Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rambling Brandon Sanderson Post

I feel like I should write some kind of post about the Mistborn series, seeing as how I went through the effort of reading it, and I sort of feel like I have some decent ideas to write about, and I'm pretty sure that the people reading this blog out of a sense of obligation or friendship tend to read more fantasy books than they do Andrew Sullivan anyways. But I haven't really settled on one big master theme for my Brandon Sanderson/Mistborn Trilogy post that I'm happy with, so I'm going with a hodge podge instead. (Also, there might be spoilers, but I'll try to stay away from super explicit spoilers).

Gender Issues: At first, I thought one of the strengths of the series was that it was one of the better examples I've seen of a story with a female main character and then a male love interest who was interesting and believably attractive, but very definitely a supporting character. By the end of the first book though, that all changed. Pretty dramatically actually. Almost to the point that I suspect that someone who actually had control over the plot was bothered that the male love interest was a supporting character, and thought there needed to be dramatic plot twists to pull him out of that role. I would have much happier if they had left him there.

Cultural Diversity: So, not to put too fine a point on it...but Brian Sanderson is from Utah. And if you're vaguely familiar with other things that are also predominantly from Utah, there's enough correlations with the book that you're left feeling fairly confident that he doesn't just live in Utah because of its spectacular geology. He's also the guy who took over the Wheel of Times series, and I think it's interesting that I only noticed how un-explicit and even vaguely conservative that series has been all along* (compared to say, Game of Thrones, or Kushiel's Dart) when I came at it from that perspective. I'm not really sure where this takes me, besides "interesting," and the realization that the audience for fantasy is pretty heterogeneous.

Magic Systems: If you're the kind of person who is bothered when fictional works, and possibly even fantastical situations (say, dragons flying) don't obey the laws of physics...the Mistborn series at least aspires to be for you. The magic is described in extreme detail, as is the world that it happens on, and the society the characters live in, and just about everything else. I happen to have also just read another fantasy-type book, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which is completely the opposite. It's set in Napoleonic England, so the author can assume a baseline familiarity from her readers, and then the magical system that's superimposed on top of that is alluded to without ever really being explained. It has something to do with books (This leads to an awesome invented murder). So basically, you have two completely different strategies, both of which have their strengths and their adherents. I think you could classify a lot of other fantasy literature along this spectrum, or even different parts of different series. Why you would want to classify it, I don't know, but I generally like trying to understand things...including the reasons why I like certain writers.

Half-baked generalizations: Speaking of looking for patterns in the universe, here is the theory that I'm working on right now: all the standard caveats about generalizations not being hard and fast rules, etc....but I feel like I've been noticing a difference between how male and female fantasy writers write romance. Male writers (Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Ken Follett, Jim Butcher) tend to write all on or all off love stories. The people who are in love stay in love, they're faithful to eachother, and the love is straightforward. Female authors (Charlene Harris, Jacqueline Carey...ummm, other people) seem to be more likely to write about doubt in relationships, or divided loyalties. Like I said, this is half baked. I'm not really basing this on a huge range of authors, and there are definitely authors who defy my supposed patterns (J.K Rowling, for one). But I am generally interested in how female fantasy writers add something to literature that you might not get from reading all male writers, and the element of doubt is definitely something that stands out at least in Charlene Harris' work (and the lack of it was pretty glaring in Ken Follett's). So I'd be interested if anybody else had any thoughts. (Probably shouldn't have put this at the very end of a super long post...but oh well).

*Think about Berelain and Morgase. And now think about Charlotte in Sex and the City. Compare and contrast. Wheel of Time is pretty conservative.


  1. So, I'm a little behind the game on this...but I find your theory on the difference between male and female authors on the portrayal of romance quite intriguing. Looking at my book collection, I think I would agree with your general conclusion. The one female author I have that has a central 'true love' type relationship also has multiple more complicated ones (Melanie Rawn...I think you'd like her...kinda like Carey)

  2. Yay! I'm glad someone thinks I'm not just imagining things. I wonder what would cause a difference like that...whether women just tend to view romance differently in general, or maybe men who write two dimensional love stories are more likely to get publishing deals for fantasy books than women who write two dimensional love stories. In any case, I'm excited about the Game of Throne series...he got kind of left out of this post because I'm not sure you could say his writing has all that much romance, period (Ned + Cat is the closest he gets to two characters in love and I'd say they're pretty doubt free. Then there's Cersei + Jaime...), but there is a whole lot of interesting character development and gender stuff to get into.