Monday, January 17, 2011

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Man, I really wish I'd read this later, so that I could read the next books in the series. It doesn't end precisely with a cliffhanger, but it's definitely a “to be continued.”

The setting is the part that strikes you first in The Way of Kings. The country in which it's mainly set stratifies society by hair and eye color (with “lighteyes” essentially being a synonym for “toffs.”). Literacy and scholarship are considered women's arts, and men are either illiterate or pretend to be to preserve their perceived masculinity. And that's just the land most of it takes place in. Each country has its own culture and traditions, without just being parallels to Earth countries. And despite the creativity of the setting, it never feels like a world-building exercise. It feels like a real place people live in.

The characters are what really did for me, though. I am a sucker for great characters, and Sanderson obliges. They always seem like real individuals, and they're still stuck with me, weeks after reading this book. Take, for instance Shallan, a scholar from a noble family who is trying to be accepeted as a pupil to a great lady, so she can steal her magic device and use it to pay off her family's debts. She is smart and brave and terrified and witty and desperate and moral. And that's only scratching the surface.

The plot is hard to summarize. There is the old fantasy trope of a coming storm/apocalypse, but everyone is so busy fighting and scheming that only a few people actually notice the various portents. By the end of the novel, though, things have definitly been set in motion.

I would recommend this for fans of epic fantasy (And it is epic, it clocks in at about 1,000 pages and there's more books to come!) but if you want to try Brandon Sanderson and not have to wait long years for the sequels, you could try his Mistborn trilogy, which I also loved. It's even odder, as it blends between epic fantasy, historical(ish) fantasy, and, in the first novel, a heist plot.

5 stars

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Oh, Shirley Jackson. You are the best. I think this is even better than We Have Always Lived in the Castle, although it's a bit harder to do a creepy monotone voice with this title. I feel like everyone and their mother has read this book, but it does live up to the hype.

A professor of the supernatural invites three participants to stay in a house rumored to be haunted and observe what happens. (And by the way, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? Seriously, has that situation ever turned out well?) Nora is a shy woman whose invalid mother has just died, Theodora is an artsy bohemian type, and Luke is a playboy and the heir to Hill House. Complicated Relationships ensue.

The house is the real star of the show, though. It is indescribably, inescapably wrong. The angles are just slightly off, the doors shut by themselves, and the housekeeper keeps repeating a few phrases like a broken robot. The creepy things are suitably creepy, although not very dramatic. For instance, there is a scene where Nora is holding a hand in her dark, but nobody's there. It's an overdone story but Jackson makes it tense.

The main conflict comes from the psychological effects of Hill House. It's never clear if the house is haunted by actual ghosts, but I actually liked it that way. Explanations would have ruined the ambiguity. And as the book goes on, it becomes unclear how much of the problems with the house are real and how much of it is in the head of the lonely, increasingly unhinged Nora.

The surprising thing about this book is that it's funny. In between the weird stuff, the characters are joking around and having picnics and getting drunk and it's all really charming. But even with all the bonhomie, there is still something off and everyone know it.

Isn't that a cool cover? My cover was not nearly that creepy. Also, do not make the mistake of reading this all alone in a dark house like I did.

5 stars

Other Opinions:
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Still Here

You know how when you have a ton of stuff to do you can get a lot done but when you only have a few things to do, you end up doing nothing? Yeah, I spent the last week re-watching the entire series of Avatar: The Last Airbender instead of book blogging.

But school is starting and I'll be posting on more of a schedule. I'm going to try to post about 2 or 3 times a week from now on.