Unique Critiques

Archive for the tag “Sanderson”

Promise of Blood (Powder Mage series Book 1)

Fantasy Book Review

Fantasy Book Review

This is my first attempt at reading any McClellan and I liked it enough that I’ll give his second attempt a whirl.  He does some solid world building and definitely tries something new with magic.  Experimentation in this genre is a must with all of the candidates out there these days.  He doesn’t go too far with his experimentation though, nothing that is completely out there like a Rothfuss or a Sanderson.  This does make the world a little more identifiable though because those that build a brand new world and don’t have the literary chutzpah to pull it off almost always end up in disaster.  Again, it was good, but not groundbreaking.

The story begins with a coup.  One of our main characters has overthrown the royalty and has grand plans to build a democracy via the baby step of aristocracy.  The coup and the world we end up in seems a hell of a lot like the French revolution.  From the start, I felt like I was thrown into Les Mis, sans the musical numbers.  This did mean that we are in an age of gunpowder which is a risky proposition.  Once science and industry get to a certain level in a world, adding magic to that world is kind of like adding drama to pornography, it feels awkward, unwanted and out of place.  McClellan actually does a pretty good job of acknowledging that and goes with it anyway.

The key to making the science to magic transition kind of work is that gunpowder is actually the medium used by a new type of mage, the powder mage.  The powder mage eats or snorts some gunpowder which heightens their senses and reflexes and gives them finely controlled mental power over their ballistics.  These powder mages are in regular struggles with the Privileged, the more traditional elemental style magic wielders.  This battle is interesting primarily because it feels like a microcosm of the struggle of science and industry taking on the superstitions of a bygone era.  The other element he brings to the powder mage is that too much powder is addictive.  This is not new in magical genres, the draw of power is always addicting, but what is new is that this is the closest parallel I have seen to drugs.  You can imagine characters literally snorting this powder off of the bare asses of industrial revolution style hookers.

The other angle that he takes that really made the plot move along was by introducing a detective into the mix.  I imagined this character as a spitting image of Hercule Poirot.  Many times in fantasy novels, there is a mystery lurking that needs solving.  McClellan effectively turned this into a plot tool by creating a character that solves this mystery while riding shotgun with the reader.

Finally, I did like the grittiness of the world.  The author doesn’t pull any punches, major characters die, and he takes on real subjects like democracy and addiction.  The writing is good but I think as McClellan hones his craft, he has the opportunity to be much better.

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Firefight (Reckoners Book 2)

Science Fiction Book Review

Science Fiction Book Review

Let’s start by saying that I read pretty much anything that Sanderson puts out.  This includes all of his novellas, those lollipop sized servings of delicious plot and concepts that keep you engaged until you realize that you took the requisite three licks and chomped your way through to the end.  I consumed the previous installation of this series, Steelheart, with a singular focus that found me growing increasingly irritated with those elements of real life that got in my way of finishing the novel, those things like kids and, you know, work.

The first book, Steelheart, had every element of Sanderson’s unique take on a genre that definitely needed one.  Even though superheroes have become increasingly complex and interesting, especially as depicted by stronger and stronger directors in Hollywood, they are still very formulaic.  Sanderson breaks the formula, twists it around, adds his special brand of voodoo and puts you in an entirely unexpected place.  The joy of his world is that the only heroes in it are definitely not super.  While writing Firefight, Sanderson even did us all the wonderful favor of putting out a little ‘tweener novella, Mitosis, that kept the cravings going.

This made it all the more disappointing when I did finally dive into Firefight.  Don’t get me wrong, the book is still good, with Sanderson’s mastery of the language blazing through every page with a plot relentlessly getting the reader through to the thrilling climax.  But it’s not Sanderson good.

The main characters move location from the shiny Steel Chicago to an over-the-top, hippy version of New York that also happens to be mostly underwater.  This lends to some pretty cool visuals but ultimately becomes a little limiting in what the characters can accomplish and too often reminded me of that disaster of a Costner movie, Waterworld.   The reason for the shift becomes immediately apparent as the primary villain is a high epic with water powers.  It was she who flooded the place and she who sets the rules.

Our protaganist, with the newly minted moniker of Steelslayer, still uses his encyclopedic knowledge of Epics to formulate a plan with the rest of his team to do their very best to take down these over entitled super-pricks.  They even use new Epic charged toys to execute the plan.  What I found disappointing was that it was nothing extraordinarily new.  Even the big reveal at the end didn’t push the envelope to anything groundbreaking.  Sanderson has set the bar sooo high on all of his books that I’ve grown to expect something mind-blowingly new every time I read one of them that just getting a continuation of the previous installment felt like a letdown.  It almost felt like Sanderson himself got a little bored with the concept.  Pure conjecture on my part but I couldn’t still that niggling thought as I made my way through Firefight far slower than Steelheart.

Will I read the next and most likely final installment of the Reckoners series?  Absolutely.  Will I go into it with the same super high expectations I take into every Sanderson book.  Absolutely.  Here’s to hoping that he meets those expectations like he did with Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive.

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