Books

A Rival for The Lord of the Rings

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is the best book I have ever read. Period. My dad suggested it for me and I could barely put it down, especially near the ending. I was visibly smiling at parts, laughing, and on the edge of my seat repeatedly. In my opinion, it blows The Lord of the Rings out of the water. Read on to find out why this is my new favorite book!

Background

Brandon Sanderson is the author of various books for adults and younger audiences alike. Some of his more famous works include the Mistborn Trilogy and Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, as well as the rest of the Stormlight Archive. He typically writes high fantasy with fantastic worldbuilding.

Summary

In the world of Roshar, three promising characters struggle against their pasts and continued threats while going on journeys of self-discovery. Kaladin, a mysterious slave with a tragic past. Shallan, an artistic young woman who seeks to become the ward of a famous scholar. And Dalinar, an older man who is trying desperately to unite the Alethi highprinces and create a stronger kingdom of Alethkar.

Pros

  • Multiple intriguing points of view
  • Gripping character backstories
  • Different lifeforms than in any other series
  • Unique magic system
  • Richly developed cultures
  • Objects unique to the realm of this book
  • So many quotable moments
  • So much research put into this
  • Illustrations and other worldbuilding snippets between sections of the book
  • Quotes that introduce chapters are interesting and relevant
  • Phenomenal ending with twists

Cons

  • I honestly cannot think of a con. Sure, it’s very long, but without that length I doubt the worldbuilding would be nearly as impressive.

Observations

  • The length of the book is 1200+ pages, but every bit is important to the narrative as a whole.

Review

Characters

Kaladin is introduced as a slave with a history of troublemaking and a host of enviable skills. The book delves deeply into his backstory in particular, speaking of his numerous losses and continued failures. If there is a character who is focused on the most in the book, I would say it is Kaladin.

Shallan is another point-of-view character, trying to become a ward of Jasnah Kholin, who is a high-ranking scholar. Shallan’s primary concern is saving her homeland, which has fallen into disarray since her father’s death. One of her most interesting skills is affixing an image in her memory and being able to draw a replica of it later on. She also draws from sight with remarkable skill.

When she drew, she didn’t feel as if she worked on charcoal and paper. In drawing a portrait, her medium was the soul itself.”

Dalinar is the third significant viewpoint character, an older man whose visions during highstorms worry him about the state of Alethkar. He has two sons, Adolin and Renarin, who are each very interesting in their own ways. Adolin goes through relationships with all the eligible young women of high enough rank quickly. Renarin struggles with physical weakness that prevents him from engaging in battle.

Lifeforms

This novel has lifeforms different than in any book I’ve read. From thunderclasts to chasmfiends to skyeels, Brandon Sanderson has a high capacity for creativity. My favorites, however, are the spren and the chulls.

Spren appear when something changes–when fear appears, or when it begins to rain. They are the heart of change, and therefore the heart of all things”

Hesina

There are musicspren, fearspren, painspren, windspren, and hungerspren, among dozens of others. Some are large and monstrous, others are like wisps, and some can even shift their form.

Chulls are kind of like large hermit crabs with rock-like shells that are used as herd animals and to pull cargo. See an illustration of one on Fandom here.

Magic System

The magic system is dependant on Stormlight. Stormlight from highstorms infuses many everyday items, the currency, and gems. That energy can then be used to perform lashings–attaching things to each other or moving objects, standing on walls, etc. Very few people are capable of these feats.

Culture

The first notable cultural difference is that men are expected to handle fighting, commerce, and creating glyphs. Yet women are the ones who are able to read and write and it is considered wrong for men to engage in these activities. There are also foods considered to be men’s food vs. women’s food.

In Alethi culture, people with light eyes are considered higher-ranking citizens than those with dark eyes.

There is also the Vorin tradition of having a safe hand, a woman covering one’s left hand with a long sleeve or glove. Uncovering one’s safehand is considered as scandalous in their society as very low cleavage. The society is medieval so there are a lot of restrictions for women and men.

According to Shin culture, one should not tread on stone and mining is an abomination. To them, a dying request is sacred. Farmers are celebrated with lavish clothes and acclaimed for their hard work. The Shin have childlike features. One of the characters in this book is a Shin assassin.

At the end of the book a kelek poem is displayed, which must be the same backwards and forwards (excepting verb forms).

Objects

Shardblades are the most interesting weapons in the Stormlight Archive. It is said that “a shardblade did not cut living flesh; it severed the soul itself.” Slicing through someone’s skin would cause no flesh damage, but would lead to numbness in the area swung through. Slicing through someone’s neck would lead to death and eyes being burnt out.

Soulcasters are objects used to turn substances into different substances. For instance, rock to smoke, or human flesh to flames. It is even possible to soulcast food, but it usually ends up being pretty bland.

Spanweed is an instrument that allows long distance communication through writing.

Quotes

But expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”

Shallan’s point of view

Well, I myself find that respect is like manure. Use it where needed, and growth will flourish. Spread it on too thick, and things just start to smell.”

Kabsal

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Wit

Research

After 10 years of research and writing, Brandon Sanderson produced The Way of Kings. There are many aspects of the story that are realistic and well-thought-out. The medical and surgical knowledge Sanderson included in his book added to the effectiveness of the story. Even though it’s a work of fiction, I felt that I learned more about how wounds were treated after battles.

There were other thoughtful aspects such as how a soldier was told to urinate before battle so during the battle he would not be distracted. He was supposed to do that well ahead of time because armor is hard to get off and back on. Another instance of realism is that the brand that Kaladin has is scabby and needs to heal.

Extras

The illustrations between sections of the book are beautiful and contribute to the illusion of realism that Sanderson creates. Illustrations can be seen at his website, here. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter are mostly made up of the dying words of random people. The reason for these quotes is revealed at the end, and they turn out to be extremely relevant.

Conclusion

If you like fantasy, read this book. I have a feeling this book will become a classic for the fantasy genre. Recommended for ages 13 at least and up, but may be better for an older audience due to length.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Links

Christianity, Plays

A Lesser-Known But Intriguing Christian Play

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The House by the Stable by Charles Williams

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is not one of those books I just picked up for the fun of it. It was actually a required text for my Modern Christian Writers class, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!

Although some Christian works appeal to people of all religions as well as those who embrace no religion, this is likely one that will almost exclusively be appealing to Christians.

Background

Charles Williams is a British playwright, novelist, poet, and theologian. He was also a member of the Inklings, a group in which J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were also members.

Some of his other works that I have read include War in Heaven and Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.

Summary

The House by the Stable is an allegorical play about a man who courts Pride both literally and figuratively, and unknowingly engages in a battle for his soul against Hell. He also alludes to the innkeeper from the Bible who refused Joseph and Mary a room but offered them a place in the stable.

Pros

  • Compelling dialogue
  • Unexpected choices when it comes to characters
  • The Christmas Story from a different point of view
  • Strong message
    • Powerful understanding of how Pride can corrupt and change a man
    • A testament to the value of grace in a Christian’s life

Cons

  • A little heavy-handed with the message
  • The perfection of the good characters and the extreme wickedness of the bad ones mean that the only relatable character is Man.

Review

Dialogue

The dialogue of this play contributes to its long-lasting value and immediate appeal to readers. For instance, this is what Man’s mistress–fittingly named Pride–says when she is asked why she adores Man so much:

It is no surprise–if you think what you are. Indeed, it were stranger if I adored you less. You are Man, the lord of this great house Earth, or (as its name is called in my country) Sin; you are its god and mine.”

You can tell immediately that Pride is a dangerous character–not only does she pretend to worship Man, she also encourages him to worship himself. Her influence on Man has caused him to lose his friends and to think only of himself. This is undoubtedly a toxic relationship–and that’s the point–that humankind’s relationship with pride is unhealthy and damaging to one’s self and others.

Unexpected Choices

Having the character who represents the angel Gabriel be just a shuffling butler, “that old gossip of heaven” is an unusual choice.

It was also clever to have Pride be the literal mistress of Man, and for Man to be the man who let Mary and Joseph shelter in his stable.

Point of View

Even though Mary and Joseph and the stable where Jesus is born are all part of this play, the focus is on Man, who is a stand-in for all humans who are trapped in sin.

Message

If I had to pin down the message for this play, I would say it is that the negative aspects of pride are humankind’s worst enemy. Charles Williams treats it as one of the most terrible sins. Pride ruins one’s relationship with others and damages one’s relationship with God.

This quote offers another message that is important:

You are my worshipful sweet Pride; will you be so arrogant always to others and humble to me? Will you always make me believe in myself?”

Man

It reveals that self-confidence, while good in reasonable quantities, can be a trap if it is excessive. Overconfidence can be dangerous when it leads to pride and causes one to sin.

Conclusion

This play has some strong insights that made it worthwhile to read, as you saw above. It’s also incredibly short, so if you aren’t a fan, it’s not like you wasted a bunch of time. I would say, give it a try!

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Books

My Favorite Book: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: Lewis, C. S.: 9780062565419: Amazon.com:  Books

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

In my book reviews, I consider the literary merit of the book by examining aspects such as character development, world-building, illustrations, and storytelling.

Just as a precaution before you delve in–my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.

I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if it sounds like it’s the book for you.

If you disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to leave a comment.

Background

C. S. Lewis is a Christian writer and theologian. He has been extremely influential to Christians of all denominations and has written over 30 books.

Till We Have Faces was written in 1956 and was the last of Lewis’ fiction. Although it was unpopular at first, Lewis said it was his favorite of his fictional works. Lewis felt that all myth had some rudimentary truth to it, a certain value that people could receive from it. His book, Till We Have Faces, is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Pros

  • Creative and unique character name choice
  • Tough and relatable protagonist with a strong voice
  • Benefits from the structure of the Psyche and Cupid myth with an unexpected point of view
  • Engaging storytelling style
  • Clever descriptive language
  • Tone like all those fairy tales and myths I used to be so pumped up about
  • Yet defies common fairy tale expectation
  • Setting has own culture and mythology
  • Demonstrates how even positively-viewed emotions such as love can be twisted and abusive
  • Considers our relationship with fiction and why stories are important
  • The name of the book holds powerful meaning

Cons

  • I cannot think of any cons. Obviously this book isn’t for everyone–but really, what book is?

Review

Character Names

The names of the characters are creative and unique, such as Orual, Redival, Barda, Undit, and Batta.

Protagonist

The point of view character is Orual, the sister of Psyche. While in the myth of Cupid and Psyche the sister has a very minimal and cruel part, in this story she is humanized.

Orual has a strong voice with daring opinions. She rails against the gods themselves and is the sort of person to take her life in her own hands. She claims to be objective, but it is clear she is swayed by her emotions at times.

The story starts with her as an old woman looking back on her life. These are her first few lines:

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.”

Orual

Storytelling

The way that C. S. Lewis tells the story makes it hard to put it down. It has the tone of a fairy tale or myth, with the qualities of an epic story.

For example, Orual describes Psyche like this:

When she trod on the mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver.”

Orual sometimes speaks directly to the reader, giving it more of that oral storyteller vibe.

You know how it is when you shed a few tears or none, but there is a weight and pressure of weeping through your whole head.”

The seeming indifference or hatred of the gods is a source of conflict and struggle for many of the characters. This reminds me a lot of epics like that of Odysseus.

We are their bubbles; they blow us big before they prick us.”

Orual

I wonder do the gods know what it feels like to be a man.”

Barda

The way Lewis uses descriptive language is also unusual and interesting, such as when he says something is as “quick as thought.”

Expectation

With its fairy tale tone and its status as a retelling of a myth, there are certain expectations readers may have. Many of these expectations are subverted. One of the more minor instances of this happens in the first chapter when a stepmother comes into the picture. Anyone who has read fairy tales can’t help but think stepmother = trouble, but this stepmother is young, frail, and terrified.

Culture

The way Orual describes the kingdom of Glome (where she lives) makes it seem like a real place. She speaks of it in the way someone might if they were describing it to a traveler.

The city of Glome stands on the left hand of the river Shennit to a traveler who is coming up from the south-east, not more than a day’s journey above Ringal, which is the last town southward that belongs to the land of Glome. The city is built about as far back from the river as a woman can walk in the third of an hour, for the Shennit overflows her banks in the spring.”

The people of Glome worship an assortment of gods, but especially the goddess Undit, who can be equated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. They also acknowledge the power of Undit’s son, the god of the Grey Mountain.

There are little aspects of culture of Glome that come out over time, such as the fact that grieving women cut their hair. There is a special oath taken with a sword blade, called an “oath on edge,” that it is sacrilegious to break. There are many other interesting things about Glome that you will figure out if you read the book.

Treatment of Love

Love is rarely acknowledged to be capable of causing great harm in the same way that other emotions like anger are. C. S. Lewis, much like he does in his other book The Great Divorce, demonstrates how love can be corrupted and abusive even when it claims to be for the loved one’s good. I think this is an important message that adds depth to the book.

The Value of Fiction

There is a character named the Fox who has a great love of poetry and yet is ashamed of it when he teaches it to Orual. He frequently brushes off comments about fictional works, saying:

It’s only the lies of poets.”

It is clearly his background in reading myths, poetry, and other works of fiction that contributes to his wisdom, however. This part of the story is relevant to readers because at some point any reader of fiction will wonder–what’s the point?

The point is that it helps one to grow and mature as a person who is able to understand others, to value different points of view, and to think creatively. There are many lessons that I have learned from reading fiction that would have been much hard to learn otherwise–such as the fact that even love can be corrupted and evil, as I mentioned above.

Title

Without spoiling anything, all I can say about the meaning of the title is that it has partially to do with knowing oneself and not masking one’s intentions. Other than that, it suffices to say that it was a profound and well-chosen title–to see why, you should read the book.

Conclusion

I read this book this semester and it has become my favorite book.

It has so much to offer–teaching lessons without beating you over the head with them.

Its powerful storytelling swept me along until I had finished the book. This is a book I would say is far better even than Lewis’ acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia series.

While this book would be more appealing to a Christian audience, I see no reason why people who follow other religions or no religion would not be able to read and appreciate it.

It is the only book thus far I have rated 10 out of 10 stars, and I did it for a reason.

If you have any questions or comments about the book, feel free to leave a comment.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Books

Book Review: Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny: Still Life | D.K. Wall

Rating: 9.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

In my book reviews, I consider the literary merit of the book by examining aspects such as character development, world-building, illustrations, and storytelling.

Just as a precaution before you delve in – my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.

I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if it sounds like it’s the book for you.

If you happen to disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to leave a comment.

Background

Quick facts about Louise Penny:

  • She is a Canadian author who lives near Montreal.
  • Her husband of 22 years inspired her to write the character of Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector in her novels.
  • She was in her 40s when her first book was published.
  • You can learn more at her website.

Still Life is Penny’s fascinating debut. The story is set in Three Pines, where the elderly Jane Neal is found dead from an arrow wound. Most suspect that this is simply a tragic hunting accident, but Chief Inspector Gamache suspects it is murder.

Pros

  • Strong sense of setting
  • Rich character development
  • Suspenseful yet nuanced storytelling
  • Effective use of quotes and literary sources
  • Well-written poetry included
  • Did her research

Cons

  • Somewhat scattered beginning, a little hard to get into at first

Review

The Beginning

The book starts like this:

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round…”

“She had fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.”

Still Life by Louise Penny
photo of dried leaves on soil

I enjoyed Penny’s language. I was bemused at the caricature of death she made by comparing a woman’s position at death with the idea of children making snow angels.

Then the story goes back in time to when she was supposed to meet her friend for coffee. After that, it explains how a group of local boys pelted a gay couple with duck manure.

It goes on to explain that Jane Neal is a shy artist who is just finally willing to show her art to the public eye. Only problem? Her masterpiece, Fair Day, is like a child’s drawing, or an ancient cave drawing.

All of that happens before 10 pages are up. Now, I am no great reader of mysteries. In fact, this is probably the first mystery I’ve read in 10 years. But I was thinking, hey, let’s go back to the snow-angel corpse instead of this odd series of occurrences that I’m frankly not interested in.

But I was wrong. Every detail of those first 10 pages was absolutely integral to the story. I just didn’t have the perspective of the whole story in mind.

As a result, I will say that it was not a novel whose beginning gripped me, but I will concede that these pages were necessary to the development of the drama of the novel.

Setting

The story is set in the village of Three Pines, which is compared rightfully to Narnia. There is certainly something magical about the personalities of the characters who live there. They have the glint of life about them, the engaging complexities of truly well-developed characters.

Olivier and Gabri’s Bistro and B & B are my favorite places in Three Pines. Each piece of furniture and decor in the Bistro has a price tag attached to it. People can buy the table they are eating at, the coat rack, the chairs! It is such a creative place for the characters to spend their time.

Antiques signage

“Each piece looked as though it had been born there.”

Still Life by Louise Penny

Character Development

Each of Penny’s characters has many facets to their colorful personality.

Gamache, for example is careful, pushy, kind, stern, intelligent, ignorant…

Clara is a woman who grieves for the loss of Jane but has an edge of steel in her at times. Her husband, Peter, can be cold as ice or warm and loving, easily offended but loyal.

Ruth is a toughie who raps her cane off the ground to shock people to attention, isn’t afraid to let her opinions be known, and has a penchant for poetry.

There were many more complex characters, but these were some of my favorites.

Storytelling

The storytelling was remarkable because of the way seemingly unrelated events and pieces of information came together in the end. Penny is clearly a master at foreshadowing without giving away the mystery, at providing both depth and forthright depictions.

This is not a thriller – the suspense of what might happen at any moment is not sharp. Instead, the book draws you into Three Pines, where the action is happening, and invites you to stay awhile. It promises a good story, without car chases, without shootouts, but with a certain compelling sense of danger and turmoil lurking just below the surface.

Quotes and Literary Sources

Penny is clearly well-read. She uses a host of references and direct quotes from Auden, Melville, and John Donne, as well as several others. One that stuck out to me as particularly well chosen was this one:

“Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.”

W. H. Auden

Poetry

Ruth Zardo is a poet in the novel, and Penny has included poems she has written for the character. I will say that they do give the impression of being by an actual poet. It’s convincing, that’s what matters.

Research

man holding archer statue

Penny did her research, and that’s part of what makes the novel so intriguing. This is notable in the section of the book where Gamache is trying to figure out the details of hunting with a bow. Penny uses Gamache’s ignorance as an excuse to reveal beginner’s hunting mistakes, the differences between bows, common myths about hunting with bows, and all the little details of this topic.

Final Comments

This book is one of the best I have read in recent years, which has earned it the rating of 9.8 out of 10 stars.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.