Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson, master of magic, is hard at work again, this time with a new Young Adult novel, Steelheart.

Ten years ago, a strange event caused normal men and women to wake up with super powers, turning them into Epics. Problem is, most, if not all, have gone horribly corrupt with that power, and dominate the rest of the world. None of them are as bad as Steelheart though, the ruthless ruler of Newcago, a city of stainless steel and tyranny.

David, our protagonist, watched as Steelheart killed his father right in front of his eyes, just as his reign was beginning. Since that day, David has dedicated his life to ending the life of Steelheart, taking down any Epic he can in the process. It is only when he runs into the Reckoners, a shadowy group of soldiers dedicated to the same eradication of Epics, that he realizes he has a serious shot at Steelheart and decides to take it.

Steelheart

Sanderson, best known for his inventive magic, high tension action, and humanizing characterization, serves up something a little different in Steelheart. His logical magic systems are replaced with seemingly random powers and weaknesses, while his main protagonist is very one-note, at least at the beginning of the novel. These are not bad things, just different. And thankfully, Sanderson begins to pull back the layers from these initial concepts over the course of the novel.

David was a hard character for me to follow at first. When you have character as driven as he is, whether it be revenge or something else, it’s difficult finding more nuance to him. When the reader meets him, David is obsessed with killing Steelheart and any other Epic in his way, so much that I didn’t really warm up to him. More than that, even as Sanderson started showing more to him than his revenge, it took me a little longer to like him. Between his terrible jokes, his hard-headed action without thought, and his awkward self-deprecation around the love interest Megan, I had a hard time rooting for the guy. Sanderson may have even done this deliberately, just to highlight how much he changes through the book

Sanderson is excellent at what he does, and slowly but surely, I started feeling for David, as we learned more about him, saw him grow up a bit, and go from a selfish, obsessed kid, into a strategic, compassionate young man. More than that, Sanderson writes a well-oiled machine of a team, as the Reckoners are all alive and multi-dimensional. Well versed in the team dynamic from his other work, the Reckoners were an easy team to support and read about. One thing I wish we had seen or learned more of was Steelheart himself, a mighty presence in the novel, but rarely seen. Hopefully we can learn more of him and the other Epics moving forward.

The “magic,” and the action are in fine form in Steelheart, as we meet Epic upon Epic, each stronger than the last, each with a random weakness. Some make sense, such as Nightwielder’s while others are a little more up in the air. I’m certain Sanderson is going to explain more as the series goes on, so I’m not going to complain about a few things not making sense.

As a friend once said, “You’re upset that Bruce Wayne made it back to Gotham over night, but you don’t once question that he’s dressed as a giant bat fighting a guy in a parka with a gas mask?” As with most superhero stories, a logic line has to be drawn somewhere I suppose.

Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart is a success for those readers who enjoy Sanderson’s brand of writing, while looking for something fresh and new. The writing is solid, the plot is tight and if both are a tad simplified for the YA format, it does nothing to take away from the overall story. Sanderson is a master at what he does, and a prime example of the type of dedication and gusto it takes to survive in the publishing industry. (Seriously, every time I sneeze, he’s finished a new novel [it’s a real condition, I swear]).

So if you love his work, or have been waiting to try him out, Steelheart is the novel for you. Sanderson delivered on every front, and has laid enough seeds for me to eagerly look forward to the sequel, Firefight, for a hopeful Fall 2014 release.

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If Books Were Beer: The Shadow Ops Series

Part of the fun of this column is that great moment when a beer and a book finally click and I raise my hands in triumph, shouting “SUCCESS.

The book series in question today, is the Shadow Ops series by Myke Cole, with Books one and two, Control Point and Fortress Frontier respectively, already gracing the shelves. Book Three, Breach Zone, is due out next year.

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There are many things I love about this series: the strong, flawed characters, the intricate magic and its effects on the world/politics at large, its high-octane, beautifully choreographed action scenes, and it’s unflinching look at military life.

But what I’ve praised most about these books is their killer sense of pace. Cole doesn’t let up and he doesn’t slow down. He takes twists and turns at 90mph, laughing madly into the wind. And just when you think things can’t get any more intense, any faster, he kicks the Delorean into high gear and he’s all, “we don’t need roads!”

It’s this killer sense of pace, this literary burning rubber that leads me to the Scorcher #366 from Brooklyn Brewery.

Scorcher

The Scorcher is a very delicious pale ale, coming in at 4.5% ABV, making it a very accessible and light summer beer. This is the Shadow Ops beer for two reasons, and it’s all thanks to the new type of hop strain used in the beer, #366.

The first is that, due to the new hop presence, the Scorcher possesses a bitter hoppy taste that actually reminds me of a smoky, spinning-wheels-burning-rubber taste that pairs very well with Cole’s breakneck pacing and passionate characters. The second is that while this hop strain’s burning rubber taste is different, it is still recognizable as a pale ale, and therefore puts a new twist on a classic taste, much the same way Cole has done for the fantasy genre. As a military fantasy series, Shadow Ops has breathed new life into a very familiar genre and it’s all thanks to Cole’s appreciation and extension of what the genre is capable of.

Headshots of Myke Cole

Both are new twists on classic tastes. Both have a fiery, smoking flavor to it with qualities that are both familiar but done well. Both succeed wildly in their fields.

I hope you pick up one of the Scorcher’s or at least try it down at Brooklyn Brewery. And when you do, I hope you have a good book in your hands, maybe even one of the Shadow Ops books. You can’t go wrong with either.

 

Hey, You, Read This: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Welcome to Hey, You, Read This, my new weekly, book review column.

And what better book to start off this column then with the insane, twisted, wonderful book The Blues Blazes by the captain of penmonkeys, the wise wizard of word-slinging, Mr. Chuck Wendig!

The blue blazes

Chuck, writer of the novels Blackbirds, Mockingbird, Dinocaplypse Now, Double Dead, with many before and forthcoming, (because he is surely a writing robot who has learned to love humanity), is best known for his hard and fast writing: it hits like a double shot of whiskey and espresso, speeds along like a Deleorean pushing 88mph, and burns like a . . . like a something on fire. (Shut up).

Chuck has a writing voice all his own: it is sincere but uncompromising, exotic but familiar, and even at its most absurd, will still pull your heart strings with its honesty.

And in a story about a man who loves his delicate meats like he loves crushing goblin skulls, who’s built like a brick shithouse with a heart of tarnished gold, that’s what is important: the emotional resonance.

Mookie the Meatman. Mookie the Mook. Mookie Pearl. Kneebreaker, Blue Blazer, Meat connoisseur. Working for the Organization, he keeps the Underworld in line, human and gobbo alike. Chuck has always been interested in broken people and seeing how they build themselves back up, (or tear themselves back down). And while you may find some echo of Miriam Black’s crass badittude in Mookie, that’s where it ends. Mookie is a boulder of a man, keeping a tight lid on anything that isn’t rage or intimidation or gruff humor. He’s a tired man, on the edge, and it’s his wayward daughter, Nora, looking to take down the Organization that will finally push him over the edge. Chuck does a beautiful job of breaking down Mookie over the course of the novel, showing just enough to let us know what drove this once successful young Sandhog, down the dark path he walks now.

Chuck Wendig

Just as he does with Mookie, Chuck explores the heart and soul of his spurned daughter, and little by little, we learn what makes her tick. By the end, there relationship and the end of the world are threaded together tightly, and the payoff is bittersweet and wonderful. And while all of the characters sing in this book, it is especially the relationship between Mookie and Nora that drives the story and will keep you turning the page.

Well that, and Burnsey. And the mystical drugs. And Skelly, badass rollerblading gang leader. And-and-and MONSTERSANDMAGICANDEXPLOSIONSAND –. . . ahem, well, you’ll see.

As always, Wendig’s worldbuilding is top notch. Playing with various concepts of the Underworld, Wendig lets his dangerous imagination run wild across The Blue Blazes. Gobbos, Snakefaces, Half and Halfs, The Five Occulted Pigments, and many more mystical horrors lurk within the depths of The Blue Blazes. I was drawn in by all of it, and I’m desperately hoping that there is a follow-up to this book, if only to learn more about the world Chuck has built, unlock some of the secrets he has teased the reader with.

If you’re not reading Chuck’s work (his many novels, short stories, writing advice, Twitter page, mad scrawling on the wall of his writing prison), you’re doing yourself a disservice. His stories are like a bullet to the brain in their ferocity, but they have a strength of heart that’s unprecedented. The Blue Blazes is one such book, and succeeds on every level. Story, plot, character, action, worldbuilding, all of them blend together for a delicious story smoothie. A passionate writer produces powerful work and that’s exactly what Chuck has done in The Blue Blazes.

You can find him scrawling madly at Terrible Minds.

CHUCK

And for your viewing pleasure, Chuck and I, together, being bearded and fantastic, pointing at one another as if to say, “Hey, he’s got a beard too!”

If Books Were Beer: The Iliad & The Odyssey

Gods. Monsters. Heroes. Poetry. Tricks. Songs. Blades. Love.

If you were looking for anything more Classic than the ancient Greek epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey, I’m not certain you’re going to find it. These two epics are some of the most beloved, studied and well read in the whole canon of Classic Literature. And as such, these ancient stories must be treated with care and reverence and some, how you say . . . deliciousness.ImageImage

Now in thinking about this brew, I knew it would have to be something that seems ancient beyond its years, but also modern, with enough qualities to last the ages. Luckily, I remembered just the one: Midas Touch by Dogfish Head Brewing.

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Using a recipe recovered from drinking vessels 2,700 years old in the tomb of King Midas, Dogfish Head set to brewing a beer in that ancient vein of drinking. Using that same recipe, Dogfish Head produced a beer that has more in common with wine or mead, with its light, dry taste than with most beers.

It’s a sweet, dry beer with many fruit notes to it, including honey, saffron, white grapes, and more. It pours with a golden hue and is a strong enough (at an ABV of 9%), and delicious enough brew for any hero far from home.

Pour plentiful ye heroes and heroines and drink this delicious, ancient brew while reading the epics beneath a blazing sun.

If Books Were Beer: American Gods

In honor of the launch of his newest book, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, today’s, “If Books Were Beer,” transforms one of my favorites novels into one of my favorite drinks.

Today, American Gods meets Abraxas.

american godsΒ 

This is the book that brought me into the world of adult fantasy, grabbing me by the collar and throwing me headfirst into a world of myth, murder, and secrets, Β written with an intelligence and intensity I had yet to experience.

Considered one of Gaiman’s signature works, American Gods is an exploration of what happens to the gods and goddesses when their followers abandon them, and to what ends they will go to reclaim their power when assaulted on all sides. Told from the perspective of the enigmatic Shadow Moon, Gaiman deftly brings to life a complex web of old gods, gods of the new age, and those trapped between them.

I knew that whatever beer was to be paired with this book needed to be worth it. This is a big, difficult book with many secrets and characters that are larger than life, larger than thought even. The beer with this book needed to be shadowy but sophisticated, complex but enjoyable, exotic but familiar. After much thought, I knew that beer had to be Perennial’s Abraxas.Β Abraxas

Classified as an Imperial Stout, and coming in at a dizzying 10.0 ABV, Abraxas is a behemoth of a beer, and one that can certainly stand next to American Gods.

A dessert stout, Abraxas is a complex concoction of parts both familiar and exotic, combining vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks and ancho-chiles, to give it a sweet, smokey, and hot flavor, that will remind you every bit of Mr. Wednesday’s lurching merry-go-round magic*. All those flavors, much like American Gods, may seem heady at first, mixing and swirling and confusing, as your palette tries to recognize everything that’s going on. But give it time, and all the threads will start to pull themselves together into one big, delicious beer.

American Gods is one of my favorite novels, and it’s rich, complex web of myth and mystery is a perfect pairing to the exotic and rich flavor of Abraxas. They both may take some time to pick apart, and you may need to try them more than once to appreciate the many ingredients.

But give them both time, and you’ll be amazed.

*Note: Please don’t drink this while on a merry-go-round. It will not open up a magical portal into the headspace of ancient, mythical figures, and you will scare many a child. If it does, please contact me right away.

Also, Neil Gaiman’s newest novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is out now. I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but I think it’d be wise to drop most everything, save a child (and even then, go with your heart), and go get yourself a copy right this moment.

Or maybe this moment.

But no longer than that. Β 

 

If Books Were Beer: The Great Gatsby

Welcome to If Books Were Beer!

Today, we look at the great classic, the wonderful blue and gold and oh-my-god-what-sad-eyes-you-have covered, dreaded Summer Reading, birthed from the brain of Fitz and reshaped by Luhrman, novel: The Great Gatsby!

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Here we have a staple of American literature, exploring the decadence, depression and social class structure of Jazz Age America. Cynics, party-goers, millionaires and more abound in these pages, as Fitzgerald tells a cautionary tale of love, hope and empathy between people.

I know that The Great Gatsby, while sad, wouldn’t be a dark beer, and while flashy, wouldn’t be light. It would not be sweet, despite the love between Jay and Daisy, and it would not be refreshing, despite the earnestness, if sketchy, narration of Nick.

No, only one type of beer comes to mind and even then, one brand in particular marked this as the beer this book would be.

Lagunitas Sucks IPA

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Known for their earthy, sharp qualities and golden hue, Lagunitas Sucks IPA is the beer The Great Gatsby would be, (and will be, one my Literature To Liquid Transmorgification machine is back from the shop).

Golden without being bright, dark without being night, Lagunitas Sucks deftly captures that Jazz Age color. And when it comes to Flavortown, here is where Lagunitas and Jay Gatsby pair beautifully. Lagunitas Sucks IPA is in fact a double IPA, meaning there are twice the hops equalling twice the bitterness. This bitter, earthy taste pairs just so with the hardened, cynical points of views of our characters in The Great Gatsby.

Both are not easy to get through. Both must be sipped and savored and enjoyed. Both must be appreciated for their taste, their elegance and respected for their sheer flavor.

And hopefully, if you get your hands on either, I hope you treat them responsibly.

Beer, Food, Books, And Everything In Between

I have a confession to make.

I’ve only just discovered beer.

Now, I don’t mean beer as an entity or beer as an abstract concept. I know beer. I went to college, damn it.

What I should be confessing I mean, is that I’ve only just discovered good beer.

When you’re in college, if it at one point was a plant and now had turned into a liquid with alcohol in it, what did you care? I walked that darkened path for many moons and it wasn’t until I started working at a local craft beer bar, (keep in mind the word craft, it comes into play again later), that I discovered what good beer could be.

Before, it was all just beer. But now . . . IPAs, Stouts, Porters, Lagers, Ales, Brown Ales, Nitros, Sours, Lambics, Double IPA, Belgians, Wheat, the list goes on. The longer I work there, the more I learn. I bring a six pack home of different beers every few weeks, just to taste, to explore, to see what my palate loves and what it doesn’t.

Good beer is something I’ve started taking a passion in, and figure what could be better than combining all my passions in one place?

This blog is going to be a tribute to, an appreciation of, my passions: Good Beer, Great Food, Beautiful Books. Craft Books is going to be the place where these all collide.

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So, thanks for joining me. And whether you love good beer, or have a passion for food, or just love to read great stories, there’s going to be something for you here.

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Onward!