Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Brandon Sanderson: An Author Review

Most of the time on Whatsoever Wednesday, our book reviews are non-fiction and overtly Christian.  If you are anything like me, though, sometimes you just want to escape into a good story.  I know there is some good Christian fiction out there, but much of it is romance – not my cup of tea.  I like a good quest through a magical world or adventure on another planet.  Sadly, not all of these kinds of books fit our Philippians 4:8 criteria.  I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had to put down because they were anything but noble, lovely, pure, and righteous.  So when I find an author who writes in the fantasy/sci-fi genre that I would feel good recommending to my Christian brothers and sisters, that’s exactly what I do!

Even if you don’t typically like sci-fi or fantasy, Brandon Sanderson may have something for you. He has books to fit a wide variety of ages and tastes, covering everything from superheroes to epic fantasy to mentally ill detectives.  

Aside from his outstanding writing (he even teaches writing both online and at BYU), his stories stand out for being clean and positive without being schmaltzy.  For instance, sex exists, and he doesn’t try to pretend it doesn’t.  But it is never shown “on screen,” nor is it gratuitous or overused as a plot point.  Some of the rougher characters will use a few mild four letter words, but only to establish their personalities.  The best characters have high ideals, but they aren’t perfect or good at everything.  

Perhaps my favorite part of Sanderson’s books, though, is his treatment of faith and religion.  So many times in the fantasy realm, religion is relegated to the “two equal but opposing Supreme Beings in an epic struggle of good versus evil” where the Evil Being is visible and active, but the Good one is strangely absent.  Otherwise, faith is ignored or ridiculed.  Sanderson does none of those things.  

In most of his worlds, there is at least one established religion, and his characters are often adherents to them. The stories aren’t necessarily about religion, but themes of faith run through them without being in any way preachy. The nice thing about religious themes in a completely made up world is that they can be dealt with indirectly.  For instance, a discussion between an atheist and a believer in a fantasy is much less threatening to read for real atheists and believers than it would be in a non-fiction or more realistic fiction book.  (There is just such a discussion in The Way of Kings the first book of The Stormlight Archive, and neither character is made to look stupid.) 

In most of Sanderson’s stories, one or more characters take a journey of faith. My favorite by far is Sazed, a character in the original Mistborn trilogy. I don’t want to share too much – spoilers, you know – but just highlight what made his story so uplifting.  Sazed is a Keeper.  He has the memories of 300 religions that have been systematically wiped out on their world by the tyrannical Lord Ruler (big bad guy of the first book). He stores these memories in copper bracelets using the magic system he inherited. He can withdraw these memories at will, write them down, and then replace them back into the copper. Throughout the first book, he gives each of the religions equal value, trying by turns to convert his friends to the ones he thinks fits them best.  It doesn’t concern him that the religions are contradictory; he believes they give hope, and that is enough. In the second book, something happens that shakes his hope and his faith (not telling you what). He begins to look for true answers to the deep questions he now has.  As he studies the religions, he finds them fraught with internal inconsistencies.  He begins to despair that there ARE any answers.  During his deepest depression, he finds out that there is one religion left, the original faith of his people that he believed lost. At first he is excited. Maybe now he can find the answers he so desperately needs. However, as he learns about this religion, he becomes despondent again because it has so many similarities to those he has already studied. What he comes to discover is that the original faith of his people IS the true one, and his conclusion is eye opening:
The religions in my portfolio weren’t useless after all…They weren’t all true. But they all had truth. 

It made me think of all the times that people have told me that Christianity is just another religion that shares things with other religions, so why should it be believed above all others?  My return response is “Why shouldn’t other religions have some kernel of truth?” The full revelation is in the Word of God (both the incarnate Word and the written one), but God’s image is stamped on every person, and the heavens declare his glory.  Should we be surprised if these things bring forth truth in other religions in some small way?

If I had time, I’d tell you about Hrathen, my favorite character in Elantris (who also happens to be a bad guy), and the three ideals of the Knights Radiant in The Stormlight Archive.  Alas, this Whatsoever Wednesday has gone on long enough. You'll have to read those books on your own. Instead, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Sazed quotes.

Belief isn’t simply a thing for fair times and bright days, I think.  What is belief – what is faith – if you don’t continue in it after failure?


  1. Wow! Great review! Definitely sounds interesting enough for me to read! Thanks so much for sharing! Peace and many blessings to you, Love! :-)

  2. My husband likes Sanderson. Please join our linkup at #LiteracyMusingMondays. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  3. Love this 'author' review. I've been considering reading his books for awhile. I think I'll bump one up to the the top of the list :)

  4. So, after reading all the books thus far, I think I may have picked up on something. I’ll keep this brief: I think Sanderson is trying to paint Odium as the GOD of the Bible as he views HIM. I don’t want to give too much away in case people haven’t read the books, but think about it if you’ve read them.