Brandon Sanderson at Supernova Sydney 2017

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OMG, OMG, OMG – I met Brandon Sanderson last weekend. I’m not usually one to fan-girl an author (who am I kidding – yes, I am), but meeting someone who’s written so many amazing books in my favourite genre, including being a part of one of my FAVOURITE SERIES EVER (The Wheel Of Time) – well, it was awesome.

I took two books for Brandon to sign – The Final Empire and A Memory of Light.

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Two personally signed books! Awesome!

He signed them both, smiled for a photo, and at the end asked me if I had any questions for him. I had about a million, but of course my brain ceased to function at that precise moment – so I thanked him for finishing The Wheel of Time, telling him it was a series my friend and I have been reading since we were thirteen-year-olds in high school. I speculated if Robert Jordan would ever have finished the series even if he had lived the lifespan of a functionally immortal dragon – which sounded very callous in hindsight – and please don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Jordan’s world and his writing. Even if I was frustrated at times by the meandering plot and sometimes slow pace, I never wanted the series to end. But I am ever so thankful that there was someone like Brandon Sanderson to step in and finish this series. Brandon was very gracious and told me to say ‘hi’ to my friend.

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Brandon Sanderson and me (cosplaying Wonder Woman)

I also had the pleasure of seeing Brandon Sanderson speak in a solo panel. He shared some amazing words of wisdom, and I just wanted to share a couple of take-aways (please note I didn’t take any notes while listening, so I am going from memory):

On completing The Wheel Of Time

I initially felt a bit sheepish taking a copy of A Memory of Light for Brandon to sign. I mean, he has so many other amazing series and is such a prolific writer, surely I could have found a couple of books that were solely ‘his’. But after hearing him speak, I didn’t feel any discomfort asking him to sign a book about a world that he didn’t create. He revealed that when Robert Jordan passed, he left only about 200 pages of work (mostly the material that became the prologues). Jordan was not a planner, and so Brandon Sanderson was left to develop the story line with plenty of autonomy. It might have been Jordan’s world, but it was Sanderson’s imagination that brought The Wheel of Time to its stunning conclusion.

On routine and family

Brandon has the following routine: sleep until midday, write for four hours in the afternoon, then spend the late afternoon / evening with his family. He gets back onto the computer at about 11pm and works through until 3am, giving himself an hour or so to goof off before bed around 4am. He spoke of the importance of being mentally present when you’re with your family – and I think this was such valuable advice – as writers we often suffer from constant guilt – guilt that we’re neglecting our family when we’re writing, and guilt that we’re not writing when we’re with our family. The importance of being in the moment when we’re enjoying ‘family time’ and not off in our writing world was something I’m taking with me, and echoes lots of stuff I’ve read recently about mindfulness and enjoying the moment.

On why he thinks fantasy is a great genre

Because it can include the best elements of any other genre – mystery, romance, action, literary fiction – plus dragons!

 

It was absolutely amazing to hear Brandon Sanderson speak, and I’m so glad I made it to his panel. He seemed so down-to-earth, so kind and humble, and just the right amount of book-geek to be totally, super-cool.

Thanks for coming to Sydney, Brandon Sanderson. I hope you stop by again soon!

Until next time xxxx

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Book Review: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

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Book 1 of The Wheel Of Time

Published by Tor Books

With the release of the fourteenth and final instalment of The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, at the beginning of this year, I thought it fitting to go back to the beginning of this epic series and review the place where it all began, The Eye of the World.

I first read The Eye of the World way back in 1992 as a young teenager. I picked up the novel at a book sale, intending it as a gift to a friend, but something about that beautiful cover image sparked my imagination so much that I simply could not give the book away. (It is a shame they did not keep those same beautiful cover illustrations throughout the series, but went to a far more boring “modern” cover for later volumes)
I read the entire book in a few days and loved it so much I lent it out to a few of my friends, and before long our entire group was “into” the series. We waited each year for the release of the newest volume, desperate to find out what fate had in store for our favourite characters. Ironically, my best friend and I joked that should Robert Jordan die before he finished the series we would head to America with resuscitation paddles to ensure that the novel was completed. Sadly, High Fantasy lost a giant when Robert Jordan died in 2007 with his work unfinished. Using Jordan’s extensive notes, Brendan Sanderson completed the series.

Despite its flaws, The Wheel of Time series will always hold a special place in my heart. Those of you who have read this series from the beginning of publication will know that we have been reading this series for over 20 years. My copy of The Eye of the World was the most lent-out book in my library and, as happens to good books, ended up staying at a new home.

So, let’s get into the review:
The Eye of the World follows the adventures of a group of young people, Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere, and Nynaeve al’Meara, who live in a small village called Emond’s Field. Their peaceful existence is shattered when Trollocs (orc-like creatures), and sinister, eyeless creatures called Myrddraal attack their village, trying to kill the three boys. They escape with the help of an Aes Sedai named Moiraine, who uses the One Power to avoid capture, her warder Al’Lan Mandragoran and a Gleeman named Thom Merrilin. So begins an epic journey for the group who are then pursued at every turn by the forces of darkness as well as a host of equally hostile and dangerous foes, such as The Children of Light. The group spend the entire novel in mortal danger; even their dreams are not safe.

Jordan’s world just hums with a rich, original history, and even if you didn’t know there was going to be another 13 books in the series, it is clear from first reading that this is going to be an epic series. Critics of Jordan often note that he borrows heavily from myth and legend, as well as having creatures and a narrative style reminiscent of Tolkien (for example, his Trollocs are very much like Orcs, and the Myrddraal have many of the qualities of Tolkien’s Ringwraiths and both serve a similar sinister purpose). Jordan also makes use of the classic ‘Hero’s Journey’ structure – a reluctant hero from humble beginnings, marked by destiny and guided along the way by mentors, who must struggle against all the forces of evil to save mankind. While some people see this as a negative towards the book, I think it is a positive. To rewrite anything well known and make it your own is a masterful undertaking, and the reason that classic structures and stories remain is that they resonate so strongly with us. Remember, Shakespeare borrowed heavily from stories of the day.

The level of detail and research which must have gone into the writing of these books is astounding, and you really feel like you are in Jordan’s world when you read. His lavish cities are filled with cultural nuances; his landscapes rich and detailed. Jordan’s magic system, called “The One Power” is also very cleverly and thoughtfully designed and gives women the upper hand, meaning that this isn’t your typical “boys club” high fantasy. The characters are rich, diverse and easy to like, even when you feel exasperated by them.

The first thing that struck me about re-reading this book is just how long Jordan is able to maintain a single character point of view. Nearly three quarters of the book is told from Rand’s perspective, which gives this novel a much tighter feel than later novels where Jordan branches off into endless POV’s, reducing the main characters to cameo roles. Jordan also has a propensity to write “densely” (his word), which means he tends towards lavish descriptions, often describing every blade of grass and then having all the action happen in the final few pages of a chapter. Again, The Eye of the World didn’t suffer from this; the plot moves swiftly and although Jordan introduces a large cast of characters the novel is full of action and danger. The only thing which dragged for me were the dream sequences, which were just a little long.

This is a hefty book, over 400,000 words, however the easy narrative style means that it is a breeze to read. If you have been living under a rock or are new to the High Fantasy genre, this is a fabulous and thoroughly enjoyable read. For those of you who know and love this series, The Eye of the World is well worth a revisit now that you have the whole set of The Wheel of Time so that you can relive the magic from the very beginning.

I give this book 10 out of 10 Shiny Dragons

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