Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mistborn: A Book Review

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson has been on my reading list for quite a while. I love epic fantasy, and I was first introduced to Sanderson by way of Robert Jordan's epic Wheel of Time series. When Robert Jordan died before finishing the 14 book series, Sanderson took over. Both Jordan and Jordan's wife thought Brandon Sanderson could handle the job. I was apprehensive at best, but he surprised me. His writing was stylistically different, but well done. He took the characters I had fallen in love with and continued their development organically. Actually, one of my favorite story arcs of all time is in the books Sanderson wrote. He did WoT right.

So naturally I had high expectations for his own original works.

The first one I read was Elantris which wasn't bad. It wasn't amazing (or even above average), but it featured an epidemic and I'm a sucker for diseases.

Even so, when a lot of my fellow fantasy readers recommended the Mistborn series, I thought I'd give him another chance. After all Elantris was his first widely released book, so maybe he's gotten better. He certainly was great with WoT. So I finally got around to reading the first in the series.

Here's the basic premise: In a world covered with ash and shrouded at night in mist, a young street-rat girl, Vin, discovers that she can use allomancy, a form of magic. She has to learn to control her powers, learn to trust other people, and overthrow the authoritarian god-king.

The plot itself isn't anything new. The execution is average and the writing is average. If I had read this in high school (when I was more indiscriminate) I probably would have enjoyed it. As is, I won't read it again. It's not bad, just not quite up to my standards.

I do want to say there are several things I thought were well done and would have elevated the book if the plot weren't so mediocre.

Firstly, he writes Vin, the protagonist, fairly well. He doesn't stick her in the middle of a love triangle (even though he totally could have). She is self-reliant and skilled. She's deeply flawed when it comes to interpersonal relationships, though to be honest I'm a little sick of the "broken girl learns to trust" gimmick. But he does a fairly good job at writing a female protagonist. Sadly, the vast majority of side characters are male (I only remember two female characters that Vin interacted, both of which were portrayed negatively).

Secondly, his magic system is unique and interesting. The basic idea is that Allomancers (magic users) get their powers from consuming and "burning" metals. Only certain pure metals and alloys are useful. Most can only use one metal, and thus only have one power. These are called Mistings. However there are a few select people who are capable of using all the metals. These are called Mistborn. The magic system is new and dynamic and Sanderson executes it well. It's unusual to find a system this unique that works, so that's a definite plus.

So if you're looking to read something easy and you like fantasy, than Mistborn isn't the worst choice. I might even end up reading the rest of the trilogy since the ebook I bought has all three. On the other hand, there are a lot of other books I would recommend before this one.

Friday, July 25, 2014

365 Day Photo Challenge

My boyfriend is a photographer. A pretty great one. (Check out his gallery here!) But he felt like he was in a bit of a rut. Now as a writer and a visual artist, this is a state with which I am intimately familiar. So he decided to start a new project to jolt him out of stasis. The idea is that you take at least one picture everyday. You can take more, but you have to pick one per day. He even started an open Facebook Group for anyone who would like to participate.

Now I am not nor have I ever claimed to be a photographer. But the idea of documenting one year out of my life in a single picture per day sounded interesting. So I decided to give it a shot.

I'm not using a fancy camera, just my phone. I'm also posting everything through my instagram (you can follow my instagram here). Yesterday was day 52 for me. I'm honestly surprised I've lasted this long and I wanted to share what I've done so far. Don't expect Annie Liebovitz or Ansel Adams. Instead expect random moments of my life. And cats. Lots and lots of cats.

Get Adobe Flash player
Photo Gallery by QuickGallery.com

If you are interested in joining the Facebook group, just click the words "Facebook Group" up in the top paragraph and request an invite. It's open to anyone who wants to give it a shot!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flight Behavior: A Book Review

So I think I'm in love.

I wrote a review a while back about Barbara Kingsolver's spectacular novel, The Poisonwood Bible, of a family of star-crossed missionaries in Africa. It blew me away, and, honestly, I was a little hesitant to read another of her books. How could it possibly be as good? But I finally gave one a shot.

Flight Behavior follows Dellarobia Turnbow, a young woman desperate for a change in the hills of Southern Appalachia. One day, she climbs the mountain behind her house, determined to throw away the life she's been living - two children, a nice if uninteresting husband, a family she never really belonged to - but something stops her. In what verges on religious transcendence, she discovers a miracle. No, a phenomenon. No, a catastrophe. I don't want to give away anything, but what she discovers surpasses her understanding and the understanding of the scientific community.

In one breath, her life is overturned. Her church suddenly views her as blessed by God. Scientists venture into this small backwoods town to study the phenomenon. And well-meaning tourists disrupt the stagnant balance that had previously been Dellarobia's existence.

At first, I was a bit reluctant to relate to this character. Not because of how she was written but because of my own prejudices. Dellarobia is basically what I've always heard called "poor, white trash." She married before she graduated high school because she got pregnant. She stayed with her husband even though that meant a life of diapers, and cleaning, and putting up with the matriarch of this sheep-farmer family. She traded the young, brilliant, enthusiastic woman that she was in for a dollar-store, made-in-china, washed-out version of herself. As someone who grew up poor, it wasn't her poverty that turned me off. It was her absolute hopelessness. But that changes pretty quickly.

At first she sees the phenomenon that landed in her backyard as a sign from God. A sign of beauty and hope. She's not sure what to make of it, but she believes with a child-like certainty that it portends of good things to come. Then the scientists come.

The head scientist - a graceful, brilliant, foreign man - makes such an impression on this sheltered young mother that she falls almost instantly in love. Not exactly love for who he is, himself, but for what he stands for. Education. Knowledge. Opportunity. She quickly offers her land for his use and he sets up a portable trailer house and a makeshift laboratory. The more she learns, the clearer it becomes that this wonder in her backyard is a tragedy of catastrophic proportions.

Flight Behavior skillfully portrays the small dramas of this Appalachia town, complete with the exciting new opening of a thrift store the next town over. It shows the humanity of those who live paycheck to paycheck and the casual apathy that is almost required to survive in the cloistered, claustrophobic atmosphere of a dying small town. It presents, addresses, and demolishes prejudices and assumptions held on all sides. The intensely conservative distrust of science, outsiders, and anything new. The highly educated's arrogant assumptions regarding the inferiority, inability, and lack of self-determination with regards to the uneducated. It's strikes all the universal chords of family, ambition, privilege, respect, and that quintessentially human thirst for something .... more.

It made me question my own prejudices. It forced me to consider a new point of view. It compelled me to recognize the fact that I cannot know all of someone else's circumstances. That each person is valid and contributes to the humanity of us all. The main character grows immensely throughout the book and takes the reader along for the ride. It shows us that something can be both beautiful and heartbreaking. That a person can be both tragic and strong. Victim and oppressor. Ignorant and brilliant. That for what it's worth, each individual matters. And that in the face of overwhelming odds, it's worth fighting.

The writing itself is beautifully crafted, and I must admit, Barbara Kingsolver may give my all-time favorite author, Margaret Atwood, a run for her money when it comes to beauty and lyricism in writing. It looks like I've got a new favorite author, so now comes the hard part. Which of her other books should I read next?