Thursday, February 05, 2015

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One, Second Round :: Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson vs. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Our fourth and final match in the second round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2014 Books has Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson going up against Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

Swords of Good Men: Jo Fletcher Publishing hardcover, January 2014 (UK edition August 2013), 298 pages, cover art by Blacksheep UK. Swords of Good Men reached the second round with a win over Damn Zombies by Patrick MacAdoo.

Swords of Good Men is set in ancient Norway. In the first 25 pages, our young protagonist Ulfar Yhormodsson and his cousin Geiri arrive in the town of Stenvik, not far from their home, nearing the end of their temporary exile for some unnamed misconduct. They don't know that Stenvik is about to be embroiled in a large conflict with a group of "White Christians" seeking to overthrow traditional Norse beliefs, through force or coercion. By the second 25 pages, Ulfar has fallen madly in love with a young woman named Lilia, while two groups of soldiers, at least one if not both employing fearsome magical powers, approach Stenvik.

Words of Radiance: Tor hardcover, March 2014, 1080 pages, cover art by Michael Whelan. Words of Radiance is the second volume of Sanderson's epic fantasy series The Stormlight Archive. Words of Radiance advanced to the second round with a solid win over Into the Wilderness by Mandy Hager.

In the first 25 pages of Words of Radiance, we met Shallan and her mentor Jasnah Kholin, two women studying the magical spheres called spren. The next 25 pages introduce us to a group of brothers in arms, led by a man named Kaladin, who bonded at "Bridge Four." These soldiers were enslaved because of their dark eyes, but fought their way to freedom, presumably in the previous volume. Kaladin has some magical abilities, although we don't yet know just what they are. As it happens, it also seems that Shallan has magical talents, but even she doesn't yet know what they are.

The Battle: Words of Radiance is the second book in a series and I haven't read the first, but the prologue and first chapter read so smoothly I didn't feel like I was missing anything. In the second 25-page section, I'm more conscious of all the backstory I've missed. Kaladin and his men have already been through a lot, including a betrayal that caused a major battle to go poorly for their side. But even though I'm joining their story in the middle, I feel I have a good sense of their motivations——their fierce loyalty to each other comes across convincingly——and of Kaladin's personality.

Through 50 pages, I don't feel the same sort of connection with any of the characters of Swords of Good Men. In particular, our main character Ulfar, who I think is supposed to come across as likably rakish, so far mostly seems like a twit. He is supposed to be a womanizer, yet he has fallen madly in love with a girl who has said exactly one word to him: her name. The author's assurance that she has striking eyes doesn't do enough to hold my interest through 50 pages.

Meanwhile, 50 pages into Words of Radiance, Shallan's study of the otherworldly spren is becoming intriguing. She repeatedly glances a pattern in her peripheral vision and determines to draw it:
She did not think as she drew. The art consumed her, and creationspren popped into existence all around. Dozens of tiny shapes soon crowded the small table beside her cot and the floor of the cabin near where she knelt. The spren shifted and spun, each no larger than the bowl of a spoon, becoming shapes they'd recently encountered. She mostly ignored them, though she'd never seen so many at once.

Faster and faster they shifted as she drew, intent. The pattern seemed impossible to capture. Its complex repetitions twisted down into infinity. No, a pen could never capture this thing perfectly, but she was close. She drew it spiraling out of a center point, then re-created each branch off the center, which had its own swirl of tiny lines. It was like a maze created to drive its captive insane. . . .

As the last line dried, the pattern rose before her. She heard a distinct sigh from the paper, as if in relief.

She jumped, dropping the paper and scrambling onto her bed. Unlike the other times, the embossing didn't vanish, though it left the paper——budding from her matching drawing——and moved onto the floor.
Whoa! I jerked my feet off the floor as I read that. I am old enough and I've read enough that's it's awfully hard for an author to catch me by surprise with a scene like that. Brandon Sanderson did it. So he wins.

THE WINNER: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance advances to the semifinal round to face Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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