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Monthly Archives: December 2019

Reading Summary, 2019

I’ve read 39 books this year, pretty much the same as last year’s total of 40. Genre breakdown:

Fantasy: 17

Science Fiction: 10

Horror: 8

Historical Fiction: 1

Mystery: 1

Mixed Genres: 1

Other: 1

During the year, I felt like I was reading more sci-fi than I have in previous years, but looking back at 2018, the proportion of science fiction is about the same. I also did not manage my goal of reading any nonfiction this year.

Favorite Book: Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson. At 1240 pages, it’s a doorstopper of a book, but it was worth every page. The continuing journey of the Knights Radiant, the return of a few favorite minor characters, and an epic climactic battle scene all made this novel riveting. Honorable mention to Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars.

Least Favorite Book: Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. There’s a great deal of social commentary in this book, as well as an understanding of how our knowledge about history is often incomplete. How much can we really say for certain about “how things used to be,” and how does that affect the way we view the present? However, the philosophical complexity of the narrative was undermined by a one-dimensional villain.

“Edgedancer” by Brandon Sanderson

I enjoyed the character of Lift in Words of Radiance, so I was advised to read the novella Edgedancer before diving into Oathbringer. The story follows Lift as she finds herself once again pursued by a rogue Herald while visiting the city of Yeddaw. But the Herald has another target, and to top it all off, the Everstorm is approaching.

Most of the action of the first two books takes place in Vorin societies. Edgedancer takes us further afield, giving us a glimpse of another society and culture. Sanderson is known for his worldbuilding, and that talent is on full display here, despite the shortness of the work. The people of Yeddaw have distinct foods, architecture, clothing styles, and religious beliefs from the other places we’ve seen on Roshar, adding to the reader’s sense of a large and varied world.

We also get a closer look at the Edgedancer Order of Knights Radiant. Lift further develops her powers here, and we also see more of what it is that makes someone eligible to be an Edgedancer. Just as Kaladin couldn’t give up on Bridge Four, she finds herself unable to just abandon the unknown Radiant Nale’s hunting. Despite her flightiness, her aversion to authority figures, and her propensity to steal any food item that isn’t nailed down, Lift has a good store of both courage and compassion. She’s an easy character to sympathize with and root for, and she’s also a lot of fun to read about.

Since I’m currently about three-quarters of the way through Oathbringer, I can say that the climactic events of Edgedancer are important to one of the plot threads in the later book. So far, the second fledgling Radiant has only been very briefly mentioned, but I hope they show up at some point, since I’d like to see how their character has developed as a result of Edgedancer’s events. The novella is a worthy addition to the Stormlight Archive, and it whetted my appetite for Book 3.

“The Emperor’s Soul” and “The Hope of Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

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Brandon Sanderson’s collection Arcanum Unbounded contains short works from across his Cosmere setting. Two of them, “The Emperor’s Soul” and “The Hope of Elantris” take place on Sel, the world of his debut novel Elantris. “The Hope of Elantris” is a short story that gives us a sort of “deleted scene” from Fjordell’s attempt to invade Elantris at the climax of the novel.

“The Emperor’s Soul” is a longer and more interesting work. It’s set in the Rose Empire, a nation with very little connection to the countries featured in Elantris. An assassination attempt has left the Emperor in a catatonic state, a fact that has been concealed from the public. The Emperor’s advisors recruit Shai, a practitioner of a magic system called Forging, to create a magical seal that will reconstruct the Emperor’s memories and personality.

Transhumanism is a common theme in science fiction, but it’s rarer to see it explored in fantasy. The characters in “The Emperor’s Soul” ponder questions about the metaphysical nature of what Shai’s doing. Is the restored Emperor truly the same person he was prior to the attack? Or is Shai creating a clone of the Emperor? There’s a lot of political intrigue in the story, and a few action scenes at the climax, but the philosophical questions about the nature of selfhood are what really give the story its depth. The dual meaning of the term Forging adds to this.

The magic of Forging is also interesting in its distinctiveness from the Aonic magic introduced in Elantris. Sel’s magic is regional and tied to the natural terrain. Elantris focused heavily on the Aonic magic of Arelon, with glimpses of magical techniques from Fjordell and JinDo. “The Emperor’s Soul” gives readers an in-depth look at a different Selish culture and the magic that accompanies it.

Elantris doesn’t get as much attention as the Stormlight Archive and Mistborn series, but it was the first of Sanderson’s books I read, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I was happy to read further works in the same setting, and I hope Sanderson will return to it in full-length novels someday.