set and fashioned fantasy. There’s a huge pile of untapped lore, culture, settings and styles that are waiting to be tapped and used in this genre of literature, and interesting and compelling novels are desperately needed in these areas. Some novels have come out in these settings that have been successful in my eyes – Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings was wonderful. Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars and Under Heaven are great, albeit not heavy on the culture of the area. Unfortunately, I’ve had qualms with many of the other books in Eastern/African settings – books such as Throne of the Crescent MoonThe Black God’s War, or The Emperor’s Knife offered a glimpse of greatness, the possibilities of these settings, but just did not *click* for me, did not put all the pieces together.

Alas, Lagoon again was full of potential – Nnedi Okorafor is someone who I’ve read about quite a bit, read samples of some of her work, and find her to be an interesting and cool person. She’s the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, a scholar in many writing-related fields, and has won many awards for her work. Naturally, I had very high hopes coming into Lagoon, and hoped it would be a successful African culture fantasy that would help springboard me into more similar works. However, it didn’t quite hit that mark for me.

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The plot of Lagoon centers around 3 main characters, as well as a handful of ancillary characters, of varying levels of interest. They happen to be at the same place at the same time, when mysterious aliens land outside the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Much of the book is spent introducing these aliens, and trying to complete their request of getting them to the Nigerian president. This is essentially the crux of the entire story.

It sounds interesting in theory, but unfortunately, the ‘in theory’ is the extent of it. Lagoon is a relatively short novel, however it attempts to wedge a lot into those pages. I say “attempts” simply because it’s just not successful in this venture. So many cultural commentary pieces, human rights, political and religious corruption, human nature and a plethora of other social and ecological issues are introduced, but very few play a significant enough part, and it sometimes feels like ideas are brought up just so they are present in the book, without serving much purpose.

The biggest downfall of the book are the directional and writing decisions. Several characters are introduced into the story, but end up serving very little purpose – some of these even get POV-type chapters, but just fizzle out and get no resolution. Certain aspects are pushed and repeated over and over, in a very hamfisted manner – the most obvious of these are the anti-Christian sentiment. The Christian characters are presented as one-dimensionally misguided, the ‘father’ is presented as completely corrupt, going as far as to introduce him by “walking between his BMW and his Mercedes”. I’m no fan of Christianity or religions as a whole, but they’re presented in a very black-and-white manner in this novel.

So many of the plot pieces get explained very little, or explored very little. The aliens are omnipresent, but are explored almost not-at-all, and very little is filled in on them. There’s a sentient road that eat bones, which people talk about constantly and there are seemingly whole chapters devoted to, yet nothing becomes of it and the plot line for that just ends. This is a repeat problem throughout the book with many of the threads that are started.

The writing itself is alright at points, but I had a lot of qualms with it. Nnedi seems obsessed with mentioning brand names at every turn, and it often comes across as extremely awkward. I don’t know how many times “Youtube” was used, but it was a lot. People didn’t pull out their cell phones, they pulled out Blackberries. I cringed at one point when “flat-screen high definition television” was used – how is all of that relevant? What did you gain by not just saying “television” there? It felt as though there was constant pop culture references, as if a desperate attempt to say “look at how relevant the book is! Look at all this pop culture!”. It just came across to me as awkward. Also, apparently Drake is a “shitty, whiny rapper” – just in case you were wondering.

Some of the idiosyncrasies got a bit old as well. I seriously lost track of the number of times people sucked their teeth – I swear, probably 50+ in the book?  It happened over and over and over, and after a while it was downright nails-on-chalkboard style for me. I cringed every time another person sucked their teeth, including one towards the end where a woman did it 3 times in one paragraph. I don’t know if this is an African culture thing, or just a weird writing quirk, but it was infuriating after a while.

The repetition bled over into the prose as well – often character names would be repeated over and over and over in a short period of time, yet other time gender pronouns were used instead, over and over, making certain conversations very confusing. Characters would repeat dialogue phrases numerous times, whether externally or internally, and it became a bit grating, and left a lot of feelings of deja vu – I even went back and reread a portion because I thought I’d already read it.

The ideas and setting for this book are interesting, and really could be promising for future works. However, the execution was lacking on the writing and organizational side, as well as the editing front. This book either needed to be much longer, or needed to have a lot of pieces removed that did not fit with the rest of the story, or did not serve a long-term purpose. Lagoon was a novel with plenty going for it, but it just could not get it’s act together enough to make it into a good book for me. Nnedi is still a fascinating author and person to me, and I’ve heard good things about some of her shorts, so I’m not going to write her off. However, I do have trouble recommending Lagoon to others.

Rating: 2 / 5 

Review: Staked by Kevin Hearne (2016)

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Hardcover, 310 pages
Published January 26th 2016 by Del Rey
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I have long been a fan of what I call ‘snack’ (or ‘junk food’) books. I use this as a term of endearment, rather than in a derogatory manner; I don’t always want a candy bar, but every so often, a Coffee Crisp is EXACTLY what I want and need. My intention with this designation are signifying books that are short, entertaining, usually somewhat humorous, generally in a series form and often in mass market paperback out of the gates; for me, they’re a nice break from 700 page epic fantasy series that take me weeks and weeks to read, and require a ton of time to digest. For one reason or another, most of the ones I read seem to be urban fantasy, which have their own style to them, and tend to meet my guidelines for ‘snack’ books. I get reading fatigue at times, and I generally like to break up my reading by going long – short – long – short.

Examples of fantasy series that I’ve read that fall into this category are The Dresden Files, Sandman Slim, Discworld, Jig The Goblin, Libriomancer, Geekomancy. Being a ‘snack’ book definitely doesn’t mean they’re of lower quality, less depth, or less content – just means they’re in a shorter format, easier to read, easy to binge through and destroy in a couple sittings without stressing about it.

For some time, Iron Druid has been my go-to in this style; one or two books a year, quick easy read, lots of humor, some depth and a lot of fun. Luckily for me, I began reading the series after the first book, Hounded, was released, so I’ve been able to follow along as it comes out. I often will skip large series, as I’m a bit intimidated by longer epic sagas that will take me months and months of solid reading to finish (see: Malazan). They immediately appealed to me in a way that a lot of other similar series didn’t: effortless humor that never felt overly forced, very interesting historical elements, interactive gods that weren’t obnoxious, and a protagonist that I didn’t detest. I trudged through 9 books of the Dresden Files series, as for a while they were my main snack, but I just could no longer stand Harry Dresden as a character, and Butcher’s writing just didn’t speak to me.

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For the most part, it’s been an enjoyable journey through the series. I’ve given generally favorable reviews (1x 5-star, 5x 4-star and 1x 3-star), and left positive comments. It’s not perfect, but I don’t expect it to be – I want them to be entertaining, fun, page-turning reads. And in that area, Iron Druid delivers.

For those uninitiated, this is the 8th book in the series (of 9 total, plus a handful of novellas), which follows Atticus O’Sullivan, a several thousand year old druid, who for a long period of time was the only remaining druid on earth. He is kept alive by a magical concoction he calls “ImmortaliTea”, which is a blend of herbs that he magically enhances, and gives the consumer essentially endless life at their current age (does not make them invulnerable). He proceeds over the series to get into various sticky situations involving witches, werewolves, and gods from all societies and all historical periods. He has a couple chats with Jesus, for example, and an epic battle with the Greek gods.

Atticus is accompanied by a colorful cast of friends and allies, the most notable of which is his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. Atticus has a telepathic link with Oberon that allows him to communicate back and forth, and the resulting conversations have proven one of the best parts of the entire series, providing comic relief at almost every instance. Additionally, he takes on an apprentice/lover, Granuaile, who is a local bartender at a pub Atticus frequents. Later in the series, his mentor, frozen in a time prison, is released, and Owen provides some of the best commentary in the entire series, as he navigates a modern world that he was previously not introduced to.

Irish Wolfhound dog portrait

Where we stand heading into this book is as such: Atticus is on a campaign to wipe out the vampires, and more specifically, the oldest living vampire, Theophilus. Granuaile is waging her own war against the god Loki, who she severely injured in an ambush, but who she naturally assumes will be on her tail soon. She’s currently with a coven of witches in Poland, seeking to make a protective magical cloak to help protect her. Owen is settling in with the Tempe pack of werewolves, and looking to start a new grove in order to start training druids for the future, to try and recover the order of druids from extinction.

That said, I essentially just summarized the new book as well. It felt like less happened in this novel than in any of the previous (perhaps as a setup for the final book?). I mean, plenty did happen, but much of it felt minor, less impactful – there weren’t the large-scale god battles, or even some of the interpersonal conflict that there generally have been in the books. Atticus largely travels around searching for Theophilus, and the book seems to focus very heavily on destinations, cities and their cultures, and making commentary on those. Kevin’s awesome in that he researches his destinations and uses real places, but he also leans on that very heavily in this novel. We spend a lot of time in stores, restaurants and other places in Toronto, Rome, Poland, Germany. After a while, it felt like a bit of a platform to discuss vacation cities.

I still got plenty of laughs from the book – Owen is an absolute riot, especially when placed in the incredibly capable hands (lips?) of Luke Daniels, the audiobook narrator. His curmudgeony attitude is endearing in it’s own way, and some of his complaints and observations elicited full on belly laughs. As always, Oberon and Atticus have extremely entertaining mental conversations, though for much of the book, Oberon was basically told “Sit, stay, good boy” while Atticus did things on his own. Which, to me, is a missed opportunity – a chunk of the success of the series is their interactions and Oberon’s commentary – I say it’s akin to Inglorious Basterds, where Brad Pitt’s character Aldo Raine felt sorely underused (despite the movie being brilliant regardless).

And just to get it out of the way – Granuaile at this point does nothing for me as a character, and I found most of her chapters extremely boring. She lacks a lot of the charm and pizazz of Atticus and Owen, her hound is not funny or interesting the way Oberon is, and for most of this book, she does next to nothing. She hangs out with witches and learns some Polish, goes on a quick mission to rescue a horse, and then spends more time with the witches, before finally briefly reuniting with Atticus to save the day. I appreciate and accept the need and value in strong female characters, and she most certainly is one of those. She has ample depth, a great history, and interesting upbringing into being a druid. However, very little of that translated in Staked, and I found myself half groaning during her chapters, just wishing things would get back to Atticus or Owen.

One thing the book did fantastically (and the series as a whole, frankly) is deal with consequences. While the book centers around superpowered druids, as well as nearly invulnerable gods from all different cultures, there are generally lasting effects and troubling moments related to actions and decisions. Atticus at this point is starting to feel the weight of his history, and of all of his past actions. Some of his decisions have lead to the death of friends, and in the end of the novel, he suffers perhaps the worst blow to his mental health and wellbeing that he has yet received. I thought it was handled excellently, I thought Owen delivering that blow to Atticus was brilliantly written, very impactful, and very moving. It was a terrific passage, and was the crowning jewel of this novel for sure.

I’ve invested enough into this series that I will see it out, and I enjoy Kevin and his writing enough to follow him into his new series afterwards. However, for me, this was the weakest book in the series to date – not that it was bad, because it certainly wasn’t. It was just lacking some of the ‘oomph’ that the other novels in the series had, and despite it’s short length (310 hardcover pages) still felt like it had some space filler in it, rather than plot movement. I fully expect the final piece of this series to be longer, and for it to go out with a ‘bang’. Hearne’s writing is as good, or better, than it’s ever been, but it did not directly translate into Staked.

Rating: 3 / 5

 

Review – The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (2016)

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Hardcover, 447 pages
Published January 26th 2016 by Tor Books
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When asked to recommend a book series for people entering the fantasy genre for the first time, I often will recommend Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. It’s action packed, has an amazing magical system that is used to the fullest, is complex while being easy to read, has ample depth and plot twists to satisfy just about everyone. With 2011’s Alloy of Law, Sanderson began the new chapter of the Mistborn series; he moves seamlessly forwards a couple hundred years, along with the technology, history, and references to the original trilogy you would expect. Despite that, Alloy was a bit on the anemic side for a lot of readers – it was witty, entertaining, and explored some of the possibilities of the allomancy magic system (and the other systems in the series) in a future setting. However, it lacked some of the ‘oomph’ and background story that the original three Mistborn books contained.

That said, Alloy of Law was not technically part of the Mistborn trilogy-of-trilogies (or quadralogy of trilogies, I’m not even sure anymore), but rather a standalone that happened to be in the same time period as the second Mistborn trilogy. An introduction to this new series, which are generally referred to as the ‘Wax and Wayne‘ set, after the two title characters.

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The legend himself

With 2015’s Shadows of Self, Brandon returned to a similar format to the original Mistborn trilogy, with ample amounts of historical references, some returning characters, and plenty of action and plot twists. In my review for it, I referenced the fact that I’d heard some grumblings that Sanderson had plateau’d a bit – a fact I did not agree with, but was a relevant enough feeling amongst fantasy forums and reviews. However, with the release of the staggering Words of Radiance in his Stormlight Archive series (my #1 book of 2014), and shortly followed by Shadows of Self, Brandon showed his growth as a writer; his action was still spectacular, his magic systems still on point.

The major criticism I see of Sanderson’s past works are that he lacks in characterization and character growth. I could see some of their points, though I felt that this was a bit of an overblown point. His focus always seemed to rest in worldbuilding, magic systems, action, storytelling. Luckily, his character growth and character arcs in Words of Radiance and Shadows of Self were so much more refined, attitudes and speech patterns and mannerisms significantly more ironed out than in the past.

Brandon has a natural sense of humor that I’ve always enjoyed in my times around him, and it’s translating into his work much more these days; he has a deft hand, the ability to sneak a joke in that makes the reader laugh out loud, without interrupting the story with it, or making the book feel like a comedy. Everything about his writing has developed, worked-on, been honed; Brandon often states that writing is a craft, one that needs training, practice, hard work – and no one in the industry works harder than Brandon effing Sanderson.

Along with this has come an adaptation into a slightly more edgy and ‘adult’ style, for lack of a better term. The original Mistborn series had a decidedly lighter feel to the writing style, despite some dark subject matter. It was a bit more of a wholesome, ‘family-friendly’ style of writing. However, that leaf has been turned for Brandon – I’m not sure if he’s lightened up on his religious beliefs, if he’s just decided that his “line” is a bit farther than it used to be, or whether he just deduced that including a bit more lax attitude towards sex, alcohol, and minor profanity was more comfortable for him to write.

Those elements all combine in a perfect storm in The Bands of Mourning. I had high hopes for the book, especially coming off multiple brilliant releases from Brandon in the last couple years (Words of Radiance, Shadows of Self, Firefight, and some of his novellas). Shadows of Self was a breath of fresh air, and the Mistborn series felt fully revitalized. Bands of Mourning proved that the series is here to stay, that the forthcoming novels won’t lack for entertainment, depth and humor. Whatever expectations you have coming into the book, expect them to be exceeded.

We’re reintroduced to our duo of charismatic heroes, back home in the capitol city of Elendel, where Waxillium Ladrian prepares for his arranged noble marriage to Steris, whom he is still learning new things about on a daily basis. Meanwhile, all around them, tensions arise from the outer cities in the area due to over-taxation, and a monopoly on trade routes by the elite of Elendel. Wax gets a lead that his elusive uncle, Suit, is working behind the scenes to try and acquire the Bands of Mourning; the powerful, magic-imbued jewelry armor pieces, which contain the ancient Lord Ruler’s potent magical powers. Additionally, Wax’s sister, believed kidnapped and held hostage by their uncle, is in the vicinity. Our crew sets out to locate these bands, and keep them from the Set, the power-hungry group that Suit is associated with.

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Naturally, things aren’t as they seem, and the crew find themselves victims of a near train-jacking, chasing leads towards the elusive Bands of Mourning, and fighting for survival far more often than they intend. They’re met with traps and twists, and more and more of the technology of this era is introduced – motorcars, trains, and in the end even airships are introduced to the area. The rapid technological advances lead to a lot of complications, and Wax and co. are forced to use their wits as much as anything to survive in the end.

Sanderson cultivates a feeling of excitement at every turn, yet the book never feels rushed. The action is cut with ample character development, especially in Steris, and her relationship with Wax. Steris quickly became one of my favorite of Sanderson’s characters; she’s presented as boring, bland, predictable. A spinster for many reasons, and only getting married due to her political positioning as a noble. However, her growth through the novel is exponential, bringing her character traits and quirks to the forefront, and she finds her niche amongst the group. No longer just a helpless, quirky noblewoman, she proves her over-preparedness and attention to detail is essential to their survival and success. She reminds me of a slightly less charismatic version of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation. That is a good thing.

On the topic of characters – Wax and Wayne are back en force, and have quickly placed themselves amongst my favorite fantasy duos (hard to top Locke Lamora/Jean Tannin, Royce Melbourne/Hadrian Blackwater, or Egil/Nix, mind you). Wax’s straightforward lawman nature, a bit of the Paladin archetype, but mixed with a creativity and level of skill unmatched by many in his world. Wayne is, frankly, hilarious – I laughed more from his comments and antics than I have in a long time. Marasi, Steris’ sister and fellow lawman with Wax and Wayne, grows as well, proving a propensity for learning and adapting, as well as survival instinct and altruism, putting her team before herself on multiple occasions.  The final member of the group. the shapeshifting kandra MeLaan, is the most entertaining of the kandra race I can think of in the Mistborn series, and one scene early on in the story (will not spoil) had me dying with laughter thanks to her/it.

I keep touching on the humor, and with good reason – this book is hilarious. However, it has such an effortless and fluid feel; none of the humor is forced, nothing feels wedged in for no reason. At the same time, it’s not a Terry Pratchett novel – humor isn’t the focus, but it’s inserted in many situations, and used to lighten situations. I quite legitimately laughed out loud on at least ten different occasions during the book, and had a big smile on my face throughout much of it. One liners, hilarious predicaments, and ridiculous character traits meant that there was never a shortage of yuks. However, it was all natural, it all fit in the story – it did not distract from the serious parts, rather, it augmented them. It kept the reader from getting locked into one emotion, cut through some of the very dark and stressful portions. In that way, it kept some of the ‘light’ feel of the original Mistborn trilogy, but without the ‘PG’ feel.

It’s difficult to discuss some of the more “OH DAMN” moments without getting spoilery, but I’ll just say that there were several of them, and they were glorious. Some characters acting out of their comfort zone in the most badass ways, some snappy remarks that made me want to recommend a local burn center to the recipient, and some action scenes that came straight out of a videogame. Sanderson’s penchant for the fantastic, for high flying battles, for off-the-walls (literally) action scenes is not reduced by his newfound character growth or humor in the slightest. The book is still loaded with edge-of-your-seat scenes that induce hyperbole by overzealous reviewers, such as myself.

The creativity in the book is, again, off the charts. So much of the Mistborn history is wedged into the book, much like what was handled in Shadows of Self. A lot of references to the previous trilogy and it’s lore, and not all of them are blatant; there’s a lot of subtlety to it, small references that avid readers will pick up on, bits of lore about the Cosmere, your standard Hoid appearance, and more. The entire book is based around a powerful piece of equipment from the Lord Ruler, and carefully placed comments and plot pieces play into the deep worldbuilding that Brandon excels at.

The details are where this book really stands out, though. Brandon doesn’t rest on his laurels – he continues to introduce new ways to use his magic system, new pieces of equipment, new abilities, new metals. The world is rapidly developing, just as ours did, and the population is adapting with the magic as well, finding new ways to use it, new ways to abuse it, and new ways to counteract it. While it sometimes feel as though there’s a convenient counter-measure to every new development, that is a minor enough gripe to not take away from the overall presentation. Sanderson is careful to explain, or at least imply, the complications or negative effects of new technology, of the new uses, of the expanding availability of allomancy and feruchemy to the masses. He’s taking an already wildly creative and incredibly deep magic system (or set of systems), and expanding upon it with each book, crafting new methods and new abilities to ensure that nothing is ever stale, and is always evolving.

I could wax poetic (get it? Wax? Nevermind) for a few thousand more words as to why this book is brilliant. It takes a relatively lighthearted series and elevates it to spectacular heights; it is far more deep and complex than expected, yet maintains an incredible level of readability and entertainment in the process. I found myself consistently shocked at just how damned good it was – I must have sent twenty texts while reading, exclaiming to friends at it’s brilliance. I’m an avid Sanderson fan and reader, but am still consistently surprised when he puts out another piece of work that knocks my socks off. I’m far from the type of fanboy to proclaim anything an author puts out as infallible, but the flaws in this book were extremely minor, to the point that I often forgot about them if I didn’t write them down immediately.

Brandon is an absolute juggernaut of fantasy writing, and continues to show a growth and dedication to the craft, despite being one of the top authors in the genre for several years. He’s personable with fans, the friendliest guy you’ll meet, and his work is exceptional on top of that. I spent some time reflecting on this book, and reviewing my notes, and trying to find some faults in it so I wouldn’t sound like I was doing nothing but gushing – I found very little of substance. The book is well paced, entertaining, deep, exciting, and very well-rounded. Simply put, it’s one of Sanderson’s best (I personally put it only behind the brilliance that was Words of Radiance).

It’s a gem, and you owe it to yourself to read it.

Rating: 5 / 5