Setting the backstory

Unfortunately I have this talent that causes things I own to mysteriously disappear and never show up again until months or years later if it at all, and it seems one of those the things that has decided to walk is the book I most recently read.

A huge hardcover, colored blue and green – you think would stand out amongst your apartment, but I guess that’s the stereotype with things being lost. They can’t be found. -_-

It makes it a little more difficult to write about a book that’s missing, but luckily what I want to talk about is on the first page, which is easily revealed thanks to sample chapters. Thank you Barnes and Noble!

One of the things I really liked about this book is how quickly it sets the scene, thrusting you immediately into the action while slowing down enough to introduce you to some of the characters and backstory.

Navarr Ardelay’s body was laid to rest in a blazing pyre, as befit a sweela man who owed his allegiance to flame. Zoe stood numbly within the circle of mourners, unable to speak, as she watched her father burn away to ashes. Even as he had wasted away for this past quintile, growing thinner, more frail, uncharacteristically querulous with pain, she hadn’t really believed he would die. (Shinn 1)

Here, I can see a man’s body atop of the pyre, burning and releasing all his ashes to the sky, and in front of him stands his daughter. It’s a very heart-breaking image, especially as she stands with the mourners, reflecting on the last quintile of how she struggled to take care of her father. That’s a lot on the shoulders of a poor simple girl, especially one by herself since there’s no other family revealed to us, and it makes the reader feel sympathetic for a child to do this all on herself.

This is a great demonstration of how to set the scene and bring us into the action while revealing enough back story that we as the readers understand what’s going on.

The idea is to be careful of what image to reveal. What draws us immediately into the action or pulls us in enough that we connect with the character, as we did here in sympathy for Zoe?

I can say for sure that this was a book I was interested in from the beginning  – no slow start here!

Shinn, Sharon. Troubled Waters. New York, NY: Ace Books, 2010. Print.

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Lightbringer Series: Plot Examination, Part 2

Last time I talked about the plot, I provided a little bit of background about the story before I launched into one of the main characters, and why their perspective was pivotal to the story. There’s one more who I consider of the utmost importance even though there’s at least 10 different perspectives throughout the series.

Let me introduce another main character: Kip.

From the first chapter of the first book, The Black Prism, we know that Kip has a druggy mother: “But Ram didn’t have to feed his family; his mother didn’t smoke her wages” (Weeks 1, The Black Prism). He is fifteen years old, with the following quote putting the reader in perspective of where Kip fits into the history of the Seven Satrapies: “And it had been sixteen years since the final battle – a year before Kip was even born” (2).

We find him in the beginning of the first chapter scouring fields old farmland, which had been ruined from the past battles. Where there used to be figs and grapes, there were now burnt homes/barns and craters as the scars from cannon fire. Here, we find Kip looking for solid Luxin to sell, yellow being the most valuable (2).

SPOILERS!

This is a beautiful introduction to not only one of the main characters, but it leads the reader into learning about the oncoming war, where old religion resurrects to battle the new (or, old gods versus the Prism and Spectrum: Orholam’s main supporters).

MAJOR SPOILERS!

Not only that, but Kip deserves to be the first character we see in the books. As we read later on in the series, Kip is what the people believe to be the new Lightbringer, which everyone calls Diakoptes, or “Breaker.” Here are some clues to prove his purpose (skip if you don’t like spoilers):

  1. He’s a superchromat, meaning he’s extremely color-sensitive, which is rare for men, usually on the order of “one in tens of thousands” (145). This is an important fact because as Gavin mentioned, “if you can see heat…there’s a good chance you can draft it” (146). This is the reader’s first clue Kip is rare. For him to draft green and sub-red, two discontinuous colors, makes him probably a discontiguous bichrome, even more rare.
  2. Kip failed the Thresher, but at four minutes and twelve seconds. Most normal people last around a minute, and even though Kip failed, it was only because someone handed him the rope to pull, interrupting the test. His results are in comparison to his “father,” Dazen who never grabbed the rope. This tells us how stubborn/determined Kip is (279). See his realization on page 574, 587. See the start of his self-inflicted nickname, turtle-bear.
  3. Gavin reacts strangely to Kip’s Thresher results, realizing that Kip is a polychrome (286). Readers get more proof later, hint: page 472, 575. For the real evidence, look to The Blinding Knife, page 20. We get final proof that Kip can draft all colors (The Blinding Knife 356)!
  4. killed the king
  5. rhea library understudy
  6. Janus Borig – the Mirror who reflects only truths – tells Kip that he will not be Prism (207). She reveals to him later, while dying, “I know who the Lightbringer is now” (285). It’s assumed she means him since he’s the only one around, and he’s the one whose purpose she’s been trying to divine. Look at page 352 for confirmation.
  7. Will breaker
  8. According to Blackguard tradition, those who train to join or have joined get a new name, according to the tradition of Lucidonius and his men. As Cruxer – another trainee – said, “So what’s he done? Arm-breaker, Will-breakder, Rule-breaker, Nose-breaker…Chair-breaker…we dub thee Breaker” (263). We learn later that Breaker is a nick-name for Diakoptes or Lightbringer.
  9. Still haven’t figured out what this power is relative to Kip’s skill set, but in the middle of battle, “Whoosh. The world looked beyond real. Kip realized he was seeing the whole spectrum at once” (519). This is the only time he does this, and I imagine it’s a similar skill to the Prism. This is also one of the times he drafts without lenses on, which he has done more than once.
  10. “Kip’s dagger punched straight into the back of Atirat’s head,” (608) which takes care of the old green god that birthed from the green bane. This also marks one of Kip’s major accomplishment: the murder of a god.
  11. “Magic was useful for everything,” said Kip as he reflected on its multiple uses while he was stranded in the jungle (65). It’s the location that forced him to invent shoes with a flexible sole, leaving “an open connection between his feet and the bottom most layer of the sole so that he would be able to adjust the grip of his shoes immediately” (65). Then he did a waterskin (67), fireplace (69), a sunshade (78), blue bandages (80), cocoon shelter (78), cloth/clothes (82)… I think it’s particularly funny that he asks himself, “Am I a genius of magic, or not?” Because this is the exact point we’re arguing.
  12. This is a similar point to #11 because he drafts himself boxing gloves, but he takes it a step further to invent luxen-body manipulation. His first experiment was to speed up his kicks (170-171), but it slowly expands to include running faster, jumping farther.

It’s around this point in the series, where the characters firmly believe Kip is the Lightbringer and will defend him at all costs.

MAJOR SPOILAGE!

Other people believe that the old figure, Lucidonius, was the Lightbringer who already came, and as we find out from Kip’s later run in with Lucindonius in the library (around p. 522 in The Broken Eye), Lucidonius was the Lightbringer – although a perverse evil alternative compared to Lucidonius and lightbringer that society likes to acknowledge, seeing a much more rosier version.

According to Glossary, Lucidonius is the “legendary founder of the Seven Satrapies and the Chromeria, the first Prism. He was married to Karris Shadow-blinder and founded the Blackguards” (Weeks 773, The Broken Eye).

This brings up the question of how many lightbringers can we have? Are they always as good as the people have been led to believe?

What kind of lightbringer will Kip turn out to be?

Vocabulary:

Blackguard – a group of warriors that defends the Prism and Spectrum

Mirror – a type of person that can reflect a person’s history through ingraining luxen through art

Weeks, Brent. The Black Prism. New York, NY: Orbit, 2010. Print.

Weeks, Brent. The Blinding Knife. New York, NY: Orbit, 2013. Print

Weeks, Brent. The Broken Eye. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print

Lightbringer Series: Plot Examination, Part 1

I just “finished” a series, called the Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks. “Finished” because I just completed reading the third book in the series; “finished” because the series isn’t yet done but won’t release another book until next year.

Overall, I like it. The originality is great. The complexity is great. And although the book is based on a foundation of lies and deceit, the reader isn’t shocked with a slap-in-the-face discovery but led through a plot that makes sense even as it astounds.

Because these books were gargantuan – each one over 700 pages – I would like to back track to review the plot. Because each of these books holds multiple POV’s, I want to pose the question: is each one necessary?

Basically, do they support the plot?

The foundation of this story is based on Seven Satrapies – seven countries who follow a religion that honors a single god, Orholam. In their legends, Orholam created mankind, also called the old gods, from light. And one of those original men stole the light, who is called the Lightbearer. He split the light into multiple colors and used it to create more men, human ones in his own image. The plot that follows in this series is many times later, where civilization has expanded to include certain beliefs and customs, where Orholam acts through the Prism to ‘chain’ the light. The main idea of these customs include that the people follow the Prism as their religious leader, and although his power is mitigated by the Spectrum (a sort of congress with each country/color represented by a different leader), the Prism is the one the people look to for guidance. Because he can balance the colors in the land, honoring color stability, most of the country looks to him for peace. (Weeks 478-479, The Broken Eye).

As further background, when light was split into multiple colors, this included paryl (similar to microwaves), sub-red (similar to infrared), red, orange, yellow, green, blue, superviolet, and chi (similar to x-rays), including two more “colors” called black (absence of light) and white (all colors combined). The idea is that, while most people of the land are normal ‘humans,’ others have the power to absorb one color and transform it into luxin – a colored substance that can form solid objects. For example, someone with blue powers can draft a blue sword by looking at a blue sky and absorbing it through their eyes into their skin. This power carries restrictions since each color has its own weight, tactility, scent, personality-influences, emotional-influences, and purposes. Some people can also draft more than one color, called bichromes (for 2 colors) or polychromes (for 3+). 

Also to note in Orholam’s beliefs, the legends say there will come a man named the Lightbringer – a man who “will slay or has slain gods and kings…is a genius of magic, a warrior who will sweep, or has swept, all before him, a champion of the poor and downtrodden, great from his youth, He Who Shatters” (Weeks 772, The Broken Eye). Basically, he’s a rescuer of the people, but the people have not agreed whether he has come already, is here now, or will come in the future.

SPOILERS!

This brings us to current day, where the current Prism “Gavin” has secretly replaced his brother, “Dazen,” during the Prism War over a decade ago. He is one of the main characters that the books revolve around, being that he plays a strong hand within the fate of the countries politically, religiously, socially…in every sense. He influences everything.

Because his importance is ingrained within the foundation of this society, he is a necessary character. Not only that, but through his simple lie – of changing places with his similar-looking older brother – he has changed the natural course of the Prism’s customs and his relationships with family and friends, none of whom know about his deception. Because Gavin has lasted for such a long time (16 years), with most Prisms not lasting beyond 7,14, or 21 years, he thinks he will last 5 more (13, The Black Prism). As such, he promises himself to fulfill five great purposes within that time. All these hopes fall apart when he reads a note, “I’m dying, Gavin. It’s time you meet your son Kip. – Lina” (13).

Who is this son of his? And is it truly his or his brother’s?

From this preliminary discussion, I think this was great perspective for the story, and by giving him depth, where he was interwoven in the land’s religious history, recent political history from the Prism War, and still has complex lies/deception within the lands current politics, his influence echoes throughout the series.

He is a great addition, and through a deep character study, new writers can learn a lot from him.

Weeks, Brent. The Black Prism. New York, NY: Orbit, 2010. Print.

Weeks, Brent. The Broken Eye. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print.

“Lives of Tao” by Wesley Chu

This book I finished recently, Live of Tao – it’s a very interesting read. But, I find myself having difficulty picking out something I really liked. It performed well as a narrative – I found myself reading, pulled along by the story, and although I wasn’t captivated to the point I couldn’t put it down, it was a good read.

I definitely feel like this was more of a plot-driven book, where the alien was more important than the human, and the main character could’ve been switched out with out too much change in the plot. Not a bad thing – just a point I would like to make.

This book used a lot of design in the writing, and I have to stress this because there was a lot it played with: 3rd person perspective, 1st person thoughts from the human and body-residing alien, and 1st person background from the alien at the start of every chapter.

I’m going to focus on the background because I think this is a very well-thought out decision.

At the beginning of every chapter, there is a short paragraph in italics that talks about the history of the aliens’ time on Earth. Each paragraph talks about a specific event through Tao’s perspective. For example, when he talks about the black plague, he talks about how some aliens hid their conscious in the body of rats and how it was a terrible time for him and his people.

This are an interesting addition to the book because where the author may have spent time including a huge background for a chapter, it would’ve been very boring with no action and a lot of summary. But by condensing it to a single paragraph before each chapter, the story is broken up, and slowly we learn about Tao’s perspective, about the intense relationship between him and the antagonist. It was a nice addition to the narrative.

I’ve seen similar quirks before chapters, usually a quote, a few words, and I think this was one of the most well-thought out additions. An easy way to provide background without interrupting the main story line.

After thought: 

From my perspective, this book was written primarily for a dialogue on morals. There are certain parts of the book, where the protagonist has to make moral decisions; there are times where Tao has to argue the difference between actions and intents. On top of that, the alien’s name is Tao, and from what I learned in class, the alien is named after the morals that we humans abide by.

This isn’t a bad thing, but I think it helps explains why the book is so plot driven, or driven by Tao and the other aliens, rather than the humans. This is more their story than ours, and their war on morals is more important than a human’s life.

“All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren

This book is well done for a number of reasons, and while I normally don’t like books that are exceedingly descriptive or verbose in their scenery, this book did a good job developing characters’ personality and history. It doesn’t take more than the first 50 or so pages to figure that out.

Instead of focusing on their introductions today, I want to focus on their history. I want to answer the following question: How does one develop the history of a character in order to create depth? To do this, we’ll look at an example from the book.

Here, after we’re introduced to Willie Stark, Warren wrote, “Seeing the schoolhouse made me remember how I had first met Willie, about fourteen years before, back in 1922, when he wasn’t anything but the Country Treasurer of Mason County and had come down to the city to see about the bond issue to build that schoolhouse” (18).

Warren then spends time introducing the scene, no more than five paragraphs, which seems long but isn’t more than the space of a page or so. This is before he dives into the scene itself.

He talks about Willie, how each of the characters react to him and make fun of him for marrying a school teacher who won’t let him drink any beer. (As a side note, if you read the book, watch where beer appears in this novel. It signifies different turning points in Willie’s life and his changing ethical standards.)

We, as the readers, then get ejected from the scene with the following sentence, “But it was true. Willie was the County Treasurer and he was, that day long ago, in the city on business about the bond issue for the schoolhouse” (29).

This is a great style to introduce some history to your character if you’re really good at scene work. It didn’t take more than a few paragraphs to preview their current location and set up characters we hadn’t yet met, and it didn’t take more than pointing out a specific object that the character connected to a past memory.

To bleed out of the scene, Warren uses the same method. He emphasizes that Willie was a treasurer, but that was long ago when he was concerned only about the school house. Again, notice how schoolhouse is mentioned to connect the past to the present.

This is a good method to flashback to a previous introduction, to post-view an important piece in their history. Keep in mind that the common style is a summary before and after the scene, emphasizing the connection between past and present, which in this case, was the schoolhouse.

Warren, Robert. All the King’s Men. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1996. Print.