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Review

Whose Hero Is It, Anyway?

The Mistborn TrilogyA few months ago, I wrote about Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first novel in a trilogy. I noted that the series got off to a bang with an epigraph from someone nervous about their role as the prophesied “Hero of Ages,” and then showed a powerful magician named Kelsier encouraging slaves to rebel against their masters. The book then followed Kelsier to the capital of the “Final Empire,” detailing his plans to overthrow the regime, and his allusions to more secretive plans, such as assassinating a thousand-year-old despot, the “Lord Ruler.” Sounds pretty heroic to me.

But, I found to my pleasant surprise, Kelsier is by no means the main character of the book. That honor could just as well fall to Vin, Kelsier's new protege from the streets. Getting one expectation—oh, this book is about Kelsier the prophesied hero!—and quite a different result—never mind, it's about Vin who develops from a distrustful criminal into a powerful magician, capable of love!—is very often the sign of a well-written book.

Sanderson agrees with me. In an essay I'll discuss more later, he writes, “I’ve often said that good writing defies expectations. (Or, more accurately, breaks your expectations while fulfilling them in ways you didn’t know you wanted.)” In challenging my expectation of who the protagonist was, Mistborn succeeded. Over the course of the trilogy, however, a lot more bait-and-switches emerged, beyond just the identity of the Hero of Ages. The series provides another warning about judging a book by its cover. Literally. [note: this post contains major spoilers about the entire trilogy]

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Resistance is...not futile?: The Falling Skies Season Finale

Maggie and AnneAlthough I was fairly hard on Falling Skies in my initial look at the series, I have been enjoying watching it this summer.  The story arc about Ben and his post-harness changes has been an interesting one, and the evolution of Pope from a bad guy to a bad guy with (maybe) a heart of gold has been intriguing as well.  The two-episode arc where the children are taken to a safe place that ends up being, well, not at all safe ("Sanctuary," parts 1 and 2) was particularly provocative, as it introduced another shade of gray into the "humans good, aliens bad" dichotomy.  I have also been pleasantly surprised that a number of episodes have passed the Bechdel test--my favorite one being "Sanctuary (part 1)" in which Maggie teaches Anne how to shoot a gun.  And perhaps most importantly, the characters have made strategy choices in their fight against the aliens that make me think that they are perhaps not completely without common sense after all.

So, coming into the two-hour season finale, I had a number of expectations [spoilers after the jump]:

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The Twelfth Enchantment

The Twelfth EnchantmentThe Regency England that I know—the one familiar from film, public television, the novels of Jane Austen, and very little actual historical knowledge (a lack that is entirely mine and not the authors’)—is a setting particularly suited to the addition of magic. The rituals and manners of the place are both fascinating and so foreign to contemporary life that they almost seem like magic themselves. Exaggerate a little, squint one eye, and magic slips right in, looking like it’s been there all along.

 

In The Twelfth Enchantment, David Liss makes excellent use of this affinity. His Regency England is on the brink of a secret war whose conflict fills the spaces between parlor conversations and grand dances, transforming social niceties into the clever moves of an ominous and thrilling game. The forces of newly mechanized industry have begun to encroach on ancient tradition, and the very ordinary, very prospect-less Lucy Derrick is caught between the two of them.

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The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Piano Music from The Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings piano musicFor anyone who has seen any of The Lord of the Rings movies, the soundtrack to the movies becomes as familiar as the faces of Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn.  As someone who loves these movies and who also plays the piano, I was very excited, then, when I came across arrangments of the music from Lord of the Rings for solo piano, published by Alfred Music.

Separate books for each of the movies are available, but I purchased the volume containing songs from all  three of the movies.  The selection is quite good and very representative of the trilogy as a whole; the volume contains the most recognizable theme music for the various characters (such as "Concerning Hobbits"), as well as many of the vocal pieces originally performed by artists such as Enya, Emiliana Torrini, and Annie Lennox.  What is perhaps most impressive about the collection is the way it maintains the sound of the original orchestral arrangement while still being easily playable by an intermediate-level pianist.

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Upping the Ante: A Review of Lev Grossman's The Magician King

The Magician KingWe've been talking a lot this week (and last) about how great Lev Grossman's first novel The Magicians is--it leads to exciting discussions when you teach it, it's clever and subtle in its characterization, and it provocatively blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality.  I imagine that we could say a good deal more as well, passing our favorite bits of the novel back and forth, debating the meaning of the ending, and parsing all the different allusions that Grossman makes to other works.

In short, The Magicians is great because it makes you think and because it's fun.  In fact, I've read some posts around the internet that were disappointed that there was a sequel because they were worried that nothing could be as awesome as The Magicians.

They were wrong.  The Magician King is not just as good as The Magicians--it's better.

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