More Books that Surprised Me
To date, 2023 has been a bumper year for reading. Already I have experienced three books that have surprised me, all in a good way. One is a tome by the author who completed Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. Another is a BookTok sensation. The last is by a writer producing captivating works for adults, but whose YA fare I've only found so-so in novel form until now.
The Way of Kings by Brian Sanderson
I am flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed The Way of Kings. The first time I tried to read this book, I DNF'ed it within the first twenty pages. At the time, reading the tome was just too big of a commitment, and the immersive world-building turned me off. Fast forward about a year, I had read Mistborn, finding in the world-building immersive, the story fast-paced if long, the magic system easy to understand and interesting while passages describing the magic were repetitive and dull, and the characters meh. On top of that, I had been less than impressed by Sanderson's novels filling out The Wheel of Time.
That is all to say I was biased against The Way of Kings from the get-go. Luckily, on second go round, I knew to expect immersive world-building that I would need to pay careful attention to fully appreciate the novel. I went into my second attempt at reading this epic with that mindset. Straight up, I was pleasantly surprised. The world-building is fantastic, engrossing, and crazy inventive! The plot, although complex, moves along at a good pace, only bogging down occasionally before quickly picking back up again. Sanderson also does a wonderful job of hinting at mysteries, both in the present and in the world's backstory, that will keep the reader curious alongside the story's many characters.
Speaking of the characters, this is where The Way of Kings ultimately shines. It took me nearly half the book to warm up to the characters—that's probably around 500 pages or so—but once I did, I was fully invested in their stories. This is critical for an epic fantasy series where the reader might follow the characters over six or seven books of 1000 pages or more.
I am so impressed with The Way of Kings I plan to continue reading The Stormlight Archive. I expect it will prove to be a hell of a ride.
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
Legends and Lattes is a book I ran across in my Facebook feed that was described as a BookTok sensation. I was both intrigued and put off. Intrigued because BookTok sells books. Put off because the last book I read that was a BookTok sensation was The Atlas Six, which I found to be ho-hum at best. I was also curious to discover how a book described as a low-stakes fantasy could be appealing.
Well, Baldree is a damn talented writer. He uses common fantasy tropes to efficiently create a wonderfully immersive and whimsical fantasy world. His characters, from the protagonist to the rat-like baker, are simply wonderful. I didn't care that these characters were trying to build a successful coffee shop instead of slaying dragons. I was fully invested in their dreams.
I doubt there will be sustained demand for the cozy, low-stakes fantasy, but in small quantities it can be quite the tonic. I will be on the lookout for Baldree's next book.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
I expected Six of Crows to be a good read, but far from great. I have read Shadow and Bone, finding it to be pretty good, but with too much emphasis on the romantic aspects of the story for my taste. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of the Netflix adaptation and look forward to the second season.
From the Netflix show, I had an inkling of what to expect in Six of Crows—a story about a band of thieves. Typically, this is not a type of story I enjoy, but Bardugo has mastered the art of creating fascinating characters. None of the characters in this story are particularly likable. In many ways, they're despicable. The great thing is this: Bardugo doesn't try to make the cast likable. Instead, she fully embraces their self-serving and amoral ways. This is refreshing, especially since the characters, the world, and the plot are as rough and tumble as they are mesmerizing.