Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book review: Mistborn

I just finished reading Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson.  It had been lurking in my to read pile for an obscenely long time, and I figured four years was about as long as I could reasonably put it off.  The verdict?  I'm a fool!  I could have spent years living a life enriched by this book and I missed out on them for no good reason whatsoever.  Actually it was a very good reason.  I was afraid I'd love them and decide that I needed to read all Sanderson's books.  If I had to read all his books, I would then have to read the Wheel of Time and I have a wildly irrational fear of Robert Jordan's life's work.

The thing that finally got me over my ridiculous procrastination was an offhanded remark in a review I was reading (TOR has signed him to write two more books in the series which reminded me I needed to read them) "What happens when the hero of prophecy fails?".  For whatever reason in all of my conversations about this book (there were many) no one seemed to find that plot point relevant.  I'll confess that I'm still a bit perplexed at how dozens of people managed to skip that tiny fact (I roll my eyes here), because fantasy is at its core, a very simple formula.

A hero and his companions (there are almost always companions, a good hero knows that he needs help) go on a quest (usually involving a magical jewel or talisman) to fight a tyrannical evil (who might have minions, but never companions, he doesn't think anyone can do something better than him. This is typically his undoing).  Said hero, with the aid of his aforementioned noble companions, will defeat his evil foe, often saving a beautiful girl in the process, and will then live happily ever after.  This isn't a set in stone formula, but it's pretty much the core of the fantasy genre.

Over the years authors have certainly strayed from the formula.  Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley both gave their magic talismans to girls.  Terry Brooks sucked a man out of our world and gave him a magic kingdom, before he started following the designated path of a fantasy series.  But over all most authors stick to the Tolkien approach.  Even the most devoted Magic Card loving, D&D playing, David Eddings loving, fantasy geek can only read so many books with the same overall plot.  When I first picked up The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, I couldn't wrap my head around the protagonist's tales of growing up with loving parents.  Didn't Pat know that all heroes must be orphans?  It made us root for them.

All that is what finally made me read Mistborn.  A world that had been failed by its hero and suffered under an evil overlord for a millennium was just the thing to cleanse my literary palate.  It also got me thinking.  Right now is a really great time to be a fantasy reader.  Game of Thrones kicked the door wide open for non-traditional fantasy novels to make it onto bookstore shelves.  Whether its a change in location brought to you in The Lies of Locke Lamora (no knights and castles in this one, think renaissance Venice instead), Rothfuss and The Name of the Wind's assault on every fantasy trope out there, or Sanderson mocking everything fantasy readers hold dear by giving us a world where the bad guy won, things have certainly changed in mainstream fantasy.

It's refreshing to step away from tradition, even more so when the book doing the stepping is well written, and fun to read.  Any suggestions as to what I should read next?

New copies of Mistborn and Name of the Wind are available at Broken In Books in mass market paperback for $7.99 each plus tax. Anything else mentioned in this blog post can always be ordered or may be available used.

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