The Way of Kings
Publisher: Tor Books -
Pages: 1008 -
Just one look at the cover of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings tells you everything you need to know about it. If you’re a fantasy virgin, a passerby in the grocery store, you can tell that it’s about knights and vivid fantastical set pieces. If you’re a long entrenched fantasy reader, you can see that, for all of publisher Tor Books’ will to make it so, the first volume of Brandon Sanderon’s The Stormlight Archives is the “next big fantasy, ” the heir apparent to Robert Jordan’s legendary and flawed opus, the Wheel of Time.
The Way of Kings is big. Thunderously huge. Sanderson might be best known for his work completing the late Robert Jordan’s series, but before that he was known to fantasy fans as one of the more exciting upcoming epic fantasists. His most popular work up to that point was the Mistborn trilogy, a self-contained series that, while applaudable for Sanderson’s eagerness to develop fascinating magic systems, suffered from poor pacing and bloat in both the second and third volumes. The longest of those volumes was two-thirds the length of The Way of Kings, the shortest about half.
Most writers are expected to write an epic fantasy in less than 200,000 words, The Way of Kings flirts with 400,000.
Since then, Sanderson’s star has risen to heights reached by few other working fantasy authors, and as a result the editorial department at Tor has slackened their reins, hoping to nurture the novelist as he attempts to fill the enormous hole left by Jordan’s passing. Even in the early pages The Way of Kings, while Sanderson is busy introducing readers to fallen gods, it’s easy to recognize his excitement at being given the reins to write an epic fantasy in the vein of Jordan, et al. Most writers are expected to write an epic fantasy in less than 200,000 words, yet The Way of Kings flirts with 400,000. Though this immense privilege and freedom for Sanderson’s ambitions hurts the novel, it also allows for a refreshing boldness and scope that the genre has been missing since the completion of the Wheel of Time and Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Read More »
The Goblin Emperor
Publisher: Tor Books -
Pages: 448 -
Once upon a time there was a book. In the first twenty pages it had like a bajillion names, several dozen instances of archaic speech patterns, and quite a bit of moping. I was instantly willing to hate it. But, because I’m a true critic of the arts, I continued. Also, because I can’t really beat a book up unless I finish it, right? I admit to doing this on occasion. However, as I continued to read Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, I became enthralled. What was off-putting became second nature and beneath it was revealed a gorgeous narrative, a lush world, and dozens of fascinating characters. While there remains an absurd indulgence in complicated naming mechanisms, Addison’s fantasy novel rates among the best I’ve read.
Katherine Addison is a genius
Every book has a story, and The Goblin Emperor‘s begins long before it was published. Katherine Addison is actually Sarah Monette, a critically acclaimed author of four novels for Ace Books. Unfortunately, those books didn’t sell very well. The Goblin Emperor was submitted to Ace and rejected, forcing Monette to shop the project elsewhere. Purchased by the Jim Frankel (who has had some problems subsequently) at Tor, the novel found a home. Monette became Katherine Addison because bookstores aren’t big fans of authors who don’t sell real well, but are easily mollified with byline changes. I mention this because I have no idea whether Monette can write her way out of a paper bag, but Katherine Addison is a genius and Ace should be totally bummed they didn’t buy The Goblin Emperor. Read More »
Conservation of Shadows
Publisher: Prime Books -
Pages: 288 -
Up until recently, short stories, as a medium, were largely off my radar. Though I read them avidly and voraciously as a child, at some point during my mid to late teens, I just sort of… stopped. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a consequence of the fact that, for whatever reason – their length, presumably – short stories are frequently marketed to kids, but less so to teenagers (or at least, that used to be the case), and once they were no longer being thrust upon me, I didn’t seek them out. I kept writing them, of course, but not very well or often, because it’s extremely hard to develop any proficiency at an art form you aren’t actively exposed to. But ever since I bought a subscription to Clarkesworld for my Kindle and remembered, somewhat belatedly, how amazing good short stories are, I’ve been ravenous for them.
Conservation of Shadows is, to put it bluntly, breathtaking.
Enter Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee – a collection I heard about via Aliette de Bodard, who wrote the introduction – which has well and truly reminded me that, if you’re not reading short stories, you’re missing out on something vital. With settings that range from the fantastic to the science fictional – and including plenty which blur the lines between them – Conservation of Shadows is, to put it bluntly, breathtaking. Lee writes with extraordinary power and beauty: her worldbuilding, which frequently draws its influences from Korean culture and history, is compulsively original and detailed, but without being overwhelming (except on the level of sheer professional envy). Thematically, her stories deal with empire, colonialism, warfare and its aftermath, and the many ways in which all these elements impact on people, history, language and culture. Read More »
The Raven Boys
Publisher: Scholastic Press -
Pages: 416 -
Set in Henrietta, Virginia, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys exhibits characteristics of the “southern novel”, a form I associate strongly with Tom Wolfe or Harper Lee. Novels of the American South tend to focus on the gross inequalities that exist there, often couched in racial terms, but also the nature of inherited wealth juxtaposed with the lack of opportunity that exists in the more urban centers. In the case of The Raven Boys, Stiefvater creates that paradigm between Blue Sargent, daughter to a poor, but comfortable, and exceedingly proficient psychic, and four boys from Aglionby, a feeder high school for the Ivy League.
The Raven Boys is an examination of the power dynamics between people.
For all her life, Blue has been warned that Aglionby boys are trouble. They’re rich and live by a code that means the rules don’t apply to them. These Aglionby boys–Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah–would be no different, except they can’t accept the lives they’ve been given. They want something more, for themselves and for each other. Bound up in a brotherhood dedicated to uncovering a measure of magic in the world, the boys come to Blue and her family for help. While the story is a quest, the novel is hardly about it at all. Not just about the unequal nature of the American South, The Raven Boys is an examination of the power dynamics between people. The power we give to others over us, and the power we reserve for ourselves. In other words, it’s a novel of character and the connections that bind them together. Read More »
We See A Different Frontier
Publisher: Futurefire -
Pages: 220 -
There’s a saying my grandmother likes to use when people are eating dinner: instead of saying ‘I’m full’, she prefers ‘I’ve had an elegant sufficiency’. It’s this phrase which sprang to mind as I finished We See A Different Frontier: because everything about it, from the overarching themes of the stories themselves to their place and number in the collection, feels perfectly designed to amaze, impress and satisfy. It is, in every way that matters, an elegant sufficiency of stories; the kind of anthology that leaves you feeling eager – but not starving – for more of the same.
Bracketed by a preface from Aliette de Bodard and an afterword from Ekaterina Sedia, Frontier is a powerful, fascinating and deeply necessary examination of colonialism through an SFFnal lens – and, by extension, of its real-world history and legacy. In a genre which so often deals with questions of technology, expansion, power and revolution – spacefaring explorers discovering new worlds, rebels battling empires and dystopian states, humans negotiating with elves and aliens – the Western, imperial roots of much classic SFF also dictate that, even though there’s a glut of stories championing the underdog, exulting in their endless against-the-odds victories over a sea of evil masters, it’s comparatively rare for the oppressed heroes of science fiction to resemble those groups most oppressed in real life.
All too often, we shy away from stories whose oppressor/oppressed dynamics purposefully and overtly reflect our many real-world inequalities.
There are, for instance, any number of dystopian stories that lament the narratively-imposed lack of heteronormative romantic choice, but none I can think of that mimic the actual, real-world oppression of queer love. Similarly, and despite the awful volume of historical evidence that human colonialism and Western expansion have invariably been fraught with violence, evil and bigotry, our stories tend overwhelmingly to suggest the opposite, couching human colonists as either enlightened liberators or scientific progressives, and Western (or Western-style) hegemony as the system that supplants, rather than endorses, tyrannical empire, or which at the absolute best is shown to be open to abuse, not because of any inherent flaws, but due to the temporary lack of a Good King. All too often, we shy away from stories whose oppressor/oppressed dynamics purposefully and overtly reflect our many real-world inequalities: at best, we brush them off as didactic, simplistic and agenda-laden, their messages so obvious as to go without saying (because doing so makes us uncomfortable, natch), and at worst, as biased propaganda designed to make “us” look like the bad guys. Read More »