Category Archives: Book Reviews

Stormlight Archives

Spoilers below for Stormlight Archives (and some minor ones for Mistborn). Extra warning that this may mildly ruin the books for you even if you enjoy it, maybe, but I’m a strong believer in being able to look critically at things that I can still appreciate for other elements.

So there’s four main criticisms I have of the Stormlight Archives (maybe more that I’ve forgotten), not all of which are spread evenly over all three books. In fact the sequels get a lot better, by my reckoning, and may be worth reading through the first one to get to them. But hoo-boy, that first one’s got some problems, and I’ll try to highlight those as I go.

First off, the author cheats. He was bad about this in the Mistborn trilogy, and it’s no different here. For someone who’s codified the “laws” of how to write magic systems, you’d think he would be able to get through a book without pulling some new shit out of thin air to resolve a major conflict. Seriously, pretty much every single major conflict in Stormlight is resolved by a character suddenly having a philosophical breakthrough that gives them new superpowers. It’s fine to have superpowers tied to resolve or oaths or wisdom or whatever, but when there’s NO indication ahead of time of WHEN these can manifest, or WHAT those superpowers are, or who they work for and not work for… it may feel awesome the first time or two, but it quickly gets more and more cheap and anticlimatic once you see it coming. They start to feel like deus ex machina, which is complemented by all the diabolus ex machina that keep ratcheting up the stakes for cheap tension throughought the series. This may be the only one of these flaws that is actually not as bad in the first book as the later ones.

Second, and even worse, Sanderson hands Idiot Balls out like he’s playing Hot Potato. Why did it take three books for Adolin to use that nifty Shardblade-throwing technique he developed, despite multiple circumstances where it would have been the perfect solution to the problem he faced? Guess he just forgot about that. Why doesn’t anyone put two-and-two together about Elhokar’s mutterings about seeing spren, even after everyone was in the same place and talking about them? For that matter why didn’t he try saying the words just before the battle at Kholinar, rather than waiting until his life was in danger? It goes on and on, I could probably list a dozen in each book and still find more with a reread.

But the most egregious of Idiot Balls is in the first book, where Sanderson hands it to a god. The CENTRAL PLOT of book 1 ends up hinging on whether or not Dalinar could trust both his visions and Sadeas. He does a SMART thing by demanding the visions give him one clear answer to see if he can trust them, rather than vague and ominous statements. In return for his question of whether he can trust Sadeas, the vision says, unambiguously, “Yes.” Full stop. Followed by “This is important.” Full stop. Followed by some more vaguer comments that seem to tie in to trusting Sadeas.

And after Sadeas betrays him, he asks the visions why they lied, and finds out that they’re just recordings. That the god who sent them is dead, and this god somehow decided that randomly saying YES like they were ANSWERING A QUESTION was a smart thing to do. This would be bad enough on its own, but the fact that Sanderson wrote the story so that Dalinar would finally ask THAT question at just THAT moment to get THAT response is so infuriatingly hackneyed that I nearly stopped reading the series then and there. Because there were so many better, simple ways to have the same effect, and he should know better.

Third complaint is that a lot of the characters feel soulless in Way of Kings. This is a general problem I have with Sanderson’s writing, and YMMV, but I’ve talked to a lot of people about his books and this does not seem to be a unique view of mine. It definitely gets a LOT better in the sequels (in direct contrast to Mistborn, where the first book felt like its characters were more alive than in the later ones), but most of the Way of Kings feels like a slog in part because I just didn’t care about most of the characters. They don’t act like real people to me, they don’t seem to care enough about solving the problems they have, they talk like they’re reading scripts. The pacing here is part of the problem too: each of the different storylines feel like they take forever to get from point A to point C, and like you’re just rereading Point B again and again and again. How many times did we really need to read about Shallan agonizing over whether to steal the soulcaster, or Kaladin struggling with his depression, or Adolin being frustrated with his father? It feels like at least 1/3 of the book could be cut out without much loss.

Fourth complaint is a fairly niche one: Sanderson is not great at writing non-theists. Again, he gets a bit better with it in the sequels, but listening to Jasnah justify her atheism in book 1 made me want to pull my hair out with how canned and unconvincing her arguments were, especially coming from someone who the text keeps insisting is exceedingly brilliant. I can’t fault Sanderson for trying, he’s at least very clearly treating atheism with RESPECT, but I still can’t help but wish he found some better atheists to beta read and give feedback so he could better understand the epistemics that go into skepticism. Also I’m still wary Jasnah might eventually recant and realize the error of her ways, similar to what happened to Mistborn’s atheist.

So yeah, that’s it just off the top of my head. There’s certainly a lot to admire in the series, and I enjoyed the sequels more than the first book, so maybe it’s worth reading for that, but I’m not holding out hope for the author to get past these flaws overall. Despite his amazing skills in worldbuilding and designing magic systems, Sanderson has disappointed me too often for me to ever see him as some shining beacon of the fantasy genre that others seem to perceive him as.

Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

[Copied from my book review posted on Amazon]

After hearing all the accolades that have been bestowed on it, and receiving a personal recommendation by someone close to me, I decided to give Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s landmark Magical Realism novel a try. A hundred pages in I felt my attention waning. Two hundred pages in I was utterly bored and disgusted. The next few hundred pages were an exercise in artistic diligence, as, for the love of the craft, I forced myself to search for any hint as to what made the novel good to so many others, and forbade myself from turning away from the abyss lest I someday not recognize it in my own writing.

It is by far the hardest book to finish I’ve ever read, and when all was said and done, did not in the least bit reward my patience.

It seems to me that only those with a very limited experience with novels would find this book enthralling in the modern day. Its “storytelling” is so poor that it’s akin to our ancestor’s scratching on the walls of their cave, one dimensional and confusing and, while surely inspiring when it was first done, unfulfilling compared to the rich tapestry of written literature available to us today.

It started out okay, with a great plot hook of a first sentence: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

This plothook is occasionally mentioned for awhile as we go over not just Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s childhood, but also the lives of his parents and the way they formed the town he grew up in. Okay, great. I’m all for inter-generational stories and settings.

But the plot never truly coalesces around that hook, and it soon becomes obvious there is none. The story is a rambling exploration of a family’s ancestors and descendants, and their town’s history. And while this might be done in a truly engaging way by some authors, it’s not by this one. The sheer amount of random, pointless, and mundane details that fill the pages and pages and pages of this book can be described as nothing less than filler, to me… and I don’t necessarily think filler is a bad thing. Hell, I love the King of filler, Stephen King.

The difference is, when Stephen King spends ten pages detailing a minor character’s formative years, it’s engaging and serves to give you insight into the character. It makes you empathize or feel close to them. It fleshes them out, adds an extra dimension.

None of that ever happens in this book. It’s just random details about people’s random quirks, all written in a distant, third-person-omniscient writing style that makes it sound like a history textbook, with all the worst implications that has for immersion. There are perhaps a dozen scenes in the entire book that last longer than half a page… it’s a nightmare of “tell, don’t show” which makes it hard to care about any of the characters, even without their actions making them so utterly hard to empathize with or like.

And the “magical realism” was perhaps the most disappointing part. I thought I enjoyed magical realism when I was young, but as I grow older and read more of it, I’ve found myself despising the genre when it’s done like this: when it means nothing, nothing, to the story or characters. We hear about how flying carpets are real a few chapters into the story, and no mention is ever made of what world-shattering changes the existence of such a thing would have on history. Aureliano Buendia’s father, who was captivated by the gypsies’ magic inventions like magnets and magnifying glasses and potential alchemy, utterly ignored the power of a flying carpet and what he could do with it. To take this idiocy to the ultimate level, he later tries to search for the ocean near the town, slogging through swamps, over mountains, etc… and never once is any mention made of even considering using a flying carpet to do it.

This treatment of the supernatural makes the genre name a misnomer. Magical Realism implies that it treats the magic as real, as an affecting part of the story. Not as blatant as a fantasy story would, perhaps, but still an intrinsic part of the tale. This book is magical unrealism, because it describes the magic as if it’s real, but it has absolutely no affect on anything. None of the characters act in a realistic fashion when confronted with the magic. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple, as pretty much admitted by the author himself, just a style of storytelling his grandmother would engage in when he was young. You could take out all of the magic in the book and absolutely nothing would change.

On top of all that, it’s incredibly frustrating to read about so many unlikable characters without even a basic plot to string them together… and as if actively trying to break his readers’ immersion, the author continuously drops little bits of future events carelessly into the narrative, so that you might sometimes just meet a new character and within a few lines find out how they die. I can count on one hand the times I felt some true sense of immersion or interest in the novel, and then things went back normal.

Overall I grew quickly disillusioned with all the praise heaped on the book. Back when it first got published, maybe it was seen as “innovative” and “groundbreaking” and “transformative,” but I’ve read dozens more engaging, more educational, more impacting stories that took a quarter of the time to read as this lump of bland, flavorless drivel.

I could rant for hours about this thing, so I’ll stop there.

TL;DR: Don’t buy this book. Find a copy to read first and decide if you like it based off the first few chapters: it doesn’t get any better past that.