The Stormlight Archive, Book One: The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson
(Content warning for descriptions of mental illness)
Aw frig, how does one even begin to summarize one’s favorite book? A book that, no matter how many times one reads it, manages to hold new lessons, new secrets and new things one’s wife absolutely will not care about when one wakes her to tell her about them? (Unrelated: One may need a place to crash tonight.)
Lemme ask you: When was the last time you read a thousand-page book that really needed to be a thousand pages, not just because the author could but because it’s a machine, every part of which is necessary to its function and whose components simply could not fit in fewer than a thousand pages? Because the next time will be when you read this. The Way of Kings marked my entry–perhaps inevitable, in retrospect–into the world of great big goddamn fantasy doorstopper novels. What’s it about, you ask? UM, ONLY EVERYTHING???? But in a much more literal sense it’s mainly about three people: The only daughter of a destitute noble house eager to pay a debt that isn’t her fault, a slave who was a surgeon before he saved the wrong life, and an old soldier who is uncle to the king and who may be losing his mind, because the alternative is too terrifying to consider. Can they foil a plot to topple a kingdom? Will they be able to prove their innocence and regain their freedom? How can they save the people who mean everything to them, even when those people are why they’ve been put in a position to lie to the person who trusts them the most? ALSO WHAT’S THIS ABOUT ANCIENT GODS MAYBE RETURNING?
The Stormlight Archive has the most thoughtfully and thoroughly conceived worldbuilding this side of Tolkien; everything about Roshar makes sense, especially the things that don’t for reasons that become glaringly obvious after you understand them, which is one of the qualities that make this an incredible read for new reasons every single time you crack it open. The cultures, the magic, the monstros, the giant-ass magic swords that actually obey the laws of physics, the ludicrous social mores that comment none too subtly on real-world double-standards, everything down to the geography and the writing systems all fractal out from a simple set of causes that make the entire world as full of breath and life as any I’ve ever read. But much more than that, what keeps me coming back is the people: every main character in The Stormlight Archive is mentally ill. Mind-paralyzing anxiety, wildly erratic dementia, catastrophic depression and PTSD so severe it borders on dissociative identity disorder are present and treated so realistically and subtly that it would be incredibly easy to not even realize they were happening, just like with real-life mental illness. Real talk: I live with and am medicated for anxiety that once pushed my mind’s needle so far into the red that I lost nearly thirty pounds in two weeks and developed an ulcer that had me horking blood into the porcelain confessional every morning. I say this to make a point: seeing protagonists that I can relate to on that specific frequency, handled with honesty and care, is extremely rare in our media and means more to me than I can easily express, especially because even three books and three thousand pages later, they’re still struggling with mental health. None of them are ‘cured’, all of them have had to make allowances for the limits their illnesses place on them and this is recognized and accepted by everyone who loves them, and it’s implied more than once not that being mentally ill is what makes a hero, but that the empathy and force of will necessary to survive with it is part of what gives one the strength to take truly heroic actions, and the acknowledgment that disability has no bearing on ability to protect the people we love and make the world a better place is priceless.
I’ve been reading this book every few years for a decade and it hasn’t changed, but I have: what I appreciate about it, which characters I identify with most, what lessons I take from it, perhaps a little begrudgingly. I don’t expect it to mean to you what it means to me, but if you’re like me you’re always in the market for a story that can teach you something about yourself, and frankly you’re not gonna get a much better page-to-cost ratio this side of, fuckin, I dunno, the Bible or something, and them shits are free.
Score: 10/10 Cauldrons Of Stew, Because Someone Has To Cook For These Airsick Lowlanders
Giant Days, Vol. 1
God Giant Days is so friggin’ good. Okay, so remember how what I loved about Lumberjanes is that it’s warm and sweet and roots its monstro fights and mermaid battles of the bands and yeti roller-derbies and giant birds stealing buses fulla grandmas in a foundation of genuine human relationships and emotions that allows grounded characters to move believably in ridiculous situations? Giant Days is like that, except the weird, made-up place where the laws of nature have no sway is called ‘England’, and the old woman in the woods who can turn into a bear is ‘going to university’, and arm-wrestling a living marble statue to foil a mischievous Greek god’s plans is, I dunno, Tesco.
The premise, she is a simple one: Esther (boy-crazy Morticia Addams without the undead horse-sense), Susan (self-loathing and hypocritical but loyal Mom Friend) and Daisy (new-bornéd peep naïf who sees the good in everyone) are all roommates (and eventually housemates) going to university together in a place called Chef’s-Field. Is it basically Golden Girls Babies Go To College In England? 100% yes, and that is a good thing. The stories are simple and relatable: will Esther learn to live on a student budget after a lifetime of having money-spigot parents? What exactly is going on with Susan and Graham McGraw, and what is his mustache concealing? How is Daisy going to tell her old-fashioned granny that she’s met her first love, and her name is Ingrid, and also she is belligerently German? And then there’s Ed. Oh, Ed. Ed, Ed, Ed.
I don’t mean to keep comparing Giant Days and Lumberjanes, but they naturally complement and contrast one another: They’re both from Boom! Studios, they’re both incredibly wholesome, LGBT+ friendly and are ultimately about relationships with others and with ourselves; sometimes these lessons are most effectively learned the hard way through an ill-advised relationship with a university professor, and sometimes they’re delivered through a friggin’ jerk of a trickster fox-god who is ruining the Parents’ Day scavenger-hunt for everyone.
A final note about Giant Days is that it has some of the sharpest, laugh-out-loud funniest, most aggressively British writing I have ever seen in any medium, and I not infrequently find myself bewildered by a reference or cultural thing that would clearly be common knowledge to a British reader but which I sometimes have to go look up, and I love when I get to do that. Not only do I get to learn new stuff but I get a tiny look at that it must be like for the rest of the world to consume American media that not only assumes a functional literacy with our media and culture but is offended by the mere notion that an international audience wouldn’t be familiar with The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. or the Texan-approved Story of the Alamo (hint: they like to pretend it was about ‘freedom’ and not ‘starting another goddamn war because they wanted to own slaves).
Score: 9/10 Horrifying Erotic Murals No One Told Your Girlfriend She Could Paint On Our Living Room Wall, Daisy
your brothers, they echo your words