Book Review- Mistborn: Secret Histroy by Brandon Sanderson

Hellooooo Blogland!

Sorry for the delay. I’ve been doing a TON of edits on The Steel Armada, and fully expect to be done with it before the week is out.

Let me just say that one more time.Keepin it classy

I am going to be done with the second draft of my novel sometime this week…

WHAAAAAAT?

Ahem.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. For those of you who follow me on Goodreads, you’ll even see that my reading has slowed considerably, although I think I should be done with House of Many Ways by Wednesday.

So, let’s talk about this thing! This thing being Brandon Sanderson’s newest novella, Mistborn: Secret History.

Let me start now by saying that, if you haven’t read the original Mistborn trilogy, DO NOT read this review. Pretty much, this novella can not exist without the original trilogy, and honestly, would make a ton of sense without the Wayne and Wax books. If you’re not caught up, turn back now!

Last chance…

Ok! Here we go!Secret-History-cover

So, this novella, which was actually quite long, follows Kelsier after his death at the hands of the Lord Ruler.

Yup. You read that right.

This book is weird. It doesn’t follow Sanderson’s typical storytelling methods, and it reads a bit rough.

Kelsier basically talks his way out of passing into the true afterlife, and gets stuck in limbo. From there he’s able to witness the events of the original trilogy, and even has a very important role in the outcome.

To be honest, I’m not going to be able to rehash this tale in my usual detail. It’s too convoluted and complex. I’m still not entirely sure of everything that happened, so you’re going to have to read it yourself.

Some things I want to mention:

Despite my undying love for all things Mistborn, especially Kelsier, I’m still not sure how I feel about this story. There were a lot of moments where I wasn’t sold on the writing. A first for me when it comes to Sanderson. I think that’s directly linked to the lack of worldbuilding in this novella. In limbo, everything is just mist, occasionally taking on the reverse forms of the real world. Also, Kell is alone for most of the story. He’s a fantastic character, and by the end I remembered why I love him so much, and was so glad to have his continued story, but a novella of mostly monologue was…

Slow.

That being said, there’s a ton of Cosmere references in this story. As a reminder, the Cosmere is the universe that all of Sanderson’s major works take place in. There’s a larger plot concerning the Cosmere as a whole, but it’s not remotely clear yet, and won’t be until all the worlds and books are explored. I was dying to understand what was happening, and I know there were some heavy drops sprinkled in. I just don’t know enough to recognize them yet.

And, I do think my distance from the original trilogy made reading this story more difficult. I didn’t remember a lot of the more subtle moments, or the less momentous. Even though I’ve read them three times, I never can quite remember all the minutia.

Anyway, the story follows Kelsier post-death as he follows the events of the trilogy. So you’re seeing the events of Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages from his spiritual perspective. He has limited vision and hearing, and he can’t really communicate with the living, so his point of view is a very different and complex take on the trilogy.

But, it does explain some key elements from the original novel, and hints that not everything is as it seems in the Wayne and Wax books.

kelsier
Mistborn: The Final Empire Brazilian cover art by Marc Simonetti

That’s right. Kelsier never actually acquiesces his soul, so he’s still roaming limbo, using his limited abilities to effect the living. I’m not sure what all he’s done, but I have a feeling, if I reread some, I can find him, pulling string from beyond the grave.

But, the real highlight of this story for me was seeing Vin and Elend again. Post-death. I cried, just like I cry every time they die. It was so bittersweet, because Kelsier’s affection for Vin is much better explored and fleshed out. It was rough on my emotions. As usual with these characters.

So, without context, this book absolutely does not work. And honestly, if you’re just a casual fan of the original trilogy, I’m not sure you’d like it. This novella poses a lot of deep questions and toys with what you think you know upon completing the trilogy. It’s not for the faint of heart.

But, if you’re in this deep, like me, then it’s worthwhile. For me, it felt like stolen time. Kelsier was the first Sanderson character I fell in love with. He was my favorite, and he still has a special place in my heart. So, spending so much uninterrupted time with him was magical, even if the ramifications this novella causes are mind-numbing.

And I think that’s really the best part. This novella was incredibly nostalgic for me, while offering up a ton of information and questions for the continuation of not just the Mistborn series, but the Cosmere at large.

So, if you’re like me, and all caught up and dying for any kind of answers, give this novella a try. It’ll confuse you, but it will give you at least some sort of answers while we wait for the last Wayne and Wax book.

I plan on finishing House of Many Ways by Wednesday night, so I should have a book review out on Thursday. From there I’m reading Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. From there, I’m not entirely sure.

See you soon, Blogland, and as always, thanks for reading!

 

BZ

Side Projects and Goodbyes

Hi Blogland,

Today was a rough one for me. On top of being in a generally bad mood all day, my cat was euthanized. Though he hasn’t lived with me for over six years, he was my childhood cat. A black short-hair named Louis, after Anne Rice’s vampire. He was the runt of his litter, and I treated him like my baby. I taught him to eat hard food, and to use a litter box successfully. He slept with me, curled against my chest as a kitten, and later in life curled at my feet. He was vocal and demanding, loved the most ridiculous of people foods, and was generally weird, like most cats.

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My black cat, resting on an Edgar Allan Poe omnibus.

And today my mom decided that living through kidney disease, vomiting multiple times a day, was no life at all. I tend to agree with her. He was losing weight, fast, and though his personality was intact, he was sick frequently. I understand it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to think about.

But, it’s not just Louis. I’ve been pretty frustrated lately. Mostly with school. It’s boring. It’s not remotely challenging, and it is really disappointing to me that this is what upper level education looks like in America. That this is what’s keeping me from focusing on my writing.

It’s making me crazy.

So, to keep my sanity, I’ve taken part in a side project.

The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy is a new magazine, started by a friend of a friend here in Salem. Thanks to our mutual friend, I’m now included in this awesome publication, mainly as an Editor.

And guess what? We’re currently accepting submissions! The submission period ends March 20th, and we’re looking to publish the first issue sometime in April.

Learn more about submission guidelines by visiting us on Facebook.

So, that’s awesome. So far, the poems and short stories that have come through my inbox are really quite impressive. I wasn’t aware Lovecraftian fiction and gothic poetry still had a viable presence among modern writers. It’s been quite the pleasant surprise!

So, you’ll probably be hearing about The Audient Void from time to time, as we work toward publishing issues.

Other upcoming topics of interest include:

  • Mistborn: Secret History book review
  • Continuing edits on Draft 2 of The Steel Armada
  • Preparation of Query Letter for The Steel Armada
  • School, especially next term’s Intro to Writing Sci-Fi class

So, keep a weather eye out for some writing projects in the near future!

See you soon, Blogland!

 

BZ

 

Good News and the Itch

I feel like it’s been forever.

Forever since I had free time to just think about and enjoy my writing. School is the primary obstacle here. I am so sick of classwork that I could puke. Or consider giving up. Like, seriously consider just ignoring the mountains of responsibility I’m treating like molehills, and move on with the next phase of my life.

What started as this wonderful opportunity, this chance to do something for myself that would matter, has suddenly become a burden. The thing that must be overcome before anything else can even be brought to the table.

Trevor and I are preparing to buy a house. I think we’re ready. The money is close enough to the goal we set last year, and I am tired of living in a tiny, wore out apartment, and walking through rain and snow to wash clothes. I want a place that’s truly ours.

And a space that’s mine. With a desk and bookshelves, and maybe a tiny reading nook.

But, now we’re thinking that we should wait until school is over. Until I’m done. And I’m angry at the very idea. And not just because it would keep us out of a house. I’m angry at school in general. I want to finish the edits on The Steel Armada. I want to write Jordinn’s Story. I want to edit Cards. I want to work on side projects, and read all kinds of books.

And even though I’m doing some of those things, there’s so much I’m still unable to do. And school is the most readily available scapegoat.

But, besides my general dissatisfaction with my productivity, things are good.

I sent my query letter and first five pages to my best friend Bill (aka Brittany) a couple days ago, and have been waiting anxiously all this time. Every notification on my phone made my heart pound, thinking it was her email, telling me how terrible my story is.

I sent it to her because, although I know she loves me, I also respect her taste in literature. She’s intelligent, and writes a little herself, and enjoys editing. So, when I told her about my intent to query an agent, she offered to look things over if I wanted her to.

She got back to me today.

She loved it! I asked for more details, and she gave really great feedback. I trust her input, and I’m trying my best not to talk myself out of believing the compliments she gave my work.

I suddenly understand the gnawing doubt inherent in being a writer. No matter how much I trust, respect, and like what she said, there’s still a part of me that doubts it.

I’m telling that part of me to go to hell.

… I’m also getting a second opinion.

I’m going to send the same exact email to both my best friend, and Sister from another Mister, Patty, as well as Trevor. Believe it or not, he hasn’t seen a single word of The Steel Armada. We’ll see what they say.

After all their feedback, and any necessary changes thus, I’ll send it to the agent. And that has me beyond nervous. Even though I’ve told myself a thousand times that it won’t come to anything more than feedback at best. Showing my work to a professional has me tied in knots.

Anyway, I’m ignoring pretty serious amounts of homework for this. I don’t mind personally, but my guilt is eating at me. If I don’t do my homework tonight, or at least a big chunk of it, it’ll cut in to my time with Trevor tomorrow, and that’s not fair.

So, I’ll see you soon Blogland. Probably Monday, with a review of Mistborn: Secret History.

 

BZ

Book Review- The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

Blogland!

I literally just finished reading The Bands of Mourning, and I’m at a loss for what else I could possibly do besides talk about this book, RIGHT NOW!

Now, I realize not everyone can read with the fervor I did, so if you’re not finished yet, and don’t want to be spoiled (and you don’t), then turn back now. No one will blame you.BandsofMourning_cover.jpg

After his wedding is sabotaged by a tumbling water tower Wax and Friends find themselves on a sort of Archaeological expedition, hunting down the fabled Bands of Mourning. They’re said to be the Lord Ruler’s bracers (bracers being the metal forearm bands that store Feruchemical ability).

Ok, I just realized that, unless you’re pretty well versed in your Mistborn lore, this is going to get confusing.

Anyway, the Kandra tried to get Wax to hunt down Mr. Suit (Wax’s Uncle, and the main villain of the series so far) in order to retrieve one of their brother’s Hemalurgic spikes. That’s the deal-y that grants sentience to the Kandra. ReLuur lost his when he was attacked by the Set, the folks Mr. Suit works for, after discovering the lost temple of the Lord Ruler. Insane and rambling without his spike, ReLuur is less than useful in providing information that could lead the Kandra to either his spike or the temple.

But, since the events of the last book, Wax is less than amenable to the whims of the Kandra or Harmony. He staunchly refuses, and so they turn to Marasi. Which really isn’t fair, because she of course says yes, which of course means Wax and Wayne are going too. Damn, sneaky Kandra.

So, Wax ends up traveling with Marasi to New Seran. Which means that Wayne, MeLaan, and Steris all went too. Which was nice. A nice big group on an even bigger adventure!

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Had to snap this one myself, apparently the internet hasn’t consumed it yet.

This book only spends a very small amount of time in Elendel, and focuses mainly on the Southern reaches of the Basin. New territory for the series thus far, and very interesting to see. While New Seran itself was charming, and place I’d love to see explored further, Wax and Co. don’t linger long. As endearing as a town built on a series of waterfalls is, it’s pretty hard to sight-see when you’ve been framed for murder.

Poor Wax can never just enjoy himself…

So the group flees in the night, heading Northeast toward the last known whereabouts of Mr. Suit. But what they find there isn’t Wax’s Uncle, but something far more interesting. And world-shattering.

Hidden in a remote warehouse, the Set is working on refurbishing a humongous ship. But Dulsing, the village the Set commandeered, is as landlocked as they come. Well, as the gang soon discovers, this is no ordinary ship. It doesn’t need water, seeing as it flies. And how does it do that?

Why, with Allomancy, of course!

So, after a wild gunfight, Wax and Friends load onto the ship, adding Wax’s sister Telsin to their company, as well as a man named Aliik. He’s a “Southerner”, someone who lives outside of the Basin, and it’s his people’s ship they’re stealing.

Now, a moment to discuss Aliik and just how crucial he is. While his understanding of Allomancy and Feruchemy are unique, showing that the Southerners view The Metallic Arts quite differently than those in the Basin, he’s much more important than that. Aliik’s very existence pulls the entire understanding of Scadrial into question. Wax and Marasi feel this most keenly, being the most intellectual ones of the group. There’s an entire race of folks whose entire history and customs are different than their own. And they have their own technologies and religions. This is incredibly important and mind-bending stuff for the people of the Elendel Basin. The ramifications don’t really get explored here, but by the end of the novel, it’s plain it’ll come up in the next book.Elendel Basin

Ahem, back to the topic at hand. So, they fly away, and though it’d probably be best to head back to Elendel and get reinforcements, there’s not really time. So they fly straight to the mountaintop temple thanks to Aliik and Telsin’s knowledge after being held captive by Mr. Suit and Co.

They get there first, just barely, and proceed through various booby-traps to get to the chamber where the Bracers should be. Except they’re not there. And they never were.

This is where the avalanche happens. Not a literal avalanche, although that was likely, seeing as they’re on top of a frigging mountain. I’m speaking of the Sanderson Avalanche. That wondrous whirlwind of plot points and details, where everything you thought you understood comes together in ways you never could have imagined.

As usual, Sanderson’s novel took a turn that blew my mind, and had me screaming as I read along. Characters are tested, and thus do things you didn’t think them capable of. Wayne in particular has such a moment, and I was at once proud and utterly heartbroken for him.

In fact, looking back, this is a very transformative story for Wayne. He grows a lot, and in ways I wouldn’t have expected. Seeing as he’s my favorite character, possibly of all time, this was an emotional story for me.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the avalanche. That’s just asking for bad juju. And if you think the avalanche was mind blowing, just wait for the epilogue. It basically takes everything you think you know about the Mistborn series and says, “There’s always another secret.”

Wax and Co
Awesome cartoon featuring (left to right) Steris, Marasi, Wax, and Wayne. By the talented Maki- check her out  here!

So, some points that aren’t spoiler related. Things I can talk freely about. This book was back in the swing of a high-action, Wild West train ride. The Bands of Mourning felt much more like The Alloy of Law. It was fast-paced, fun, and full of great banter and character interactions. There were tender moments, and much more crassness than I remember in the first two. It was just an incredibly fun book. Unlike Shadows of Self, which was straightforward, very dark, and soul-searching.

And The Bands of Mourning sets the tone for the final book in this series, The Lost Metal. As Sanderson calls it in his Postscript, “The epic finale of Mistborn: Era 2“. I guess that’s the official title for the Wayne and Wax books, now.

Another thing, this book is incredibly lore heavy. I remember thinking that Shadows of Self was a sharp swerve from the episodic and casual manner of The Alloy of Law, instead delving into the depths of Scadrial’s history and legends. Well, The Bands of Mourning makes Shadows look more like the kiddie pool. Events from the original Mistborn trilogy aren’t just mentioned, they’re critical to the plot and continue to be fleshed out. By the end of this book, things I thought were fact at the end of the original trilogy are now entirely up in the air.

Secret-History-coverWhich is where Mistborn: Secret History comes in. What’s this, you ask? Why, a novella that Sanderson is releasing, via ebook only, on Saturday. He didn’t announce it until Bands released, and he added a warning. That, though this novella is set during the original trilogy, it does contain spoilers for The Bands of Mourning.

Whaa..?

Basically, I ordered it immediately, and am now so grateful. If I had to wait a whole year (or more) to get any sort of answers after that epilogue, I would be about as sensible as ReLuur sans spike.

So, all in all, I adored this book. It was a return to the tone and pace that made The Alloy of Law my favorite book. Although I think I can safely say that The Bands of Mourning has usurped its predecessors in that regard. That wild west roller coaster feeling, where every page promises some new development. The faith that Wax can solve every problem, even if we’re not sure how he’ll do it just yet. And in this book, Wax’s decimated heart is rejuvenated. Watching him rise above such anger and loathing was really satisfying for me, especially since the last book had such a powerful effect on my emotions.

So hurry up and get caught up already!

 

BZ

Book Review- The Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Hello Blogland,

As promised, I finished The Castle in the Air this weekend, and so I’m here to review it before my entire life is absorbed by The Bands of Mourning (out tomorrow!).

It’s late, so let me get right to the point.
Castle_in_the_Air_Cover

First, this book follows much in the same vein as the first book. Though Howl and Sophie play much smaller roles, they are present, and they warmed my heart as ever.

This book follows Abdullah, a carpet merchant in far away Zanzib. He’s a man of daydreams, whose childhood was full of disappointment and derision. His father’s only son, he was to follow in his footsteps, except a prophecy at his birth foretold that he would not carry on the carpet business, and would in fact rise above all others in the land.

In Diana Wynne Jones typically cheeky way, this happened both literally and figuratively.

Abdullah’s dreams begin to come true after buying a magic carpet. The carpet whisks him away in his sleep to a beautiful night garden, where an enchanting princess is kept in solitude. Thinking he is but dreaming, Abdullah tells the princess that he is a lost prince, kidnapped at birth and brought to Zanzib to lead a dreadfully mundane life.

But, when Abdullah realizes that the princess, named Flower-in-the-Night, is in fact real, and that they both love one another very much, he is determined to marry her and fly off into the sunset. But, nothing is ever so simple.

A Djinn, leathery and winged, scoops up Flower-in-the-Night, just as she’s running to join Abdullah on his magic carpet, kidnapping her. Abdullah pursues her, and through various mishaps, comes across a Genie in a bottle. This Genie is cantankerous, and overall an unwilling character of the story. He grants a wish a day, but does so in such a way that no matter the wish, something bad will happen.

As Abdullah travels, he arrives in Ingary (home of Howl and Sophie), where he joins the company of an old Soldier, and they travel together to Kingsbury to speak to a Royal Wizard. Along the way the Soldier adopts a cat and her kitten, who wield their own brand of magic.

All of this so Abdullah can reach the castle in the air, which floats disguised as clouds. castle in the air2.jpg

Well, they finally all arrive, and it turns out Sophie was the cat this whole time, her kitten being Morgan, her and Howl’s son. They are returned to their proper form, but Sophie’s not giving up until she finds Howl.

So once in the castle, thanks to the magic carpet, Abdullah is reunited with Flower-in-the-Night, and they devise a plan to be rid of the Djinn’s who have captured the various princesses of the world.

In the usual way of Ms. Jones, the final scene play out in a whirlwind of loose ends tying up in fancy, neat bows. You see, once the Djinn’s are vanquished, we see that Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer were in the story all along. Sophie, as Midnight the magical cat, Calcifer as the Magic Carpet, and Howl as the cantankerous Genie!

So, after much turmoil, Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night are married, but are unable to return to Zanzib, since her father doesn’t approve of the union. So, through some favors and bribery, Sophie and Howl convince the King to appoint the newlyweds and Ambassadors to Ingary. They more or less live happily ever after in a modest house with magical gardens that bloom year round.

And they are visited often by their magical friends.

This was another fantastic tale from Diana Wynne Jones. All the magic, humor, and whimsy of the first book asserted itself in this one. Though no characters can compete for with the love I have for Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer, I found that Abdullah’s patience and adoration for Flower-in-the-Night was endearing and powerful in its own right. I laughed out loud often, and read well into the night, curious to see how everything played out.

But, this one didn’t make me cry, so I can’t rate it quite as high as the first one.

However, I really appreciated the way Howl and Sophie are depicted. Though they are separate through much of the novel, once they are reunited, they are perfect. Just as I remembered them, they bickered good naturedly. Howl teased Sophie, and she yelled at him, though she smiled through it. They argued, and though their voices were in it, their hearts weren’t. Sophie and Howl are two sides of a coin, constantly at odds while relying and depending entirely on the other. Seeing them together, with their child for the first time, and witnessing their subtle admissions of doubt in their new roles was so touching. Despite the magical world in which they live, Howl and Sophie are a very real representation of a married couple.howl and sophie

I love them for that.

But, this story wasn’t really about them. It’s about Abdullah, and his devotion to Flower-in-the-Night. He worked tirelessly to find her, the only man to even attempt a rescue of his princess. And his patience, determination, and devotion all paid off. Since they lived happily ever after.

Talk about the perfect fairy tale!

If you find yourself craving a quick and easy read that keeps you smiling way passed your bedtime, I suggest you give this book a try.

Since I finished Castle in the Air on Saturday, I found myself with spare time before The Bands of Mourning released. Since I didn’t have time for a full book, I read both Saga Vol. 1 and Sanderson’s short story Dreamer. I don’t make a habit of book reviews on short stories, because really, what’s the point? By the time you read the review, you could have just read the story yourself! But, I plan on doing a review for Saga, once I’ve read it in its entirety.

So, not any time soon.castle in the air alternate

Tomorrow I’m waking up early to hit the bookstore when it opens, that way I have The Bands of Mourning all ready to go before work tomorrow. I figure it will only take a couple of days for me to plow through, and then I’ll be right back with a review.

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ

In Which I Did a Thing…

So, for the first time, in such a long time, I’m posting a “Craft Discussion” post! But first, a confession.

Yesterday, on my ten minute break, a certain famous author with whom I am obsessed tweeted that his literary agent is accepting queries for the first time in years. Several things happened in a very small space of time.

  1. I squealed. I admit it, shamelessly. The opportunity to share my work with one of the best agents in my genre opened up, and I squealed.
  2. Then I read the blog post, outlining the submission requirements. I soon convinced myself that I must write a query letter for Vessels.
  3. I then worked for another two hours, trying not to puke from excitement/nerves.
  4. Then I dashed through the minimum requirements of my homework in order to research and draft my first query letter.

So, I did it. I wrote a query letter for Vessels, which is now going under the title The Steel Armada. I spent the remainder of the evening giddy with the sheer weight of it all. I wrote a query letter! Me! It’s so… professional! And, given the examples I used as a template, and general feedback so far, it’s not a bad query letter.

All that’s left are some tweaks to the hooks, and to slim down my author bio, and I feel good about the letter. But, this agency also wants the first five pages of the manuscript. Initially, this was not a problem. I just finished the first round of edits on the first four chapters, so these pages are pristine and ready to rock.

Then I pasted them into the same space as my letter and read them in the vacuum that would be an email to a person I don’t know from Adam.

And suddenly this new outlook on my novel appeared, and it crushed me. All of the things that my gut said weren’t working became glaring, and stupid omissions. How could I not use such and such words to describe this? This part here doesn’t fit in with the rest. This is awkward. I hate this. Add in the occasional, that’s not bad, and my first five pages were suddenly a daunting workload to be combed over and perfected.

Which leads me to my real conundrum: I cannot, in good conscience, submit The Steel Armada, when I know it still needs so much work. The submission deadline is February 14th, and at first I had myself convinced that I could get most of the manuscript up to snuff by then.

Now…

Now, I’m not so sure.

With school and work, I’m not at all confident that I can make the necessary edits in so short a time. I could get maybe half of it done, and get the other half done while I wait for a response. And really, as much as I know I’m a good writer and that my story is good, it takes ages to get a literary agent. I know I’m not snagging this one right out of the gate. So maybe getting all these tweaks done before someone might ask to see more shouldn’t be such a concern.

But, it feels unfair. If they did ask to see more, I’d only be wasting their time, and shooting myself in the foot. The last thing I want is to present a product that isn’t the best possible representation of my chops as a writer.

So, I’m undecided. I still like the query, and I might just send it as a sort of “Fuck it”. Shrug of the shoulders and a silent plea to the writing gods as I click the intimidating “Send” button. But, I’m hesitant, now that the high of writing the thing has faded.

But, what I really wanted to say is that, if you haven’t written a query letter before, do it! Even if you have no intentions of sending it to anyone anytime soon. Write it. It forces you to boil down your book into the briefest descriptions, and makes you look at your work much more objectively than you might otherwise.

I spent quite a bit of time editing The Steel Armada, and though I knew there was something lacking, it wasn’t until I looked at the novel as a submission that I could hone in on the real problems. Because of this exercise in querying, my novel is going to be that much stronger.

So, in closing, I don’t know if I’ll be querying any agents anytime soon. But I’m glad I took the time to write a query letter and to consider, quite seriously, submitting The Steel Armada. The experience has been most instructive.

If you have experience, thoughts, or advice for my Query Quandary, please feel free to share them!

Anyway, I’ll talk at you all soon. Hopefully Monday, if I can manage to finish Castle in the Air by then. For now, I’m off to do homework, as usual.

 

BZ

Book Review- The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Hello Blogland!

As promised, I finished The Magicians Tuesday night, and Book Club met last night to discuss. It was another thin showing for the Clubbers, with only three of us in attendance, but the conversation was lively, and surprisingly on topic. The Magicians gave us a lot to talk about.themagicians

Now, I’ve been thinking about how to handle this review for a couple days now, and I’m warning you, it’s going to be different. Instead of blathering on in excruciating detail, as per usual, I’m going to talk more about the book’s effect and feel. There are simply too many subtle, crucial details throughout the novel to sum them up here in anything close to a satisfying way.

So, this book review isn’t likely to be as spoiler heavy. I feel safe in saying you can read on without concern.

So, a few things to know up front about this book. Many critics tout it as “Harry Potter goes to college” or “Potter for adults”. I find both of those sentiments to be grossly generalizing of each series. Really, the only thing these books have in common is a male protagonist, a group of devoted friends, and a magical educational institution. Quentin has nothing in common with Harry, and though Alice could be a parallel for Hermione, she’s too much of her own character to really make that connection stick.

Another thing to understand about this series is that, though magic is clearly very important, it is by no means what this series is about. As far as I can tell after reading the first book, this series is about battling the constant ennui that is the side effect of unrealistic expectations.

A friend explained it as if Narnia and Harry Potter had a 90s crack baby.

So, through what seems an odd set of circumstances, Quentin is accepted to an elite magical college called Brakebills. He has intense classes, and he’s of course a brilliant student, or he wouldn’t be there. But, the actual rules and definitions of magical study are left to the reader’s imagination. Very little time in scene is spent in classrooms.It was nice, and a bit strange. I expected to see more of the day to day grind of magical coursework. Instead we’re given brief glimpses of awkwardly dexterous fingers and snippets of archaic languages woven into spells. It’s all very vague.

Quentin’s time at Brakebills takes up a HUGE portion of the book. Over half of the book is spent following him and his small group of friends through their school days. But, eventually they graduate and leave for Manhattan. It’s not until they’re there, in the last 150ish pages, that the story really unfolds.

And it’s right about then that I absolutely hated Quentin.

the-magicians-trailer-screencap
Jason Ralph as Quentin in The Magicians on SyFy.

And it’s something that I really liked about the book. You see, you don’t hate Quentin at the beginning. You think, things will get better, he just needs to live a little. And the story goes on, and nothing is ever really good enough for him. He has spurts of happiness, but he always ends up spiraling back down into this all-consuming dissatisfaction. And in Manhattan, he hits rock bottom.

As much as I hated Quentin, I loved that the book could make me feel that way. Because I really hated Quentin. A lot. And I continued to hate him until about the last 20 pages. Up until then I vowed that I wouldn’t read the next two books in the trilogy, because I didn’t care what happened to the little jerk. But, by the time I closed the book I knew I had to read them.

So, really, serious applause needs to go to Lev Grossman for toying with my emotions so masterfully.

Some other things to mention if you plan to read this book. It’s weird. It’s not a bad weird, but some things happen that seem very strange, and they get glossed over until the very end when everything comes together in this neat, blood-soaked bow. Also, it deals with very adult themes. It’s a coming of age story wrapped in a magical version of reality, and Quentin deals with depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual relationships. And he doesn’t have a great track record with his decisions. He consistently makes bad decisions in a very realistic, if magical, unforgiving world.

But, it also does a fantastic job of making the protagonist realize that he’s not the hero of this story. I think that might be the weirdest part of this book. We follow Quentin. He is the main character, but he is not the hero. He’s not the one who saves the day, in fact, he’s usually the one that fucks it all up. And when he finally realizes it, it transforms him.

I don’t know what Quentin will be like in the next book. Maybe all this growth will finally make him ready to be the hero. Or maybe he’ll continue to let depression and anxiety destroy him from the inside. I don’t know. But I know that the formula for the first book can’t be followed in the second. So I’m curious to see how Grossman handles the next installment.

I should pick up Magician King sometime in March; my reading is pretty booked until then.

I hope you enjoyed this different take on a review. It’s not as long, which is probably a good thing, and it doesn’t really spoil anything, which is also probably good. I enjoyed The Magicians, and I would recommend it to others. It was nice to see the different interpretatthemagiciansalternateions that the Clubbers had of it.

Also, the series has been turned into a television show, premiering January 25th on SyFy. If you don’t want to wait, you can stream the Pilot episode now at SyFy.com. I haven’t watched it yet, but one of the Clubbers did, and she approved.

Now I’m off to get a smidgen of homework done before work. I’m currently reading Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. I should have it done before Bands of Mourning releases on Tuesday, and so should have a review out before then too.

As always, you can follow my reading by following me @BZelwen on twitter, adding me (HIMluv) on Goodreads, and of course by checking the “What I’m Reading” page.

Thanks for reading!

 

BZ