The Book Rookie is a book club in which Cole (the eponymous rookie) reads flagship fantasy and sci-fi books, then discusses them with readers who have more experience with the genre.
This isn’t a book club for niche reads. We’re talking big series: The Gentlemen Bastards, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Broken Earth, The Stormlight Archive, The Expanse, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and countless other top-tier fantasy and sci-fi reads. We want to compare readings of the SFF world’s MVPs. A relative newcomer to adult fantasy will inevitably perceive a book differently than two readers who have travelled the many worlds available to SFF readers.We hope you enjoy the new series! If you have a book you want us to discuss, drop a comment below!
We are back with part two of The Book Rookie – Mistborn. Today we’re talking about the second book in the series: The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson. Unlike our discussion of the first book in the series, this discussion inherently needs to have some spoilers – but we tried to minimize them as much as possible. However, if you have not read Mistborn, we recommend you hold off on listening to our highly entertaining discussion of book two.
The Book Rookie is essentially a book club in which Cole (the eponymous rookie) reads flagship fantasy and sci-fi books, then discusses them with readers who have more experience with the genre.
This isn’t a book club for niche reads. We’re talking big series: The GentlemenBastards, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Broken Earth, The StormlightArchive, The Expanse, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and countless other top-tier fantasy and sci-fi reads. We want to compare readings of the SFF world’s MVPs. A relative newcomer to adult fantasy will inevitably perceive a book differently than two readers who have travelled the many worlds available to SFF readers.We hope you enjoy the new series! If you have a book you want us to discuss, drop a comment below!
The Book Rookie is essentially a book club in which Cole (the eponymous rookie) reads flagship fantasy and sci-fi books, then discusses them with readers who have more experience with the genre.
This isn’t a book club for niche reads. We’re talking big series: The Gentlemen Bastards, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Broken Earth, The Stormlight Archive, The Expanse, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and countless other top-tier fantasy and sci-fi reads.
We want to compare readings of the SFF world’s MVPs. A relative newcomer to adult fantasy will inevitably perceive a book differently than two readers who have travelled the many worlds available to SFF readers.
For our first episode, we dive deep into Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, a perfect fantasy gateway book that has something for everyone. Andrew and Alex accompany Cole on his first Sanderson excursion (we’ve linked each reviewer so you can get a feel for individual tastes and, of course, read our posts!).
Without further ado, here’s our first episode of The Book Rookie!
I debated a lot as to whether or not I should do a review of Oathbringer, the third Stormlight Archive book by Brandon Sanderson, because I don’t think critic reviews are going to have an effect on whether or not people are going to read it. I like to spend my time providing people with recommendations they don’t already have, and the third book in one of the most popular fantasy series around isn’t going to have its momentum cut or boosted by what I say. That being said, as I finished up this 1200 page behemoth I found I had a lot (of hopefully interesting things) to say about the book that I did not expect so screw it, let’s talk about this year’s most popular release. This is going to be a bit different from my usual reviews, as I am not going to talk about the plot to try and get you to read it, think of this as a post discussion for a book that you should definitely check out.
Oathbringer is an impressive book on multiple levels. On the surface it is a huge novel that is extremely well paced, which takes a lot of skill. Though there are one or two slower areas, I never got bored as I was tearing through chapter after chapter. The book is filled with all the great things its two predecessors are known for: awesome characters, a cool world, interesting magic, and a captivating plot. However, taking a step deeper what is most impressive about Oathbringer to me is how it expanded the scale of The Stormlight Archive so fluently and naturally. See I had a problem going into Words of Radiance. Each book in the SA is centered around a different member of the cast, making them the focal point of the storytelling while still giving some time to all the other members. When I read Way of Kings, book one, I got really used to the book’s focal protagonist, Kaladin, being the center of attention. This became a problem when I moved to book two, Words of Radiance, where Shallan takes over as the focus as I came out of Way of Kings much more interested in Kaladin than anyone else. By the end of Words of Radiance I was completely on the Shallan train, but I spent a good portion of the start of the book resenting it a little for not giving me more content on my beloved Kaladin.
Going into Oathbringer I found myself thinking about two things: first, now that I was team Shallan was I going to have the same issue I had before as book three moved its focal character to Dalinar. Second, The Stormlight Archive has been built from the start as a series that was going to be about teams of people saving the world, but the first two books had felt like much more personal stories that focused on individuals. Was Stormlight going to be able to make the transition to a team series eventually or are we just doomed to have ten books where our protagonists are swapped out? Well funny thing …
The major theme of Oathbringer is unity, which is appropriate on many levels. Surpassing all my expectations, Oathbringer has this weirdly perfect balance where it elevates Dalinar to the center of attention for his book, but never puts down its expanding cast of other protagonists, essentially managing to have its cake and eat it too. At some point in reading Oathbringer, through brilliant characterization and pacing, I found I had changed how I thought of the protagonists of Stormlight from a group of individuals I loved to the Knights Radiant, all of whom were brilliant for their own reasons. The book makes everything feel like it’s coming together and, to me, it has elevated the story to a place of balance where every voice is heard constantly without anyone talking over one another. On top of all of this, not only does Sanderson find this beautiful balance between his Knights, he also breathes a huge amount of life into all of his side characters bringing the world to life. Oathbringer makes Roshar feel bigger and filled with peoples and places that I want to explore.
Oathbringer manages to expand the scope of the series massively, while also making the storytelling tighter and more fluid at the same time. It does this through brilliant pacing, an edge-of-your-seat plot, lovable deep characters, and a whole lot of emotional moments. Oathbringer surpassed all of my expectations and continues to show why Sanderson has earned his wild popularity. Go check it out if you haven’t already.
Rating: Oathbringer – 10/10
P.S. My editor actually just pointed out to me while writing this, that it is the “Knights Radiant”, not the “Knight Radiants”. Which is ridiculous. One implies a divine manifestation of morally good ideals with a code of honor, and one implies dudes in cans that glow. I am going to stick with Radiants.
I don’t talk a lot about Brandon Sanderson for two reasons. One, most people already know and read him. He is an extremely successful author, for good reason, and people don’t need me to help discover him. Two, I really, really like his work and I do my best not to review books I know I am going to unconstructively gush about. However, recently Sanderson has released a new book, Arcanum Unbounded, which I really enjoyed – but works as a great case study in why Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors: he is simply playing an entirely different game than anyone else out there.
What do I mean when I say he is playing a different game? To put it better, I think Sanderson has one of the most impressive writing styles I’ve seen. He sets different goals from many other traditional fantasy writers and has built a relationship with his readers beyond what other authors have achieved. See while most writers are focused on creating a successful book that people want to read, Sanderson’s focus is on telling stories- and while the difference might seem like pretentious pedantic line drawing to you, it makes a very big difference to me. Of course, Sanderson wants to have successful books as well, I am not trying to deify him as an altruistic writing god – but when you listen to how Brandon talks about making his stories you can tell that he just wants to bring you into his a world/universe. He is one of the most prolific writers on the scene today, consistently publishing 1-3 books a year (often giant in size). When I once asked him why/how he writes so much, he told me something that has stuck with me to this day: I have a lot of stories to tell you, a lot of worlds I want to show you. If I don’t keep churning them out and putting them on paper, I am going to die before I have a chance to take you to them all.
So what does this all have to do with Arcanum Unbounded? Well if you do not know, and it’s totally fine if you don’t, a large portion of Sanderson’s books all take place in the same universe. While all his stories are almost completely independent, he has had some minor crossovers throughout his books – for example a planet hopper who shows up in every book to give sage advice to protagonists. Sanderson has always stated that he wants his series to both have an independent identity (which he has succeeded at) and to eventually come together into a larger picture. Arcanum Unbounded is his first major step toward unifying all of his worlds and series. Arcanum is a collection of short stories both from worlds that Sanderson has already written about and those he plans to explore in the future. When I went into the book I was expecting some short pieces that were fun and well written and starting to give us a glance at Sanderson’s long term plan. This is exactly what I got, but the stories and the plan blew my expectations out of the water.
While the entire collection is characteristically great, The Emperor’s Soul is the standout story (and it won a Hugo for best short story). The collection is more beautiful and detailed than I expected. Sanderson’s plan and universe is bigger and better than I imagined. .He stretches my imagination further than he has before, employing art and a level of detail I didn’t think was possible in a book. Like a literary Matryoshka doll, there were layers upon layers of storytelling on both a micro and macroscopic level. As with everything he does, the scope that Arcanum reveals is astounding and if there is any writer I trust to deliver on big promises it is Brandon.
Normally when I read a book, I spend a lot of time making notes and recording my feelings and thoughts so I can write detailed and informed reviews after. While reading this book I had the rare experience of just being awestruck and losing myself in its pages. The first bits of Sanderson’s master plan defied my imagination and filled me with the kind of excitement you get from something you have never seen before or an idea you never considered. In one of the short stories in the collection, one character asks another if they are sure they want answers to the questions they ask – because once you get the answers, you will understand how small your current problems are and how big the universe’s problems can be. I agree with this statement completely, and due to it I do not recommend Arcanum until you have at a minimum read his Stormlight series, Mistborn series, Elantris, and Warbreaker. They are all amazing stories in their own right, so it won’t be so bad I promise. Once you do, I whole heartedly recommend you pick up this beautiful collection and start to find out what Sanderson has in store for us. The Arcanum Unbounded is designed as a piece for Sanderson readers who have read his greater catalogue and want to look behind the curtain in OZ; except instead of finding a frail old man at the controls, we truly find a wizard.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Fantasy books are not usually considered the best places to look for love. With the constant sword fights, dragons, and grim dark plot lines there is often not a lot of room for love. However, there are still tons of instances of beautiful affection to be found if you know where to look. To celebrate the holiday of love I have compiled a list of 25 of my favorite quotes from fantasy that express love to use on your significant other (or to acquire one). All of them are guaranteed to cause hearts to explode with affection and increase the happiness of all involved. I hope it brings a little bit of love to each and everyone of you, and have a wonderful day.
“Love is not about conquest. The truth is a man can only find true love when he surrenders to it. When he opens his heart to the partner of his soul and says: “Here it is! The very essence of me! It is yours to nurture or destroy.” -David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
“You are the harbor of my soul’s journeying.” -Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
“Quit being so hard on yourself. We are what we are; we love what we love. We don’t need to justify it to anyone… not even to ourselves.” -Scott Lynch, TheRepublic of Thieves
“At first glance, the key and the lock it fits may seem very different. Different in shape, different in function, different in design. The man who looks at them without knowledge of their true nature might think them opposites, for one is meant to open, and the other to keep closed. Yet, upon closer examination he might see that without one, the other becomes useless. The wise man then sees that both lock and key were created for the same purpose.” -Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension
“In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.” -Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
“I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” -Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
“You have made a place in my heart where I thought there was no room for anything else. You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones.” -Robert Jordan, Shadow Rising
“Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new.” -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
“There is a primal reassurance in being touched, in knowing that someone else, someone close to you, wants to be touching you. There is a bone-deep security that goes with the brush of a human hand, a silent, reflex-level affirmation that someone is near, that someone cares.” -Jim Butcher, White Night
“It was well for him, with his chivalry and mysticism, to make the grand renunciation. But it takes two to make love, or to make a quarrel. She was not an insensate piece of property to be taken up or laid down at his convenience. You could not give up a human heart as you could give up drinking. The drink was yours, and you could give it up: but your lover’s soul was not you own: it was not at your disposal; you had a duty towards it.” – T.H. White, The Once and Future King
“She did not think it was love. She did not think it was love when she felt a curious ache and anxiety when he was not there; she did not think it was love as she felt relief wash over her when she received a note from him; she did not think it was love when she sometimes wondered what their lives would be like after five, ten, fifteen years together. The idea of love never crossed her mind.” -Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs
“Love is not a whim. Love is not a flower that fades with a few fleeting years. Love is a choice wedded to action, my husband, and I choose you, and I will choose you every day for the rest of my life.” -Brent Weeks, The Blinding Knife
“A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.” -Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant
“I guess each of us, at some time, finds one person with whom we are compelled towards absolute honesty, one person whose good opinion of us becomes a substitute for the broader opinion of the world. And that opinion becomes more important than all our sneaky, sleazy schemes of greed, lust, self-aggrandizement, whatever we are up to while lying the world into believing we are just plain nice folks.” -Glen Cook,Shadow Games
“Love is like recognition. It’s the moment when you catch sight of someone and you think There is someone I have business with in this life. There is someone I was born to know.” –Daniel Abraham, Rogues
“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.” -Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni
“I have known you since the world was born. Everything you are is what you should be. Everything you should be is what you are. I know all of you, and there is nothing in you I do not love.” -Matthew Woodring Stover, Caine’s Law
“He’d told me the world could be the most lovely place you could imagine, so long as your imagination was fueled by love.” -Sebastien de Castell, Knight’s Shadow
“The heart is neither given nor stolen. The heart surrenders.” -Steven Erikson, House of Chains
“How can you regret never having found true love? That’s like saying you regret not being born a genius. People don’t have control over such things. It either happens or it doesn’t. It’s a gift – a present that most never get. It’s more like a miracle, really, when you think of it. I mean, first you have to find that person, and then you have to get to know them to realize just what they mean to you – that right there is ridiculously difficult. Then… then that person has to feel the same way about you. It’s like searching for a specific snowflake, and even if you manage to find it, that’s not good enough. You still have to find its matching pair. What are the odds?” -Michael J. Sullivan, Heir of Novron
“He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called.” -Neil Gaiman, Stardust
“Well,” she said, “I should think it would do every man good to have a wife who isn’t as in awe of him as everyone else is. Somebody has to keep you humble.” – Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker
Today I am going to talk about something a little different. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I read a lot of books each year. Last year I read about 90 books (40 new releases and 50 older ones). Due to this, it actually matters a lot to my reading stamina to be careful about the order in which I read books. Reading fatigue is a real thing, and I try to make sure that I stagger books of different genre, topic, and quality to keep me from getting jaded. As such, there are a set of authors I keep in reserve as palate cleansers. These authors are my pinch hitters that I bring in when I know I need a book that is going to be good to get me out of a slump. Each of these authors has more than ten works to read and, while not every one their books is a 10/10, each of them can be depended on to be at least good.
Brandon Sanderson – You all knew it was coming, let’s just get him out of the way; Sanderson. I think Sanderson’s weakest novel is Elantris, a book I have on my best standalone fiction list. With Sanderson you always know you are going to get an inventive new magic system, lovable characters with humorous dialogue, an exciting and interesting plot, and timely release dates. Sanderson is just the most dependable author out there, and I don’t even bother to read his book blurbs anymore.
Peter Hamilton – A prolific science fiction writer who writes 1000 page books thick enough to be used as weapons. I find that Hamilton tends to inspire love/hate reactions to his work, but if you fall into the love category you will like everything he writes. He never ceases to amaze with new ideas and concepts that blow the mind. His books are always meticulously written, exploring every possible theoretical effect of things like inventing new technology on humanity. He is an expert in writing books that make science fiction worlds feel real, and despite being a slow read I have never regretted setting aside a month for one of his books.
Guy Gavriel Kay – Do you want to cry? Because you will if you read any Guy Gavriel Kay book. Much like Hamilton, Kay is a writer who creates slow, moving masterpieces that take a while to complete. However, where Kay distinguishes himself is in the deep emotional impact that is in every single one of his books. I have never read a Kay novel that didn’t immerse me fully in the story, and every one of his stories have the ability to play your emotions like an instrument. If you ever need to get in touch with your sensitive side or want an emotional roller coaster, Kay can provide.
China Miéville – Or sometimes you just really want something different. China Miéville’s work is so different from everyone else, that I often just categorize him as his own genre. However, while many authors sit in the realm of weird, Miéville is the only one I have read to never sacrifice quality in the pursuit of being different. Every Miéville book will transport you to an unrecognizable world with strange rules and people, but you will never feel lost or overwhelmed as he guides you through his perverse landscapes. If you want to try one of his books, just read the backs of a few and grab whatever catches your fancy – you will not be disappointed.
David Gemmell – The worst part about these last two, is that the both tragically passed away and cannot grace the world with any more of their stunning work. While some of the authors above are my go to’s for long sweeping tales, Gemmell is the king of short and sweet. And while his books may be shorter, they sacrifice nothing in terms of quality. Gemmell is the king of classical fantasy, each book transporting me back to my childhood and the joy that came when you first heard someone describe a medieval battle. Gemmell’s writing is like a sword slash: simple, effective, and devastatingly powerful to those on the receiving end. His reimagining of the Odyssey and the Iliad turned books I could never penetrate into some of my favorite reads. His characters are some of the most memorable I have ever read, and I never regret taking a detour from my planned reading to spend a day or two in the Drenai Saga.
Terry Pratchett – The one and only. Terry Pratchett’s work never ceases to amazing me. In many fantasy novels, there is a weird mysterious character that is strange but always seems to know everything. I think all of them are based on Pratchett. Every one of his books manage to be both so funny I can’t read them in a quiet library, and so wise that I feel like he and Confucius would have been peers. Pratchett has been teaching me lessons since I was a teenager, and I still think he is teaching me lessons as I read him in my late 20’s. His books can often have a eye opening or life changing effect on the reader who is wise enough to pick one up. I am sad every single time I look at my bookshelf that he is not around to continue sharing his wisdom.
The time has come for ‘Best of 2015’ threads and to reflect on all the wonderful books I enjoyed over the year. This piece will address my top 10 reads published in 2015, but is missing some of the amazing older books I read throughout the year. I read roughly 80 books this year, about half of which (40) were published in 2015, and the following books are my top picks. I found the new releases this year surprisingly less powerful than many sequels. Last year I gave over half the top 10 spots to new releases, whereas this year only three made the cut. It has been a year of very powerful sequels, in particular second installments of series. With that said, let’s talk about some of 2015’s gems and please note that some of the blurbs link to my full reviews of the books.
10) Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien De Castell – one of my top five books from 2014 was Traitor’s Blade, the first of the Greatcoat series, for its incredible humor, emotional impact, and great cast. The follow-up, Knight’s Shadow, was a great addition that explored some large growth in the trinity of main characters, while still keeping the same powerful voice and tone from book one. The plot evolved nicely and the general quality of the book stayed consistent with Traitor’s Blade, but there was slightly less emotional impact in the second novel. With two demonstrations of consistent talent I am eagerly awaiting De Castell’s third entry, Saint’s Blood, in 2016.
9) The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – The first of the three entries on the list to not be sequels. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a story of cultural warfare and a young girl whose home is eaten by an oppressive republic in her youth. To fight back, she becomes a cog in the great machine that is the republic and tries to bring it down from the inside. While suffering from some pacing issues, The Traitor Baru Cormorant brought a ton of new ideas to fantasy warfare and is a very different journey than your typical fare. The book has a fast pace start and end, but suffers a little in the middle. Regardless I am looking forward to more from Seth Dickinson.
8) Twelve Kings in Sharakhaiby Bradley P. Beaulieu – The first of a new epic fantasy based in an Arabian setting. The story follows a girl named Cena, a gladiator in Sharakhai, as she tries to survive in an incredible city ruled by twelve kings in the center of a desert. The book had a very slow start but picked up pace rapidly after the first 20%, continuing all the way to the last page. With Bradley having found his groove I cannot wait to pick up the sequel to see where the story will go.
7) The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis – I read a lot of good historical fiction this year, with The Mechanical taking the win by a small margin. With its original setting, steampunk science, and character growth it was a refreshing read that distinguishes it from its competition. The story of The Netherlands and France has had me looking for historical fiction of a wider subject than WWII or England. The sequel, The Rising, releases next week and I will be picking it up immediately.
6) The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan – The only finale to make the list, The Autumn Republic finished off a series I don’t feel close to done with yet. McClellan’s world is gigantic, and with the close of this series I feel like we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Despite the ending feeling a little too quick, McClellan has finished a series to be proud of that maintains a high quality and exciting ride the entire way through.
5) Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey – The Expanse novels are rapidly becoming my favorite purchase every summer (as they are released consistently every year in June). This series has now released five out of its nine novels and I have been blown away every single time. Every novel follows new perspectives, new challenges, and pushes the conflicts to new heights. I do not know how Ty Franik and Daniel Abraham are going to top the levels of panic and excitement Nemesis Games gave me, but I have said that about every single release. The books continue to both be a continuation of the greater series, and almost completely self contained at the same time. If you haven’t picked up any of The Expanse series yet, or have been waiting to read more, I highly encourage you to do so.
4) Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – Published early in the year, lots of people have overlooked this sleeper. Steelheart, a novel about powerless humans hunting super heroes, was a surprise hit with me. I decided to read it on a whim, despite not loving the premise, and was blown away by the result. That being said, the first novel was very self contained and reached a pretty definite conclusion at the end, giving me a lot of concern where Sanderson was going to take the series or if it could remain good. The fact that Firefight is so much better than Steelheart was very hard to process at first. Sanderson takes his winning formula from book one, and makes it deeper, more intense, and simply a lot cooler. Sanderson’s talent for weird magic is on point with his collection of interesting super powers and the plot has a lot more emotional weight than it did in book one. The finale, Calamity, comes out next February and is one of my most anticipated books for 2016.
3) The Price of Valour by Django Wexler – The Shadow Campaigns keeps creeping up my lists the more and more I think about it. The third installment of five, The Price of Valour is proof that Wexler can learn from his mistakes and has no shortage of imagination. The Thousand Names, Wexler’s debut, was an incredible flintlock fantasy about a remote military campaign that was fast, exciting, and surprising complex. Its sequel, The Shadow Throne, was an attempt to expand the world from the first book and double the cast. While The Shadow Throne had a metric ton of new things I liked, it also felt like it lacked the exciting pace and style of Wexler’s Debut;however, The Price of Valour has it all. With the pacing and intensity of book one, and the amazing cast from book two, the third Shadow Campaign novel is the strongest so far and continues to unravel the gigantic web of mystery that covers the series.
2) Half the World by Joe Abercrombie – Half the World is the strangest book on this list to me. The second novel of The Shattered Seas trilogy, it stands miles above its prequel and sequel. Half a King (book one) and Half a War (book three) were both good Abercrombie novels (for those of you who know what that means) but neither is close to the level of Half the World. The second novel follows two perspectives, Brand and Thorn, that play off of one another in a truly magical way. It is the story of two people finding their place in the world, realizing who they are, and going on a journey. I have never seen better use of multiple perspective and the book led me on a emotional roller coaster from start to finish. This book is definitely one of Abercrombie’s finest pieces of writing.
1) Golden Son by Pierce Brown – Red Rising is a really enjoyable book. It simultaneously steals all the things that are good from series like The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Ender’s Game while also creating both an imaginative and original setting and an exciting plot. It could simultaneously be described as a guilty pleasure, and an imaginative look as space colonization and class segregation. Red Rising had a pretty damn good thing going for it at the end of book one, and sets itself up to just reuse the incredibly powerful formula again in the sequel Golden Son… and then Pierce Brown decided to throw all of that momentum out the window and go in a completely different direction. The result is a book that felt like a massively different experience from Red Rising with the connecting theme being that both books are incredibly good. I was so confused as to why Pierce Brown would ditch his Red Rising gold mine until I was 10% in and read the entire book in one sitting. This book made me feel like a child again, discovering the wonder of reading for a first time and blowing my mind at every twist and turn. The finale, Morning Star, comes out in February and I highly recommend you check the series out.
I am a sucker for huge sweeping stories. Two of my all time favorite series are The Black Company and Malazan. At about 10 books each, they are masterpieces of world building, plot intricacies, and character development. But they are not good because they are long; they are good despite being overly long. One of the largest criticisms in Sci-fi and (in particular) Fantasy is that books often are just unnecessarily long and that authors waste too much time filling space when they could have had a much better book had it been shortened to a smaller installment. While there are a large number of fantastic trilogies and series, there are a number of standalones that show that an incredible story can still be accomplished in a much smaller package. Any of the books below are worth checking out and will take you a fraction of the time of a larger series.
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson – There were once divine beings in the city of Elantris, god like entities that could accomplish anything. However, one day the city fell and took its inhabitants with it. Elantris is the story of a paradise turned hell. The glowing divine city suddenly became corrupt and now instead of divine powers it’s inhabitants are granted cursed immortality. They cannot die, but nor do they heal. Any damage done to the body stays, along with the pain. The citizens of Elantris now slowly go insane due to the unrelenting pain they are forced to endure. Occasionally random outsiders will be “blessed” with ascension into the new city. However, with the city’s fall from glory, the blessing has become a death sentence.
The story of Elantris follows a few different characters, but most importantly it shows the story of a newly risen Elantrian named Raoden and the start of his life in the disgraced city. Raoden’s attempts to survive in, and solve the mysteries of, Elantris are fascinating. In addition, the other characters provide a lovely political backdrop to support Raoden’s story and flesh out the creative world. It is a story of tenacity, mystery, and creativity that will have you hooked from page one.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – The future is crap and we ruined the world, but there is still Facebook and World of Warcraft, so who cares? In a post apocalyptic future, humanity has ruined the world but created the ultimate coping mechanism: Oasis. Oasis is part virtual reality, part social media, and part game. It is a tool designed to help people cope with the wasteland that has become their world and provide an escape. The popularity of Oasis has made its creator the richest man in the world – and on his death he left his entire inheritance to whoever can find it hidden inside Oasis.
The story is about the greatest scavenger hunt of all time and a boy who wants it more than anyone. If you have a sense of adventure, like retro videogames, or are looking for something uplifting then this is a good for you. The book is extremely exciting and fun and has a sense of glee that regardless of age will sweep you along for a ride. The scavenger hunt is also in the form of a variety of retro games, so if you are both a reader and a gamer this book with hit a sweetspot.
The Forever War/Armor by Joe Haldeman/John Steakley – First off I am aware there is a sequel to The Forever War, you can pretend it doesn’t exist. These two books by different authors both speak on the same idea: the horror that is war. Both books are about a humanity who has made it to space and is basking in its newfound intergalactic glory. Both books show a humanity that starts space wars for bad reasons (a commentary on the Vietnam War). While both books cover almost all the same aspects of war, they have slightly different focuses.
The Forever War chooses to focus on the pointlessness of war. In this story the combatants are sent light years away from home to fight a war on distant front lines. The problem is that the travel time takes so long that by the time they arrive, the war has changed. The soldiers sign-up, and leave their homes and families who will be long dead and gone by the time they get back. Both the books do a great job of giving you the helplessness of a soldier. In Forever War, the time skips between war fronts are constantly giving soldiers the feeling that despite the horrors they experienced they have accomplished nothing in the long run.
On the other hand Armor chooses to focus on the psychological destruction of soldiers who are trapped on hellish foreign battlefields. Soldiers in this war are wrapped in powerful war machines called armor to help them survive. The armor keeps the soldiers alive in hostile terrain, boosts their combat ability, and most importantly doesn’t let them quit. Armor shows the wear-and-tear on the emotional state of soldiers as they are forced to repeatedly go into combat that they can tell is wrong on a variety of levels, but never quit. The strain on the mind is vividly described and makes you question the worth of the horrors soldiers experience.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Disclaimer, this book is about as standalone as the original Lord of the Rings book is (it was originally sold as 1 novel). The book is huge, but it is both technically standalone and fantastic so I feel the need to bring it up.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a historical fiction set in England during the Napoleonic wars. The story follows two English gentlemen in an age where magic is dead. Once long ago, magic was freely practiced as a pastime, but overtime died off until it ceases to exist. Norrell is the world’s last practicing magician and Strange is the first new magician to enter the world in ages. The story follows them as they work both together and individually to return magic to England and to win the war against Napoleon.
This is a weird book to recommend because for some it will be their favorite book, and for others it will be “not their thing”. However, either way the book accomplishes some pretty daring things. For starters the setting, prose, and history is very well done and beautiful to read but the big draw to this book is it is written as an actual history book. By this I mean, the book has footnotes out the wazoo referring to fake other texts, it has citations from fake historical magicians in the world, and it is written in the historical narrative perspective. As someone who just spent a lot of time in graduate school it was incredible to see a book that so well mimicked an academic text in fantasy form and really pumped up my enjoyment of the book. For others, they will read it and have no idea why this style is so appealing to weirdos like me.
Any Standalone by Guy Gavriel Kay – Guy Gavriel Kay has a variety of plots amongst his plethora of standalone novels, but they all have a similar overarching feel: far eastern fantasy with a hard hitting emotional journey. Guy Gavriel Kay wins the author award for getting me to cry in the shortest period of time in a book. I feel like an apt comparison is his books feel like the move Up by Pixer: utterly heartbreaking but incredibly uplifting at the same time. The books take on a slower and more dramatic pace, but the amount they accomplish in their short stories is nothing short of extraordinary.
Many people often read popular fantasy books and question why they appeal to such a wide audience. While obviously no book will appeal to everyone, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what makes some of these series so impressive to many people.
Joe Abercrombie has an incredible talent for writing real people. His characters all live and breathe in the story and act as normal people would instead of formulaic characters or catalysts who just are there to move the plot forward. They learn from their mistakes, grow-up, don’t always do the right thing and generally feel like people you could meet on the street instead of two dimensional characters from a book.
Abercrombie’s books are very popular with more veteran fantasy readers who have seen a lot of tropes time and time again (not that there is anything wrong with tropes). He has a way of writing an age old story in a way that no one has done before. I recently read Half the World and despite the story being similar to other books I have read, Abercrombie tells it in such a rich and vivid way that I feel like I am experiencing the true version of the story for the first time. He also writes some of the best combat scenes in the genre. Every fight feels memorable and is so much more than just two guys beating at each other with swords.
Few people really understand what they are getting into when they start Gardens of the Moon. Malazan has an absolutely INSANE scope, size, and worldbuilding. You know when you read something like Game of Thrones, and they talk all about Westeros, and they do some hand waving and say “yea there are other continents out there/empires etc but who cares?” Malazan does the opposite of that. Erikson creates a world where literally every culture and people is fleshed out (not to mention some pretty non-standard races and species). It often overwhelms people because it is like trying to explain every culture and history on the planet to an alien who just landed on earth. Gardens of the Moon is throws you into the story but as you continue, the context and world become more clear. The story is meticulously planned out so that despite being enormous in scope, it all weaves together beautifully.
But with such a huge world you would expect it to be too hard to develop more than a few meaningful characters right? Except not at all. Malazan has more of my favorite characters in fantasy than literally every other series I have ever read combined. It is a phone book of astoundingly interesting characters who are all incredibly varied. An interesting side note is that the female characters are often regarded as some of the best written in fantasy because the books do not care about what your gender is, just what you can accomplish. Added to all of this is a great plot that is exciting and thought provoking.
The Name of the Wind has 3 components that make it great. First, the prose is astoundingly good. Rothfuss has a talent for beautiful writing and certainly meets the standard of George RR Martin that people have grown used to in the wake of his popularity. Second, the story is both incredibly long and extremely exciting. This is not a book where he spends hundreds of pages building to an exciting moment. Instead, this is a book where he is using an exciting moment to get to the next exciting moment. This is the kind of book where you need to tell a friend to take the book from you at a certain time because it is very difficult to put down. Third, and possibly most importantly, Rothfuss does not waste words. There is a scene I remember vividly that demonstrates this perfectly. At some point Kvothe needs to take a boat trip, and it literally lasts a page. It says something like:
“All you need to know about the journey is I got on a boat, some things happened on the way, and I ended up at my destination without any possessions and very wet”
Rothfuss’ ability to know when to not spend 80 pages explaining something boring is what makes the book so addicting. Also, for added measure the world is pretty cool and the magic pretty awesome.
So taste is very subjective, but this is the only book on this list that if you do not like I am going to assume there is something wrong with you. This is quite literally the funniest series I have ever read. These books are such a good time that I had to stop reading them on the train because I sounded like a psychopath as I fell to pieces laughing.
Locke and Jean’s dialogue is just amazing. The books are infinitely quotable because almost every dialogue, internal monologue, or stray description is enough to make you laugh out loud. On top of this, the series follows thieves and their high jinks, something sorely lacking in the world of fantasy. The plot is interesting and versatile and the storytelling uses both the past and present simultaneously to teach you about the characters upbringing and show you how it shaped their present day actions. If you want to just feel good and smile (and occasionally cry) these are the books for you.
Sanderson is hard to define. I will say short and sweet because I am not that sure what to say. Sanderson is kind of incredible. He churns out books at an ALARMING rate, and while they are not always the first time any story has been told, they certainly hold their own. His books are all above average in quality on almost any possible metric (plot, character, world, prose, etc.) and all have his spark in them. I have yet to find a writer who can make me stand up and shout “YES” the way Sanderson can. Every book he writes provokes emotions and connection that other books grasp at.
Way of Kings in particular achieves this in droves. It is hard to put my finger on it but the book is just epic: the plot is exciting, the trials excruciating, the triumphs exciting, the defeats heart-wrenching. Even when an event is predictable you are still excited to hear Sanderson write it for you. He is a writer to inspire you and put a fire in your heart.