Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

I liked Mistborn. Wouldn’t go as far as to say I really liked it or anything, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. I figure the book has enough fans and twice as many reviews already without needing to add my thoughts to it, and in any case I’d rather talk about book two in Brandan Sanderson’s trilogy. Because while I liked Mistborn, I struggled to make it to the end of Well of Ascension.

And I mean really struggled. It’s not poorly written or offensive or anything like that, it’s just so boring. So unbelievable boring. And it shouldn’t be! If you take all the parts out of the book and look at them it sounds like a really awesome read. Tense political situations, siege warfare, families turned against each other and romances tested. Awesome, awesome, awesome. In theory.

But the problem is that all of the characters are just so good and noble and nice, it leaves the book almost wholly without tension. It’s not that I expect every fantasy novel to take inspiration from the gritty characters of Joe Abercrombie and his ilk, but I don’t think some shades of grey are too much to ask for. You would think for example, given their leader’s recent death, that there might be a power struggle amongst the old crew, or that some of them might choose to leave. Nope, they all continue to fight the fight because it’s the right thing to do. No conflict there.

Vin is having trouble with her role as Elend’s personal Mistborn, a situation that is only exacerbated by the Mistborn Zane who, despite working for the enemy, keeps saving her life. Lets set aside the fact that this entire plotline is a really annoying example of the whole ‘this-would-be-cleared-up-in-five-seconds-flat-if-characters-a-and-b-would-just-talk-to-other-for-crying-out-loud’ trope, it could have created tension. Nothing like a good old fashioned love triangle to liven things up, eh? Surely Vin would be torn between the man she thinks she loves and this mysterious Mistborn who already seems to know her better then Elend ever could? Nope. Her feelings for Elend never waver, the only doubt inside her comes from whether or not she’s good enough for him. Yawn.

And let’s talk about Vin and Elend’s relationship please. It’s a rare writer who can pull off a decent sex scene, so by all means feel free to leave them out. But don’t expect me to believe that two healthy, unsupervised, in love young adults living lives of extreme pressure and mortal danger aren’t doing it off page. Vin and Elend’s relationship is wholly chaste (and completely lacking in chemistry…) and there’s no reason for it to be so, other then they’re not married, (even though we see next to no evidence that society really gives a crap. And you know what? Even if they did realistic characters would still be doing it- or at least thinking about doing it…) Let’s be honest, the reason for this is the author’s personal religious beliefs, and it made it hard to “believe” in the world Sandersan was presenting. So no tension here, sexual or otherwise.

Elend was my favourite character in Mistorn. This slouching, rebellious, powerful young noble had the potential to be another Jimmy the Hand, or a fantasy Ferris Bueller. Never have I been more disappointed to get inside of a characters head. The kid is noble to the point of stupidity. And not in an interesting and thought provoking Ned Stark kind of way, just in a stupid and boring kind of way. And I also felt that Sanderson completely failed to explore the angst and tension that could have resulted from Elend’s own father laying siege to the city. The fact that his dad clearly wanted to kill him and destroy his idealistic dreams didn’t seem to bother Elend anymore than if it was a stranger camped outside his walls.

Bah! I could go on. Everyone is wholly good, except for the bad guys who are wholly bad. Was Mistborn like this? To a degree, I think it was. But it was saved by Kelsier who was such a complex and shaded character that he made up for it. The only character in the Well of Ascension who is at all complex is the leader of the other army (the one not led by Elend’s father), but he gets too little  page time to balance out the lack of complexity in everyone else.

I don’t see myself picking up Hero of Ages any time soon, nor anything else by Sanderson. There’s nothing wrong with being wholesome and nice, but it sure makes for some boring reading.

I bought this book 


Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

One of the things I liked most about this book (and there are a lot of things to like about this book) is that even though it's really damn funny, the people in it act like people.

Eh, you say? What else are they going to act like, goats? Well, now, think about it. How often does the humour in "funny" books depend on the characters acting in ways that people normally wouldn't, or taking normal reactions and hugely exaggerating them? "It's only a flesh wound" is funny because it's not only a flesh wound, and a normal person would be quite upset about it.

Not that I'm claiming to be any huge expert on humourous books or anything. Quite the opposite- Pratchett aside I don't really read any. Because my enjoyment of a book is directly linked to how invested I am in the characters, and it's hard for me to get invested in characters in "funny" books.

But, Shades of Grey. Funny. Like, really funny. Really, really funny and packed full of characters you can get behind. People that, like I said, actually act like people. It's impressive how well it works. The book has a ridiculously bizarre and awesome set up. It's set a really, really long way into our future and something has happened to really mess up the colour spectrum. People are born being able to see only one colour naturally (and some can see more of it than others), and just looking at combinations of colours can have harmful or healing effects. And people, being people, go on and divide  themelves into groups defined by who can see what colour, predicatably treating those who can see only grey like lesser beings.

That's pretty much the theme of this book. No matter how out there the situation, people are still going to act like shitty, selfish, occasionally heroic people. Fforde doesn't need to twist his characters into caricatures of humanity for his humour to work, he understands that humanity "as is" is already pretty funny. And by keeping his people "real" if you like, (how many "quote marks" can I cram into one review anyway?) it creates this really awesome contrast to the seriously nuts setting of the book.

And the amount of though Fforde put into this crazy set up is just astounding too. I've said this before: a good author can make you believe anything, a bad author will have you doubting everything. I really thing that Shades of Grey might be one of the most original books I've read, but also one of the easiest to accept, if you know what I mean.

And here we are, nearly at the end of my review, and I've barely touched on what normally I don't shut up about: the main characters! Let's just say they're great, all of them. Witty and flawed and sometimes selfish and sometimes not- in other words all the things you want your characters to be. There's a romance that doesn't go how I thought it would (and I have no idea where it will go in the sequels) and a really touching father/son relationship. And a shortage of spoons.

Shades of Grey is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to someone who loved humorous novels, but I would also recommend it to people who don't. It's just a really great book.

I bought this book