Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Bookworm: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Crossposted from Goodreads.

"Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.

Conversely, if you gain a reputation for being too good, too skilled... beware. The better art will be in their heads, and if you give them an ounce less than they imagined, suddenly you have failed.

It is those words, spoken by a true mystery tucked away on the final three or so pages of the Words of Radiance that truly resonated at the very end.

Because, and without attempting to be presumptive of Brandon Sanderson's meaning behind those words, it was the task that we fantasy readers have set upon him after his tremendous first book of this series, given that it was held up in the same light as many already established legends in the genre.

And yet, that quote does more than just speak about the author's enormous task. The art of expectation and at its heart, the truth and lies of human perspective, really was a theme that wove itself quite profoundly throughout the story, though it took sincerely deep retrospection on my part to realize how deeply ingrained it was. Every character, from the good to the bad to the ones you wanted to strangled, from even the biggest names to the most menial of characters either struggled with this art, toyed with it, or tried to seize control of it. 

But that is human and a trial that is seen everywhere in fiction and non. But it is in the execution of it that made it artful. And while I cannot say what or how such battles resolved itself, if resolved at all without spoiling too much, I can say that their results were decidedly mixed.

Book two contained just as much world-building and character-establishing as the first book, proving the adage at least in Sanderson's written world that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know.

But while the increase in complexity added a fascinating depth to the world and its central characters, it also really dampened the pacing of the story, particularly throughout the middle, where much of it was mostly establishing new relations and thickening plots, lacking much satisfactory progression. I admit that I found myself growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with the pacing, and made a bad habit of skipping ahead from time to time to ease it.

It is a trait that I noticed in his first book, one that was repeated in this one and I can't help but wonder if it is a common thread of his in his stories - in that he will spend an extraordinary amount of time creating a slow build mixed in with many infuriating clues but no resolution, before unleashing chaos in the final three-quarters of the book.

And when I say chaos, I mean a chaos that can be matched only a few times in fantasy literature. Think the Battle of Pelennor's Fields combined with the fist-pumping sensation experienced at the end of the Battle of Helm's Deep. And even that can't match the scope of the chaos.

That foreshadowing is common in every book, but the way Sanderson builds expectation is perhaps too effective to the point where impatience is inevitable.

And yet, here I am complaining about pacing when in truth, Sanderson's story moves. That is to say he didn't spend three, or four or in one really significant case... TWELVE massive books talking and talking and waiting on a big world-changing event. 

No, Sanderson got to his point swiftly and in some ways, way too soon for where society is in preparing for it. But is that not life, when a tragedy often comes sooner than you hope and when you are least prepared for it?

And we are more than unprepared, for truly the future is now uncertain now that what was foreshadowed had come to pass. We are now totally at the mercy of fate, because there is nothing that is now known for sure in this world. 

Granted, Sanderson doesn't have the shock value of A Song of Ice and Fire and in some ways doesn't play the game of gritty realism. But in the same breath it isn't playing said game because it is playing its own.

Despite some of my honest annoyances, including one gigantic spoiler that involves an unnecessary attraction at this point of the story in my opinion, Brandon Sanderson did not fail in the expectations that were given Book two of The Stormlight Archives.

He certainly lived up to my expectations. And he did it entirely too well, to the point that I'm already growing impatient for Book three.

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