Letter to Kaladin, or a musing on the peculiarity of fiction

You should be able to understand the gist of this piece even if you haven’t read the Stormlight Archive; you just won’t get a few jokes and some of the more specific irony. But do be aware that there are some indirect and some small spoilers for The Way of Kings.

Dear Kaladin,

I would like to introduce you to somebody very important. His name is Brandon Sanderson, and he is the source of all your miseries.

Photo by Captain Demoux

Brandon was the one who killed Tien, and who made Amaram murder your spearmen. Brandon was the one who decided to bring Roshone to your hometown, and Brandon was the one to give Roshone the idea to force Tien into the army. Oh, and Brandon also killed Dunny, Maps, and Narm, and he’ll probably kill you too someday. Unfortunately, Brandon lives in an entirely different universe, so you can’t do anything about it. (But at least he’s darkeyed.)

You see, I hate to break it to you, Kaladin, but you’re actually a fictional character. You kind of don’t actually exist. Somebody made you up in his head and wrote down about it, and now little copies of you live in lots of people’s heads with slightly different physical features based on the age and gender of the person involved. (If you have trouble believing this, ask Hoid. He knows a lot of other very interesting things, too.) It’s sort of like a shared hallucination. Come on, isn’t that cool? You’re a shared hallucination! I can’t say that about myself. Anyways, so this guy Brandon Sanderson has a kind of overactive imagination, so one day he created you and decided to start making all those agonizing things happen to you because he was bored and besides, he needs to make money somehow and he didn’t want to be a surgeon.

The nice thing about being imaginary is that you’ve got an all-powerful creator watching over you who can turn your life around whenever he wants. For instance, you may be interested to know that in your original incarnation, you took the Blade and Plate of that Shardbearer you killed, and it was okay. In fact, you got to go to the Shattered Plains and have an entertaining time outdoing everyone in the army with your awesomeness while becoming best buddies with Adolin, then finally saving the Kholins from treachery in a whirlwind of magical Shardbearing coolness. But then Brandon decided that was too boring and made you an enslaved bridgeman instead. Now that particular example may not be particularly encouraging, but just think, Kaladin – if Brandon could make your life horrible just because he decided to, he could certainly make your life wonderful just as easily!

But you shouldn’t worry about it anyways, Kaladin. Your almost being driven to suicide was really all for the best. Because now you have a huge fan club over in this universe! Tens of thousands of people pay Brandon so they can watch you be “forced to forsake healing to fight in the most brutal war” and “struggle to save [your] men” as the advertisement on the back of the book says. Some of us use your woes for entertainment when we have to go on really long train rides and we can’t stand looking at the scenery and sitting on seats without nearly enough padding anymore. Others like to watch you narrowly escape death while they’re stuck in their houses because it’s raining so hard outside that they might actually get wet if they went out. I, for my part, had a lovely time reading the scene where you see Tien die while I was baking cornbread and had to sit and keep an eye on the oven temperature, because I own an awful oven that can’t even hold its temperature. (The cornbread turned out very nicely, by the way.)

But this might make it sound like we don’t really care about you or take you seriously. Oh, no! You can be sure that many of us care about you deeply. Some take your future welfare so seriously that they spend hours and hours thinking, writing and drawing about who you should marry. (I think you should go with Shallan, by the way.) Others are more concerned about your health, so they diagnose the exact mental and psychological disorders that you face and prescribe what you need to do to handle them. We also tend to get into arguments over these subjects, because after all, it’s extremely important to be right and to convince everyone else of what’s right so we can best help you. Who knows what terrible damage could be done to your soul if some idiots ship you with Syl!

Then there are the fans who admire your grit and determination and want to be like you, so they dress up as you and go to big meetings where they have to wait in really long lines for Brandon to write his name in copies of books he wrote about you. After all, he’s the one who gave you reasons to display your grit and determination. And then there are those of us who are so committed to you that we put Bridge Four sticker decals on our cars. Never mind that they decrease the resale value of those precious objects – as we sit and drive around the country in air conditioning, and as we stop at gas stations, rest stops with public bathrooms, and fast food chains, we are showing that we stand with Kaladin Stormblessed in his pain and suffering and his commitment to making the world a better place. Even better, we can pay Brandon to get hats with your slave brands on them so we can wear the hats and advertise our choice to be nerdy and cool whenever we want!

Kaladin, I am truly sorry for all you have gone through, and it really is a shame that Brandon had to do all that to you so he could make some money. Alas, happiness doesn’t sell. But I want you to remember, no matter what you go through – no matter who dies or who you fail, no matter who you lose or who betrays you, no matter what apocalypses, catastrophes, disasters, agonies come your way – you’ve entertained thousands of middle-class suburban nerds, not to mention a few urban ones, and they’re cheering for you. Cherish that, Kaladin. Don’t let anything get you down, because you’ve got a fan club. And after all, Brandon Sanderson’s going to die someday and leave you in peace.

How to follow a Twitter account without using Twitter

Say you’ve found a Twitter user whose posts you’d like to read. You don’t want to post anything yourself, you don’t want to know what other people are posting, you don’t care about trending topics or popular users or hashtags or whatever – you just want to follow that one user’s Twitter posts without any fuss.

This is surprisingly difficult.

I recently thought that I’d enjoy keeping up with Brandon Sanderson‘s posts on Twitter using my new Android smartphone – maybe I could just get a quick notification and a link to his tweet on my phone whenever he posts something. I looked into using an RSS feed to do this, but nope, Twitter doesn’t do RSS. So I gave in and decided to try using a proper Twitter app on my phone. And there are lots of nice Twitter clients to choose from on Android…but, well, that’s exactly the problem. There are too many to choose from, and they have too many distracting features I don’t care about, like tools for posting tweets yourself…while they don’t have features I do care about, like options that would let me see Brandon Sanderson’s replies to other users along with his normal tweets.

But there is a better way! And what’s more, with this method you can do more than just get notifications on an Android – you could also get notifications on an iPad or iPhone, or email notifications, or an SMS, or a phone call where a robot reads out the tweet…Though you may want to avoid that last one if you share a phone number with anybody.

Where we’re going today

IFTTT (“If This, Then That”) is a website that lets you automatically trigger a certain action when a certain thing happens. That sounds very vague, but that’s because IFTTT is so versatile. The trigger action can be anything from “My Android phone connected to my home wifi network” to “I posted something new on my blog” to “It’s 5:00 pm on Sunday” to “Somebody mentioned me on Reddit”. The resulting action can be anything from “Send me an email” to “Post a new photo on my Facebook account” to “Turn off my lights” (if you have the right kind of lights) to “Upload something to my Dropbox account”.

With IFTTT, you create a “recipe” that has one “trigger” and one “action”. I’m going to use IFTTT to create a recipe with a trigger of Brandon Sanderson tweeting something and an action of a notification being sent to me. I’ll show you how to get Android notifications as well as two different types of email notifications.

Setting up a Twitter trigger

Okay, let’s get going! First you’ll need to go to the IFTTT website and sign up for an account. Click the blue button. I know it’s hard to find, but I think you can do it.

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Fill in the information and click “Create account”.

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Go through the introduction…

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IFTTT asks you to choose three “Channels” you’re interested in using so it can recommend some recipes to you. It doesn’t matter what you choose, though.

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Now let’s start actually creating our recipe for getting notified of tweets. In the top right-hand corner, click on the little arrow next to your username, then click on “Create”.

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First we’re going to set up the trigger action – in my case, Brandon Sanderson tweeting. Click on “This”.

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There are a lot of options for triggers! But for now we’re just looking for the Twitter one. Find or search for it and then click on it. (You’ll probably see an icon for Twitter there, unlike me with my strange Internet connection.)

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Now we’re going to have to activate the Twitter channel, which is a bit of a pain…but you won’t have to do it again if you make another IFTTT recipe using Twitter!

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To do this you’ll need a Twitter account. If you already have one, you can just sign in, but I’m going to quickly sign up for one here. I’ll use this account to activate IFTTT’s Twitter channel and never use it again.

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Fill in the information and click Sign Up. Like I said, I’m only making this account so I can use IFTTT with Twitter, so I’m not even bothering to give Twitter an email that I actually check – I’m using a disposable email address from Mailinator.

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Now click “Authorize app” and IFTTT will be able to create a Twitter trigger.

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Twitter will send you back to IFTTT; click “Done” and then go back to the browser window where you were working directly with IFTTT. Now you’re be able to click “Continue to the next step.”

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Now it’s time to actually choose what will trigger a notification! So, we should choose the “New tweet by a specific user” trigger, right…?

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Actually, that depends. If you choose this trigger, you’ll get all the tweets that the person you choose sends out to everyone….but if they direct a message to a specific user, on the other hand, you won’t get it. So if Brandon Sanderson tweets “The 5th Alcatraz book is coming out today!”, I’d get it, but if he tweeted “@MarcTauss What exactly is that wooden thing on the cover of the 4th book?”, I wouldn’t be notified. Now I, for one, love to eavesdrop on Brandon Sanderson’s exchanges with fans, so I want to make sure to get all the tweets he sends to specific people. And so I’m going to choose another trigger – the “New tweet from search” one.

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Now I’ll search for everything coming from Brandon Sanderson. In Twitter search lingo, this is “from:BrandSanderson include:retweets”. If you’re trying to follow another user besides Brandon Sanderson (though why I can’t fathom), put their username in instead of “BrandSanderson”. So for instance, “from:FiatLingua include:retweets”. This is how you can get all the messages coming from somebody, not just the ones they send out generally.

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You’ve successfully set up a trigger! Now let’s see how you can get a notification sent to you when your trigger fires.

Setting up a notification action

Start by clicking on “that”.

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Well, there are sure a lot of choices here, too! I’m only going to demonstrate how to set up Android notifications and email notifications, but clearly there are plenty of other options available for you to try.

For now, though, let’s see how you could set up…

Simple email notifications

Find the cleverly named “Email” channel and click on it…

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Then click “Send me an email”.

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Now you can tell IFTTT what the subject line and text of each notification email should be. See those weird gray boxes? When you actually get an email, they’ll be replaced by information from the actual tweet. So if Brandon Sanderson sent out a tweet saying “The 5th Alcatraz book will be released tomorrow!”, I’d get an email with the subject “@BrandSanderson: The 5th Alcatraz book will be released tomorrow!”, and once I opened up the email I would see “via http://twitter.com/BrandSanderson”.

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If you click on one of the grey boxes, they’ll change to text surrounded by double curly braces, and then you can move them around as you like.

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Once you’re editing some text, you’ll also see a little test tube icon in the upper right corner. If you click on that, you can add more magical grey boxes that will replaced with different things when you actually get the email. I’m going to add a link to the actual tweet in the body of the email. So I’m going to click on the test tube icon, select “LinkToTweet”, and then click “Add Ingredient”.

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Additionally, I would like to have the text of the tweet put in the body of the email, so I’m going to move that {{Text}} thing. I’ll also make a few other changes. As you see, you can add text wherever you like; just don’t change what’s in between curly braces or the grey boxes won’t magically get replaced by information from tweets anymore.

When you’re finished, click “Create Action”.

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Now you just need to give your recipe a title, click “Create Recipe”, and you’ll be all set!

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And there you go! Next time the user you chose tweets, you’ll get an email like this:

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Email digest notifications

Instead of sending you an email every time somebody tweets, IFTTT can instead just send you an email every day or every week with all the tweets that have been sent out in the interim – an email digest. Let’s see how that would work out. First off, once you’re at the “that” part of making an IFTTT recipe, find and click on the “Email Digest” channel.

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Now decide whether you’d like to get an email every day or every week. I’ll be trying a weekly digest, but it’s basically the same process to set up a daily one.

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Here you can tell IFTTT when you want to get your digest and what should be in it. As I explained in the instructions for normal email notifications, you can move around the curly-braced grey boxes or delete them as you’d like, and you can add in other grey boxes by clicking on the test tube. Besides that, you can add or delete whatever other text you want.

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When you’re done, click “Create Action”…

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…name your recipe, click “Create Recipe”…

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…and you’re done! Now at the time you set, you should get an email from IFTTT with tweets like this:

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Android notifications

Now let’s try something a little more tricky: an IFTTT recipe that sends a notification to my Android phone when Brandon Sanderson tweets. So, once you get to the “that” part of a recipe, find and click on the “Android Notifications” channel…

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Click “Send a notification”…

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Now you can decide what the notification will actually say, using those same magical grey boxes I showed you before.

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I’m going to switch around a few things and then click “Create Action”.

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Name your recipe and click “Create Recipe” as always.

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But wait a minute. How will IFTTT know what phone to send the notifications to? It won’t…until you install the IFTTT app on your Android device! Let’s see how you can set that up. First, head over to Google Play and search for “IFTTT”.

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Now choose “IF by IFTTT” and install it.

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Click “Accept”. It does want access to a lot of stuff, but that’s because you can use it to do a lot of stuff.

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Once it’s finished installing, open it up…

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…flip through IFTTT’s little intro…

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…and you’ll get to a login screen. You’ve already made an IFTTT account, so click on the “Sign In” link at the bottom.

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Fill the username and password you chose and click “Login”…

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…and there you go! Now when Brandon Sanderson tweets I’ll hear my message tone, and then when I look at my phone I’ll see a notification:

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Which I can then click on:

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Which I can then click on again:

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And then I can click the “Open in Browser” button to open up the tweet in my browser, which will show me any replies to the tweet as well as any other tweets it was replying to.

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And there you go, that’s how I’m now following Brandon Sanderson’s tweets without having to bother with the rest of Twitter. If you try this yourself, let me know how it goes!

Map of the Nations of Drisije

Here’s a map of the countries on the planet of Drisije and their colonies and territories. As always, you can click on the picture to see it larger.

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Drisije is still very much a work in progress, but I do know a few things about the nations I’ve drawn here. Rooskhel (in the southeast) is the first place that humans settled on Drisije, and it used to be the head of an empire that encompassed Droigel and Dagri as well as the areas that are still Rooskhel’s colonies. Now, however, Rooskhel is more of a crumbling bureaucracy, eclipsed by more industrialized nations like Dlozuau and Fetsa Wenelafosiçek (which I’ll just call F.W.F. from now on for obvious reasons). Speaking of Dlozuau, it’s probably the most powerful country at the moment in Drisije, though don’t let its size fool you – most of that land is just hot, wet swampland. But those swamps hold a lot of peat that Dlozuau burns to power drainage systems and factories to support large cities. Dlozuau was originally settled by people outcast from Rooskhel for misuse of their magical powers, and there’s historically been a lot of tension between these countries. It’s rarely turned into outright war, however, because both countries rely on exports from each other.

Farther to the north, F.W.F. is another deceptively large country – it’s really mostly barren deserts and mountains. Like Dlozuau, it was settled by people who took issue with Rooskhel’s policies on magic. In F.W.F.’s case, however, the settlers were against any magic use at all; their religion teaches against it. But thanks to this same religion’s emphasis on hard work and a wealth of natural deposits of stone, gems, and valuable minerals, F.W.F. has wound up doing pretty well…though there are the occasional outbreaks of religious conflicts or war with Dlozuau (Dlozuau wants F.W.F.’s natural resources but F.W.F. doesn’t want to trade with people that are so liberal with magic use).

In central northern Drisije, most of those small countries are made up of former citizens of Dlozuau and F.W.F. who are divided by religion and politics; the citizens of all those countries are more or less the same ethnicity, they just disagree about how a government should be run. In the east, Dái Hranimá, Haddáá, and (a little more south) Ludaay all used to be one country and still speak closely related languages (as is evident in their names).

The last of the countries I know much about is Gözh. It’s actually not really one country; it’s a territory populated by a variety of settlers and small communities but without any one government regulating it all. Because it’s so far north, and because Drisije has no seasons, most of Gözh is frozen or at least very cold all year round. Modern technology has made it a bit easier to grow food and stay warm there, but it’s still not an easy place to live. Nevertheless, many people from all over Drisije have chosen to move there rather than stay in their old countries. I think that some people in Gözh may also have magic different from the usual Drisijan magic, but I’m not sure yet.

As for all those other countries – well, I just don’t know much about them yet! I’ll have to see what my brain comes up with.

Map of Drisije

This is a map of the tectonic plates, geographical features, and climates of a new planet I’ve been working on. (It’s a much-improved version of the working map I proudly showed you the other day.) This planet is called Drisije – that’s supposed to be pronounced DRI-si-yay, but I am also happy if you pronounce it dri-SEEJ; I specifically chose a spelling of “Drisije” that would sound okay to me even if mispronounced. I could have made the proper pronunciation clearer by spelling it “Drisiyei” or “Drisiyay”, but I just don’t like how those look.

So, here’s the map! Dashed lines show the boundaries of tectonic plates; arrows show which way the plates are moving; brown designates mountains; gold designates dry, rocky land; yellow is desert; light green is temperate fertile land; and dark green is swampland. Click on the image to see it larger.

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Drisije is a small planet, perhaps a quarter of the size of Earth. It isn’t tilted on its axis, so it doesn’t have noticeable seasonal changes in weather. But it has several moons that produce large regular tides as well as increased volcanic and seismic activity. Once you get to the surface of the planet, Drisije has a few other interesting attributes. For one, there are no trees. Grass, bushes, flowers – yes. But no trees. (This is why the equatorial areas are swampland, not rainforest.) Additionally, certain warm parts of the sea are filled with a membranous yellow stuff called nam – a life form, similar to a plant, that powers itself by the salt and heat in the sea. This makes the sea look golden-yellow in some areas. Some cold parts of the sea, meanwhile, are filled with dead nam that’s been pushed there by currents, and this makes the sea look red.

I haven’t worked out yet what other life there is on Drisije, but I do know that it’s the home of a few hundred million people that were brought there from Earth several thousand years ago by Sheesans. These people are just like normal human beings, except that some of them have magical powers – given to them by Sheesans as part of an experiment. I may post later about their powers and about other aspects of Drisijan life and society.

Updates & Changes

A month ago, I rewrote some category descriptions, moved some things around, updated some information, applied a new theme (finally getting a WordPress child theme working), and…well…that was it. I haven’t posted anything since. In the past I’ve generally tried to post something every week, but that hasn’t been happening for the last month and I don’t think it’ll happen in the future. I’m at a point now in most of my pursuits where I have the skill and confidence to take on bigger projects…projects that don’t as quickly produce presentable results. For instance, I’ve been working on a new imaginary planet for several weeks, developing its geography and climate, and now have this beautiful map to show you:

What, you can't read it?

What, you can’t read it?

So I’m thinking that in the future I will be posting less often, but I’ll hopefully be posting better and larger things when I do. At the moment I’m working on multiple arrangements and songs I’ve written, a story that is rapidly approaching novella size, the planet portrayed in that somewhat busy map (my first world with magic in it!), and a tutorial with lots of pretty screenshots. So I have not disappeared! I am still committed to working on and presenting here my various creative projects.

Other Places You Can Find Me on the Internet

I may not have a Facebook account, or a Twitter account, or a Pinterest account, or a LinkedIn account, or an Instagram account, or anything else very trendy, but there are a few other places on the Internet where I do have a presence:

  • On Ravelry, I’m knitnatty. This is a site for knitters and crocheters, so I keep some notes there about knitting projects I’m working on or planning. Emphasis on SOME notes – I don’t keep track of everything I should.
  • On Amazon, I’m sheesania. I post my longer and more intelligent book reviews there, but I don’t buy anything, keep wish lists, or do anything else on that account.
  • On Goodreads, I’m sheesania. I pretty diligently keep track of the books I’m reading on my own there. I also post book reviews, including some too short, too subjective, or too strange to post here or on Amazon.
  • On the Holy Worlds forum, I’m…also sheesania. This is a forum for Christian fantasy and science fiction writers, and it is one of the best forum communities I’ve come across: small, diverse, friendly, intelligent. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve posted there about writing, worldbuilding and Christianity, as well as the occasional tidbit about Sheesania, that is not posted here.

Books I Read in 2014

In 2014, apart from all my reading for school, I read 80 new books by 48 authors, about 25,270 pages in all. If you count a reread as another book read, then I read 91 books in 2014! You can see the whole shebang (except for reread books) on my shiny new Goodreads account, but here I’m just going to highlight some of the more memorable and/or significant books and authors of 2014 and compare them. (Because as you may have discovered in my Mistborn review, I like comparing stuff.)

Top Three Authors by Books Read

1. Lemony Snicket (12 books) – his books are very clever, very funny, and very plentiful. I love their strange, playful, gloomy narration, their symbolism, their atmosphere, and the mysteries that permeate his stories. My favorite Snicket book from 2014 is probably The Penultimate Peril for its powerful emotional clout, but The Unauthorized Autobiography is a close second – I love how it uses all sorts of papers and documents to tell stories, and how it tells so much just by implying connections.

2. Brandon Sanderson (7 books, or 13 if you count rereads!) – Brandon Sanderson may not be the most skillful writer I’ve ever seen, or the most deep, or the most clever, but somehow in every book he manages to tell a wonderful story that really clicks with me. His writing also has a tangible warmth and excitement to it that I really enjoy. Mistborn: The Final Empire is my favorite Sanderson novel of the year, but Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, the fourth volume of the Alcatraz series, is a very, very, very close second…and I have to at least mention Elantris, which is less polished but still lovely.

3. Terry Pratchett (4 books) – I wrote somewhere else that I love everything by Terry Pratchett that I can understand. The fact is that his books often lose me because they’re just so rich and clever. But when I can follow the richness and the cleverness, I enjoy his writing tremendously. The Discworld novels that I read this year are intensely funny and wonderfully strange without sacrificing thoughtfulness, and that’s just the kind of thing I love in a novel. My favorite of this year is The Light Fantastic, mostly because I love the character of Rincewind.

This list is the same as my “top three favorite authors of the year” list would be if you just switched Lemony Snicket and Brandon Sanderson, so I’m not going to make a separate list of favorite authors.

Favorite Books

Now, there’s a big difference between saying that a book is good and saying that you liked the book. I read lots of terrific literature that I don’t particularly enjoy, and I read lots of so-so literature that I do really enjoy. So here I’m going to distinguish between favorite (and least favorite) and best (and worst).

Favorites

1. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton – I need to reread it before I can say anything coherent about it, so let me say something incoherent: Brilliant! Hilarious! Twisty! Deep! Symbolism out of nowhere that worked so perfectly! Wild! Joyful! Intense! I actually stayed up late to finish it and I have NEVER done that before! Yes, BRILLIANT!! This is the kind of book that makes me desperately want to write because I want to write something that incredible, but that also discourages me from writing because the world has already arrived, the perfect book has already been written, we can all just stop trying now.

2. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – I had quite a few problems with this book once I had thought about it for a while, but immediately after finishing, it was just brilliant as far as I was concerned. And I’ve had tons of fun watching my sister experience it, reading Sanderson’s annotations for it, talking at great length with said sister about it, getting my friend to read it and then getting excited emails from her late at night about it, etc. Really, it’s a favorite of this year not so much because it was a great book as because it was a great experience.

3. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – This book has three things I really enjoy in stories: 1) heroes falling into evil (for some reason this plot really moves me), 2) a quirky narrator, 3) lots of symbolism. Said symbolism is pretty heavy and sometimes intrudes into the plot…but I enjoyed it anyways. After all, sometimes I want to read a book with a lot of symbolism without having to really tease it out like I might with better-written and more subtle books. Anyways, listening to the audiobook of this novel was an incredible experience and was definitely the culmination of my read of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Least-Favorites

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I don’t hate this book – I just never really connected with any of the characters or cared about them much. The whole time I was reading I felt like it was taking itself extremely seriously while I didn’t really care. But I suppose I was doomed to dislike it, seeing as I don’t often care for young-adult books, violent books, romantic books, humorless books, or extremely popular books. Though I’m glad I at least gave it a chance!

2. The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood – This is the fourth book of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. I enjoyed the first three books, finding them sweet and funny, but this one…Well, it was still sweet and funny, but while reading I realized that I had been hoping for more development in the story – particularly deeper characters – and that it just wasn’t there and probably never would be. This book also has some plot twists so implausible and so annoying that I wasn’t willing to let them slide like I usually would with silly books like these. So I guess you could say that I’ve gotten disillusioned with this series. I’ll still finish it, but at the moment it has a bad taste in my mouth that would take a lot of brilliance to get rid of.

3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman – I guess I just didn’t get this book. I thought I would like it because of its oddness and humor, but then I just never connected with it, and that was disappointing.

Best Books

This list was a lot harder to make than the list of favorites! Though I am trying to judge objectively how good these books are, my personal opinion and bias will obviously still color my decisions, so don’t murder me if I get it wrong. Also, I’m going to list five books because for the life of me I can’t choose just three.

1. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton – Again, I’m not sure exactly what I think about this book yet, but I know that it is very, very good.

2. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Patton – I read this for school, technically, but I loved it so much that I felt the need to claim it for my own. This book is beautifully written and very moving. I think it does a wonderful job of portraying many different sides to a situation, and I love the author’s technique of telling small, self-contained stories and fragments of stories to describe things like the shanty towns and the different attitudes of whites towards Africans. Lovely, lovely book.

3. The Chosen by Chaim Potok – Another school book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel; the language and the plot are deceptively simple. But in the end I found it to be a deep, moving character study that also gave me a lot of insight into modern Judaism.

4. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin – This was actually the last book I finished in 2014, so I haven’t had that much time to let it settle…but I think it’s very good. The language is beautiful, and the story works perfectly both as a metaphor and as just a story – something very hard to pull off! The central characters are also astonishingly deep for such a short book. In the end, I felt like this book had given me a lovely, eloquent portrait of a certain worldview in amazingly few words.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – And another book for school. Rich, dark, intense. I loved it.

Worst Books

As it turns out, I don’t think I read any really bad books this year, even if a few of them were rather lacking. So I’m going to make up for listing 5 best books above and only list the one worst book I read this year…which is unfortunately…

1. The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood – The incredibly convenient plot twist with Simon. Seriously? I thought he was joking at first. However, again, I think that pretty much all the books I read this year are okay, so this novel is the worst compared to a bunch of pretty good books…or in other words, it’s still decent. I did like how Lady Constance acted in this book, for instance.

Rereading

Most likely to reread: The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton – Again. Because I can’t talk coherently about it and I need to be able to.

Least likely to reread: The Dove in the Eagle’s Nest by Charlotte Mary Yonge – It really is a decent story, but it just didn’t click with me. Most of the other books I disliked I think may still reread someday because I might enjoy them more later, or I might end up reading them to somebody else who would enjoy them. But I doubt that my feelings on this book will ever change, and I doubt that I’ll ever read it aloud to somebody, either. (It is rather long, after all.)

Other Comparisons of Interest (at least to me)

Now the fun stuff!

Longest book: Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – My edition has 760 pages of actual story – 760 of tiny print with no breaks between lines of dialog. Ugh. It’s an awesome book, though.

Shortest book: The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket – I listened to this with my family in the car and it was a lot of fun.

Book that took me the longest to read: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dosteyevsky – I’m definitely going to have to read this book multiple times to appreciate it or even understand it decently. This first read-through took a lot of effort and was sometimes frustrating, but I did really enjoy some parts and now subsequent reads will be easier and more fruitful.

Most serious book: Tie between A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell – The former is one of the most depressing, cynical, serious, humorless books I’ve read for a while (I’m amazed I managed to get through it, now that I think about it), even though it is very well written and I did like it, particularly the picture it presented of Russia. The latter book is full of attempts to probe the deepest mysteries of the universe and the self (which may or may not be the same thing) by analyzing myths and dreams. It’s brilliant and full of provocative ideas (even if I don’t agree with most of them), but it can sometimes feel a little odd when Campbell treats the sillier dreams and stories just as seriously as all the rest. We’ve got the truth of human spirituality at stake here, after all!

Least serious book: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson – That was easy. What other book tries to get the reader to stand on his or her head and juggle seventeen live trout with his or her feet while singing? (It does have its serious moments, though. In fact, it’s the most serious of the whole series. Wait, now I’ve probably scared you off. Scratch that.)

Most unique book: This was a hard decision, especially because the fourth Alcatraz book was a contender and it’s really hard to deny an accolade to an Alcatraz book, but I think that The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket wins. (The Man Who Was Thursday…yes, sorry, that book again…came close, and so did Don Quixote.) What other book is simply an eclectic, disorganized, and obscure collection of documents, ranging from pop songs about the author’s childhood to letters that may or may not be from the person they say they’re from to the author’s obituary (published when he was still alive) to blurry photographs to the most brilliant index ever written? Not to mention a reference to a movie called Vampires in the Retirement Community. Yes, it’s a very strange and very unique book, and I loved it. (It’s incomprehensible if you haven’t read A Series of Unfortunate Events, though.)

Least unique book: Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman – Guess what this one is about! But never mind if it wasn’t unique – it was a good book and it did its job. If I have to choose a least unique piece of fiction, it would probably be Black Star, Bright Dawn by Scott O’Dell (a straightforward piece of historical fiction) or Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (an intelligent-teenager-with-issues-trapped-in-American-high-school story). Both are very good books, though, especially Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. Honestly, I feel horrible giving that novel a Least Unique of 2014 label because it was so good.
Best title: A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois – An intriguing, unique, and pretty title that also fits the book. However, a big silver medal to Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket. Who other than Lemony Snicket would name a book that?
Worst title: Popular by Alissa Grosso – This novel is actually quite good, complex and unique, but the title makes it sound like it’s just yet another book about high school cliques.
Best cover: This is kind of tricky to judge, so I read so many of these books on my e-ink Kindle and thus I don’t even know what many of their covers look like. But in the end I think Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains wins – that’s the only cover among the contenders that makes me want to keep looking at it and studying it. The art inside, not to mention the typography, is beautiful too.
Worst cover: Since I’m not counting the generic cover of The Hidden Hand, the winner is definitely Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson. Actually, I think the Alcatraz book would win even if I was including the cover of The Hidden Hand. Because what on earth is Alcatraz swinging? And where did the pictured scene come from? And why did they need to use that image for a back cover when it’s so strange and embarrassing to have on a book you’re carrying around?
Funniest: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson – Also a definite winner. There are several jokes in this novel that had me laughing every time I thought of them for days.
Saddest: If you’re talking about a depressing sadness, then 1984 by George Orwell, and if you’re talking about more just sad sadness, then The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket. I may have read books that were more tragic this year, but these ones affected me the most. Their endings were especially memorable.
In theory most suitable for me (as in, the book that I, as a teenage American girl, am most “supposed” to like): The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In theory least suitable for me (as in, the book that I, as a teenage American girl, am least “supposed” to like): Probably The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Parts of it were definitely over my head, but I think that I still got a lot out of it.
Most mind-sucking: Let me define “mind-sucking” first: when applied to a book, it means that the book tends to take over your mind so that you’re thinking about it all the time. (This word originally came from an online review of a book from A Series of Unfortunate Events; my sister and I found it amusing and then started using it.) The winner this year is Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, because while I was reading it it was hard to think about anything else, whether I was visiting friends, shopping, going to the dentist, talking with my family…I even woke up thinking about it, for heaven’s sake. My sister experienced the same phenomena when she read it, and she also had trouble working on any of her stories while she had The Final Empire on the brain. I also found The Man Who Was Thursday and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World quite mind-sucking, but for different reasons. Mistborn was mind-sucking because of its world and characters and plot; the others were mind-sucking because of all the interesting ideas in them.
Book my mom was most interested in (excluding school books, since she kind of has to be interested in my school books, seeing as she’s my teacher): The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket – My sister and I listened to an audiobook of this novel, mostly while during chores, and my mom was often there while we were listening. She got pretty involved in the story and wanted to know what happened during all the times she wasn’t there.
Book I most want to read to my kids, assuming that I have kids someday: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – Really, I want to read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events to my hypothetical children, because they’re great stories that are also full of big questions that I would love to discuss with my kids. And if I read the books to them I could warn them that there won’t be any happy endings. It would also be great fun to read them P. W. Catanese’s Books of Umber, though.

Other Books I Want to Highlight But Haven’t Yet

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis – So funny, so clever, such a blast to read! I’m definitely going to investigate Willis’s other works.

The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier – I wish more people wrote historical fiction like Maier does! He bases his stories very heavily on history, and even when he does make up details, he puts a lot of research into making them as plausible as possible. Yet the resulting novels are amazing stories full of surprising connections to the Bible and to other sources I’m familiar with.

The Books of Umber by P. W. Catanese – Fun, creative children’s fantasy with great worldbuilding and some awesome characters. Again, these were just really fun and also refreshing to read.

The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling – My sister and I have been listening to audiobooks of these, and we’re really enjoying their creativity and humor. Unfortunately, we’re also really enjoying the audiobook reader’s peculiar renditions of certain lines. “Noooo, don’t do thaaaaat…”

Mistborn: The Final Empire as read by an Alcatraz fan

I actually quite like this cover, except for all the pink. Seriously. Why the pink?

I actually quite like this cover, except for all the pink. Seriously. Why the pink?

Spoiler policy: People usually look at book reviews before they read a book, to see if it’s worthwhile. For these people, it’s usually important that the reviews they read don’t have spoilers, so they can properly enjoy the book! But people like me also enjoy reading reviews after they’ve finished a book, perhaps to see what other people thought of it, or to find more information about the book, or to read a good analysis of it. To these people, a good review might have to contain spoilers so it can properly discuss the book.

I hope that the following review of Mistborn: The Final Empire will be of interest both to people who haven’t yet read the book and people who have already read it. So there will be spoilers, both from The Final Empire and from the Alcatraz series, since I’ll be comparing the two. But in the interest of those who haven’t read these books yet, I will hide significant developments from Mistborn and from the Alcatraz books. When I hide a spoiler from an Alcatraz book, I’ll note what book it’s from, so you can read this review in peace even if you’re not done with the Alcatraz series. Please do note, however, that there will be no spoilers for the later Mistborn books. I haven’t even read them yet!

However, my review will still contain quite a few details from Mistborn and Alcatraz. So if you’re the kind of reader who prefers to enter a book knowing as little as possible, you could just read the intro, “Who should read it?” and conclusion sections below. These contain my feelings on the strengths and weaknesses of Mistborn and on who should read it without details. Okay. Now let’s get down to business.

Mistborn: The Final Empire (hereafter just “Mistborn” or “The Final Empire”)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: The first out of 3 in the Mistborn series
Pub Date: 2006
Pages: 647, depending on what exactly you count
Format: Mass Market Paperback

I stumbled across Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series last year through a series of truly divine coincidences. This four-volume young adult series is a silly, off-the-wall fantasy adventure with a snarky, talkative narrator full of opinions on writing, reading, fame, responsibility and fish sticks. But it’s not just entertaining; I also thought it was cleverly and skillfully written. The narrator’s monologues on writing technique and commentary on his own story made me realize that Sanderson, the actual author, was really thinking through his narrative choices. It made me wonder what kind of story he could write if he wasn’t being silly and crazy and random. So I decided to read Mistborn: The Final Empire, simply because it’s the first book of his best-known series, the Mistborn trilogy.

I’m glad I did. This book is well thought-out. It’s a solid, entertaining, well-constructed story with a fast-paced and twisty plot, interesting characters, atmospheric worldbuilding, and a few nice themes. It’s not of great literary value, it has its flaws, but ultimately it is a very well-told story – in fact, I think it’s better written than the Alcatraz books. And yet, I believe I will always love the Alcatraz books more. Perhaps it’s because they were the first. Perhaps it’s because the Alcatraz books are more unique and more charming. But ultimately I think it’s because while Mistborn is, really, a very good story, Alcatraz has a bigger spark of awesomeness to it, an extra bit of specialness that Mistborn lacks. That spark more than makes up for the weaknesses of the writing in the Alcatraz books. But Mistborn doesn’t have as much of a spark to veil the flaws. In the end, then, while Mistborn is a wonderful story, for me it does not quite reach that upper level of pure delight. That’s why I would give Alcatraz 5 out of 5 stars and Mistborn 4.5 out of 5, even though Mistborn’s writing is stronger.

The basic plot

A thousand years ago, a young hero rose up to fight an evil power that was threatening the world. Then something went wrong. Now said world is full of ash and mist and is being ruled by an incredibly powerful evil overlord, the Lord Ruler, while the peasants, called the skaa, are oppressed by a magically-gifted nobility. The skaa have rebelled time and time again, but having failed every attempt, they are now beaten down and without hope. Then Kelsier shows up. Half-skaa, half-noble, he has the magical powers of the nobility, but the cunning of a thief. With a group of fellow thieves and rebels, he hatches a plot to finally kill the Lord Ruler and overthrow the oppressive empire. He’s joined by Vin, a young woman who grew up on the streets in constant fear of abandonment and betrayal, but who also has the unusual powers that Kelsier does. Led by the charismatic Kelsier, this motley group must somehow incite the skaa to rebel, break the power of the nobility, and most difficult of all, kill the Lord Ruler.

A pretty standard plot. But then, as Alcatraz says, “Summarizing sucks. Summarizing is when you take a story that is complicated and interesting, then stick it in a microwave until it shrivels up into a tiny piece of black crunchy tarlike stuff.” The question is what Mr. Sanderson can do with this simple base…

Some pertinent information about my background coming to this book

I actually don’t read much fantasy. Usually when I read the back of a fantasy novel, I think “That’s weird” or “That sounds rather clichéd” or “That sounds interesting, but why should I read this random book when I haven’t read the fantasy classics?”. (I’m working on solving that third one.) So I’m not a good judge of how Mistborn compares to other fantasy novels. But I do have knowledge of many of Sanderson’s other books – as I said, I read the Alcatraz series before I read Mistborn, and I also read Sanderson’s YA novel Steelheart pre-Mistborn. Post-Mistborn, I read Sanderson’s Elantris, The Rithmatist, and Legion. So while I won’t compare Mistborn very much to other fantasy novels, I will definitely be comparing it to the Alcatraz books and perhaps a little to my experience of Sanderson’s writing in general.

Also, months before I decided to read Mistborn, I read extensive reviews of the whole trilogy. (My sister was nervous about getting invested in the Alcatraz series, and wanted me to read reviews of the Mistborn trilogy to see if Sanderson had a good track record of finishing series well.) So unfortunately I got spoiled for several plot developments in this book, finding out that Kelsier would die, that there would be some kind of religion formed around him, that the Lord Ruler would turn out to be more complex, not just evil, that Vin and Elend would end up together, and that the crew would succeed in their plan to overthrow the empire. I also learned a few things about the later books. So I read this book with more foreknowledge than a fresh, unspoiled reader would have…yet the author still managed to surprise me quite a few times. In fact, looking back at all those things I was spoiled about, every one of them turned out differently than I expected.

What I thought

Worldbuilding

As I began reading Mistborn, I was not terribly impressed. I thought the first two parts were good, but not great. Interesting, but not really grabbing. But the Alcatraz books and Steelheart also start out a bit slow…only to get very good by the end. So I hung in there.

The beginning introduced me to Sanderson’s world, which many reviewers raved about, saying that it was incredibly creative and detailed. Perhaps it’s because I myself am a worldbuilder and so tend to be picky, but I thought the worldbuilding was just good, not amazing. The world feels small. Virtually all the action takes place in two towns, and while you hear bits and pieces about other places, they’re never pictured clearly. There are definitely interesting elements to Mistborn’s world: the ash falling from the sky, the red sun, the canals, the mists, the spires of the Lord Ruler’s palace. But it never struck me as mind-blowingly creative – just plain, solid worldbuilding. The world does set the mood nicely, though, with the dark ash, the mysterious mists, and the gray and brown plants. I also appreciate the fact that Mistborn’s world isn’t just a straight knock-off of a particular time or place (Medieval Europe! Victorian London! Or, for something completely different…Ancient China!).

Also, I found the names in this book to be a bit peculiar. You have some names that are actual words, like “Marsh” and “Breeze” and “Mare” (Mare? Really?), and then you have completely made-up names, like “Kelsier” and “Elend”, and then you have names that sound faintly English-like: “Dockson”, “Valette”. Again, though, I’m a language creator and I tend to pay more attention to such things than most readers would. And the names do fit their characters or places or whatever they denote, and that’s really the most important thing.

But then there’s the magic system. I said that I like how Sanderson thinks his narrative choices through, and this is no more apparent than in his magic systems. The Mistborn trilogy actually includes several magic systems, but there’s just one main magic system in this book: Allomancy. It involves swallowing metal and then “burning” it to affect people’s emotions, or push and pull on metal objects, or improve your senses, or do a variety of other things. Swallowing and burning metal. Weird. Yet by the middle of the book you’re so comfortable with it that you have experiences like my sister and I did – we were listening to an audiobook of another fantasy story in which the magically-gifted main character was creeping up on a few people to eavesdrop, and we both immediately thought, “Burn tin so you can hear better!” Then we realized in embarrassment, “Oops, wrong book.”

Allomancy is limited – there are only so many metals that you can burn, and each has just one particular power. Allomancy is straightforward – it has a clean, mathematical elegance to it. Yet Sanderson and his characters are also creative with it, and there are still mysteries surrounding it that promise to get quite interesting in later books. And so Allomancy manages to appeal to both my sense of logic and my imagination.

Allomancy feels quite different from the wild, unpredictable Talents of the Alcatraz books and even the system of Lenses and Oculators. In the Alcatraz books, one noble family is gifted with Talents like breaking things, or arriving late, or waking up ugly, or tripping and falling. It’s fun to watch the characters figure out clever ways to use their Talents to solve problems…and it’s also fun watching the unpredictable Talents wreak havoc. The Alcatraz books additionally include Lenses, special glasses that only people gifted as Oculators can use. Oculatory powers are a lot more open-ended than Allomancy – in every Alcatraz book, Sanderson introduces a new Lens or two with new powers. In general, the magic in Alcatraz has an aura of crazy, clever problem-solving, while the magic in Mistborn is more elegant, dramatic, and beautiful.

Also, Mistborn’s world feels very different from that of the Alcatraz books. The world of Mistborn is dark and oppressive and small; the world of the Alcatraz books is bright and crazy and large. Additionally, Alcatraz has some hilarious cultural clashes as people from the “Free Kingdoms” (continents unbeknownst to us) muck about in the “Hushlands” (our known world). Mistborn has a few of these cultural misunderstandings between the classes of society, but that was all. I loved the differences of culture in Alcatraz and hope this shows up more in later Mistborn books.

Characters

The beginning of Mistborn may be a bit bland, but then the characters begin to deepen and grow. The depth of the characters are, I think, one of Mistborn’s strongest points. The two central characters, Vin and Kelsier, are complex and interesting. Honestly, I like Kelsier better and wish he could have been the protagonist. (I rarely really connect with the Action Girl types.) But he doesn’t really have enough growth to be good protagonist material. Vin, on the other hand, changes a lot over the course of this story. Growing up on the streets with only an abusive half-brother to take care of her, in the beginning she is reserved, suspicious, and fearful of being betrayed. But then Kelsier discovers her Allomantic powers and adopts her into his group, and things begin to change. He trains her and she learns to use her powers. She masquerades as a noblewoman in order to spy on the nobility at parties, and is exposed to a part of society she had never seen before. She truly becomes part of Kelsier’s group instead of just focusing on her own survival. Ultimately she begins to understand loyalty and trust, even as she keeps an edge of caution.

This business of learning to trust is an old trope, but I think Sanderson handles it more or less deftly and gracefully. For one, I don’t think Vin changes too fast or too drastically; there’s a natural progression, with ups and downs. But Sanderson does tend to pound character development into your head a bit too much. For instance, the characters often rather conveniently think about how they’ve changed. “Psst, Reader, see? They’re changing!” The Alcatraz books also suffer from this same tendency to inform the reader of what the characters are like, instead of being content to just show us. (But with Alcatraz it’s more forgivable, since the more explaining the narrator does, the more jokes he can make!)

Then there’s Kelsier. Read reviews of this book and you’ll get all kinds of descriptions of him, because he rather defies description. On one hand, he’s joyful, impulsive, clever, and generous. He leads his crew well, keeping them on track and giving them hope. He treats Vin like a daughter. But then he also has an edge of violence, deception and keen bitterness that is a bit uncomfortable. He hates nobles and is happy to kill them whenever it’s convenient. He enjoys having control over people. He lies and deceives and keeps many of his plans secret from his group, knowing they would disapprove. This is what makes him such an interesting character. You like him, you want to root for him. Yet…

That’s good writing. I was feeling the same tension that the other characters were feeling as they trusted Kelsier, but worried about what he was doing…and what he might do given the chance. It’s for this reason – and because he makes me laugh – that I enjoyed Kelsier so much in this novel.

As I said, he doesn’t grow much over the course of the book. He learns to treat the nobility a little better and saves Elend (how many times is he going to get saved, anyways?), at least. But it’s more your perception of him, and your realization of what he’s up to, that grows. One reviewer said that they would have liked to see Kelsier struggling with his fate, trying to figure out a way around it, but ultimately deciding that he had to die for the rebellion. Admittedly, this would have been really cool. But in the end I think his death was better as a surprise, so that it socked you like it did the other characters.

Speaking of Kelsier’s death, that was my favorite moment in the book (and the fact that it made me so sad just heightens my appreciation of it!). I’ve always wanted to see an author kill off a main character quickly and suddenly like that, but thought it would be nearly impossible to do well – if you want to kill a main character without making your readers angry, you generally have to give their death some sort of meaning and quite a bit of drama, and a quick and sudden death doesn’t lend itself to either. Yet here the very swiftness of Kelsier’s death adds to the impact instead of taking it away. You’re left going, “Wait, wait, did that really just happen? That can’t have happened, he can’t…!” And there you are again, feeling the same feeling as the characters. Brilliant! Then you do still get the meaning and drama that was lost in his sudden death with the rich, spectacular payoff in the next chapter, when you realize that he was planning this all along. Okay, maybe that’s my favorite moment in the book instead. I don’t know. Gosh.

Vin and Kelsier are definitely the most developed characters, but many of the side characters are also interesting and have much potential for later development. Naïve, scholarly Elend makes me laugh, and he adds a good balance to the portrayal of the nobility and Kelsier’s crew. I can’t wait to see how he clashes with the crew and how he grows in later books. Sazed, the keeper of religions and guardian of Vin, is wise and intriguing. Marsh, Kelsier’s brother, has a keener sense of morality (not to mention caution) than his brother, and I ended up really enjoying his character for its steadiness and subtlety – so different from Kelsier! Marsh and Kelsier’s tense but caring relationship is also an interesting foil to Vin’s relationship with her abusive but protective brother Reen. The other supporting characters are generally entertaining and memorable enough that you don’t confuse them, but are pretty flat.

Okay, perhaps “much potential for later development” sounded a bit suspiciously like “well, they aren’t really developed now, but trust me, they could be later!”. Many reviewers did complain that most of the characters are pretty flat, defined only by a few traits, and often inconsistent. I can see where these reviewers are coming from. Most members of Kelsier’s crew aren’t given much depth, and most of the nobles we meet are even more shallow. It would have been nice for these characters to be more developed. But on the other hand, an author can only have so many round, dynamic characters – particularly an author like Sanderson, who is a bit wordy and takes time to develop his characters. I think it’s okay to have a few more flat guys in the background as you thoroughly develop your central characters. In this case, Sanderson chose to focus on Vin and Kelsier and skimp a bit on the others. Also, if what I’ve heard about the later books is correct, he will develop some of these side characters a lot more. (Certainly the absence of Kelsier will give him a big void of awesomeness to fill.) Again, I would have preferred for Sanderson to flesh out his side characters more; if he was a better writer, perhaps he would have had time to develop them. But in the end I think they do serve their roles as supporting characters well. They’re distinct, they’re entertaining, and they are important to the plot and the development of the protagonists.

One thing I liked about Mistborn is how many of the relationships are non-romantic: Kelsier as a father to Vin (I loved their relationship), Marsh and Kelsier as brothers, Sazed as a loyal protector to Vin, the crew as close friends to each other. Most of these relationships are healthy, believable, delightful to read and more important than the bits of romance that are still there. They also add a welcome warmth and lightness to the story. It isn’t all Deadly Serious: there’s also friendly teasing, debate, and counselling. (After discovering the same trait in another eight of his books and reading lots on his website, the feeling I get is that Sanderson is too happy a person to write very depressing novels!) In fact, some reviewers complained that there wasn’t enough suspicion, betrayal, deception, and general meanness among the members of Kelsier’s crew; they seemed too nice for a bunch of thieves. I thought, however, that the book took care to point this out as a noteworthy aspect of Kelsier’s crew, something that made it different from all the other criminal gangs Vin had been involved in, and so I was fine with it. (Though it is a bit odd that in the end, nobody has actually meaningfully betrayed Vin [except Kelsier, perhaps? *smirk*], even though she was paranoid of it the whole time.) So if you prefer darkness and suspicion in your novels, perhaps you wouldn’t enjoy this book.

But now how about the romantic relationship that does develop between Vin and Elend? Like many other reviewers, I felt that it started too fast. There should have been more reasons that Vin, so suspicious and so cautious among the nobility, would suddenly take an interest in a nobleman who only bantered with her a little bit. (Yes, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl, but still. Just because you feel an attraction to somebody doesn’t mean you act on it. I don’t, and I don’t have the kind of control over myself that Vin would have after her horrible upbringing.) And I think there could have been more interesting reasons why she might fall for Elend – perhaps she could have been surprised to find such goodness in him, or that he would choose to be such a recluse when he had so many opportunities for power and influence. There were narrative opportunities there that the author didn’t take advantage of. But nevertheless, once the relationship was on its way, I think Sanderson handled it well. I really appreciate how slowly his romances go, and how his characters remain careful and sensible even as they get more and more tangled up in emotions. In the end, I enjoyed it, but I’m still hoping for more depth in later books, especially more conflict between Vin and Elend’s very different worldviews!

The differing ideas of the characters was actually one of my favorite aspects of this book. Really, the characters in Mistborn have all kinds of complexity: different opinions, different moral standards, different ways that they tend to look at the world. No one person is completely right about questions like the role and value of the nobility, for instance. And then you have characters like Kelsier who are noble and admirable in some ways, but in other ways deviate significantly from what you – and some of the characters – think is right. Such moral grayness and complexity of worldview has been portrayed more skillfully by other authors, to be sure, but I still really enjoyed how it came out in Mistborn. Mistborn also lacks the deeper darkness that you sometimes find in books with lots of morally gray characters (like the intense brokenness you find at the end of A Series of Unfortunate Events). Sanderson writes in an annotation for one of his books that he generally likes to write about the kind of people he finds in real life: good people who are faced with difficult decisions and sometimes make the wrong choices. That’s Mistborn. The protagonists, and even some of the villains, are ultimately good people who sometimes did the wrong thing, or believed the wrong thing, or chose to pursue their noble goals in the wrong way; there’s only the occasional truly evil or truly gray character.

If the complexity in worldview and moral standards in Mistborn takes the same trajectory as it did in the Alcatraz series, it will get more pronounced in the remainder of the trilogy. The Alcatraz books start off with a clear demarcation between good and evil, but by book three, things are getting a bit mushy, and at the end of book four, it’s really getting complicated. (It remains to be seen how things will turn out, though, since the fifth and final book hasn’t been released yet. Four years and counting…) In general, though, Mistborn’s characters are more complex and developed than those in Alcatraz. After all, the Alcatraz books have more hectic plots and spend a lot of time commenting on themselves, stealing time from the characters. Sanderson also does a better job of showing instead of telling what his characters are like in Mistborn, as opposed to Alcatraz, which is full of hilarious descriptions of the characters courtesy of the snarky narrator.

But I do love those hilarious descriptions, and those hectic plots, and that self-commentary, and no matter how much I like Kelsier, I still love the crazy, good-hearted, deeply flawed character of Alcatraz even more. And even if the relationships in Mistborn, both romantic and non-romantic, were better portrayed, the relationship between Alcatraz and Bastille (book 4) has still got to be one of my favorites (indeed, the favorite of the Sanderson romances I’ve read). Again, Mistborn is more solidly constructed than Alcatraz (though Alcatraz’s construction isn’t sloppy, either), yet Alcatraz has that extra indefinable element of awesomeness.

Plot

At the same time as Mistborn’s characters begin to grow more interesting, the plot also begins to speed up. Now, I love Brandon Sanderson’s plots. (Though maybe it’s partly because I don’t often read books that are so heavy on fast-paced, rich, twisty plots; my regular diet of literary and historical fiction tends to focus on characters more.) The plot of The Final Empire is no exception. At the beginning it’s pretty straightforward, maybe even a little dull, but then it builds and builds and builds into a crazy, twisty ending of multiple, layered climaxes – an ending that, for me, somehow managed to both satisfactorily resolve the book and make me want badly to read the next one. I think Sanderson particularly excels in his endings, but there are other things that make his plots good, too. For one, Mistborn’s plot is full of twists of the best kind: you can’t guess them easily, yet once they happen, they seem forehead-smackingly obvious. I got surprised several times even though I had guessed, or been spoiled for, many major events of the story. I knew that Kelsier would die, but I didn’t expect him to die quite like that. I guessed that the Lord Ruler would have something unexpected in his backstory, but I didn’t expect that he would turn out to be Rashek the packman or that he would have special powers from a combination of Feruchemy and Allomancy.

The characters also face real obstacles; there were several moments when I wasn’t sure how they’d recover from some setbacks. (I really knew I was in trouble when I began to wonder if certain scenes were just dreams, since they seemed too crazy to actually be happening.) People get injured and can’t do much for months. Clever schemes go wrong and major components of the master plan get destroyed. Characters misunderstand what happened or don’t realize what they’re supposed to do. Certain reader favorites who shall remain nameless do rash things. Sanderson isn’t afraid to knock his characters around quite a bit, but in the end they nearly always manage to wriggle their way out of trouble.

Some reviewers were still bothered, though, that the Grand Plans usually worked out in the end, even if there were quite a few modifications along the way. I personally felt that Sanderson struck a good balance between the believability of his characters running into lots of problems and the satisfaction of their solving the problems. Carrying off a master plan without many complications can badly strain my suspension of disbelief…yet it can also be a problem to have too many complications and then make the story really convoluted in order to deal with them (which can get confusing) or just have lots of failures (which can be unsatisfying). I think Sanderson had the right number of complications, the right number of twists to deal with complications, and the right number of failures and deaths and other such unpleasantries when complications couldn’t be fixed. But other readers with different tastes may prefer more failure or more success.

Once again I must admit that I think Mistborn beats Alcatraz when it comes to the quality of the plot. Sanderson has more time in Mistborn to develop a deep plot, and as a writer less skilled in brevity he needs that time. A deeper plot also lets him build up to a more intense and layered ending. So the Alcatraz books, which are all significantly shorter (and spend so much time joking about themselves instead of working on the story), have smaller plots and smaller payoffs at the end. But the Alcatraz books still have plenty of clever twists and wrenches in the plan. The fourth book was especially good: “We’re doomed! No, wait, we’re saved! No, we’re doomed! Really, we’re doomed! No, wait, we’re saved again! But actually we’re not! But we are! But we lost our Talents! GAK!” (book 4)

In the end, by the time I had finished part three of Mistborn, I was hooked. I was settled in the world, the characters were deepening, the plot had just thrown them some major curveballs, and I was ready to settle down, enjoy the ride, and watch everything coalesce in a wild ending. And I sure got my ride and my wild ending.

Mistborn’s ending is just so layered. In some ways there’s only one climax: the final conflict with the Lord Ruler. But before that there are multiple other climaxes in the development of characters like Vin and Elend and Kelsier that underpin this last conflict and make it much richer. The only problem is that some of these character climaxes – okay, for me, really just the death of Kelsier and the revelation of his plan – have such emotional clout that once the real climax rolls around, you already feel like the book is winding down. In other words, the emotional climax (with the characters) and the actual climax (with the main conflict) aren’t synchronized; and because the emotional climax is, for me, more memorable, it overshadows the actual climax.

But I am definitely not complaining. I loved the ending. Like most other Brandon Sanderson books have, it left me in a glow of happy satisfaction with the book. Most good books make me feel like I’ve eaten a nice snack once I’ve finished; Mistborn was the right length and complexity to make me feel like I ate a full, delicious meal. I may have found plenty of weaknesses in it once I took time to consider the book carefully, but I think it is significant that I was so satisfied with it immediately after finishing.

Themes

Since the Alcatraz books are so silly and Mistborn is so comparatively serious, it’s odd how many similar themes they have. The dangers and challenges of fame and leadership play big parts in both. (In fact, they play fairly significant parts in every one of the eight Sanderson novels I’ve read.) Alcatraz, who struggles with learning how to lead and also not getting his head turned by fame, reminds me eerily of Kelsier. Certainly Kelsier is far more mature than Alcatraz, but he too faces difficult choices, painful responsibility when things go wrong, and the lure of fame. Alcatraz and Vin also have similarities in their fears of being abandoned and their resulting tendencies to avoid deep relationships with people. But while Vin spends The Final Empire learning to trust people, during most of the Alcatraz series Alcatraz is experiencing the flip side of this – he’s discovering the pressure of having people trust him. Alcatraz and Vin also both struggle with their identities, but then, that’s a standby of fantasy novels that involve young people with magical gifts.

These themes permeate Mistborn and form the backbone of the characters’ development, but they’re not the focus of the book. They’re nuggets in a larger story; they’re not the story itself. And like he does with other aspects of character development, Sanderson tends to push the themes a little too hard, choosing clarity over subtlety. But this doesn’t detract much from the book because discussing these issues is not the main point of Mistborn – the story is the main point.

Writing style

Perhaps the most notable thing about the Alcatraz books is their writing style. They’re told by Alcatraz in a very self-aware, happily fourth-wall-breaking manner, with lots of tricks on the reader and asides that have very little to do with the actual story. Mistborn’s style is completely different. The narration is much more normal with a straightforward third-person-limited point of view, rather unlike Alcatraz’s Snicket-esque first-person ramblings. In fact, I had a little trouble getting my bearings at first when I began to read Mistborn, simply because it felt so different from Alcatraz and so much more serious. But even if Alcatraz is still a lot funnier, Mistborn definitely isn’t humorless – it has plenty of playful banter and I, at least, found Elend’s cluelessness about what’s actually going on very amusing!

The dialogue is actually something that a lot of reviewers complain about, saying that it feels lame and wooden and that it tries to hard to be witty. Others say that it’s too modern and colloquial and breaks the mood of the world. I can’t really see where the first reviewers are coming from – Mistborn’s dialogue feels alive to me. But I can see how some readers could think that it was too colloquial. The characters talk in a pretty casual way and use some modern expressions, though they do also use the occasional world-specific expression or curse (just like in most Sanderson books!). However, no matter how much I enjoy good worldbuilding and creativity with how people use language, I prefer my fantasy to have a more modern, colloquial feel just because I like that style of book better. I sometimes have trouble getting into very formal, dense dialogue, like in many parts of Lord of the Rings; it can easily end up feeling stiff or dull or even corny to me. But other readers may feel differently.

Several reviewers also criticize other aspects of the writing style. Now, I am not very sensitive to the nitty-gritty of writing style. I tend to read quickly and a bit sloppily, particularly when I reading for fun, and so unless the writing is very awkward, very good, or very strange, I won’t really notice it. So I didn’t notice Sanderson using piles of adverbs, or having characters constantly roll their eyes or smile or pause or stare blankly at each other, or using the word “maladroit” five times. (See this review.) But now, looking at Mistborn more carefully, I must admit that it’s all true. Sanderson is not the greatest writer of prose – Alcatraz, too, suffers from writing that’s often clumsy or wordy. But for me, at least, Mistborn still worked. You may feel differently, though, so if you are bothered by awkward writing, you may want to avoid this book. Or you may just want to avoid the audiobook – I personally notice clunky prose a lot more when listening to an audiobook.

Content

Yes, I read Brandon Sanderson’s books mostly because I enjoy them, but there’s another big reason why I like his work: it’s clean. I have looked at so many interesting books only to decide not to read them because I’d rather not read a book with sex scenes. (Yup, I’m the one teenage girl left on the face of the earth who feels this way.) Every time I find an intriguing book written for adults, I want to read a lot of reviews in order to make sure that I’ll be fine with it, and so I often end up learning a lot more about the book than I would like to. But I trust Brandon Sanderson enough at this point to read one of his books without worrying about content, and that is so refreshing. Mistborn may have quite a few sexual references, but many young adult books are much worse – Divergent, for instance.

Mistborn is pretty violent, though – it can get a little gruesome at times. But I never felt sickened or deeply bothered and I never felt that it was meant to be titillating. Indeed, in his annotations Sanderson says that he finds some of these scenes a bit disturbing himself, but thought that they were necessary to the story. To me, that’s a very good sign – the author is aware of how he’s affecting me and is being careful with how he’s using violence. As far as language goes, Mistborn has a tiny bit of swearing, but it’s nothing compared to what I routinely find in young adult books; again, it’s wonderfully refreshing to read a modern book not written for children that’s clean.

And now, finally, let’s bring this review to a close…

Who should read it?

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, entertaining read with a backbone of intriguing characters and themes and a creative magic system, check out Mistborn. If you’re an Alcatraz fan, and you like the plots, characters, and themes in the Alcatraz series, you may really enjoy Mistborn. If you dig Alcatraz just for the quirky narration, though, Mistborn may not be your favorite. If you’re a writer, Mistborn may inspire you with its magic system and its great plot, and it could also just give you a good picture of how to put a lot of things together – world, characters, plot – to create a compelling story. As for fans of other fantasy novels, I can’t really judge if you’d like Mistborn since I don’t read much fantasy myself!

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for subtlety, unusual and/or deeply developed themes and philosophies, good prose style, and a lack of action and violence, Mistborn isn’t the best choice. A book that’s trying to be more literary would probably be better.

Conclusion

Mistborn: The Final Empire was a great story and a satisfying book. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the logical wonder of Allomancy or the awesomeness that is Kelsier or the end of part four, and I can’t wait to see how things will develop with the rest of the trilogy. But for its warmth and specialness and indefinable spark of something else, I think I’ll always love the Alcatraz books more.

Super Paper Mario game script in Kindle format!

If you’ve been perusing this website for a while, you have probably been wondering how I’ve managed to come up with so many brilliant analyses of Super Paper Mario while also juggling my multitudinous other talents. Okay, fine, maybe you haven’t been wondering. But here’s how: I’ve had a copy of the Super Paper Mario game script written by Super Slash at my side the whole time. And now you can get your own copy! For free! In all-new…KINDLE format!

Whoopee!

Silliness aside, I have found the game script to be very handy as I come up with theories and analyses and generally get as much fun out of SPM as I can. I only had a problem with it when I got the brilliant idea to put it on my Kindle, to make the script even easier to access and carry around with me (in case I’m really, really, really bored on the airplane). Super Slash’s plaintext version works well on a computer, but it doesn’t look very nice on a Kindle. So I got out my favorite LibreOffice plugin for find-and-replace, ran a lot of regular expressions on the plaintext version, fixed a lot of formatting problems caused by said regular expressions, slaughtered the occasional wild typo, and finished off with a linked Table of Contents since I figured it would be useful to learn how to make one. I think the result looks pretty nice.

SPM script

You can download my Super Paper Mario script for Kindle here. If you’re interested in getting the script in a different e-book format, you’d probably be best converting it yourself using something like Calibre – I don’t use any other e-book readers and so I won’t have an eye for what looks good on them. If you would like, you can use my original .ODT of the SPM script as the source of conversion instead of the Kindle file.

A note on the legality of putting this document on my website

Partly because it’s just a sensible thing to do, but also because of my religious beliefs, I want to make sure that what I’m posting on my website is legal. So I got permission from the original writer of the script to put it on my website, did a little research, got some advice, and took time to think things through before actually posting it. Ultimately I concluded that it is probably fine to put this script on my website, given that it was originally published at GameFAQs, a respectable website. My parents agree and my general experience with the Internet also leads me to feel that this is all right. However, if you have any objections or any more information, please comment or contact me and let me know. Obeying the law is a lot more important to me than being that random person who made a Kindle version of the Super Paper Mario script. 🙂

The Arandui calendar

I’m back! And just as I said, I didn’t post anything during my America trip. So now I’m working on a bunch of different things that I hope to post during the next few weeks – some songs, some stories, some things about Sheesania, and, of course, that mammoth review of Mistborn: The Final Empire. (It’s currently 3,155 words long and I’m only halfway through my outline. Ouch.) But for now, we have a calendar system.

I’ve developed one other Sheesanian calendar before – the Thomoraii calendar, with its system of interlocking solar months and lunar months. This Arandui calendar is similar in how it uses both the solar year and the lunar year, but it has an added twist – the calendar is very closely tied to the practices of the Arandui church.

The history of the Arandui calendar

As you can read in the article about my map of Arandu, the Arandui people are originally from Egeld, where they were mostly farming peasants. These ancient Egeldish peasants used a simple calendar to track seasons for their farming. The calendar was based on the phases of Sheesania’s biggest moon (Aranduis call it Wisaan), which made the date easy to track (just look at the moon and you know about which day of the month you’re on)…but then it also added an extra two weeks every three years to accommodate the fact that the lunar year doesn’t match up to the solar year. If they didn’t add these weeks, their calendar would drift over time and wouldn’t match up with the seasons anymore, making it much less useful for farming. (See the Islamic lunar calendar for an example of such an effect.)

Then some of these Egeldish peasants converted to Schesianism and eventually moved to Arandu. Their new settlements were still farming communities, in need of the agricultural calendar…but now they were also religious communities, in need of a religious calendar, too. So the Arandui church added several new quirks to the calendar, creating a system that’s a little more complicated but is useful for both farming and religious activity. Since this calendar is pretty accurate and most of Arandu is still Schesian, Aranduis continue to use their calendar today, even though most of them aren’t farmers anymore.

Now let’s look more closely at the actual structure of the calendar.

The basic calendar

It takes Sheesania about 411 and 2/3 days to go around its sun – or in other words, its solar year is about 411.67 days long. The moon Wisaan, however, takes 29 days to complete a cycle, so there are 29 days to the month according to this moon. Unfortunately, the 411.67-day solar year clearly doesn’t match up nicely with these 29-day cycles. So the Arandui calendar defines a year as 406 days, split up into fourteen 29-day moon months. Then every three years, the calendar adds an extra fourteen days in order to make up for the 4.67 days lost each normal year. So basically, every year has fourteen 29-day months, with every third year adding 14 leap days to the end. Every three-year cycle is called a cataruus.

The Arandui calendar has two other basic features – weeks and seasons. The Schesian religion calls for people to work for 6 days and then rest on the 7th day (yes, the Schesian religion is a form of Christianity, the explanation for this is forthcoming), so the calendar also divides the year into 58 seven-day weeks. Finally, the calendar splits the year into two seasons – the first half of the year (the first 203 days/29 weeks/7 months) makes up the dry season (which is also cold), and the second half makes up the wet season (which is warm).

In the end…

  • A normal year will have 2 seasons.
    • Each season will have 29 weeks.
      • Each week will have 7 days.
    • Each season will have 7 months.
      • Each month will have 29 days.

Church phases and cycles

In addition to all the categories I talked about above, the Arandui church organizes time as a cycle of nine repeating phases representing various times in the history of the church. Each phase is either a celebration phase or a mourning phase. There are four pairs of celebration/mourning phases, then a central celebration phase, then another four pairs, this time of mourning and then celebration. Here they are, in order. All of their Arandui names are borrowed from the Arandui holy language (I’m not sure yet on the details of what exactly this language is, but it’s probably a variety of the Ner language spoken in Bodia), except for Taas and Entahier, which are native Arandui words.

  • Námadyai (celebration) – the creation of the world
  • Shávadyai (mourning) – the fall from grace
  • Śúdyai (celebration) – the birth of Jesus
  • Taas (mourning) – the death of Jesus
  • Curáwadyai (celebration) – the resurrection of Jesus
  • Jóladyai (mourning) – the Great Persecution of believers in Egeld
  • Entahier (celebration) – the foundation of the Arandui church
  • Ozraish (mourning) – the Great Tribulation discussed in Revelation
  • Páladyai (celebration) – the “Redemption of the Universe”, the “making everything new” also discussed in Revelation

(By the way, the numbers nine and four are both significant in Arandui religious numerology. Nine is significant because 3 is the number of the Trinity and 9 = 3 x 3; 4 is significant because 7 is a central motif of Revelation, and 7 – 3 = 4; also because 3 x 4 = 12, the number of apostles. If you think this is crazy, please read Dante’s Divine Comedy.)

Each phase takes up two lunar months in the calendar, but because there are 9 phases and only 14 months, the church phases and a year of the calendar don’t match up exactly. Instead, after a year has begun with the first phase, Námadyai, it takes nine years for the church phases to complete a cycle and then start a new year again with Námadyai. One nine-year cycle is called a haelce. By the time a complete haelce is finished, each phase will have started on every odd month of the year.

Year-counting

Instead of counting years like we do (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003…), Aranduis count haelces from the foundation of the Arandui church. The current Arandui year, for instance, is the 2nd year of the 50th haelce. But actually an Arandui wouldn’t say that it’s the second year of the 50th haelce – they would say it’s the Ozraish year of the 50th haelce. This is because the phase that starts each year of a nine-year haelce is completely predictable:

  • Year One: Námadyai (Creation)
  • Year Two: Ozraish (Tribulation)
  • Year Three: Jóladyai (Persecution)
  • Year Four: Taas (Death of Jesus)
  • Year Five: Shávadyai (Fall from Grace)
  • Year Six: Páladyai (Redemption of the Universe)
  • Year Seven: Entahier (Foundation of the Church)
  • Year Eight: Curáwadyai (Resurrection of Jesus)
  • Year Nine: Śúdyai (Birth of Jesus)

Years 2-5 all start on mourning phases, and years 6-9 and 1 all start on celebration phases. So because Aranduis evidently love to organize things and give them lots of names, years 2-5 of one haelce are called its dry season, and years 6-9 and the first year of the next haelce are called its wet season. So you could say that it’s the Ozraish year of the 50th haelce, or to be more vague you could say it’s the dry season of the 50th haelce. Or you could just say it’s the 50th haelce. Lots of options!

The significance of the calendar to the church

The Arandui church observes special ceremonies at the beginning and end of every phase, and each one has its own special starting and finishing ceremonies. There are also many other rites and rituals throughout the year that change according to phase. So, for instance, if you’re currently in a mourning phase, you would mostly sing songs calling on God for help when you’re singing in a church service. But if you were in a celebration phase, songs of thanksgiving would be more frequent.

In addition, the church celebrates special holidays on the extra weeks added to the end of every third year. The first set of extra weeks in a haelce falls during a Śúdyai (Birth of Jesus) phase, and they’re used to celebrate the life of Jesus; they’re called the weeks of Cúesdyai. The second set of leap weeks in a haelce, the weeks of Tavoraci, falls during a Jóladyai (Persecution) phase, and there’s a special holiday in these days to celebrate the journey of Egeldish believers to Arandu after the persecution. The final set of leap weeks, the weeks of Naas, falls during a Páladyai (Redemption of the Universe) phase. Part of the celebrations during these weeks look forward to heaven, but there are also many celebrations for the beginning of a new haelce.

A real calendar!

Finally, here’s an Arandui-style calendar of the current haelce, marked with everything I talked about. The numbers note the number of the week in the year, and the turquoise-shaded days are rest days.

Arandui calendar