I've been having a run of reading really good fantasy novels lately -- a side effect, I suppose, of not having kept up with much fantasy since starting college.*** My latest "discovery" is Brandon Sanderson and his Mistborn trilogy. Previously, I only knew him as the guy who completed the final three books of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.***** I don't know why, but that somehow made me skeptical of the dude -- as if any writer willing to put his own work on hold to complete someone else's couldn't be a quality writer. So let me say now, "Man, that was a dumb idea."
Anyway, a couple of things to note about Sanderson.
(1) His metal-based magic system is really fun. Actually, my first thought was that it sounded like a video game's magic system -- clearly defined rules, able to do tons of cool things, complicated enough that it could motivate several kinds of plot, etc.
But the series has much more depth than most video games. In particular:
(2) More importantly, though, is just how smart the series is.
I remembering once reading a comment by Farah Mendlesohn complaining that, while fantasy often has great respect for The Book, it typically doesn't encourage critical thinking. That is to say, books in fantasy fiction are repositories of True Knowledge, not author-made constructions that must be queried, questioned, and examined. Well, I think the Mistborn trilogy might be the exception that proves the rule. Several important characters, including the Marcus Aurlius-like Elend, are scholars -- and scholarship is an amazing (and nearly impossible) value to incorporate in a trilogy as action-packed as Mistborn is. Nonetheless, Sanderson skillfully manages to show characters engaging in discussions in political theory, for example, without breaking up the pacing or descending into long chunks of philosophical rumination.
(3) Also, this series is surprisingly religious -- but, however, without being as obvious about it as C.S. Lewis or Madelaine L'Engle. (Tolkien, of course, is the master of subtlety in this area.)
When I later looked up Sanderson's bio, it didn't surprise me that he was Mormon, although the religious sentiment he depicts in Mistborn is extremely non-denominational. In fact, just values like tolerance, non-dogmatism, and a bland affirmation of faith and trust in higher powers (even while simultaneously recognizing that most religions have almost nothing to do with the supernatural Other-wordly).
All in all, I was strongly impressed by the Mistborn trilogy. I've now added more Sanderson to the reading queu.
*** Of course, I did keep up with a few writers -- Rowling, G.R.R. Martin, a few others. When I did find the leisure time to read fantasy, I usually concentrated on the classics -- not stuff written within the last two decades. Luckily, my post-grad school status has finally given me time to systematically wade through the best contemporary fantastists.
*****And I swear I'm going to read them . . . someday. I admit to getting fed up with Jordan somewhere around book 7 or 8.