Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Lady Lauren's Panacea
  Book Reviews by Lauren Harris
April 2015

PRESCRIPTION: Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book One of the Mistborn Trilogy) by Brandon Sanderson
SYMPTOMS: Heist fantasy, for lovers of Scott Lynch, epic world-building, trickster characters, female protagonist
DOSAGE: (out of five)

Mistborn is part fantasy heist novel, part political revolution story, set on the backdrop of a world devastated by a cataclysm that left its skies red and its land plagued by constant falling ash. Mists filled with dangerous creatures keep doors locked at night, and only the famed Mistborn dare to walk through it. The story follows Vin, an undiscovered Mistborn, as she learns to use her magic to bring down the corrupt society that keeps her kingdom's citizens in fear.

I've long heard that we must all bow down to Sanderson's magic systems, and I have to agree on this point. Allomancy, his metal and alloy-based magic system, is intricate and well thought out, and every part of the society has been built around it, from guards who wear no metal armor, to the fact that prisoners are sent to mine a special type of powerful metal. What was almost as impressive as the magic system, however, was the unique world with its red sky, barren landscape, and creeping mistwraiths. Every part of it is intrinsic to the history and plot, and to the two magic systems that exist side-by-side.

Vin is a young woman who joined a thieving crew along with her brother, who left her at their brutal leader's mercy. At the outset of the story, she is beaten down, obsessed with the idea that everyone will betray her like her brother. Through the story, she grows in her understanding of power and in her trust of others, overcoming her initial fear of betrayal. Though not the most compelling of narrators, the journey Vin takes in her study of magic is fascinating.

I ended up with two favorite characters. The first is Kelsier, the flawed mastermind of the heist, who takes up the rebellion's fight, which his brother gave up. His hatred of nobility, his vanity and ruthlessness, provide layers to the charismatic, Robin Hood-esque trickster he plays. He tests the trust of even his oldest friends, and it was refreshing to see a character who occasionally tipped too far into the ruthless side of things.

My other favorite character was Kelsier's brother, St(tk), who had once been the mastermind of the rebellion, before the empire hunted down and murdered his wife and child in retribution. He is an antagonistic force toward Kelsier, but his determination to see the heist through for the good of the empire led to one of the most interesting reversals I never saw coming.

Mistborn is one of the most tightly plotted books I've read for a very long time. Though it took a couple of chapters to take hold, the second it did, I knew I wasn't going to sleep until I finished the whole book. My main criticism is with the female characters, or lack thereof. There's but a single female character on the side of good, and those who appear as antagonists are only secondarily so. It would have been easy to shift one of the many male protagonists to female, and develop her. The second criticism is in the rather tepid love story element. I loved the love interest, a noble scholar and despised heir to one of the rich noble families, but her romance with him never quite sparked the way I wanted it to.

Despite the criticisms, I have already picked up the second book and look forward to the way the series will develop, especially given the hint of devastating consequences to the heist's success.

PRESCRIPTION: Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan
SYMPTOMS: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Greek Mythology, snarky main character, for lovers of Harry Potter
DOSAGE: (out of five)

At the beginning of the year, I came down with an epic cold that required an epic reading spree. Without the brainpower to chew through more of The Song of Ice and Fire, I elected to read the YA series I'd been side-eying for several years now: Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I blew through all five in a couple of days, and as a Classics Major, there was plenty for me to squee about.

In the series, Percy, a demigod and son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the Sea, must help prevent the resurrection of the Titan Kronos, whose return spells the end of mankind and the gods themselves. From book one, the overarching plot takes shape amidst the smaller adventures in each book, and I was impressed at how important every character turned out to be. The world is modern, and most full humans -- with a few exceptions -- are totally unaware of the fact that monsters from mythology walk among them. From schoolteachers who are actually harpies, gorgons who run kitschy statue businesses, satyrs, dryads, and a whole herd of Centaur hippies, the streets of New York City might as well have been ancient Mycenae.

The world is dangerous for the demigod sons and daughters of the Greek gods, whose power tempts those monsters out of hiding, so the gods created Camp Halfblood, a training ground and safe haven for their children. The biggest delight of the Percy Jackson series for me was the updated versions of all the gods. Hermes as the inventor of the internet, Apollo in a flying red convertible instead of a chariot, and Dionysus as a drunken, washed-out camp instructor with a penchant for leopard-skin shirts.

The two main characters are Percy and his best friend Annabeth. Percy is energetic, diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia as a side-effect of his half-god status, of which he is completely ignorant at the outset. As expected, he goes in clueless and comes out a hero, but what makes him stand out are his unique combination of humor and bravery. The distinct voice of his first person narration gives him more characterization than a close third, like Harry Potter, and I came out of the books feeling like I knew who he was.

Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, is a fighter and brilliant mind. She combines the three things that are so difficult for girls to find in fiction: ferocity, smarts, and independence, and does it all with a sense of humor that keeps her grounded and real. She had the long emotional struggle of the series, which I thought was a great choice, as it sometimes pitted her against Percy, whom she did not blindly follow.

Other characters of import are Luke, the son of Hermes, and Thalia, the daughter of Zeus, but probably my favorite character of the series didn't show up until the third book, and that was Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades -- an excitable, if morbid, young man whose status as an ally is questionable all along.

One of the most heart-rending moments of the books is the realization that the demigods are not always acknowledged by their parents, and when they are, it raises questions about why their parents do or do not pay attention to them. Part of the story, particularly on the part of one antagonist who shall not be revealed, surrounds what might happen when a god does attempt to live as a mortal husband and father, and the devastation it causes. Family is an important theme in the series, especially in regard to parental acceptance and attention, which resonated throughout the series and is part of what anchors it, in my mind, as more than just a ripping fun rehash of the hero's journey.

Read more by Lauren Harris


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