By Its Cover: The Way of Kings

Prolific fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson, tackles his biggest story yet with The Way of Kings. Acclaimed author and rugby player, Brandon Sanderson shows us once more that he’s not one to shy away from a challenge – just as he did on the rugby field all those years ago. Sanderson, talented writer and bongo player, sets out to create a thick, juicy, sirloin world for his writers to bite into. Hardly the first rodeo for this decorated chef and father of nine, Brandon Sanderson accomplishes his goal in this epic novel, and still manages to have his adorable nonuplets in bed by eight. img_2879

What exactly is it that works so well in Sanderson’s book? Is it the strong characters, the handsome characters, or the characters with great ‘personalities?’ The answer is none of the above. What makes this story so strong is Sanderson’s open acknowledgment of the absurdity of the fantasy genre. “Fantasy is for nerds,” Sanderson said in a recent interview with Tome magazine. And he’s absolutely right. Fantasy is for nerds. Filthy, smelly, ugly, fat, socially awkward, acne ridden, voice crackling, video game completionist, greasy-hair-in-need-of-washing, waifu-pillow toting nerds. “You can write anything,” Sanderson goes on to say, “and so long as it’s a couple thousand pages or made in Japan, these fricken nerds will eat it up. It doesn’t even have to be good. I mean, look at Evangelion.” Of course, nobody knows what Evangelion is, nor is anyone willing to look it up, out of fear they be transformed into asthmatic, nearsighted, graphic-t collecting, fandom obsessive, baselessly opinionated nerds.

While not a brilliant story by any means, Sanderson’s concept is so hilariously poignant to the social barrier between normies and nerd-o-s that we can’t help but love him for it. The story revolves around a young man of twenty who frequently finds himself standing alone, cut off by a ‘chasm’ from those around him. At several points throughout the story, this man – who envisions himself dressed in armor, waves a stick (which he calls his sword) to get other’s attention. That’s right. At the core of this story we find a boy playing with a stick. What’s more, we find a boy who can’t differentiate fantasy from reality like some Trek-y, D&D playing, Magic the Gathering collecting, Naruto binging, parent disappointing, hikikomori nerd.

Typical to Sanderson’s style of story telling, this story ends tragically with the sad, pathetic, unsightly, neckbeard-ed, staff wielding, crude artist of dragons on every page of every notebook he’s ever owned, Totino’s pizza for every other meal, Super Smashing, wave-dashing nerd accepting his role as a social outcast and living the rest of his life in his parents basement. This in itself isn’t sad, per-say. Rather, the tragedy is with his parents – two attractive, well adjusted, golf on Saturday, church on Sunday, Honda driving, trendy, productive members of society. These two, near perfect, parents are forever trapped with a man-child who can’t set foot outside, for fear he’ll be affected by anything other than inspirational monologues from Gurren Lagann.

Yes, Sanderson’s story is a down to earth tale about hobbies and day dreams and the dangers they present. Sanderson, favored child of his mother and half-man/half-cyborg hybrid, had this to say about his story, “When I’m in some local book store doin’ some kinda book signing, and I see a filthy, chipmunk cheek, unibrow, Brony, manga reading, War Hammer expert nerd come up to me for my autograph, I’ll punch them right in their dumb, idiot, gross nerd face.”

Let me just say, thank you, Brandon Sanderson. Thank you for voicing the popular opinion like the cool, skateboard dude you are. Thank you for your unabashed bashing of those lowly nerds, reminding us of how important it is to maintain stereotypes and prevent those things which we don’t understand from influencing us. Brandon Sanderson, pro surfer and costar of Straight Out of Compton, receives a 7 out of 10 for his astounding display of confidence in declaring what everyone was already thinking, and doing so in a manner that really puts those nerds in their place.

The Way of Kings, on the other hand, receives a 7 out of 10 for its deep fantasy world that the main character takes way too seriously, and of which I only read forty pages.

By Its Cover: Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift’s most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, holds its place in the literary canon as an instant classic. This historical fiction, more history than fiction, recounts the heroic battle of Japanese warriors and farmers as they take down history’s most notorious villain, giant Benjamin Franklin.

fullsizerender-1The story is as old as time itself. Ben Franklin is at the height of popularity when he gets word that Paul Bunyan has razed the west, and is heading straight for Virginia. Attempting to stop the menace, Franklin must enlarge himself to match Bunyan’s stature. While he would emerge victorious, Franklin is soon corrupted by his power, and hungers for more. No longer content with his rule over the west, he sets out to conquer Asia.

As Swift concludes the prologue, he introduces the protagonist, only referred to as The Hunter. The Hunter, history buffs may recall, is a middle aged, cabbage farmer, working under the watchful eyes of the samurai. With the declining popularity of cabbage, The Hunter fears no one will buy his crops come harvest season. Yet, he clings to the hope that cabbage will once again be in high demand.

The Hunter’s fate takes a turn when Benjamin Franklin emerges from the Pacific. As he crosses the landscape, he levels whole cities beneath his feet. Battles are waged against the great creature, all who stand against him are crushed. The Hunter finds himself amidst one battle, as Franklin strides through his cabbage field, ruining his crops. Thus begins a new chapter in The Hunter’s life. Vowing revenge on Benjamin Franklin, he gives up farming and becomes a samurai.

After numerous fights, several political speeches, and a rather bland romance between Benjamin Franklin and The Hunter’s daughter, the infamous battle of Franklin Hill is realized. Failure after failure, the samurai continue to face their enemy, but while their strength weakens, Franklin remains strong and gigantic. Yet, as the dwindling military force goes to meet the terror in this battle, he appears apathetic, and falls under the might of the samurai, now led by The Hunter.

Benjamin Franklin is tied, and The Hunter goes to meet him face to face. The long awaited confrontation is captured beautifully by Swift. He paints the bitter-sweet atmosphere of the victory with expertise. The samurai are victorious, but it is a hollow victory, as Franklin reveals he threw the battle. He is evil, hungry for power, cruel, but above all, in love.

The Hunter struggles against his hatred for Franklin and his love for his daughter, but he finally decides to cut the bonds on Franklin and set him free, much to the dismay of his military. Offering his daughter’s hand in marriage, The Hunter agrees to let Franklin return to America on the condition that he never come back to Japan. Contrary to history, Franklin accepts and goes back to America, where he lives out his life happily with his Japanese bride.

Swift retells the history of giant Franklin in great detail, presenting only (minute) bits of fiction. The happy ending seems a bit forced, as it goes against Benjamin Franklin’s ravenous, blood-thirsty character. However, in the context of the story, it works. Only when compared to historical facts does the ending fail to deliver. As a whole, the story is told beautifully, and it delivers interesting perspective into the life of The Hunter, as well as Benjamin Franklin’s war on Japan.

For an excellent blend of creative liberty and cold, hard facts, Gulliver’s Travels receives a 7 out of 10.