Let’s Talk Brandon Sanderson

My brother and I are both readers, but we are different kinds of readers: I rip through books, while he plows through them, slow and steady. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, but he doesn’t waste his time on unproven books: he insists that I find him something SF or fantasy that I can guarantee is good. I prefer to give him epics, if only because it means it’ll be a little while before he comes back demanding another well-researched, fool-proof recommendation.

Harry Potter, the Inheritance Cycle, The Hunger Games, an assortment of King Arthur retellings, and a selection of the books off my own shelves all served him well enough, but it was with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series that I truly struck gold. For two long years, his birthday gifts and Christmas gifts were easy… and then the Wheel of Time came grinding to a halt and the reading material ran out.

Fortunately, though, the Wheel of Time also brought us Brandon Sanderson (the writer who took over the series after Robert Jordan died). And so this summer, at BEA, I acquired as much Brandon Sanderson as I could find — including an autographed copy of The Rithmatist.

I could kind of kick myself now, honestly. I stood face to face with Brandon Sanderson, having read absolutely none of his work myself and having done next-to-no research on him, and squandered a perfectly good chance for an excellent conversation with a really cool writer. Hindsight, right?

Long story short, I’m excited about a book.

It’s called Words of RadianceIt’s the second installment in Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy cycle The Stormlight Archive. It’s coming out tomorrow. And I won’t be reading it.

I mean, eventually, of course, I will. “Eventually,” though, is a little ways away. I’m currently racing through A Dance with Dragons and when I’m done with that I have a pile of eight or so library books waiting for me and then there’s the fact that I’m still working my way through the rest of my Sanderson stack.

(This man does not mess around. He writes. And he writes fast. Every time you think you have your hands on the newest Sanderson book, you start to hear whispers of the next one. As for me, I’m due to start the second book of the Mistborn trilogy next.)

But even though I don’t have immediate plans to read Words of Radiance, I’m still excited about it. In a world of authors who often — inadvertently, I’m sure — sacrifice quality for deadlines, Sanderson’s work is a breath of fresh air because, as often as it appears, it is reliably good. I’ve been feeding my brother a steady diet of Sanderson since June and he has yet to complain.

A Brandon Sanderson novel feels masterful and deft. It’s full of relentlessly innovative world-building, but without headache-inducing info dumps or bendy rules that obediently and conveniently serve the plot. It has likable characters who do and say stupid and mean and petty things along with clever and valiant and noble ones. It has dangerous women. It pushes past the limits, takes a problem and makes it worse, goes beyond what might have been the ending and asks, “What now?”

But even better than writing well, Sanderson speaks well about writing. He has a podcast called “Writing Excuses” and posts the weekly lectures from his course on writing scifi and fantasy at BYU on YouTube.

Fine! I admit it! At this particular moment in time, I’m a Brandon Sanderson fangirl. BUT! I think anyone who likes storytelling has to find this article worthwhile. I’ll save my thoughts about the length of epic fantasy novels and their narrative structure for another day. (I started to type them out and then got a little overwhelmed by how long this post was getting.) But when I read this article I was struck most particularly by Sanderson’s comments on what Words of Radiance is.

“[It] is a trilogy,” he says. “[It] is a short story collection… [It] is an art book.”

Genre fiction is so often disparaged by people who make their living (or more likely, fail to make their living) in the world of literary fiction. But reading this piece made me feel so inspired, because if there’s one thing I love more than stories themselves, it’s thinking about storytelling as a craft. I have nothing against the James Pattersons and John Greens of the world. J. K. Rowling taught a generation to read. HBO and George R. R. Martin have made epic fantasy mainstream. But Sanderson wants to go further:  “I want to push the idea of what it means to be an epic fantasy, even a novel, if I can,” he says. So here’s to hoping that Words of Radiance is proof that commercial success and innovative storytelling can mingle, that genre novels destined to be reprinted as mass market paperbacks can also be pieces of art to be considered, admired, and incorporated into the storytelling of the future.

To Brandon and his book: good luck tomorrow!

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