Good morning, everyone!
For today’s post, I’m excited to introduce a new regular feature on the blog. Starting today, I’ll be posting book reviews on the last Friday of every month, covering any book I’ve read that month (without giving away any spoilers, of course.)
This is part of a wider effort I’m making to read more. In January of 2015 I set a goal on my goodreads to read at least 20 books for the year. I failed miserably, and only read a dozen books. This is shameful for me because once upon a time I could read a dozen weeks in a week or two. So, I’ve cut my time for listening to podcasts and watching TV, and redirected any time left over from writing this blog to reading as much as I can.
So far, it’s worked out a treat. In 2016 I’ve read sixteen-and-a-half books already, and I feel great about it.
For the month of February we’ll be covering the following books:
- Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)
- The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
- Elantris (Elantris, #1)
- Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)
- Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)
Here we go! 🙂
Shadows of Self – Brandon Sanderson
Shadows of Self is the second book in the Wax and Wayne series, and the fifth in the Mistborn Universe.
If you haven’t read the Mistborn books, here’s a quick summary: Some people are able to get special powers using different metals. Most people can only use one metal to get a specific power but some people, the Mistborn, are able to burn all metals to use any and all of the powers. There’s a typical ‘Evil tyrannical ruler needs to be overthrown’ plot but the books pull off spectacular plot twists to leave genre-savvy readers pleasantly surprised. I very highly recommend them.
Shadows of Self and the previous book in the series, The Alloy of Law, take place many years in the future. Characters from the original books are near-mythical by then, and the book makes small nods to the first Mistborn books while telling its own story. Something the book does very well is adjusting allomancy, the ability to use metals for power, to a more modern world. How do coinshots, able to push on metal, adapt to a world with street lamps and skyscrapers? Fantastically, as it turns out, and as the book delights in demonstrating.
It’s what I like to think of as ‘pulling a Korra‘, and doing it well.
Wider universe and world-building aside, the book is a solid read. There is magic and some mythical elements, but they feel more like background detail to a story that would merit being told even if it took place in our world. That’s the guideline by which I judge fantasy novels: Would this book stand on its own without the fantasy? Shadows of Self answers that with a resounding YES.
The story continues where the last book left off, as our heroes in the city of Elendel try to deal with the overarching plot and mystery of the series, as well as dealing with a new and specific threat to the city. Pulling threads from real world history and the solid world-building already established in the series, Brandon Sanderson knits everything together into a solid story that can be read on its own but also advances the series as a whole.
I highly recommend the Mistborn series as a whole, but if you don’t feel like reading the whole trilogy and want to read this new series, you can start with Alloy of Law. Just be warned that the new books will spoil some of the delicious surprises from the original trilogy.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, hereafter referred to as The 100-Year-Old Man, is an absolutely ridiculous and enjoyable book.
The book follows a centenarian who escapes from a nursing home on the morning of his 100th birthday and embarks on a story that could hardly be any more ludicrous and unlikely. The story about the old man escaping is interrupted every so often with snapshots of his life, which is somehow even more fantastical and makes the main plot sound like understated truth in comparison.
The writing style is odd and quirky in a way that matches its story delightfully. This book was clearly written by someone who delights in playing with words and stories with the joy of a child in an ice cream shop. For most of my life I’ve been a huge fan of books that don’t take themselves too seriously and just enjoy themselves, so The 100-Year-Old-Man was an absolute delight for me to read.
It’s a tall tale being told by someone with a serious look on their face but a smile at the corners of their mouth. It dares you not to laugh as it tells you about the old man’s extraordinary life and it’s a delight to lose that dare every few pages as you burst out in incredulous laughter.
If you enjoy books that just like to have fun without caring too much about anything else, I cannot recommend The 100-Year-Old Man highly enough. It’s been many years since I read such a wonderful absurdist novel.
Elantris – Brandon Sanderson
“Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning,
completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”
Back in middle school, some teacher told me when writing a good story it was essential to catch people’s interests on the first line.
Elantris certainly did for me. The story is simple, and brilliant. Essentially, imagine the high elves from The Lord of the Rings mysteriously becoming orcs from one day to the other. No one knows why it happened, but they certainly know of it, and it has extensive ramifications throughout the rest of the world.
The book is written by the same author of the Mistborn series, and it shows. Just like Shadows of Self shines through its ability to tell a story worth listening to even without the magic, Elantris excels in making you interested about people and their human, relatable struggles, in a world where there just happens to be magic.
At its simplest form, Elantris is a novel about love, religion, and a war of resources, soldiers, and ideas. It’s subte, thoroughly enjoyable, and oddly uplifting.
If you want unique fantasy with characters you can actually relate to, without the grandiloquence other books stumble on, pick up Elantris and give it a read. I’m sure you’ll be hooked by the prologue, or the first chapter.
Storm Front, Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
The premise behind the Harry Dresden series is hilarious. Hard-boiled detective meets Gandalf. It’s gimmicky and silly.
At least, that’s what you might think until you acturally read the books. Somehow, Jim Butcher makes the idea work, and it’s fun to read. The series is funny, but only when it’s trying to be.
Storm Front introduces us to Harry Dresden, Wizard, as the plaque outside his office reads. He performs supernatural investigations, helps to find lost objects, but he does NOT make love potions.
Harry Dresden is a detective who happens to have magical powers. The mechanics behind the magic are balanced well between making magic useful, but also being limited enough that the story remains interesting.
I’ve been hearing about this series for the last few months and to be honest, I was very underwhelmed by Storm Front.
The story follows Harry as he investigates a couple of violent murders that have magic written all over them.
The book felt like it had potential, but the pacing was a little off and parts of the story felt clunky, and some of the world-building was also a little too obvious.
However, since reading the book I’ve been informed Storm Front was Jim Butcher’s first novel. Perhaps some leeway can be allowed. In any case, foibles and all it was still a fun read.
Fool Moon fared better. It still didn’t quite live up to the hype, but it came closer. The new magical elements introduced in the book felt natural, and the mystery element of it was more interesting.
The story follows Harry Dresden, wizard, and some of the characters we met on Storm Front as they look into a series of grisly murders. You can probably guess which supernatural beastie they deal with from the pun in the book’s title, but I won’t outright spoil it.
What I will say is that the book handles a mythical creature that’s been done over and over, but it takes a special spin on it and makes it feel like a whole different thing. That’s a ton of fun.
It reminds me of the way Discworld handled creatures like elves; in such a way that you can see similarities to how we traditionally see them, while being very different in fact.
Fool Moon is still not quite a “great” book in my eyes, but I’m excited to see whether the third book in the series improves as much as Fool Moon did from Storm Front.
I’ll be covering the next book in the series, Grave Peril (and probably the next few Harry Dresden books) next month, so keep your eyes open for that.
Last Friday of the month, remember.
If you end up reading, or if you’ve previously read, any of the books covered here please let me know in comments. I’d love to hear how my impressions and opinions on the books compare to yours!