Reviews: Babylon’s Ashes; Katamari Damacy; Milk Street: Tuesday Nights: More than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers that Deliver Bold Flavor, Fast; Zeroes; Oathbringer; Nightflyers & Other Stories; Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses; The Alloy of Law; Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania; A Planet for Rent ; Adrift on the Sea of Rains; Shadows of Self; The Bands of Mourning; Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell; Cook’s Illustrated Magazine 2018

Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is probably the most direct sequel so far in The Expanse. It pretty much picks up right where the last one left off (not counting the interstitial novella). One thing JSAC use for great effect in this book (and I think more than any of the previous ones) is to use the POV-ness of the chapters to jump back and forth in time. So chapter X ends and then chapter X+1 actually rewinds things a bit and provides a new perspective on what happened in chapter X. It mostly worked well.

I enjoyed that this was a huge reunion of all the great players of the series – Avasarala, Fred Johnson, Michio Pa, Anna the preacher and her family, the crew of the Roci, Bobbie the Martian Marine. Pretty much everyone got a POV chapter. And towards the end we even got a look into the mind of the enemy.

Great, fun moment for me was when Anderson Dawes is talking to people to convince them to believe in Holden and JSAC have structured the paragraphs to be a series of contradictory jump cuts. Equivalent to a move or TV show where a scene has someone insisting “I will NEVER be in a blue car”, next scene they’re in a blue car.

I think the ending continues JSAC’s realistic endings. There are some good things and some bad ones. Some things left unresolved. And a HUGE question mark on a certain group of folks. (view spoiler)

I wanted to add that the Filip chapters really highlighted a lot of the reasons of why we end up with irrational violence – people feeling ashamed or called out or trying to make their world view make sense.

I think the series continues to progress well and this one has the most organic reason for Holden to be involved in the future – as a charter ship for hire. After having been able to read these more or less back to back it’s a bummer there’s only one more novel out now.

View all my reviews Katamari Damacy (Boss Fight Books, #17)Katamari Damacy by L.E. Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I just had unreasonable expectations for this book. It’s one of my favorite games. The book was very late to be delivered which also made me long for it even more. While I learned some neat stuff in it, it didn’t quite have what I’d come to love from a lot of the other Boss Fight Books, like Chrono Trigger. Many of the other books were deeply personal, talking about how the games brought them closer to their siblings or helped them deal with being trans or blew them away. This one felt like it was at a bit more of a distance compared to the best of the books in this series.

That said, 3 stars in GR means “liked it” and I did indeed like it. It was neat to learn about the Japanese stereotypes that the King of all Cosmos was subverting, the way the game was somewhat of a tribute to the old rubber suit TV shows (like the one that became Power Rangers in America, but more like the ones from the 70s), the way that Takahashi’s brain as an artist and sculptor affected the game he created. It was incredible how there were so many reasons this game shouldn’t have happened, including because of Japanese business culture. And yet it came out and it’s one of my favorite games and it opened space in the video game world for quirky games when everyone was going for ever more realistic graphics and (often) violence (not that there’s anything wrong with that, one of my favorite games is Team Fortress 2).

View all my reviews Milk Street: Tuesday Nights: More than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers that Deliver Bold Flavor, FastMilk Street: Tuesday Nights: More than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers that Deliver Bold Flavor, Fast by Christopher Kimball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again Chris Kimball and his cohort of recipe development chefs have put together a great cookbook. I’ve already cooked a few recipes from this book and they’ve been huge hits with the wife and our extended families. (Slightly less so with the kids, but the Milk Street philosophy is about bold flavors and the kids aren’t quite ready for that yet in most foods)

This book is similar in its raison d’etre as Dinner Illustrated (book insertion link not working for me as I write this) put out by his previous employer, America’s Test Kitchen. This book has a lot more recipes that are faster – in fact Tuesday Night’s chapters are Fast, Faster, and Fastest. Also, in keeping with the Milk Street ethos, the recipes are more from around the world and with boldly spiced flavors. Not necessarily spicy, just lots of spices – like Za’atar, sumac, or harissa.

I can’t help but compare the two as they both came out at the same time and Kimball used to work at ATK. I like the way Dinner Illustrated is organized better – by the protein in the dish. I also really like the style of their “Illustrated” line of cookbooks that takes a lot of guesswork out of how things are supposed to look as they’re going along. I also think that there are a chunk of recipes in Tuesday Nights (not too many) that are “cheating” in that they are done in less than an hour, but they require something to go along with them to be a complete meal like rice or potatoes or bread. In the case of rice or bread it’s not a big deal because bread you just buy and rice (at least the way I make it) is fire and forget in the rice cooker.

That said, I have really enjoyed the recipes I’ve made from this book. And some of them have inspired my wife who is much more of the off the script type of chef to come up with some great ideas, too. If you want to explore some food from around the world that tastes great and doesn’t take too long to cook, this is a great buy.

View all my reviews ZeroesZeroes by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(edit because the first review was written on my phone when Kindle was asking me to review for GR and Amazon)

There are a few things I knew about Wendig going in. I knew that he was mostly known for fantasy. I knew that I enjoyed his short story collection, Irregular Creatures. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1…) I knew he was known for bad language. I didn’t know how good (if at all) Wendig would be at writing a techno-thriller, “next Sunday” science fiction book. But it was the book of the month for Sword and Laser and Wendig was offering it as a huge discount to S&L readers, so I was game to check it out.

Wendig does a couple real hard things with this book. He writes a large ensemble cast where everyone seems like a fleshed out character. All too often, as the cast of characters grows, their personalities shrink. In the most extreme version, you end up with a cast of caricatures or archetypes. But with Zeroes I feel that Wendig does a pretty admirable job of giving everyone good personalities and backstories. It also helps to expand the notion of the type of person who could be a hacker to better reflect reality.

He also writes about technology intelligently. (The acknowledgement section shows that, hacker-wise) he’s kind of at Wade’s level. There is some techno-artistic license taken to make it more of a thriller (almost horror) but it didn’t take me out of the narrative. As someone who does computer stuff for fun and for a living, sometimes hacker narratives can really just dissolve to me just shaking my head and classifying the book more as urban fantasy. As for where Wendig took artistic license – well I often found myself thinking (and describing the plot to others) that this was kind of a modern (view spoiler) story using technology as the (view spoiler).

View all my reviews Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some people (both whom I know in person and on the internet) have said that Oathbringer is plodding. After dealing with the slow pace of the first two books, this is interminable. I can certainly understand the frustration given the waiting period between book releases. I think Stormlight Archive 4 is coming out in 2020 at the earliest. But one of the things that makes the first quarter different from most military fiction (fantasy or sci-fi) is that it is heavy with the periods between the action. Unlike stories where kings and queens argue for a day or two and then form alliances, we see Dalinar struggle to get anyone on his side. We also see what idleness does to the folks in the military and their camps. It makes things more real than even historical depictions of war sometimes are. In this way I don’t mind the pacing. It also makes the character evolution seem less out of left field.

It’s interesting that Sanderson originally intended The Stormlight Archive to be two five book cycles because this book definitely has the feel of a trilogy ending. While we still have plenty of questions when the book is over, most of the conflict introduced over the past three books has been dealt with in one way or another. There’s definitely a feeling of finality with this book. If something prevented Sanderson from ever writing more, it’s not a horrible way for the story to end. Our heroes have grown and learned and lived to fight another day. They haven’t won the war, but they’re in a place where you could maybe see a path for them to get there.

I think the biggest theme of this book is redemption and the search for it. Each book has involved a character’s backstory. Book 1 was about Kaladin. Book 2 was about Shallan. Book 3 is about Dalinar. He spends the entire book trying to earn redemption for his earlier actions. When we met him in book 2, he was an honorable man following the codes. It was someone Kal could finally trust. But we learn in this book what a journey that’s been for him. And it colors his interactions with all the other kings and queen around him. But he even needs to seek redemption from his nephew for the way he treated him in book 2. Shallan looks for redemption for her past and it threatens to break her apart. Kal continues his slow journey of self-forgiveness. Teft has to deal with his demons. And even Moash seeks a certain redemption after Kal showed him his selfishness in book 2.

The second biggest theme of the book is people acting from unknown ignorance. The humans as a whole don’t learn the entire truth behind the desolations until we do and it’s a big bombshell. (That also explains why Shinovar has normal animals and grass, etc) Dalinar is acting from ignorance of his past thanks to the actions of the Night Watcher. The Parshendi don’t know or understand most of the epic battle they’re now a part of and just want to live without being enslaved. Most of the new radiants start out ignorant of what their actions mean in spren-world.

Overall, this book was masterful in the way it unpeeled layers of ignorance as we (and the characters) learned the truth of what had happened on Roshar. Additionally, we had great character studies (many characters spend loads of chapters away from the others) and growth moments. Does Shallan get a little bit tiresome? Maybe. I think some chapters handled her issues better than others. But it’s clear that this is Sanderson’s Magnum Opus ad I can’t wait until book 4 in a couple years.

PS – Wit/Hoid continues to be amazing and I continue to love the tradition of his final chapter being a commentary on art/storytelling.
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Cosmere tropes:

Attempts by the force of good to trap the force of evil – Mistborn Era 1, Honor vs Odium in Stormlight First Pentology

The things the gods represent: passion, bonds, and change. Just like on Mistborn where Creation was not good on its own because some destruction is necessary.

Non-cosmere, but Sanderson: in this book Shallan is seeming a bit like Stephen Leeds.

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Some quotes from near the end of the book that didn’t make it into my status updates:

We took Shardblades from the women, he thought, glancing at the one hung on the wall above his desk. And they seized literacy from us. Who got the better deal, I wonder?
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“It is obscenely difficult—if not impossible—to make something that nobody hates,” Wit continued. “Conversely, it is incredibly easy—if not expected—to make something that nobody loves.”

View all my reviews Nightflyers & Other StoriesNightflyers & Other Stories by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the first time I’ve read George RR Martin’s science fiction. I’d read a story of his in an issue of Lightspeed magazine; I think the Lightspeed story was a newer story, though. (Also, Wild Cards if you consider that SF) Most, if not all, of the stories in this book were written in the late 70s. They definitely have a classic SF style similar to Asimov or Clarke where the characters have these long philosophical debates about whatever the moral or plot twist of the story is going to be. I enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.

As it says on the cover, this book consists of the novella of Nightflyers and then some other short stories by GRRM.

Nightflyers: A good, classic SF novella with lots of foreshadowing, red herrings, and suspense. I got this book because next week (2 Dec, I think) the SyFy TV adaptation will be released. I didn’t want to be spoiled on the plot, so I read the book. Should make for a pretty great adaptation as long as they keep the season count low. Martin does a great job at his take on Alien, but written by him. One tiny plot point is a bit regressive sexually. (view spoiler). Describe the story in one phrase: (view spoiler)

Override: a short story on a planet where people control corpses to do manual labor. Skirts a lot of potential metaphorical issues in favor of a wild West story ported to science fiction. What I mean by that is that in other hands, or perhaps even if GRRM had written the story today, there would have been more of a social commentary involved in that. Instead with the wild west we get a fun story that gives you something to think about later.

Weekend in a war zone – a satire of work team building exercises that takes place in a future where people sign up to fight in a war for the weekend. It unfolds so well that even as I kept trying to guess the ending, it wasn’t until a few paragraphs before the end that I could predict it.

And seven times never kill man – while GRRM plants the clue very early on (like first couple paragraphs) the final plot twist was so brilliant. Definitely could be a twilight zone episode. The plot is, at a high level, a space version of the Catholic Missionaries who took over the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s.

Nor the many colored fires – the first one that I didn’t like. Didn’t quite get the point of it. It takes place on a station that studies natural wormholes, but almost nothing of the plot has anything to do with the setting.

A song for Lya – I predicted the ending, but it was still a fun read to see how GRRM would get us there. Humans are making a colony on a planet that had a metropolis before humans stopped being hunter-gatherers, but PLOT TWIST! the humans are somehow more advanced than the aliens. Lots of philosophy about happiness vs unhappiness in tech creation and what human interaction would be like with telepaths.

View all my reviews Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit BossesLegends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses by Robb Walsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have yet to make any of the recipes in this book, although I have added many to my internal wiki where I keep track of recipes I’d like to make and notes on recipes I have made. What makes this book special and warranted the 4 star rating is that it’s a book documenting the past and present of Texas Barbecue. So while my treasured Meathead BBQ book is about the science of cooking, this one doesn’t really guide you to BBQ; it assumes anyone who buys this book is already enough of a BBQ nerd.

It was fascinating to read about all the different cultures that came together to make the types of BBQ you can find in Texas: Mexicans, Germans, Southerners and their slaves, and the cattlemen of the 1870s. It’s also slightly sad to read about all these strains because many of them have disappeared due to various forces like tourists expecting southern style BBQ or the health department regulating away open pit BBQs. And so this book serves as a time capsule and a documentation of the way things have been and currently are in case anyone wants to resurrect a particular style in the future. As someone who’s both a history and a food nerd, it was cool to see how each style of BBQ came from certain needs and constraints. Either the food that was available to a class of people or the food they brought from the home country. Or, in the case of the meat markets, feeding migrant farm workers cheaply.

I’d recommend to any meat-eating Texan, any BBQ geek/nerd, and anyone who likes to know the history of the food they’re cooking. I may add a post script after I make some recipes on the recipes themselves. They definitely are less hand-hold-y than lots of other cookbooks I’ve been reading recently.

View all my reviews The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few reasons Mr. Sanderson should be happy with how I feel about this book: 1) it renews my faith that Eras 3 and 4 will be great 2) I couldn’t keep myself reading only during my lunch break, and 3) I can’t wait to get to the next one. Tackling these one-by-one: I really enjoyed the original Mistborn series. It was my entry into serialized Cosmere after having first read Warbreaker and Elantris. I thought it was very well done and pretty awesome how Sanderson kept overturning our expectations of hero’s journey fantasy. The Scadrial powers worked very well in a world stuck pre-industrialization, but could Sanderson make it work in a world with guns and modernization? And Era 3 is supposed to be a 1980s era Spy Thriller! But Sanderson did well here in a few ways. One, he didn’t nerf guns – even if the bullets aren’t made of aluminum, Coinshots can’t completely deflect them by making a spherical force field. Two, by (as of this first book) eliminating Mistborn (full-allomancers) among the human population, he makes things a little more balanced for our protagonists. Three, by projecting things out 300 years, there have been Terris-non-Terris births (in essence many of our protagonists are what the Lord Ruler feared – twinborn) giving some people access to two sets of powers.

My second point is both a matter of finding the fast pace and the story exciting and the fact that, at less than a third of the size of a Stormlight Archive book, it was something I could reasonably finish. And the third point just means he did a good job with the plot.

Speaking of the plot, while I was able to figure out ahead of time how they’d use Marasi’s power (although not until the melee at the book’s climax), I still didn’t 100% predict the way they’d use it. I thought the plot progress reasonably well. On the one hand, Sanderson didn’t have to explain too much to us about Allomancy, but on the other hand, it was in the context of the Industrial Revolution so there was a lot more going on with society that was new to us; as well as hints about how the religions had evolved since Era 1. The final plot twist of who the villain was is someone I was tempted to consider, although I thought perhaps (view spoiler) for a time.

I thought it was interesting that Wax is about a generation older than most of our protagonists in the Era 1 Mistborn books as well as older than many of the Stormlight characters. I think it wroks well in a few ways. First of all, for the reader it gives us a different perspective on someone with allomantic powers. Second, (also for readers) it gives us someone to identify with as we grow older. Third, it’s probably more and more in line with Sanderson as he continues to grow older himself. I found it played well with who Wax was and how he comported himself throughout the story. I’d love to see more fantasy and SF have older protagonists.

One thing I enjoy about Sanderson’s Cosmere relationships and love triangles is that he doesn’t always go for the easy ship. It puts a bit more realism into the stories vs what tropes will commonly dictate. I was happy with who Shallan chose (as of Stormlight 3) and I was also happy that (as of this book) Wax has chosen (view spoiler)

A few loose ends: what about puppet line in prologue? I thought we were going to end up finding out that Sazed/Harmony was being a little too forceful in prodding things along, but both his explanation to Wax and later from Ironeyes seems to be that’s against his code. Given the way Sanderson writes I expect it to be important for the trilogy.

I missed the chapter introductory sentences from a book or something – loved those in Era 1 and Stormlight Archive. Did really enjoy the newpapers, though.

I love Wayne’s ethical guidelines. And his wordplay. I’m a sucker for puns.

I missed spotting Hoid, I guess.

Ars Arcanum – Feruchemists have the ability to store investiture!?! Some of the metals are useless without mistborn. (like the flaring one)

View all my reviews Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania (Mistborn, #4.5)Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Incredible as it seems, he actually found the location of the Survivor’s Treasure. I take this as proof that Harmony watches over all of us, for only deity could have such a cruel sense of humor as to repeatedly allow a man like Jak to bumble into such remarkable success.”

Sanderson sounds like he had a blast writing in the style of the Victorian Adventurer, full of bluster. Also, it plays really well with the trope of the adventurer and his ethnic sidekick. In this case, a Terris steward who bucks the original trope by being a long-suffering second banana who’s much smarter than his “master”. The only example that comes to mind at the moment (although it isn’t a perfect one) is that of Penny and Inspector Gadget (from the original 80s cartoon).

As far as it goes for the Cosmere, it provides information on what the Koloss are up to in the new version of Scadrial that was created after the end of Mistborn Era 1. It seems to be an improvement over their situation as well as explaining the “Koloss-blooded” humans we were introduced to in The Alloy of Law (Mistborn Era 2 book 1).

If you’re into The Cosmere there’s no reason to skip this story (available either in Arcanum Unbounded or the second Mistborn RPG book). It’s a ton of fun and a chance to see Sanderson write in yet another style.

View all my reviews A Planet for RentA Planet for Rent by Yoss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I’m rounding up on with the score because I’m not sure I would say it’s amazing (GR’s definition of 5 stars) but I more than just “really liked it”. With that out out of the way…

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I listen to Escape Pod and listen to/read Clarkesworld Magazine. Both publications have introduced me to international science fiction. What I’ve found to be fascinating is seeing what different cultures do with science fiction. Some of the Asian fiction I’ve read has been indistinguishable from American/British SF. Other stories have been so strangely different in what they project about the future or how they view utopia or dystopia. The same has, of course, happened with continental African SF.

This book is my first Cuban science fiction story. Yoss makes such brilliant use of the form. For those of you who read my reviews often you’ll know that I always say that the point of SF is not predicting the future, but using an alien world (sometimes literally) to explore our present. With A Planet for Rent, Yoss essentially turns all of Earth into Cuba and gets the world to understand the situation by being able to see themselves as a citizen of Earth instead of Team First World vs Team Third World. (Which can get disgusting as described in Trevor Noah’s most recent comedy special in which they take a tour of someone’s home in a third world country) After opening with an ad for a rich alien race to buy Earth, the book alternates between a textbook-like description of various aspects of Earth under the alien regime and short stories. The textbook entries allow Yoss to do a lot of world building without interrupting stories with background information. The short stories allow Yoss to tell a series of self-contained stories that each showcase how the situation affects an individual. However, the reader quickly realizes there is a connecting thread running throughout the short stories, giving them way more punch than they would have on their own. The stories tell of corruption, of a government willing to do anything to keep tourists happy, of a resourcefulness because the citizens are denied technology and medicine that are common on the alien worlds.

It is biting commentary, but it is also great science fiction. I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews Adrift on the Sea of Rains (Apollo Quartet)Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book in audiobook form as part of a Humble Bundle that had a bunch of other space exploration non-fiction books that I was interested in. The other day I had run out of podcast episodes so I loaded this into my audiobook program.

This is a very short book – probably novella length so it’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, so there will be some minor, unmarked spoilers ahead. The story takes place in an alternate timeline where the USA never stopped exploring the moon after the Apollo Project. In this alternate timeline, a group of men have become trapped on the moon and are trying to figure out how to get back home.

It is an old fashioned SF story that reminds me of the style of the short stories in GRRM’s Nightflyers collection. If the reader is a NASA nerd they’ll probably get a huge kick out of the technical details in the story. For me as someone who just casually follows NASA and was listening to a bunch of acronyms, it could become a little dense. For example, a regular book would have said, “Commander so-and-so pushed the ignition button.” But this book had text like, “Commander so-and-so pushed the BLAND (button lander alternative neutral dummy) button”

The glimpses we get of the world via the story are interesting. And I’m not against reading the rest of the quartet. But after the way this story ends, I’m curious where the author goes from here.

View all my reviews Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel is so incredibly great compared to the first Wax & Wayne story that it really has me excited for the remaining two books and sad that book 4 was derailed by some non-Cosmere work. Still, today’s State of Sanderson revealed that he intends to complete book 4 next year for a 2020 release. I think what I enjoyed so much about this story is that it was both a great detective story and really pushed me to consider what difficulties Sazed may be having. Indeed, it made me wonder if this difficulty led to the original fracture of Preservation and Ruin.

I guess I’ll start off by tackling the Sazed aka Harmony storyline. I thought it was odd that Tan’s line about being puppets didn’t really have any consequences in The Alloy of Law, so it was great to see that Sanderson not only revisited it – it was the concept around which this entire book revolved. As readers of the first trilogy we knew that, thanks to Hemalurgy, God really was talking to Wax when he meditated with the earing on. But it is in this book that Sazed/Harmony reveals to Wax that he truly does exist and can communicate with his followers. And we learn that it is almost impossibly hard being both Preservation and Ruin. As both in one person he is able to realize the need for each. But where as Preservation and Ruin as separate entities could each focus on their own tasks singularly, it is painful for one being to have to shoulder both responsibilities. In the end, some of the conflict is not unknown to someone familiar with Christian Apologetics. Basically, why does God allow suffering? And the answer winds up being something along the lines of suffering being necessary for some great good. In fact, during one of Sazed’s dialogues, he reveals that he made things TOO perfect for humans, dulling their necessity to invent. This is something I’ve seen touched upon in various SF stories where we create a perfectly efficient society, often with AI, and the humans end up suffering for no longer needing ambition.

Going back to my last sentence in the first paragraph – in Mistborn Era 1 (and the history that led to the Lord Ruler) we learn that Preservation and Ruin were in conflict and were two separate entities. A seemingly throwaway line in the third book has a body materializing when Preservation dies. And we know that Sazed is able to give up his body to become both unified. So a question would be whether originally Preservation and Ruin were one and split because of the terrible situation of being both at once or whether Sazed is unique in Scadrial’s godly history. Of course, we learn of Trell at the end of this book. That would put Scadrial more in line with Roshar where Cultivation exists alongsiside Odium and (I can’t remember the Stormfather’s orignal god’s name right now).

Gong back to the detective story, Sanderson does a great job and does not cut corners here. The pieces are there for the astute reader to pick up and use to solve the puzzle alongside or before Wax. I was proud of myself at guessing the twist that is revealed just before the governor’s speech during the riots. Sanderson had left quite a few clues there. But, as is always the case with the best detective stories, the final reveal was amazing and I didn’t see it coming at all. It works so well to tie the first book into this one and allowed Sanderson to do what he does best with his characters – really put them through the ringer. It’s all I can do to write this review rather than jump right into Bands of Mourning. It’s going to be so hard to wait until 2020 for the conclusion to the story. Speaking of Bands of Mourning, it’s interesting that book got a title drop in this book. The Alloy of Law had its own title drop. But I don’t believe I saw one for Shadows of Self.

I think that brings us to the main and secondary characters. Lord Harms was more or less pointless in this book other than as a red herring. Sterris continued to grow on me. Sanderson already had some of that going on as Sterris made more appearances past her first one in the book, but in this book she really came into her own as someone I could root for. She gained some complexity explaining a bit of why she is how she is and once again showed her usefulness to Wax by making use of her understanding of high society. It also helps that the two of them have come to a sort of truce with each other on his behavior – just like a real couple. Sanderson has Harmony talk to Wax so that Marasi can finally level up out of Wax Fangirl mode. As he and others continue to respect her abilities, she gains confidence and is able to use that confidence to further gain success. Wayne reminded me a lot of Shallan as he used his non-allomantic powers of impersonation. He really becomes the characters and thinks a lot about how their accents say a lot about how they think. Of course, unlike Shallan, he’s not going crazy or suffering from disassociative multiple personalities (made worse by being a Lightweaver). I also liked Wax’s character arc in this book. He starts off quite sure of himself and even a little more emboldened by Sterris’ acceptance of who he is. Yet through his conversations with his grandmother and his uncle (to say nothing of the antagonist’s conversations) he begins to see some doubt. What I appreciate Sanderson doing here is similar in nature to what he does with religion in this series as well as generally across the Cosmere. In a normal Western book (and also in detective novels) we tend to unquestionably root for the vigilante justice. But by removing the western lawman from the western setting and making him more of a Batman-like character, Sanderson prompts us to think about vigilante justice in a democratic system. His arc actually has him wrestling with these ideas.

Finally, I’m pretty sure that in one of the newspaper accounts there was a story that included a perpendicularity – the lady who sees someone scary emerging from a pool.

View all my reviews The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We are clearly in the second book in a trilogy (which makes sense, because I was informed that Shadows of Self and this one were created as books 1 and 2 in a trilogy that follows after the events of the Alloy of Law). This book teaches us A LOT we didn’t know about, but possibly could have guessed from clues dropped in both eras of Mistborn novels; the Wax/Wayne books, particularly have primed us for the big reveal via the newspaper stories.

Narratively, this book was a bit weaker than Shadows of Self. Our protagonists start off on one mission and are continually distracted from each subsequent distraction. It mostly works, but as the second book in a trilogy we’re left with way more questions than answers at the end. I also saw the twist coming a mile away.

However, this book contains some of the best comedy in the Cosmere. There are numerous examples, but it truly peaks when our group arrives at the hotel in New Seran and proceed to pelt poor Aunt Gin with their madness from Steris’ list of possible tragedies to befall the hotel, to Wayne’s attempts at trading, to MeLaan’s lack of modesty, and Wax destroying the windows to facilitate escape. I could just imagine what a great scene it would be… now I want someone to have created an animated scene of everyone walking in and out of the room while an increasingly befuddled Aunt Gin has to deal with it all.

The characters continued to have good growth. At the end of Shadows I actually enjoyed Steris, her list-making in this book not only makes for great comic relief, but it also makes her a valuable member of the team. I also think that it appears a mind for stats is an inherited trait from their father’s side since both she and Marasi seem to share it. Wayne continued to show growth while still being funny as heck. Also, I loved his rationale at why his relationship with MeLaan was not problematic. MeLaan had the least character growth, but she’s nearly 1000 years old. Marasi continued to move out of Wax’s shadow and be her own person. Wax came to terms with his feelings towards Steris and God. He also continued to mature in his war of pragmatism vs idealism as a law man.

Scadrial-wise we learned so much that I was sad we learned it so late in the story. I think Sanderson has done a very neat thing in having what appears to be a special kind of feruchemy in the south so that it’s not just another Mistborn society. Additionally, there’s an interesting tech mismatch that I think keeps things from being too one-sided in any confrontation. (Bomb, notwithstanding) Additionally, the epilogue throws some of the story we’re told into question. I think a lot of those questions will be resolved in Secret History. We’ll see. I’m excited to almost be caught up with the Cosmere.

Late 2019/early 2020 can’t get here quickly enough with the Wax/Wayne conclusion.

Cosmere tropes:
Long mustaches on Lord Harms and Thaylens in Roshar (actually from Shadows of Self, but forgot to include it in there)

View all my reviews Shadows for Silence in the Forests of HellShadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a good thing Sanderson spoke of the way the magic system works on Threnody because I don’t think I would have realized, based only on this story, how magic worked. At any rate it was a great, great short story. It contained good twists, protagonists who were not all protected by plot armor, great villains, and more. It also hinted at a whole society beyond which I’m sure Sanderson intends to explore in the future. A great way to end my 2018 journey through the Cosmere.

View all my reviews Cook's Illustrated Magazine 2018Cook’s Illustrated Magazine 2018 by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, a solid set of magazine issues from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve already cooked a few recipes and some of them have been huge hits – such as a brussels sprouts recipe that everyone loved at this year’s Christmas party. Other have been incredibly tasty even if they only debuted among our family members. While not as organized around a particular topic as their books are, it’s a solid arrangement of recipes roughly tailored to the season in which any particular issue was released.

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Published by Eric Mesa

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