Welcome to Fiction Wednesday! Apologies if this one is a little abbreviated or seems a bit…”off”, as I think I’m catching a virus or something. Just in time for the big show this weekend! Isn’t that how it always goes?
Anyway, this week I’m offering reviews of Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages and The Sleeping Beauty by C.S. Evans. I’ll also be talking about We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs.
Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…
The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I’d heard some complaints about how the series wraps up, and while it is a little bombastic and…well, silly at times, I have to say that I’m not sure Sanderson could have ended it any other way. Once you get to the confrontation level that the series has reached, there’s just no logical way to avoid becoming so over-the-top. This series essentially faced the same problem that The Matrix movies faced in turning their protagonist into an unstoppable force, and I think Sanderson handled that crisis with aplomb.
But let me back up and discuss the rest of the book first. I’m going to try to be as vague as possible to preserve the nature of the surprises in the book (there are many, and some are great). Vin, the so-called Hero of Ages, finds herself drawn into a desperate race against the clock to find hidden caches of supplies created by the Lord Ruler as a backstop against desperate times. These caches are supposed to contain hidden secrets that will help Vin and crew to prevent the end of the world. The last two key caches are held by tyrannical governments, and the crew splits up to try to gain access to these. A series of surprising twists reveals that the actions of the first two books were not quite what they seemed and so Vin has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity.
The characterization suffers somewhat in this one. Vin and Elend Venture remain mostly static for this one, showing only a modicum of growth. The true stars of the story are Tensoon, Sazed, and especially Spook, who has a fascinating character arc through the book. The plot itself is interesting and fairly well-done, though the now time-worn tradition of planting hooks in interstitial writings wears thin, its machinations becoming quite threadbare.
Overall, I think this is a worthy finish to the series and a notch better than the second book, though it still can’t touch the first one. If you’ve read the first two, you owe it to yourself to see where it all wraps up, just be prepared for a little silliness in completing the journey.
The Sleeping Beauty by C.S. Evans. For those not familiar with this one, it’s a 1920 “remake” (for lack of a better word) of the original Grimm Fairy Tale. I haven’t read the fairy tale in ages, but this version expands on some of the key ideas, mostly with needless lists of items and people. It’s a hard book to judge given its vintage and the changing standards of publishing since the early 1900s. I ended up judging it on the metric of whether I felt entertained by it. The verdict? Sure, but the story itself has always fascinated me. In the end I felt this one fell just a little bit short of inciting some of the emotional reaction that the original fairy tale and some of the later renditions have elicited in me. Certainly a middle-of-the-road version.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Now we get to my “in-progress” reads. I’ve seen the film and felt somewhat underwhelmed; the crux of the story in the film is whether Kevin’s sociopathic personality can be attributed to nature or nurture, ultimately drawing the conclusion that it lies somewhere in the middle. The book itself is also about this, but there’s a degree of subtlety that’s missing in the film. This subtlety is what ultimately makes the book, in my opinion. You see Kevin’s mother in the film is certainly ambivalent toward motherhood and somewhat stuck up before Kevin goes on a school shooting spree (this is not a spoiler, it shows up very early), but I never quite bought that her behavior and attitude were much worse than many of us have gone through and come out the other side only a little worse for the wear. The book version of Eva, however – ah, now there’s a character who has driven me crazy and I felt a little better understanding of Kevin’s hatred toward her. Yes, she’s stuck up and views motherhood as more of a visit to an uncharted country than its reality, which both show up in the movie, but this version of Eva harbors a very clear hatred for the world and humanity, showing it to us through several revealing passages.
The problem is that, like her mother, Eva has allowed the world’s opinion to drive her identity and lifestyle, sending her in the opposite direction of her agoraphobic mother. Her son is either born or imbued with this same outlook from a very early age, but he expresses it outward. The truth is that Kevin is very similar to Eva in a number of ways, and Shriver gives us a hint by telling us that women “internalize their hatred and anger” while men “visit it upon the world”, something that shows up when she’s talking about her difficulty in understanding boys. I wondered if my reading was correct, but Kevin basically confirms it when he admires the one time that she physically harmed the boy, remarking that it was one her one honest act.
It’s a fascinating book, and I can’t wait to write the review. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.
Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. Now this is an odd one. I’m not far into it yet, but the concept is pretty interesting: during the 1950s, a pirate radio station in Arkansas begins broadcasting mysterious songs that can drive the listener mad. Against this backdrop, a man is hired to find a traveling R&B record salesman who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. As he unravels the mystery behind the disappearance, he learns that the situation is much larger – and darker – than the record company believed it to be. It’s a slow burn and took me some time to get into it, but now I’m hooked and have to know what happens next. Expect this one to take a few weeks, though.
And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!