REVIEW: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve been meaning to read the Mistborn books for a while now, but standing in front of the Fantasy section of my local bookstore has always left me a bit intimidated and like I don’t know where to begin. This goes doubly so for Brandon Sanderson- who has ‘Final’ in the title of the first book of a trilogy? What if this trilogy is a sequel to another series set in the same world?

What helped me out was an unknown genius working at the Waterstones Picadilly who had set up a display of Fantasy First Books in Series. Naturally, Name of the Wind was there plus a few others that I had already read but all I could do was zero in on the Final Empire and leg it to the till.

Plot Summary

We begin with ash falling from the sky onto the beaten and broken plantation skaa. The narrative establishes certain facts: the skaa are owned by the mysterious Lord Ruler but leased by nobility, the nobility have the right to sleep with skaa woman provided they kill them after and that the skaa will never, ever rebel against their tormenters. In fact they don’t seem to understand that they are tormented.

The book later moves to the capital, Luthadel where we meet Vin, a quiet, mistrusting young girl with a mysterious ability. Vin works for a skaa crime faction where, like the plantation skaa, she is mistreated and doesn’t know that she deserves any better. Her powers attract the attention of the frightening Inquisitors and the far less frightening Kelsier and his friends. What follows next is an incredibly exciting political story of Kelsier’s crime syndicate attempting to liberate the skaa, kill the Lord Ruler and overthrow the Final Empire.

What I really liked about this book

  • I said this with Name of the Wind as well, but The Final Empire is another fantasy book with a really good magic procedure. Mistings are people who can burn a particular metal to gain a particular power, such as strength, increase senses or the ability to soothe someone’s emotions. On the other hand Mistborn can burn any metal to achieve any power. I don’t want to spoil anything but the last couple of metals explained in the book blew my mind.
  • The explanation given as to why the skaa are so without hope. I will say no more here 😉
  • The characterisation of the characters in Keliser’s gang, especially Ham. Ham, the Thug who could easily be written as a grunting brute loves nothing better than a philosophical discussion about if overthrowing the Empire is the right thing to do or about atium economy.

What I didn’t like so much

  • Vin was not used in the way I thought she was going to be. Early on, when she has just joined Keliser’s gang, one of the other characters comments that Vin always knows where other people are. A lot of description is given to how she prowls around, keeping herself hidden but a watchful eye on everyone else. Later, when she infiltrates the nobility, I thought that her aptitude for spying would come in handy and she would be sneaking away from balls, searching rooms and eavesdropping on conversations. That didn’t really happen, Vin mostly went to balls and gossiped. Until the end of the book that is…

At the moment, The Final Empire is the only Mistborn book I’ve read. It is a fantastic, absorbing read, so gripping that I finished it in about two train journeys. I absolutely cannot wait until I get my hands on book two. If, like me, you stand in front of fantasy bookcases stuck on where to begin, pick up The Final Empire. You won’t regret it.

Advertisements

Review: A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Better than a crumpled Evening Standard
Found on the tube… A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

I have literally just finished this book. I put it down with a “Jesus Christ” and buried my face in my alarmed boyfriend’s shoulder and wept. Yes, a book with “Dog” in the title, a picture of a dog on the cover and about the special relationship a dog has with his human turned out to be manipulatively sad. Who saw that coming?

As you might expect, the dog dies. What is unexpected (and why that sentence is not a spoiler) is that the dog dies several times and is reborn each time. He retains memories and knowledge from his past lives; how to scavenge from his life as a stray, how to find missing people from his life as a police dog and how to love absolutely unconditionally from his life as a family pet.

The re-incarnation theme isn’t the only thing that makes this book unique. The book is told from the point of view of the dog. Each of his lives begins with the growing awareness of his existence and the existence of his mother. The whole story is shown through the dog’s eyes, around him humans talk about things he doesn’t understand meanwhile he is more concerned with being fed or going for a walk. It’s a clever way of telling a story and a rewarding way of reading a book, trying to piece together the fragments of plot the dog tells you to get the real story.

Even if you have never had your own dog, I absolutely recommend this book. If you have a dog or have ever had one, then this is going to be a very emotional book but one you should definitely read.

**

I found this book on the Northern line going north from Kennington. I didn’t want to be going north from Kennington. I wanted to be going north from Waterloo but owing to some kind of… incident… I had to go south then north again. Crazy times!
But it was worth it. Someone had left A Dog’s Purpose on the seat next to me with a sticker from Books on the Underground. Having now finished the book, I will be returning it to the tube. Perhaps you will be the one to find it?

REVIEW: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

The first two (and to date, only) books from the Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles are SO GOOD YOU GUYS.

Plot Summary

Set in the (obviously fictional) world called the Commonwealth the first book sees our hero, young Kvothe travelling around the Commonwealth as part of his parent’s travelling troupe. A wise master joins the group and is Kvothe’s first mentor, teaching him rudimentary magic and hinting at more powerful magic far beyond even Kvothe’s abilities. However, eventually Kvothe’s mentor leaves and his entire troupe (including his parent’s) are murdered.

So far so fantasy.

But then it gets really interesting. Kvothe, now homeless, lives on the streets of Tarbean and this is a really ingenious way of giving us world building information. Here, we get the origin story of this world’s God, giving context to why everyone had been saying “blackened body of God” whenever they stubbed their toe.

It’s a good way of character building for Kvothe as well. Up until this point our hero has been loved and cosseted, which, while undoubtabley makes Kvothe’s predicament here more tragic, also makes him more street smart. He becomes a great observer of other people (building on what he already did as an actor), he learns to fight, he learns how to make the dodgy areas of Tarbean work for him. Later in the book, this becomes useful.

The rest of the book concerns Kvothe’s time at the University, which I always think of as being the bulk of this book but it actually starts quite late in the story. Here, we encounter admissions (the exam everyone sits to either begin attending the University or to find out how much they owe this term).

For me, the best parts of the book are set in the University. Rothfuss has mapped out every detail so wonderfully, from the physical manifestations (the archives, the catacombs underneath) to the culture and values the University holds.

What I really like about this book

  • There are no two ways about it, Kvothe is incredibly arrogant. He is highly intelligent and knows it, and what’s worse is that he’s right. He gains admission to the University at a remarkably young age and rise up through the ranks faster than anyone has ever seen. Both his friends and teachers point out what a dick he is. But I don’t think he’s an unlikable protagonist. I think he’s an endearing dick.
  • Rothfuss makes Kvothes childhood as an actor mean something. The parts where Kvothe pretends to be something he’s not in order to get something he wants are my favourite parts.
  • NOTW has one of the best descriptions of magic I’ve ever read. I have a background in science and I get very frustrated when other fantasy novels explain their magical science with “if you imagine the candle setting alight, the candle will set alight” or just plain don’t explain. In NOTW, the “scientific” magic is called sympathy. It needs parts of whoever you are casting a spell against, a source of power (such as your own blood) and knowledge of exactly what you are doing. Everyone goes on about something is “barely two per cent efficiency” or “we can increase this to thirty per cent” and I just love it. Magic needs more maths.
  • Fantasy or otherwise, there are not enough books with music in them- the only ones that come to mind right now are An Equal Music by Vikram Seth and the 1-800 series by Meg Cabot. In NOTW, Kvothe’s talent with the trouper’s lute is a fundamental part of the story and his character.
  • The way the story-within-a-story trope is used to hint at other parts of the world without any over-explanation.

What I like slightly less about this book

  • The role of women in general is a little underwritten. Male students at the University outnumber female but it’s not explained why this is. Are women discouraged from education? Do they marry young? Is this why every single master is a man?
  • From women in general to a particular woman: Denna. I don’t hate Denna as much as other people seem to and I think she gets better in The Wise Man’s Fear. In this book, we get tired monologues from Kvothe about how beautiful she is and how he doesn’t want anything from her, just to be her friend. Kvothe needs to get laid so badly.

Don’t let those last two bullet points put you off. The Name of the Wind is the best fantasy book I’ve read this year (with the exception of its sequel). The story is engaging and gives you enough information to sink into the world and hints at lands not yet travelled by Kvothe. The story-within-a-story mechanism really makes this book. We are only a third of the way through Kvothe’s story. It’s about time you’ve heard of him.