Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

For my review of The Black Prism, click here.
For my review of The Blinding Knife, click here.

And for my review of the book I just finished. I enjoyed the first two books in the series, but this one blew them away. The plot developments just kept on coming. Weeks sprinkled his characteristic action throughout, and then as usual things exploded at the end.

Too often, I've made the mistake of comparing this series to his Night Angel trilogy. But I need to let it stand on its own. It's not the same kind of story, and it's great in its own right. That has actually led me to reevaluate my feelings on the first two books.

As I've said before, the magic system is really great (even if it was a bit cumbersome in the first book). This book also reduces the amount of magical training time, which is a good thing.

Once again, you see more development out of Kip. This book also focuses a lot on Teia, including the introduction of the organization that gives the book its name. There's a lot of tension in this storyline, and in all the others. I also loved the sections from Gavin's point of view. His plot is probably the least interesting, but his character is just so interesting to read about. I also must say that Andross Guile makes one of the most compelling antagonists I've ever read

There were a lot of great developments toward the end of this book that have me looking forward to the next one. Too bad it won't be out until 2016. I'm not sure I can wait that long.

Rating: 9.5/10

Book Review: The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

For my review of The Black Prism, click here.

I just finished The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (the third in his Lightbringer trilogy), so I thought I'd review the second. This won't be too in-depth because it's been a while since I read it. I've forgotten many of the specifics.

Overall, this is a very good book and a worthy followup to The Black Prism. We get to see how the characters grow and develop from what they were in the first book. Most noticeable are the changes in Kip. He becomes a much stronger character (and loses some weight). However, his storyline did drag a bit for me. There was a lot of training in magic and battles, which got tedious after a while.

The end of the book saved it, though. Even those training parts weren't bad. They just weren't as action-packed as I expected from Weeks. At the end, there was a massive battle. It was great, and the developments at the end definitely leave you wanting to read more. They're not quite cliffhangers, but they're pretty close (just so you're warned).

Overall, I really liked this book, especially the second half of it.

Rating: 9/10

You can find my review of The Broken Eye (book 3) here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham

This is a series I read a while back, but I think it's worth mentioning. Abraham is one of the more talented writers in the fantasy field today. Although his stories aren't normally my preferred type of fantasy, I enjoy them because he writes them so skillfully. His characters are living, breathing people. His settings come to life.

In this series, his setting is especially vibrant. It has a sort of Asian feel to it, and the magic system is very interesting. It can be a bit hard to adjust to at first, though. In this world, poets bind creatures called andats, which are actually physical manifestations of an idea. It took me until about book three to fully grasp what was going on with this, and I'll admit the first book was a bit of a struggle.

After that, though, the series kept getting better. It's interesting, too, in that it is not one continuous story over a short period of time. Rather, it consists of separate stories following some of the same characters at different stages in their lives. There is some connection plot-wise, but a lot of what ties these stories together comes from the characters, who really drive these stories.

A note on Abraham's characters. Many authors have their characters start at some point on the good/evil spectrum. Abraham, however, tends to have everyone start out pretty neutral. Then they develop over the course of the story. That's part of what's interesting here: watching the characters grown and change.

Another plus: these stories can be epic in scope, but they're not terribly long like a lot of epic fantasy. If you're a fan of political and economic fantasy, you'll probably enjoy these even more than I did.

However, as I mentioned, the first book was a bit of a struggle, mainly because the setting and magic system are a big adjustment. Also, there are some slow spots in the plot. Overall, this series is a good read and definitely worth looking into. Abraham's other series, The Dagger and the Coin, is pretty good too (though it's more of a traditional fantasy).

Rating: 8/10

Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

For my review of The Thousand Names, click here.

I read this one in August, and it was a great read. I liked The Thousand Names, but I loved this one. It must be noted, however, that it is not the same kind of book. The first in the series was a military fantasy, and while the second has some of those elements toward the end, it is not a military fantasy.

Instead, it focuses on matters closer to home. Away from the front lines, revolution is simmering. It's different, and that might actually be what makes it better.

We stick with Marcus and Winter, but we also add the POV of Princess Raesinia, who's a pretty awesome character with some interesting stuff going on magically. In addition, we finally meet the much-talked-about Jane. It's interesting to watch how Winter's relationship with her develops in this book.

While we leave behind some of the stuff from the first book, the new stuff Wexler brings in more than makes up for it. And I trust that we'll see some of the first book's plot lines come back into play in the third.

Overall, this is a great read. Even without as much of the military action, there's still plenty of action and generally fast pacing. I highly recommend it, even if you weren't sure about the first book.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

For my review of Promise of Blood, click here.

The Crimson Campaign is the second book in Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy. It starts where its predecessor left off. I won't give away any spoilers, but things were not resolved as neatly as they appeared to be at the end of book 1. If anything, they've gotten even worse.

In this book, McClellan continues to do well all the things he did well in the first book. The pacing is great. The characters are likeable and interesting. The magic system remains fascinating. This one has much more of a military angle to it, though. In the first one, there was some of that with Tamas and Taniel, but their stories are now mostly based around the military action.

That gives McClellan the perfect opportunity to show off his fantastic magic system in action. In addition to action, there are many twists and turns to the plot. I mentioned that I took a while to connect with the characters in the first book, but I started this book connected with them. And that connection only grew deeper.

McClellan is rapidly turning into one of my favorite epic fantasy authors. I love the alternative setting. It recalls a lot of the great things about epic fantasy, but it feels new and fresh. Great read.

Rating: 9.5/10

Crutch Words (Part 1)

Here's a writing advice post for today. It involves what I like to call crutch words. These are those words that you use too often, words that generally weaken your writing. Since I'm in the middle of editing on Sunweaver (I'm getting closer and closer to querying), I've been paying special attention to these words.

What are some of the biggest culprits:

Adverbs: This isn't going to be an "adverbs are evil" kind of post. Adverbs, like any other part of writing, can be a useful tool in the writer's toolbox. What I'm referring to here is the unnecessary use of adverbs. Let's show a quick example of what I'm talking about (from Sunweaver).

Deril hit his head softly against the floor.

Here, I'm using this as the final part of him praying. In revisions, I decided this wasn't what I intended. What did I mean by having him hit his head softly? I knew I needed more precision, so I changed it to this:

Deril touched his head to the floor.

Not only did this eliminate the adverb. It was a more accurate description. I don't want my reader to think Deril hits his head against the floor like some kind of masochist. Yes, that would be an interesting character, but that's not what I'm going for.

Just, Only, Simply, Really, Very (special cases of adverbs): I decided to put these adverbs in their own special post because they're particularly troublesome. It's okay to use them in dialogue, but in narration, you need to carefully evaluate every instance. Ask yourself if the word is adding anything?

I singled these out because I found they were especially prevalent in my writing. Not so much for very, but the others were there in abundance. Sometimes they validated their existence, but not always. A good test is to delete the word and read the sentence. If you don't lose any meaning, you don't need the adverb.

Another one to keep a special eye on is probably. It has its places, especially if you want to indicate doubt for your POV character, but in other places, it can weaken the writing. Part of the writer's job is precision. You need to use the right words to express what you intend in the shortest space possible.

Even, Still, Again: These are more words I struggle with. Once again, there's nothing bad about these words, but they often are not necessary. You don't need to mention all the time that someone's doing something again, or that they're still doing that thing. In fact, that might be a sign that you're getting repetitive in your writing.

Even is another one that often is not necessary. It's great for occasional emphasis, but if you're seeing it show up four or five times a page, you might want to reconsider how often you're using it.

This post is getting kind of long, so I'll save the rest for another post. Feel free to respond to this post with your crutch words and how you've handled them during the editing process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

I just finished this one, so I thought I'd do a short review on it. As a writer who writes primarily epic fantasy, I've long admired Tad Williams's ability to build interesting worlds with characters I want to root for. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and Shadowmarch are both series I've loved. In science fiction, he wrote the Otherland series, another one of my favorites. I also enjoyed his standalone The War of the Flowers.

This one, however, is an urban fantasy. I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I'm always a little worried with urban fantasy because I (unfairly) compare everything to Jim Butcher. Did Tad Williams measure up to Butcher? No. Was it still a great story? Yes.

In this book, Williams present us with an urban fantasy world where Heaven and Hell exist. Our main character, Bobby Dollar (or the angel Doloriel), is an advocate for departed souls. That is, he argues their case to get into Heaven. Of course, he also ends up being drawn into a vast conspiracy involving some of the major players from both Heaven and Hell.

One thing I noticed here was that Williams didn't take as long to get going as I'm accustomed to. While I love Williams's series as a whole, the first books are often a chore to get through. Not this time, though. This one wasn't all setup for another story (though it's clear there's more to come). It featured a plot that moved pretty quickly, though there were still a few slow sections. There was also some good action, and we got to it more quickly than usual with Williams.

Overall, I'm very interested in the world Williams created (as I always am). It actually felt like something I haven't seen before, and eventually I was able to abandon my urge to compare every urban fantasy to Jim Butcher.

Now, I really liked this book, but I see that it's gotten mixed reviews.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

I read this book either late last year or early this year. I've since read the sequel. This is another gunpowder fantasy, but you'll find it's not much like McClellan's Promise of Blood. Wexler crafted his own story, focusing primarily on a military plot. In it, he gives us well-drawn characters and some good action, especially toward the end. At times, the plot bogs down a bit, but there's always some interesting mystery hanging in the background, as well as the promise of action.

This is a good read for fans of military fantasy, and for people who want to see some non-medieval fantasy. Overall, I liked it. It's not at the top of my list, but it's a good read, and you should read it.

I found I liked the sequel much better. Not that I didn't like The Thousand Names. It just took me a while. I might have a review of The Shadow Throne up soon.

Rating: 8/10

For my review of the second book, The Shadow Throne, click here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher.

Most fantasy readers are familiar with Jim Butcher because of The Dresden Files. That's one of my favorite series in its own right, but I also love the Codex Alera series, his epic fantasy.

One of the most interesting things about the series is the history behind it. At one point, Butcher challenged someone to give him the two stupidest ideas he could think of, and then Butcher would write an epic fantasy combining those ideas. The ideas were the lost Roman legion and Pokemon.

So Butcher came up with the land of Alera, a Rome-inspired nation where the magic system revolves around furies (his adaptation of the Pokemon idea). While the furies are elemental in nature, Butcher's version of elemental magic felt fresh and exciting. The most refreshing part of it is that the main hero, Tavi, lacks the ability to use this magic when everyone around him can.

I won't go into too much detail here, but I will say this is a strong contender for my favorite epic fantasy series ever. I loved rooting for the characters. There was a ton of action, as you'd expect from Butcher. Some people think the pacing was a bit off in the first book (too fast at times), but I didn't mind it. I have no issue with frenetic pacing. It keeps me reading.

The stakes are always high in this, and it's just plain fun to read. Maybe it's not the deepest fantasy out there, but if you're looking for some fun fantasy with a lot of battles, magic, and military action, this is a great read.

Rating: 10/10 (Yes, I loved the series that much.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Glenda Larke's The Last Stormlord is a book that I feel has been vastly underrated. It's not as well-known as the other books I've reviewed here, but it's still a great book.

One of the things that stands out most is the setting. It's in a desert. There's no medieval Europe here. Larke gave us a well-crafted setting and a great magic system that goes hand-in-hand with that setting. In fact, her marriage of setting and magic was partially my inspiration for Sunweaver. I created an entirely different kind of setting, but I used similar principles. That is, I crafted a setting that is harsh, where only the magic keeps the people alive.

With the setting being a desert, Larke wisely chose to craft her magic system around water. Naturally, those who are water sensitives are the prosperous in society, especially if they're Rainlords or Stormlords. Conversely, the Waterless suffer, relying entirely on water sensitives for their survival. This dynamic creates a harsh, highly stratified society, and that's great for conflict.

As for the characters, there are some common tropes. In Shale and Terrelle, we have two characters who start out as the poorest of the poor, with no hint of their powers. As any avid fantasy reader knows, they're going to go on to great things. For some, this might be a flaw, but I've always been a sucker for underdog stories. I also think these characters have more depth and personality than many others who adhere to this trope. They were characters I couldn't help but root for.

I thought the plot was good, especially toward the end when things really got rolling. However, it does get slow at times. That's where your enjoyment will depend on how well you've connected with the characters. Because I connected with them, I didn't mind some slower sections. This book is, I think, more character-driven than many of the others on my list. The plot is important, no doubt, but a lot of the book is seeing how the characters grow and how they react to difficult situations.

Part of the reason I thought this was a great book was because it actually had me in tears at the end. There aren't many books that do that, and those that do usually make it into my favorites list. I won't give away anything, though.

One more note: I thought the character Taquar was a great antagonist.

Rating: 9/10

Fantasy Reading List: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Currently, I'm reading The Broken Eye, the third book in Brent Weeks's Lightbringer series, so I thought it would be a good time to write a quick review of The Black Prism, the first book in the series. It's been a while since I read it, so this review won't include too many details.

I originally discovered Brent Weeks back in 2012  when I read The Way of Shadows. It became one of my favorite fantasy reads, and I devoured the rest of that series. I also decided to give his newer Lightbringer series a chance, and I'm glad I did. While I won't say The Black Prism is as good as his Night Angel trilogy, it's still a very good book and definitely worth reading. Some readers actually prefer this series, and I'll admit his writing is better. I'm not quite as invested in the story, though.

Weeks's greatest strength is his pacing. He writes epic fantasy like it's a thriller. This was especially the case in Night Angel, which I will also review at some point. In The Black Prism, you begin with the same action-packed, quick pacing, but then it slows down as Weeks develops the characters and the world. This is a thing a lot of fantasy fans like, but it surprised me a bit after Night Angel.

However, it gives Weeks the opportunity to show his growth as a writer. Night Angel was great fun, but it's really pretty simple stuff when you look at it more closely. The characters didn't get a ton of development, and the world was left a bit bare at times. In The Black Prism, you get a very different approach as Weeks moves more toward Brandon Sanderson in his style of storytelling. That is, you get more nuanced characters and a deeper world with an intricate magic system.

In this book, I got the feeling that Weeks was still feeling his way through this change in style, and that's why I didn't find it amazing, just very good. The interesting characters and intricate magic system kept me reading, and Weeks delivered with his trademark action scenes in the end.

Overall, this is a very good read and a promising start to a series.

Rating 9/10 (I've revised the rating because I really think it's worth a 9. I was comparing it too much to Night Angel, and it's a different story, great in its own right.)

For my review of The Blinding Knife, click here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

This is another one of my favorite recent epic fantasy reads. There are so many things that make it great. First and foremost is the way McClellan integrates gunpowder and magic into a magic system you've never seen before. On top of that, there's a ton of action and generally fast pacing. It took me a while to become attached to the characters, but once I did, I was all in.

Promise of Blood is set in a world with an 18th or 19th century feel. There has just been a French Revolution style conflict, with Field Marshal Tamas killing the corrupt king. At the beginning of the novel, we're dealing with the aftermath of this coup, which is a nice change of pace in fantasy. So often you see the revolution itself, and then the author acts like everything will be just fine, and everybody lives happily ever after. That is not the case here.

Throw in some conflict between nations and gods and you've got the recipe for a great story. McClellan manages it all very well. It's not a perfect book, but it's a great read.

Rating: 9/10

You can find my review of the second book in the series, The Crimson Campaign, here.

Fantasy Reading List: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Stavely

This is a book I read earlier this year. I wanted to write a review at the time but never got around to it. Overall, I'd say this was a very strong debut for Stavely. The plot had good bits of action and mystery. The characters were likeable. Stavely only scratched the surface of his world, but I saw a lot of potential there. While I can't point to any one thing that was phenomenal in this book, the sum total of all its elements was a very enjoyable read.

This book is primarily from the perspectives of the children of an assassinated emperor. We have Valyn, who is training with an elite group of soldiers. His plot features some good action and a lot of mystery. We also have Kaden, who is the heir to the throne. He is training with a group of monks in a remote location. I won't spoil the reasons for his training, though. That's a revelation in the book. His plot is a bit slower at first, but it's also got a good amount of action and mystery.

Of the three children, Adare, the daughter, gets the least page time. However, her story is very interesting in its own right, and I'd expect we'll see more of her in the coming books. Don't take this lack of focus on her to mean there aren't good female characters in this book. There are actually quite a few, especially in Valyn's plot line. They just aren't POV characters.

Now, the Goodreads description of the book says it's for fans of George RR Martin and Douglas Hulick, which seems an odd suggestion because I wouldn't compare this book to either of them. It's difficult for me to pin down to whom exactly it does compare. Sure, there are some echoes of Martin's influence, but it's really nothing like A Game of Thrones. A closer comparison might be Daniel Abraham (though The Emperor's Blades is faster-paced than much of Abraham's work). The biggest reason I can't compare it to Martin is the characters. Stavely's characters are more along the lines of Brandon Sanderson characters. Your heroes are generally good people.

Who knows? Maybe I should just stop trying to compare it. This book stands well on its own. It uses a lot of familiar fantasy elements, but the combination of them feels entirely original.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

First-person POV: Advantages and Disadvantages

This is the first in a series of posts on point of view.

Point of view is one of the writer's greatest tools, yet it is also one of the most abused. I can't count the number of times sloppy point of view has hindered my enjoyment of an otherwise good book. Now you're probably saying, "Come on. I know what point of view is. I learned all about first and third person in school."

Unfortunately, school doesn't prepare you for the realities of fiction writing. There's so much more to point of view than first and third person, and it's not something you just pick randomly. Every type of point of view has its advantages and disadvantages.

Let's take a deeper look.


On the surface, first-person is simple. You're writing it as if you're the character. This allows you to place the reader firmly in the head of that character. It also keeps you from engaging in one of the worst writing sins: headhopping.

However, first-person has its drawbacks. While you can write multiple first-person narrators in one book, it is not the most common of techniques, and it is very easy to get wrong. Those of you who've read Veronica Roth's Allegiant know what I mean. In the third book of the series, Roth moved from an effective one-narrator story to a two-narrator story. Unfortunately, I found that I had trouble telling the narrator's voices apart (even though they were of different genders). This detracted from the book.

This can be done well. For another YA example, you have The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Here, you have two separate first-person narrators, but it works. I had no trouble telling them apart.

So what's the moral here? Character voice is everything in first-person (whether you're doing one narrator or multiple).

In the case of one narrator, you want to make that narrator come to life through the way s/he narrates the story. The narrative itself is a huge part of characterization.

As an example of this, look at Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Part of the appeal of those stories is Harry Dresden as the narrator. You get a sense of him as a character through the way he relates the story. If Butcher had written the series in third person, I'm not sure it would have found the success it has. People like the occasional sarcastic remark from Dresden.

For a similar style of narration, but with some differences, you might look at Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. He has a character and story that, in many ways, remind you of Dresden. However, when I read each series, I find the narration is different enough that I get a sense of distinct characters telling their story in the way they know best.

Now, character voice does play a role in third-person POV, especially in deep third (which I'll get to in another post). But it's not the same as first-person at least for me. There's a closeness in first that you just don't get in third (in most cases). This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Let's take a look at some secondary-world fantasy examples:

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. In this, I found the first-person narration was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I really didn't want to be in Jorg's head. It's a scary place. On the other, getting into his head and hearing the words in his voice helps many readers identify with a character they would normally find despicable. Jorg also has a bit of an intellectual side, so he occasionally gets into some poetic language. It seems fitting, though.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. The majority of this story is in first-person POV from Kvothe's perspective. It's also a very different voice from Jorg's above. Kvothe is a much kinder, gentler narrator. While I loved the story, I never quite felt like it was really Kvothe telling it. It felt more like Rothfuss writing it from Kvothe's point of view. Maybe that's Kvothe's voice. It's just not a voice that really stood out to me.

And that's okay.

Too many people think the narrator's voice has to be intrusive, especially in first person. But an understated voice can be just as effective. The key is making sure it's the right voice for your character and the story you want to tell.

In short, first-person POV has a number of advantages. It helps keep you disciplined as a writer, sticking to one POV per scene.. It also allows for the narration itself to further characterization.

However, it can be difficult to get the narrator's voice right, especially if you're writing multiple narrators. And since I usually write with multiple POV characters, I prefer to stick with third person. If I ever come up with a story with just one narrator, though, don't be surprised if I choose first person. As I've said, there are distinct advantages.

Here's some other first-person secondary-world fantasy you might check out (not an exhaustive list):

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
The Black Company by Glen Cook
Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (it's partially in first, partially in third)

As you can probably gather from this list, first-person POV is not all that common in secondary-world fantasy. This is due, in part, to the epic nature of many secondary-world fantasies. The authors saw the potential pitfalls of multiple first-person narrators and chose the safer option of third person. That's not saying you can't write more POV characters in first person. It's just a risk as an author, and that's a choice you ultimately have to make.

Fantasy Reading List: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, Elantris was the first Brandon Sanderson book I ever read. Since then, he has established himself as one of my favorite authors.

Why was I attracted to Elantris?

1. It was a standalone (and not terribly long).
2. The concept was really cool. I mean, who doesn't want to read about a fantasy city that draws on the legend of Atlantis, but does it in a completely novel way in a secondary world?

This novel is probably the least polished of Sanderson's efforts. You can tell this was early in his professional writing career. But it's a great book nonetheless. I was sucked in immediately by the first line of the prologue.

Elantris was beautiful, once.

This captured my attention because of the final word, separated skillfully by a comma to emphasize it. As I read, I immediately wanted to know why it wasn't beautiful anymore. This is an author doing his job. There's a mystery here, and that's one great way of showing tension.

When I got to the first chapter, I was immediately sucked into Raoden's story. Why? Because of this opening line:

Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.

This line, although it might be seen as a break in POV, truly grabbed my attention. I didn't even know who this prince was, but I already felt for him. Being damned for all eternity sucks. A lot. Anyone can feel empathy for a character in that situation. Not to mention, it adds mystery and gets the plot rolling. Working through mysteries is one of Sanderson's strengths as a writer.

Now, to the rest of the book:

It has been more than two years since I've read the book, so I won't go into incredible detail here. However, I will mention what Sanderson did well (and what he didn't).

The good:

1. Sanderson created likeable characters. Note that I said likeable. For many readers, Raoden and Sarene are not perhaps the most interesting characters. But I know I liked them, and I wanted to root for them.

2. The main antagonist, Hrathen. He is not perhaps as likeable as the other two main characters, but he makes up for it by being one of the best villains I've ever read. I won't give away too much of the plot, but I'd describe him as a great example of an anti-villain.

3. The setting. The city of Elantris is one of the most interesting settings I've ever read in fantasy, and it has really stuck with me. It's a city where people, taken by a mysterious transformation, are doomed to live out eternity looking hideously disfigured. Not only that, but for every injury they suffer, their pain remains, building until they go insane. It's a city without order, where gangs rule the day. It's this chaos that Raoden seeks to correct once he is exiled there.

4. The magic. As you'd expect from Brandon Sanderson, the magic system is intricate, interesting, and integral to the plot (how's that for alliteration and consonance!). I've forgotten some of the details, but I remember the magic, which you discover later in the book, as a great mystery to unravel. Just like the city of Elantris itself.

5. The mystery. As I mentioned above, mysteries abound in this one. The city of Elantris is a mystery. The magic is a mystery. The character of Hrathen is a mystery. Sanderson achieves a well-developed balance of mystery, intrigue, and action that keeps you reading despite occasional rough patches in the writing itself.

6. The action. Through much of the book, you don't see big battles, but there is one at the end, and it's awesome. That's one of Sanderson's strenghts.

The bad:

1. The writing isn't as clean as Sanderson's later work.

2. The pacing is, at times, a little slow (but not terribly so).

3. The "interesting factor" for two of the MCs, as mentioned above.

As you can see, I can't find much bad to say about this. Elantris is one of those books that has really stuck with me. I loved it when I read it, and I still love it now. It's not perfect, but it's a highly entertaining read that every fantasy reader should at least give a chance.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why writers should read. A lot.

I have a confession to make. When I first started writing, I wasn't much of a reader. I had read and loved Harry Potter. Beyond that, though, I hadn't done much reading. I had fallen prey to the myth so many schools feed our children: reading is boring. Not a deliberate myth, but a persistent one. I read all these books I was supposed to like, and I found them mind-numbingly boring.

That, in part, was why I wanted to write. I wanted to do for other kids what J.K. Rowling did for me. That is, I wanted to write something exciting for kids to read instead of the boring stuff they had to read for school. Beyond Rowling, I had also read The Hobbit. So, with this limited amount of reading, I set out to write my first novel. It was pretty much a mish-mash of The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and Super Nintendo RPGs. Not only that, but the writing was bad. Really bad. This is something I've since reworked numerous times, finally arriving at something I can feel proud of.

For years, I continued as a writer. I improved, but not as much as I would have liked. My second project was a middle grade fantasy in which the Harry Potter influence was very apparent. I do plan to rework this, as there's a great story in there, but it still needs a lot of work.

Why were these stories not as good as I would have liked? Why was my writing not as smooth and polished as I would have liked? Because I wasn't reading enough. Too frequently, I sought my entertainment in video games. There's nothing wrong with that, even as a writer, but I should have found the time to read. Then, of course, I was so busy being a straight-A student through high school and college. I did a ton of reading for my classes. I didn't want to do more during my free time.

It wasn't until my senior year of college, after a failed attempt at querying one of my novels, that I realized I needed to change something. Looking back, I shudder to think that I queried something at that stage. It was no wonder I got nothing but no responses and form rejections. It simply wasn't ready. When I realized this, I set myself a task. I was going to read a lot. A difficult task, I thought at first, realizing how much I'd hated most of what I read for school.

There were few exceptions to this. The Hobbit. 1984. Brave New World. Most of the books I read for my science fiction class first-semester my senior year of college. That class, in part, gave me the belief that I did enjoy reading. I just had to choose carefully what I read. All my writing ideas fell within science fiction and fantasy (mostly fantasy), so I decided that was what I would read.

In my college library, I found authors like Terry Brooks and Jim Butcher. They were my real introductions to epic and urban fantasy, respectively. It was then that I realized how much I loved these stories, especially the epic fantasy. Soon I moved on to Robert Jordan and Tad Williams--stories that were similar to Brooks, but deeper and more complex. Then I found Brandon Sanderson. When I read Elantris, my love of fantasy was official.

Once I graduated and joined the ranks of unemployed college grads, I dedicated myself even more to reading. The authors I've discovered since then are so numerous there's no point mentioning them all (that would be a very long post). Through all this reading (I usually read well over 100 books a year), I've noticed another great thing. My writing has improved so much. The flow. The dialogue. The description. And especially the ideas. By reading so much more within the fantasy genre, I discovered the wide variety of stories out there, and I had a much greater well to draw from for my own ideas.

One of the key things I've discovered about reading is this. Don't get stuck reading too much of any one author at once. When I did this, I found too often that their writing styles were influencing my own. I've since made it a point to have multiple books going at once so that I never allow myself to be influenced too much by any one author. Through this, I've simply developed a feel for good writing, and my style has evolved. I'm sure there's still something of my original style in there, but it's much cleaner, much easier to read.

Today, I also realized an unexpected benefit of reading, which is what inspired this post.

I'm getting close to the querying stage for Lightweaver (though I might change its title to Sunweaver). I started researching agents today, and I realized something great when I was looking through their clients. I'm familiar with many of the books they represent. This gives me the ability to personalize my query, stating why my book fits in well with what they represent. Before I read widely, I had no idea who any of these authors were. I was completely unprepared to enter the publishing arena.

Yet another reason I shudder when I look back at the project I queried a few years ago.

Through this all, I've discovered that I really enjoy reading. In fact, if I were forced to give up either reading or writing, I would give up writing in a heartbeat. I wouldn't like it, but I could deal with it. However, there are simply too many great books out there to read.

Now, you might be asking what you should do if you don't find you love reading this much. You might find you're like me--that you only like a few types of books (fantasy, science fiction, and horror in my case). Maybe you just haven't discovered those books yet.

And don't be alarmed if you don't like some of the "great" stuff in whatever genre you read. You don't have to like it. You just have to find what you like within your genre, and that might even be the cheesy pulp you're not supposed to like. Don't feel ashamed if you like that kind of stuff. Everyone has different tastes. For example, I still like Terry Brooks. I know he isn't regarded all that highly in many fantasy circles, but I think his books are fun reads. On the other hand, I've found authors like George RR Martin, Steven Erikson, and Joe Abercrombie are more of a struggle for me. In the end, I like their books, but they're not my go-to fantasy. And that's okay.

This has probably rambled on long enough. In short, reading is the single most important thing you can do as an author. If you don't read a lot, you won't develop that feel for good prose, and you won't have as many ideas to draw from. Also, you won't know what's already been done to death in your genre. And, finally, you'll feel a lot better about things come querying time.

Good luck out there, fellow writers. Now get reading.