Following Zoso’s post regarding the freebies available for a short time on Tor, I took the opportunity to grab a couple of the books on offer and have myself a bit of a read. Unfortunately the books listed didn’t have any descriptions listed alongside, and being the lazy bugger that I am I couldn’t be bothered to research each one on Amazon. So I went for the <voice style=”reverb: on; volume: booming; pitch: low”>random click of destiny</style> and hoped that I’d picked something I could get in to.
The first book was John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, a decent enough space romp with a slightly different take on the ‘downloadable personality’ theme as seen in Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon and elsewhere. Scalzi has created a universe that is both interesting and believable, with compelling races and individuals that leave you wanting to find out more about them, and although the main story is a little uninspiring, the secondary storyline – based around the main character himself, his history and the moral dilemmas he faces as life as he knows it is turned on its head – allows the reader to really engage with the book as a whole and to be immersed in the ideas and themes that Scalzi presents. Obvious comparisons can be drawn to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and, as mentioned earlier, Morgan’s Altered Carbon, so if you enjoyed either of those two books then you probably won’t be disappointed with Old Man’s War.
The second book was Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, a really rather excellent fantasy story that pleasantly surprised me with its well presented world, its likeable-without-being-mawkish characters and the real star of the show: Allomancy.
Allomancy is the system of magic that Sanderson has created, and instead of having it as some innate unseen power that requires hugely bearded men to sit hunched over dusty old tomes for years on end to achieve, Allomancy instead manifests itself as more of a mutation that is powered by various metals that the Allomancer must ingest and then ‘burn’ to activate the power. There are a number of known metals that can be used in this way, each giving the Allomancer a different power when they burn the metal, but they gain this power only for as long as the metal lasts since it is consumed as the Allomancer uses the power, hence the term ‘burning’ to represent the use of the power. Unlike magic in many other books though, the art of Allomancy is still not entirely understood, and this leaves the door open for things to be twisted around and for plenty of surprises to be unleashed on the main characters and the reader.
The world of the Final Empire is one of a class of nobles who rule over an underclass of slaves known as Skaa, all of whom are presided over by the Lord Ruler, the hero of a past age, who is now immortal – a shard of God – and controls the land with an iron fist. The lands themselves are a depressing affair, with what little vegetation that manages to grow under the ash-filled sky being nothing but dull brown; nobody knows what colourful plants look like, although it is hinted that they did exist in the time before the ascension of the Lord Ruler.
The story is nothing out of the ordinary, with the standard framework of the underclass rising up to overthrow their oppressors through the efforts of a select band of unlikely heroes, but it does throw some nice twists in along the way. However, there is an undercurrent of another story which is not fully expounded upon, and The Final Empire clearly leaves the door wide open for the second and third books to sate the reader’s desire to find out more about the trials of the Lord Ruler a thousand years ago: what was this Deepness that he faced? And if he succeeded in defeating it as we are led to believe, why did the land change so much for the worse afterwards? There are some answers in the first book, just enough to whet the appetite and keep the reader wanting more as the main story of the first book comes to its, perhaps inevitable, conclusion.
It’s a credit to Tor, and hopefully in its own small way encouraging to authors and publishers out there, that I’ve already ordered all three books in the series, and I’m certainly keen to find out what the story is behind this fascinating world that Sanderson has created. I bought the first book because, although having read it, I’d like to give the author the sale, and there’s nothing like having a paper copy of a book, the creased and wrinkled spine and loose well-fingered pages a simple testament to one’s enjoyment of the story within. So putting a free copy of the first book in the series on to the web has resulted in at least one new fan, and a few sales, and more importantly I’d like to think that I’m not out of the ordinary in doing so. Not only that, but it has also inspired this little reviewlet which I hope, in turn, might turn some of you on to the idea of trying this excellent little trilogy yourselves.
Well done Tor for seeing the advantage in this sort of marketing strategy, and I hope it works out well for the authors involved.