While I didn’t review the rest of the books in The Wheel of Time series, I’d like to review the last book, A Memory of Light. It seemed like reviewing all 14 books would overwhelm whatever else I posted during my reading challenge in 2011, but one review can’t hurt, right?

A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light

As we’ve discussed before, I’m not a big fan of happy endings–many stories seem too forced and joyful at the end, when real life is never so neatly wrapped up. I don’t demand that all my books be 100% realistic, but I wouldn’t mind more ambiguous/uncertain endings! Even though I had some issues with Rand throughout the series, I largely enjoyed these books (plus I got to meet Brandon Sanderson two times!). And the ending….oh, this series had a good ending. There were some happy parts, some upsetting parts, and so many “OMG what?!” parts. I started reading this book while on vacation in Hawaii, and it was totally worth doubling the weight of my carry on bag.

Brandon Sanderson, the author picked to finish Robert Jordan’s wonderful series, has always been pretty open about how the last three books were originally designed to be a single book (and at the most recent book signing at Powell’s Harriet shared that Jordan even planned for the book to be a trilogy way back before it turned into an epic fantasy series!). I’m sure every reader was as happy as me when it was turned into multiple books so every story line, even for more minor characters, could be resolved. Did they all end the way I wanted? Not at all! But was it realistic to what probably would happen in a war-torn world with so many competing factions? Yes, so I’ll only cry a little when good characters die.

I don’t want to give away any major plot points for people new to the series so I won’t give a plot overview, but I do want to say this: The Wheel of Time is an amazing epic fantasy series, and I completely enjoyed my time with these books. I’m already planning to reread the series every few years, and I’d like to go back to reread A Memory of Light once on its own to make sure I caught everything (Sanderson loves to hide small but important details). The length of the books may be off-putting for some, but I can’t think of a better way to spend your time!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it on ever Brandon Sanderson book I’ve reviewed, but I love his story telling. Sanderson writes grand sweeping novels with complicated worlds, and I have yet to meet a hero I don’t love. So when a tiny novella came out last year, I eagerly pre-ordered the book and read it the first chance I had (it made a great read-at-lunch book). The Emperor’s Soul takes place in the same world as the book Elantris, but adds a level of depth unexpected in a story so short.

The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor’s Soul

Where Elantris followed a princess trying to save her world, The Emperor’s Soul follows Shai, a notorious forger who got caught. Having a main character who is, by some accounts, a bad person with no morals doesn’t change the insane connection I felt with Shai. She may be part of the underground black market in expensive forgeries, but she is also intelligent, fiercely independent, and loyal to her family and teachers.

Shai does have to face punishment for her crimes, but like any good Sanderson story the punishment isn’t what Shai or the readers expected. To pay for the crime of forgery…she must create a forgery of the Emperor’s soul. What Shai and the rest of the world don’t realize is that the Emperor was hurt, and the only way to save him is to create a new soul that defies everything their religion stands for. If Shai can create this impossible soul stamp by the time he is expected in public again, she will be allowed to live.

If you keep up on things in the sci-fi/fantasy world, you already know that The Emperor’s Soul has been nominated for a Hugo Award for best novella. I haven’t read any of the other works nominated this year, but I hope Sanderson wins because this story was great. With very  little action compared to his normal battle-filled books, Shai still lives an exciting and dangerous life. It tackles issues of morality versus the law in a direct but subtle way, by viewing the world’s religion almost as an archaeological study would (Shai does not subscribe to the same religion as the Emperor and his government). And because Sanderson’s writing is never dull, there is even a story behind how the novella went from concept to award nominee in just over a year.

The Emperor’s Soul may not be the length or scope we’ve come to expect from Brandon Sanderson, but it’s just as well written and thought out as his other books.

One of my biggest annoyances with books is when only part of a series is out and I’ve got to wait for the rest of the books–patience is not one of my strengths. Even thought only two of the three books in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series are currently out, I love these books so much I can deal with having to wait for the third. The second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, was even better than the first.

The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear continues Kvothe’s tale, bouncing back and forth between his adventurous childhood and the bitter old man he is today. This book also starts to fill in some of the history behind the legends surrounding him, and they provide a great example of how legends rarely tell what really happened. Despite how well Kvothe does at his University classes his roaming childhood did not prepare him to get along well with upper class citizens, resulting in enough trouble with another boy that he must take a break from the school.

While on this break he works for a local nobleman leading a band of mercenaries on a bandit hunt (while stopping an assassination attempt on the man and winning a wife for him!). One member of this mercenary band, Tempi, is part of a mysterious warrior tribe who teaches Kvothe their ways despite their mistrust of outsiders, starting just one of many legends about him. Kvothe also spends some time with the Fae (fairy) Felurian in the Fae realm, starting yet another legend as the first man to resist her powers. There is also continuing issues with his Edema Ruh past, a girl he fell in love with at University, and his quest to find the Chandrian (demon group responsible for killing his family).

As amazing as the stories are, it’s still the characters and the writing that make these books amazing. Kvothe is young and impulsive and eager to become an adult instead of a troubled kid, and reminds me so much of other young kids I know. He tries so hard to be a good person and seems genuinely confused when people don’t see things the same way he does, and that earnestness is heartbreaking. I found myself crying several times and I really hope the last book comes out soon so I can figure out what happens!

Continuing my theme of “classics I really should have read already,” I practically devoured The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde on my recent vacation. I started this book on the flight (after finishing another book only an hour into the trip–I really do love my Kindle for travel!) and was annoyed several hours later by the flight attendants announcing the time to put away all electronics so we could land.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

This is the second Oscar Wilde piece I’ve read, and I am really enjoying his writing. It’s both beautiful and thoughtful, and his characters are adorably misguided. The Picture of Dorian Gray follows the life of a young London socialite, Dorian Gray. Dorian is not the most educated man, nor the most well-connected or prestigious–his main skill lies in being so achingly beautiful that people cannot help but love him. Among his admirers/friends is a painter, Basil Hallward. Basil claims that Dorian has become his muse and paints a glorious portrait of Dorian. It is during the sitting for this painting that Dorian meets Lord Henry, a friend of Basil. Lord Henry claims that the only goal in life is to selfishly pursue all things beautiful and fulfilling to the senses, a life theory Dorian latches onto immediately. Despite Basil’s warnings that Lord Henry is not a good influence, Dorian begins to abandon his innocent way of life for the beautiful indulgence of Lord Henry’s theory.

It is during one of the many conversations about Lord Henry’s theory that Dorian jokingly prays for the painting of himself to age while he stays young forever, as youth and beautify are the only things of value he holds. It is only some time later, after Dorian has become a destructive force of indulgence, that he realizes he is indeed staying young and pure while his painting bears all the ill effects of his sins.

In parts, this book reads like science fiction instead of classic literature. A magical painting that is linked to its subject on some sort of cellular level to share physical changes? Experiments by Dorian to prove he can in fact do anything (lie, steal, murder) without showing any sings of age or grief? Sounds like science fiction to me! But the writing is more lyrical than any sci-fi I’ve ever read, and the theme here has less to do with overall societal destruction and more to do with personal responsibility to not become a terrible person just because you can. The scenes of Dorian’s extravagant life of constant youth are intoxicating in their beauty–piles of exotic cloth for stylish new clothes, chests of jewels from far off travels, friends to welcome him wherever he goes, and hordes of women eagerly awaiting their chance to be his lover. Yet the dangers of his life are just as wonderfully described–a dependence on drugs to ease his growing paranoia that his secret may be found out, his first love dead by suicide, and many once-friends who had their reputations ruined when they could not hide the impact of the lifestyle Dorian follows.

There was some controversy when The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published because of it’s not-so-subtle allusions to homosexuality, drugs, and mistresses. Maybe our society is a morally depraved place, but I was reading along going “yup, I totally know people like this.” So much of social media today is creating an ideal, fictional version of our lives. I know many people who may be struggling to establish a career or create a stable relationship, but if you look at their Facebook or Instagram feed you get the impression that everything is perfect. While we may not have a painting to hide our fears from society, people today hide behind the self-selecting anonymity of the internet to remain youthful and beautiful forever.

All this to say, I loved this book. Dorian read as a confused young man who made some bad friends and bad decisions, Basil was helplessly in love, and Lord Henry enjoyed playing with people’s emotions more than he enjoyed living his own life. Overall, these were naive men swept up in the life of a strong personality, and I believe that’s something we can all relate to. It was a quick read, and one I look forward to rereading soon.

This book was hands down my favorite so far in the Dresden Files series. I think it took me all of three days (reading only at night after work) to finish it, with maybe a one “staying up way too late on a work night but I promise I’ll stop after this chapter!” night. I’ve always loved vampire stories and Blood Rites, book six of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, explores a different side of the vampire culture Butcher has created in so much depth.

Blood Rites

The case Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, takes doesn’t seem obviously vampire at the start. A popular movie director believes he is the target of an entropy curse (basically a chaotic hate curse that will do anything to harm the target) and hires Harry to protect the set of his new movie. In typically Harry fashion he agrees to the case before realizing his new client is the director of adult films, creating great discomfort for Harry and his persistent chivalry. Whether or not the women he’s protecting are naked, Harry is determined to make the movie set safe because this particular curse is extremely deadly.

The vampire aspects comes in with Thomas, Harry’s vampire friend who convinced him to take the case. Thomas is flippant and hyper-sexual, but fiercely loyal to his family and friends. They have remained friends through the vampire/wizard war and several other cases when being associated with Harry could hurt people, although they often don’t get along. And it turns out Thomas and his family are involved in the adult film industry, along with several other business adventures, Harry is understandably upset that Thomas tricked him into the job. As more women are put in danger and Thomas’ family starts to feel threatened by the investigation, Harry is determined to help his friend and the movie cast survive despite the growing danger.

While I can’t give away the most amazing part of the book without spoiling the big plot twist (I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!), Blood Rites shows yet another side of Harry–a softer, more trusting side that struggles to actually address his feelings instead of using sarcasm as a shield. One of the best parts of Butcher’s series is how, six books into it, Harry Dresden continues to evolve and change. Many mystery/murder series that I’ve read have a static main character and only change the plot around that person; Butcher shows new sides of Harry that change how he interacts with the people in his cases, and it’s refreshing to see!

Life sure has a way of getting crazy, doesn’t it? I can’t remember the last time I had two straight weekends free to do chores and just be lazy at home, but after the month of July I’ll finally get some free time (yes, I’m looking forward to free time a month from now–I’ll be the first to admit I’m happiest at home!). First I just have to attend a week-long leadership training camp, spend a weekend at the coast with the boy’s family, and buy a car among other things. One thing I’m really looking forward to later this summer are days of reading in the park. And of course, getting further in one of my favorite light-reading fantasy series is on the top of my summer reading list!

 

Death Masks

Death Masks was one of the more interesting Dresden Files books in the series thus far. Continuing his streak of bad luck, Harry Dresden (Chicago’s only professional wizard) has been challenged to a duel to the death by the champion of the Red Court of vampires. Yes, the vampire/wizard war Harry accidentally started in book two is still causing trouble. In exchange for fighting the dual, the vampire court agrees to stop attacking wizard strongholds and call of the full-scale war they’re days away from launching. To complicate matters, Susan, the reason Harry started the vampire war in the first place, is back in town. She’s still half vampire and still completely in love with Harry.

And of course, Harry still has work to do. His new case is a covert operation for the Catholic church, to find the missing Shroud of Turin. An unknown group stole the magically powerful shroud to launch a word-wide plague on mankind. Headless and handless bodies keep showing up, afflicted by dozens of diseases but seemingly killed by multiple knife wounds. A new type of demons have showed up in Chicago to keep Harry off the case, demons who possess people who trade their sanity for power and scare even angle soldiers.

While Harry willingly admits he works best under pressure, trying to find the missing Shroud while avoiding the plague and prepare for a duel to the death and come to terms with his lover’s half-vampire state is almost too much work for one wizard. Because so much of what Harry does is secret and time sensitive, he is chronically sleep deprived and hungry. That makes his thought processes random and only tangentially connected, and this book really highlighted the amazing way Harry can take seemingly random events and figure out the who, what, when, where, and why of the bad guy’s plans. I always love trying to follow Harry’s theories!

Death Masks also highlighted how much Harry will sacrifice to protect the people he loves. He would rather not die, but doesn’t flinch why he agrees to the duel because his death could prevent a dangerous war. Susan comes back into his life, and he’s willing to let her go because it’s not safe for them to be together. She’s take on a dangerous new job, and despite some initial protests Harry supports her passion for helping people. Michael, one of the angle soldiers, risks his life and his family to help Harry recover the Shroud and in return Harry puts himself in grave danger to protect Michael’s young son. Poor Harry needs a vacation, or at least a hug, but it seems like Butcher isn’t even going to give him one!

For many books, a large part of the suspense is how a character will live through his or her terrible problems. Will the main character remain strong, or be corrupted by evil? Live through the fight with a dangerous dragon? Although it’s usually a given that main characters live (unless the author is George R. R. Martin….), a new fantasy book I recently read completely did away with the “will he?” suspense–the book starts when the main character is an adult, and goes back to tell his story from childhood to the present day! Although it’s strange knowing people live no matter how bad things seem, it’s a new challenge to figure out how the adventures in his childhood turned him into the bitter man he becomes as an adult.

The Name of the Wind

The Name Of The Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle Day One by Patrick Rothfuss was an incredibly interesting book. The series, of which two out of three books are published, takes place over three days. Kvothe, a man who made legends and inspired hundreds of stories as a younger man, is now running an inn in a small rural town. He goes by Kote to hide his true identity, and seems perfectly content to spend his days baking bread and serving ale to the local farmers. One day a stranger comes into town, and Kvothe agrees to tell him the real story of his life. That story takes three days to tell, hence the “Day One” in the book title. Although I’ve read Day One and Day Two and still don’t know what king he kills!

Kvothe’s story is incredibly tragic. His family is part of the Edema Ruh, a traveling group of performers somewhat similar to Gypsies. The first bit of the book is filled with happy childhood memories of loving parents, exciting travels around the country, and spectacular plays the troupe performs. The excitement starts, however, when they take in a stranger who was educated at The University and can perform “magic.” Ben, who becomes a part of Kvothe’s family, introduces the young Kvothe to the wonders of book learning, magic (most of which is more similar to physics and biology than spell casting), and the idea of attending The University. Under Ben’s teaching, Kvothe begins to study for auditions to someday attend the school, but Ben and his family are taken away suddenly and that dream becomes a dim memory.

Homeless, hungry, and beaten by larger boys on the streets, Kvothe spends several years of his youth just trying to survive. He has no time for studying magic, let alone morning his family and dealing with the emotional pain of being a homeless orphan. After a while, however, he regains his sense of self and applies to the University–and this is where the story truly starts. Life at the University is strange to a boy with almost nothing to his name and grew up in a traveling group. Kvothe quickly makes some friends, falls in love, and causes trouble with professors and classmates.

The Name of the Wind is written beautifully. Kvothe is an extremely emotional boy, partially thanks to his theater background and partially because he lost his family so young. His emotions, which often overwhelm him, are so well described that I cried and laughed along with the character. He is so resilient as a child, bouncing back from overwhelming odds to be a successful student; in the present day part of the story, Kvothe is a bitter disillusioned man who can no longer smile or laugh. I don’t know what happens to Kvothe to change him so much, but I’m willing to bet I’ll cry when that part of the story is finally told in the third book.