Not Really a Review

I finally did it.

It only took six months, but I finally finished Brandon Sanderson’s thousand-page fat fantasy, The Way of Kings. It is the first book in Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, though online sources claim this series will have anywhere between two and ten books. How anybody writes ten books at a quarter of a million words each, I’m not sure, but we shall see how it progresses.

Now, I’m not going to try to write a review of this book. First of all, by the time I synopsized the thing, I would have lost you all to more pressing pursuits. There’s no way to boil this puppy down in any way that resembles brief. Instead, I’ll touch briefly on what stood out to me about the book, and what questions it raised for me.

After I got over my house-elf style self-abuse of “Ooooh, woe is me, Becky is a most pathetic author, with no hope of getting competent enough to so much as stand in good Mr. Sanderson’s shadow,” I was able to appreciate the many inspiring facets of Sanderson’s work.

First, I can completely understand why he’s being lauded as one of the preeminent world-builders of our time. His world of Roshar was as much a force in the story as were the characters involved, and I thoroughly enjoyed the slowly-revealed nature of that world. I loved the way the pervading threat of what the author named “highstorms” wormed its way into the tale, even birthing a list of oaths characters would utter. Maybe other Christians would be offended at the inference, but I found character’s utterances of “Storm off!” “That storming book!” or “Storm you!” fitting and even mildly amusing. I got the sense of the strength of the outburst without having to be bombarded with language I wouldn’t repeat. It was both honest and clean at the same time. There’s been a lot of talk flying around in Christian writing circles about the challenges of writing honestly for a Christian audience, and frankly, I believe this “secular” book got it right.

Which leads me to my next point. As a Christian reader of fantasy, until recently, I had been steering relatively clear of “secular fantasy,” due to the charming moniker it has earned in some circles as “porn for geeks.” Yes, I know there are books out there where the flippant and gratuitous on-page presence of sex, violence, and immorality would drive me to slap the cover shut. There is surely a reason there exists, all over the internet, tongue in cheek lists about the implausibities of fantasy books, many of them inspired by the overactive sex drives of characters. But you know what? I found The Way of Kings untroubling in this regard.

Was there gore? Yes. But the characters involved in the act of killing many (in a war setting) suffered significant emotional impact from coming to grips with their own swath of destruction. Characters meant to be seen as honorable suffered emotional crisis over callous violence.

Was there attraction between characters? Yes. The only remotely sexual content in the book was handled maturely and conservatively. Though the book did not come from a “Christian” publishing house, this Christian had no reservations about the content. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t do more than our fair share of fear mongering over what soiling material lurks on the book shelves of the mainstream fantasy market, and then we end up missing out on books that we could all read and become better writers by doing so.

The simple fact is, Brandon Sanderson has crafted a tale far more riveting than any Christian fantasy I’ve read to date. And I mean no slight to the many fine authors we have in Christian publishing. There are excellent books out there. However, in my humble opinion, none I have read quite reach this same level. (I wonder if the word count restrictions and other “rules” we live by might have something to do with that, but that’s another post.) I know there are folks who will disagree with me, along theological lines, as to what we ought to invest our time in reading. But I also know God is glorified by a job well done, and I cannot help but pray that some day, I will be able to hone my own craft to within shouting distance of the work Sanderson has done, and then have the opportunity to give my Savior the credit.

About Rebecca Minor

Rebecca P Minor draws perspective from her pursuit of various art forms, including writing, drawing, and music (singing mostly, though there was a time when a trombone figured in.) A 1997 graduate from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Becky earned a BFA in animation. Since then, she has worked as a character animator, a freelance artist, an art teacher, and most importantly, a wife to her husband Scott and mother of three boys. She is in the process of republishing her current body of work. The first installment of The Windrider Saga, Divine Summons, is available as an ebook novella on Amazon. She also has short stories available under the umbrella of The Windrider Canticles.

9 comments on “Not Really a Review

  1. Congrats on finishing Way of Kings, Becky. I bought it for my brother and am shocked at how large it is. Thanks for the illustration of “storm off!” I think that’s a great way of mixing honesty with clean language. Did you think this book was tight, or did you get the feeling some stuff could have been cut down w/o loss to the story?

    • Hey Tim, funny you should ask about whether the writing was tight enough…somewhere around about page 800 or so, I did find there were a couple of moments of repetition. Mind you these were perhaps single sentences that could go, not big chunks. But I would say there were perhaps about 50 pages in that vicinity that were a smidge less-tightly edited (including what I think was an error, but I won’t get into it.) Overall, though, there did not seems to be padding or unnecessary fluff, and only one scene dragged for me.

      So the story seemed to actually justify the length, amazingly. At the end of the book, the three POV characters are just starting to interlace within the context of the story, so it will be interesting to see if Sanderson keeps them together or if he fractures their storylines in future books.

      Thanks for dropping in. 🙂

      • That’s good to hear, and I was glad to stop by. As a slow reader, I really struggle through epic books that use a lot of description, and feel fluffy to me (Stephen Lawhead comes to mind with his Paradise War book, which was good writing, but took too long for me to get through). I recently read A Game of Thrones and even though it was as long as my ESV Study Bible, I was very tight, and every scene ended with a twist that kept me going. Did he end his chapters like that? I ask because that seems to be crucial to getting me to read such a long book.

  2. I’ve heard awesome things about his writing, but to be honest I’m hesitant to start reading it because it seems like such a commitment :). I’ve got a to-read list that is already overwhelming! Sanderson will just have to wait. But I enjoyed reading your “not-review.”

    • Your sentiment about not starting Sanderson is why I never started the Wheel of Time. I figured, starting in on the first book of a stand alone series, I had a better chance of not getting years and thousands of pages behind! Glad you enjoyed the “not-review.”

  3. I have no doubt in my mind or heart that your commitment will be honored by the Lord. This was an excellent no review, review. You made me want to read the book. Thanks for the new suggestion. 🙂

  4. Thanks for your words of encouragement, Sonia! And I’m glad the post was convincing. If you do pick up the book, I hope you enjoy it.

  5. This sounds like a good book, thanks for the suggestion! I’m always interested in studying fantasy that does good with worldbuilding.

  6. I have read tons of secular fantasy, and, to be honest, have found with all but one case that careful observation of the cover (both illustration and description of story) and a scan of page one has worked well for me in steering clear of most major offenders in the porn and language dept. And that one case was an author where I had read another book by them that was mostly clean, and assumed the same of the rest (It was American Gods by Gaiman, and despite how the language put me off, I admit I loved the tale).
    But what I mean to say is that yes, skipping secular fantasy (or literature period) is a mistake. You’re going to hear language just as bad at the ballpark or Wal Mart or your local DMV, so to me avoiding secular fiction completely makes as much sense as not gogin to the grocery store where lost folk (or other Christians even) might possibly maybe offend you. Eventually you are going to turn ill from lack of nutrition. Just use some brains and you can steer through the choices just fine… just like anything else in life.
    Also, I’m smiling because you made a random Harry Potter reference and it made me happy 🙂

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