I read Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris when I heard that he was going to be finishing up the Wheel of Time, and on the basis of that book I thought him a “competent and original” fantasist, but I didn’t really see anything that’d make him an obvious choice to finish up the Wheel of Time.
But after reading Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages I get it.
Because what these books are, first and foremost, is epic fantasy of the old Eddings/Feist/Jordan school. Most epic fantasies these days have absorbed the grittty, realist aesthetic of George R. R. Martin’s books, and there aren’t a lot of people writing the more soaring tales of gods and prophecies and empires spanning the centuries and vast power and the fate of the world in the balance. That sense of grand scope just isn’t in most fantasy — even most epic fantasy — any more, because Martin made it all look a bit silly.
Sanderson, though, manages to revive that epic mode, making it fresh and relevant again. It’s not, I think, a coincidence that Sanderson is around my age, because it means that he spent his formative years reading the same epic fantasy that I did. And now that he’s writing, he clearly wants to write books like the ones he read as a teenager, except good enough to pass muster with his more sophisticated adult self.
And he’s done, to my mind, a pretty damn good job of it. Not only is the Mistborn trilogy a truly epic fantasy, it’s also a careful one. Sanderson has paid attention to the details, and his work rewards the sort of close reading that, on reflection, Jordan’s work maybe didn’t quite merit.
But I don’t want to imply that Sanderson is just writing competently-executed third-generation epic fantasy, imitating the people who imitated Tolkien. No, he’s adding into the mix a ton of originality and a sort of lightness and dynamism that was missing in those early works. (What the hell does that mean, you ask? It’s like the difference between the lightsaber duels in the original Star Wars movies and the new ones — instead of old people ponderously waving around swords, it’s flashy jumps and rolls and what-not. Only metaphorically. Except also kinda literally.)
The upshot is, if you’re the sort of person who likes old-style epic fantasy, or who used to like it but can’t handle the cheese, you need to read these books. Don’t read the dust jackets, though, because they’re spoiler city. (And speaking of spoilers, I notice that I managed to get through this entire entry without so much as mentioning the name of a character or giving a vague outline of the plot or setting. Consider that intentional, because these are books that deserve to reveal themselves at their own pace.)
Oh, and I’m definitely reading that last Jordan book now.