Writers Talking Writers 2011: Mystery Guest!

Hey everyone, it’s Len.  I just wanted to drop in really quick to introduce our Mystery Guest.

You may be asking why I have a mystery guest at all, especially when I’ve already had two great guest bloggers so far and two more to come.  It’s simply that I had an opening, I knew of someone who was available, and I knew that he would want to take part.

Without further ado, a post from our Mystery Guest…

A post by Len Berry.

I asked myself the question, the same question I’ve asked of several other writers as of late: Who is my favorite author?  I followed that with the next question, What is the book that author has written that I’ve enjoyed the most?

Difficult questions, on both ends.  For the longest time, I, like Dan Campisi, would have said, Neil Gaiman, if only because he is the greatest writer alive.  But that wasn’t the question I asked.  I was after the writer whose work I enjoyed the most, they didn’t have to be a master artist of words, only one I felt captivated by.

For my answer, and like you’ll see with Emily Suess, I picked my favorite as of this moment.  Just as I like Gaiman and feel influenced by Greg Rucka, there’s one writer who I enjoy reading, if only for the pleasure of the experience.  That writer is Brandon Sanderson.

I discovered Sanderson’s work about three years ago.  I was on my lunch break during a closing shift at the bookstore and I wanted to study the back cover text and first pages of a few science fiction books, just to learn how to craft such things better and better.  Randomly taking one book from the shelf, I found myself facing a back cover that looked wrong, especially since it had columns talking about the three central characters.  This was Elantris, Sanderson’s debut novel.  At that point, he’d already released the first Mistborn trilogy and was close to releasing Warbreaker.

What captivated me about Sanderson was that he could tell a captivating fantasy, grabbing my attention early, then refusing to let go.  The first page of Elantris read like a short story by itself, establishing a problem key to the setting that wasn’t even mentioned on the back cover.  It was a trick designed to make me look inside a book.  Sanderson knew, like any good writer clawing through obscurity, that he only needed me to look inside in order to make me want to read it.

Which I did.  I bought it that night.

After that, I quickly ran through the text, embracing the story and its characters.  There was another notion I discovered that I, until that point, did not think was possible.

Brandon Sanderson writes fantasy novels that don’t require massive medieval armies to march at each other with sparks of bright magical light and pointed ears.  He needs no ringwraiths and requires no arbitrary quest to stop some malevolent super-being from destroying the world.  Sanderson tells his stories using people, not two dimensional characters, but three dimensional people that can only be glimpsed through the turning of pages and the lens of imagination.

One of the core themes he touches on, aside from his meticulous magic systems, is his view of religion in everyday life.  It isn’t some allegory to an existing religion or some note on Eastern Philosophy.  Sanderson writes of religions actively practiced by the people of his worlds, the citizens of his Cosmere.

The book that best combines these elements is Warbreaker, a fantasy that centers on a pair of sisters, princesses from the nation of Idris, which is at the brink of war with neighboring Hallendren.  Vivenna, the elder sister, has been trained to be the perfect wife and queen to the God-King of Hallendren.  Her sister, Siri, has little education on politics or courtly manners.  At the last moment, their father decides to send Siri–who is seen as “useless”–instead of Vivenna, who is well-liked and appreciated in Idris.

This says nothing of the god Lightsong, who is constantly petitioned to grant his BioChromatic Breath (life-giving, color-imbuing magic) to restore someone, while sacrificing himself.  It also says nothing of the truly enigmatic Vasher, who constantly enrages the gods who rule Hallendren for reasons he keeps to himself.  It also doesn’t say what is wrong with the God-King, because he is missing something very important, something that would give him a great deal of power, even beyond what he already has.

Some see Warbreaker as a novel of reversals.  I see it as a novel of perspectives, points of view that shift and change as politics shift and change, as the social climate adapts to growing tensions forced by Vasher and hostilities with Idris.  It is a novel that shows vast, opulent plazas, just as it might show seedy urban environments and homelessness, just as you might see in a commercial asking for humanitarian aid.

There is one last element I enjoy about Sanderson’s writing, an element that goes against what most novelists would work on.  You’ll note I have not mentioned any sequel or series that starts Warbreaker.  There isn’t one.  Sanderson has proven, while he might write stories that are part of a series, he isn’t bound to that law.  Warbreaker, like Elantris before it, is a stand alone novel.  While it may have Stephen King-like connections to the greater Cosmere, each book tells its own story, usually with its own time span and its own set of characters.

Rarely do I wait in anticipation as a new release from an author approaches.  Yet, I am always ready to read another Brandon Sanderson novel, hoping it might be as good or better than Warbreaker.  If nothing else, I know I’m in store for a good read.


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