I judge books by their covers

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” If I had a nickle for every time during my childhood my mother said that, I would have a metric ton of nickles. At the time, I didn’t. To be completely honest, I didn’t judge books at all. If I could get my hands on them, I read them. I distinctly remember the moment that I realized books weren’t always great. I had been binge reading Nancy Drew. This was the point I noticed that in the last 3 books, she had received early birthday presents from her father twice. Both were large, extravagant gifts for her 18th birthday, and the catalyst for her adventure that book. It was at this point I realized all the books were inherently the same. I *saw* the formula.

Needless to say, it *quite* ruined a LARGE number of books for me. I couldn’t read Nancy Drew anymore, because it felt so similar. I couldn’t read Goosebumps, Sweet Valley Twins and Friends, even Boxcar Children, all of my favorite childhood books, fallen to the wayside. I began to gravitate towards books like Goblins in the Castle, The Westing Game, and other such titles that fell outside the realm of serial books.

This was the point where I became a “book snob”. I didn’t just want books that were enjoyable. I wanted books that were worth my time. This didn’t mean the book needed to be academic or even critically acclaimed, but rather that I found the author good and the book had quality writing. It also caused my secondary reading quirk where I want to read something good, but because I don’t trust a book to be good any more, I re-read something I *know* I like already. I get stuck in these cycles of endlessly re-reading books I have already read.

What does one do in this instance? I tried asking friends. Six books worth of Sword of Truth and half of Game of Thrones later, I have discovered this is not necessarily the best course. (To be fair, at least Sword of Truth *started* off well.) I am aware of the cyclical nature of this problem. Every time I try to branch out to a new book, I discover a *terrible* book and am further convinced that the target I am attempting to find is heavily obscured.

So I started judging books by their covers.

Karen Miller, author of the Godspeaker trilogy, has superb covers. The first, called Empress, has dark and sullen looking girl on the front. Reading the blurb on the back identifies this girl as the main character. Born into poverty, sold as a slave, she would eventually become the titular Empress. The other two books in the series were equally lovely. They didn’t fit the high fantasy norm. So I purchased it and read it.

I have never loved and hated a book more. Empress, and the two other books, are among the most wonderfully written books I have ever read. With the absolute worst story. The main character, the sullen girl Hekat, starts off great, but then turns into this arrogant self centered b*tch who makes up her own rules as she goes, and even the jealous “divine” in the book allows to her just do whatever, despite handing down swift and vicious justice to anyone else who even toes the line. By the end of Empress I was completely convinced that this was the worst book I had ever read, if well written. I am known for hating books that kill off characters I like, and yet, I realized that the entire cast could be wiped out and I wouldn’t shed a single tear. Hateful little snots, all of them. But Miller was just good enough to keep me reading. By the end of the series, I had at least found a few characters to like, and read with glee as a few of the more hated characters received their just desserts. The cover had proven true. The story was bleak and arid, with bright spots of color. In addition, the description on the backs were spot on for the books.

To break away from Fantasy a bit, if one looks at Romance books, you will tend to find all the covers are *abysmal*. with few exceptions (just like the books!). Ironically Julia Quinn (previously mentioned) has very nice, very plain covers. (No bare chested men here.) She doesn’t need the titillation to drive readers to her book, she knows she will get them on her own. They pick up one and the next thing you know they have bought them all.

Now, when picking over a book and trying to decide what to read, I try to decide based on friend’s input, in addition to the cover. Does it mention “prophecy” on the back (ie does the writer use a generic convention to make their story “work”)? Does it have one of those poorly drawn fantasy images of a woman in a metal bikini? There is nothing worse than a leftover 80s image of some bad science fiction image to push me away.

This can lead to good finds (Karen Miller) and bad finds (Brent Weeks, I so wanted you to be good) and completely missed finds (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, currently my next possibility for a good book, but man could you *have* a more boring cover???). I also have learned that brand loyalty, while not always positive, can lead to good finds (Brandon Sanderson by virtue of Robert Jordan.) I tend not to trust Amazon reviews (they hate McKiernan, so I ignore them for the most part) and will at least give friend reviews a bit of a look. I find sites that promise to lead one to good fantasy dubious at best (anyone notice how they rant on derivative work but then all their top favorites are *exactly* that?) I find it utterly hilarious that the go to phrase when I ask people why they like Game of Thrones is “No one is safe! He kills off major characters all the time!” Yes, so does Whedon and it ticks me off when does it too. I do understand the “gritty realism” as a logical reason for liking it, but this is the point where I always look at the person and say “So, you read fantasy for it’s realism?” Although, as an interesting point to the topic, Game of Thrones has a very dull cover on the commonly sold copy that is seen in most bookstores now, but even the old one was fairly plain by say Wheel of Time standards (maybe the gritty realism coming back?). I want Tolkien, only with a better editor, more compelling characters, and better action. Call it derivative if you want, but there is a REASON the man spawned an entire genre.

Despite judging a book by it’s cover, it seems to lead to just as many successes as failures. And less hurt feelings when a person says “Read this you’ll LOVE it.” I read. And then I am like, seriously? And you make fun of *my* Wheel of Time?

I know the truth is I am just as unlikely to find a good book based on it’s cover as any other criteria. At least with the cover I can blame clever marketing instead of feeling the depression that a majority of the world has absolutely terrible tastes in books.

The Gathering Storm: My thoughts

I finished The Gathering Storm on Thursday and after a few days of reflection I wanted to express my feelings and thoughts on the book. First off, there are going to be spoilers. If you haven’t finished, stop reading this and go finish first. Second, I liked it. Truly there is no replacement for RJ, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think someone, specifically Brandon Sanderson, can do it well.

I dove into the book with enthusiasm and excitement. I am willing to admit this may have colored my view, but I can honestly say the opening scene brought tears to my eyes. It didn’t have anything to do with the main characters. It didn’t have anything to do with minor characters, but it was poignant. These common people had every reason to ignore the events, or even run away from them. But instead they turned and faced the fight that was coming. This is the theme of Book 12 that echoes in every chapter and every character. They all stop running. They all stop scheming. They feel the weight of the Last Battle baring down on them. They turn and face their destiny and do what they must.

For the first time in several books the story spends a majority of its time on Rand. Many have complained that Rand was “too dark” in this book. I must disagree. This is the first book I have felt Rand was finally beginning to show the true strain and stress that he feels, both in his heart and on his soul. For the first time in this series I felt like the Dark One might win. Not through outright battle, but because Rand was crossing the point where his “the ends justifies the means” would lead to his fall from grace. Ishmael was not called the Betrayer of Hope for a reason. And in this book Rand has lost hope. Why does his tavern power no longer balance the bad with good? Because Rand himself no longer balances his belief that the battle is good with the evil that chases him. He no longer sees the good in the world. I have a strong suspicion in the next book we will see Rand capitulating more. Bowing to Tuon, Egwene, Cadsuane, Elyane… He has finally come to the same conclusion Egwene did while she was being punished by Silviana. Her own pain and suffering is laughable when compared to the pain and suffering of the world. Who cares is she is beaten three times a day? Everyone should be far more concerned that the Last Battle is coming and taking time out to quibble over punishments or who is higher rank than who is just absurd. If it took the Lews Therin side of him realizing that Ilyena might not be dead yet in this age and he needs to protect her, then I say it is about time. It seems so obvious to us that Min, Elayne, and Aviendha are the “three who are one” of Ilyena.

A goodly portion of the rest of the book revolves around Egwene and the White Tower. Talk about exciting! With each page Egwene strips power away from Elaida and convinces the Ajahs to support her. One of my favorite, mildly over looked points, was the fact that each Ajah attempts to convince Egwene to join them (excepting Red and Blue, for obvious reasons), once she is raised to Aes Sedai. What a stroke of genius! The Amyrlin should be of all Ajahs and yet none. Egwene was never a part of an Ajah, and yet, they all view her as one of them. Add this to the other events, including her Dream being so shocking proven true, and the use of Verin Sedai’s work. I will never forget that chapter beginning with Egwene considering the stilling and execution of the Black Sisters in the Rebel Camp. What a blow to deal the shadow at this late hour! What an event! With so few words, Sanderson slams home the truth that no darkfriends will be allowed to survive. Suddenly the Rebel Aes Sedai are sure of two things. They can at least trust all of them are not dark friends and that there are yet dark friends in the tower. This gives them power and strength. They are all on the same side and have removed the worms eating at their core.

The deaths of two Forsaken are handled almost carelessly. The use of the True Source during one of these all but ensures that the Dark One really doesn’t care if his Chosen are lost. He can get new Chosen, perhaps ones that aren’t as arrogant or foolish. The strength of the writing for the scene where Semirhage is broken… I could *feel* the shame and embarrassment Semirhage felt. Mother’s warned their children using her name for thousands of years and here, an upstart nobody with a tenth of the power, turned her over a knee and spanked her like a child, in front of a child! In an instant Semirhage lost all her power to Cadsuane. Imagine being known as the Aes Sedai who punished one of the Forsaken! As if her legend needed more ammunition.

While reading the book, I had several moments where a character would say or do something (usually say something) and I would laugh aloud. The snarky response or odd comment bringing the humor to the fore. In these moments I truly felt the difference between RJ and BS. RJ always kept a sense of decorum for his characters. They were never snarky or sarcastic, even when they had right to be, or should be. His dialog always came off as strong or angry. I was jarred from the story by this uncharacteristic depth to our beloved characters, but oddly, it wasn’t followed by the feeling that they *shouldn’t* be this way, but rather that they hadn’t before!

My second complaint is the omission of several characters. I realize that this is directly contradictory to my happiness with focus on Rand and Egwene, but to omit Lan, Elayne, and Birgitte entirely, not to mention secondary characters like Taim, Loial, Galad, and the other Forsaken? I can only hope this means they have stronger parts in the next book. I will wait until then to truely decide if this was a negative for this book.

Finally, and this is truly my complaint, some things were too “neat.” I know, I shouldn’t complain too loudly. We were given answers to so many questions. Is Verin Black or Brown? What is with the “too young” Sitters? What will happen with Siuan and Gaerth? What about Gawyn? Literally dozens of conspiracy theories and sub plots were resolved in this book. But many of them were neat, clean, concise and practically tied with a bow. As if the author frequented theory boards and thus knew exactly every point that needed to be addressed to resolve them without quibble or qualm. Which is likely. And while I am pleased to be right on all accounts that I argued… I sometimes wonder… is this the “truth” as RJ saw it?

At the end of the day, I do not care. Having an answer printed in black and white is good enough to let me sleep at night, not always wondering what could have been. Minor issues aside, I am pleased with the book, and with Brandon Sanderson’s writing as a whole. Long Live the Dragon.

Channeling His Spirit

September 16, 2007, Robert Jordan passed away from a terminal illness. I had to pick up the phone and call my mother and tell her Robert Jordan had died. It was one of the saddest phone calls I have ever had to make. I felt sad and bereft. I spent the next week moping about and crying at odd times when I looked at the bookshelves in my apartment. My husband was horribly confused.

You see, I had never even met Robert Jordan.

He is most well known for his exceptionally long running and long winded series The Wheel of Time. At the time of his death, he was working on the twelfth and final book, A Memory of Light. For the next few months I lived with the knowledge that one of my favorite authors had died, without completing his series. A series I had read from beginning to end over 10 times from 2001 to the present. 8429 pages worth of fantasy at its best. I even had multiple World of Warcraft characters named after obscure characters in his books.

Harriet, Jordan’s wife, promised his fans she would find someone to take the reams of notes and all of the information he dictated before he died and have the series completed. But how could she find someone who could possibly hope to fill Jordan’s shoes? In December of 2007 it was announced she had chosen Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. At first I was heartsick. I had never even heard of Brandon Sanderson. I went and purchased his first novel, Elantris. After completing the book, in a single sitting I might add, I no longer felt worried. If he pulled off Book 12 at the same quality of Elantris, it would be good enough to handle, if just to know what happened.

Last Tuesday, The Gathering Storm was published. This is the first part of the final book, which had grown too large to print in a single volume. I acquired it immediately and sat down to read, apprehensive of how it would feel.

Now, 600+ pages into the book, I am certain that not only was Brandon Sanderson the right choice, he is perhaps the perfect choice. In 600+ pages I have only had a few small moments where something was worded a certain way, or character dialogue was written in such a manner that it felt “different” from Jordan. Not bad different, that is to say, most of the time I noticed it was after laughing out loud at the quick witted response of a character and thinking, they have never done that before. But for the majority, it still feels like Jordan is holding the pen. Maybe with a different editor, but still him. Brandon Sanderson said he wouldn’t try to write in Jordan’s style, but rather would write in his own voice and tell Jordan’s story, but to this I say he mostly failed. Either that or he is channeling Jordan’s spirit. In which case I say thank you, both to Sanderson for being so diligent and exceptional, and Jordan for letting him.