Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn: The Final Empire, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension and Mistborn: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Well, where to start? I’m having trouble sleeping so rather than waste the times tossing and turning I’ve decided to blog about something I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time. Goodness knows I haven’t been devoting much time to my blog recently. I’ve been too busy writing but that’s probably not a bad thing.

I finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and what can I say about them but wow. I loved it. Detailed magic system. Its own mythology. Great action. In fact, it is the way that these all come together that is truly superb. And Vin kicks ass.

I, like many others, came to Brandon Sanderson only after hearing the news that he would be taking on the monumental task of finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This of course is old news. I personally think he’s doing a great job. That the story is finishing (and hopefully will finish) fantastically is of course due to Jordan’s imagination but it will be Brandon’s hard work that will get us there at the end. That hard work is something that, I humbly submit, I am coming to appreciate. Still when this was still new news, I checked out Sanderson’s credentials on the web. And so I was introduced to the works of Brandon Sanderson.

His website, www.brandonsanderson.com, features sample chapters for several of his works. I haven’t read Elantris properly yet but Mistborn is there too. Those samples were enough to get me enthused about this author. I think I tracked down The Way of Kings first, a huge book, the first in a forthcoming gargantuan series to rival Wheel of Time. I won’t say much about it here but it’s a page turner too. In it Sanderson takes a common fantasy trope involving prophecy and puts a sick twist on it. Fantastic.

It’s something that Brandon seems to like to do. In the Mistborn trilogy he takes stereotypical fantasy elements and turns them on their heads. The dark lord wins. Prophecy. Heroes. He innovates by challenging the status quo and he pulls it off satisfyingly well. I haven’t read the short story yet but ironically even his own laws aren’t sacred. In Mistborn: The Alloy of Law he breaks his own rule that guns don’t belong in fantasy.

The series is great. If you like the books I do, then read this one.

What I really want to talk about though are the annotations to be found through the Mistborn portal on his website. These annotations give chapter by chapter commentary on the books. They are a fabulous insight into his writing process. Personally, they demonstrated to me that books don’t come fully and perfectly formed. Sanderson shares with us what his thoughts were as he wrote, what he was trying to achieve, what he changed, what options he had. Sometimes he wrote one thing one way but somehow came to change it to the complete opposite and it ended up perfectly. This could be on things of small consequence but one notable example was that originally, Vin, the female lead character, began her existence as a boy. Did I mention she is awesome?

His notes give me an idea of the sheer volume of work that goes into writing a book. There are all sorts of useful and interesting notes about how the stories were built, shaped and reshaped. He speaks frankly about structure, pacing, tension, character development and screen time; a veritable treasure for anyone looking to see how a story gets made. It was reassuring to see that it’s not all about divine inspiration but that hard work for mere mortals like me can put together an excellent story. It’s god-hard work for sure but there is hope.

I feel privileged to be able to access the thoughts and reflections of such a successful (and honest) writer. Readers check out the books. Writers check out the notes. Good night.

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Dark Heavens trilogy by Kylie Chan

White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Blue Dragon by Kylie Chan

The Dark Heavens trilogy offers an innovative take on modern fantasy, blending Chinese mythology and martial arts to produce something that is refreshingly different to the western myth-based fantasies prevalent on the book shelves.

The story is set in Hong Kong, meaning when I finally travel there I’ll get to visit all the places named in the books; always a fun game. Sprinkled throughout are other cultural tidbits about such things as food and yum cha. Sometimes I would read references like cheongsam and mangle the pronunciation in my head. CHEE-ONG-SAM? What’s that? And then the Aha! moment would arrive when I connected it with the Cantonese section of my brain. Of course none of this is prerequisite knowledge to enjoy the books. Rather they’re little Easter eggs for those in the know and slices of Chinese culture for everyone else. I in fact was learning plenty of things about my culture I didn’t even know. Next time I visit the Taoist temple I’ll hopefully be able to pick out some of the gods and bodhisattvas.

Okay, so the flavour is minty fresh and there’s plenty of choc chips throughout to spice things up but how about the writing itself,  the icecream in this horrible metaphor?  Happily the answer is smooth and creamy. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give it is that it is easy to read. The dialogue is easy on the ear, the snappy exchanges between Emma and Leo very realistic. Even the sarcasm, always something of a risky proposition in written form, comes through clearly. Anyone who has tried and failed to convey sarcasm via email will know what I mean.

Kylie often introduces something new without immediate explanation, leaving the reader in the dark. Thankfully she doesn’t torture us too long, revealing the answers soon enough. Her style takes a little getting used to but I found the fast pace kept me happily turning pages. In fact there are few if any loose ends and all the major questions posed are nicely solved by Kylie. I for one was wondering how one can tie down a god.

In my own attempts to write fight scenes I tend to overchoreograph in excruciating detail every punch and counterpunch. Kylie’s execution is far better than mine, providing detail without bogging down the action. Martial arts evolves to incorporate energy manipulation; the ‘magic’ of the story. We’re talking chi, chakras, elements, yin and yang, things we in the west have heard of even if we don’t quite believe in them. Running up walls? Why not? I’ve heard  those Shaolin masters really do that stuff. I’m not sure how much license the author is taking but again she seems to have gotten the balance between the real and the fantastic just right.

I do have a small gripe with the book names. The titular characters are not that pivotal to each book, so why name the books after them? They do make a neat pattern and like Kylie Chan I’m not sure I could have passed up the opportunity to use those titles either. In contrast the remaining member of the four winds, “Dark Heavens” makes a perfect name for the trilogy. Though not the main character, Xuan Wu, god of martial arts, Mr Dark Heavens himself, is the hook on which this fantasy hangs.

Despite not being a series I’ve seen hyped about elsewhere I’m happy I picked up this fantasy. Fresh, witty and well executed (it’s from an Australian author too!), I’m looking forward to reading the sequel trilogy, Journey to Wudang.