Spoiler free summary: In Volume 51 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, Ichigo Kurosaki is quickly getting the hang of his Fullbring powers, but it’s a race against time as Tsukishima is targeting Ichigo. He’s apparently attacked at least two of his friends, so Ichigo needs to gain more power quickly before he’s too late.
Character: If you can get past the fact that this feels very much like Ichigo’s training as a Visard, you get to know these characters. Yes, the formula is yawn-worthy familiar, but at least you’re getting to know knew people and what drives them. I will say you get to connect with them, and that’s something to this volume’s credit.
Exposition: This was better than the last volume. There’s more action (not in terms of a fight, but in terms of training). So the conversations add to the context, but it’s just about what it would be with any manga, so one has to let that sort of thing go.
Worldbuilding: So we start to understand Fullbring a bit more. Because this feels so much like the Visard arc, even though we’re understanding a different ability, it doesn’t feel unique at all.
Dialogue: There’s some cute dialogue here and there. The characters are unique, but this is generally a strength of the series (even with the exception of the last issue). All manga tend to have those occasional volumes where one character or another explains pretty much the plot of the entire arc. This volume is more witty banter between punches, which is fun if not really content adding.
Description: The art here is cool. It’s not as sweepingly majestic as Demon Slayer, but it is pretty cool to watch. A lot of the moves are more effective for black and white, and that says something for the series.
Overall: This volume is sort of more on track with what I said about the arc overall. Like I mentioned in the character setting, this sequence of events was so formulaically like the Visard arc, it buried what might be great characters. In future arcs, there were some changes and plot development that, even if it is still true to the basic anime patter, give the events an original feel. Not so with this volume. It’s cool in a way, but it’s unoriginal.
Spoiler free summary: In Volume 50 of Bleach by Tite Kubo, Ichigo Kurosaki is trying to adjust to life without his Soul Reaper powers. Things seem to be reaching a pretty normal (at least for Ichigo) rotuine when a man named Kugo Ginjo comes to town, promising Ichigo a way to get his powers back. But why is he doing it?
Character: If you’re not in love with Ichigo and his friends by Volume 50, I’m not sure why you’re reading this review or the series in question. What stands out to me is that Volumes 1-49 comprise a beautiful, complete storyline. So The future arcs really seem out of place given everything was wrapped up nicely. Sure, this Fullbring arc does connect to the history of Soul Society and Ichigo’s past, but it’s not so unique that I felt it demanded publication. However, I think if you loved Bleach the way I love, say, Mistborn, then more is something you’ll like. These new characters bring new dynamics into the worldbuilding that may not be as interesting as the previous arc, but it’s still cool. For Ichigo, the more interesting arc would have been to force him not to be the hero. I get why this arc exists, but it just feels like they did this to pump out more content, and that content only advanced one aspect of storytelling (see below).
Exposition: This is a manga, so get ready for several “the exposition boxes were solid.” I will say there is far more exposition in Bleach than Demon Slayer. Some is hidden in dialogue, but given how obvious it is, it can get pretty annoying.
Worldbuilding: So this is where the rubber meets the metaphorical road in these future volumes. If the politics and history of Soul Society are interesting to you, then this is your volume. If you want to understand the origins of substitute shinigamis and power activations in normal humans, this is for you. I’m just not one of those. But that’s not a bad thing. Mistborn fascinates me. I’m going to read all the eras because that world does interest me. However, Dragonriders is my favorite series every, but I only read the main arc. I’m not saying I never will, it just doesn’t interest me nearly as much as Jaxom and Ruth. So that’s what everything rests on (with the exception of fights, see below).
Dialogue: This is probably the weakest. Almost every conversation I can remember was basically the characters explaining the plot to me, and that annoyed me. It wasn’t the clever cat and mouse stuff from the previous volumes. There was almost no attention paid to the actual characters and their everyday motivations. Instead, the monologued about whatever info dump the author wanted to pour down the reader’s throat. The one character who acts and speaks like a normal character is brushed aside when the fighting starts.
Description: Here again is a point of emphasis for fans of anime and manga. What makes it good? If you think good manga is cool fight scenes with epic OP battle moments, this gives you what you want. But if you’re looking to connect more with new characters and new stories, I’m sorry. You’re going to be disappointed. You might get a brief, “trust me, I’ve had it rough” speech from some character here or there, but we don’t get time to know the character and bond with them, so these speeches fall short of the mark.
Overall: I have to say that I have a bias that might be unfair. I thought the end of the battle against Aizen was a perfect ending to a perfect story. I feel much the same way about this as I did about Season 5 of Supernatural. The most important thing any storyteller can do for his story is to let it finish, and none of these volumes did justice to the ones before them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them. If you like epic fights, this is for you. If you are fascinated by the history of Soul Society, this is for you. This arc already puts an odd barrier between the heroes that I didn’t understand. It doesn’t address it or improve on it. It almost starts over in an odd way, and it’s not nearly as powerful as the first version. I leave you the right to decide for yourselves. Did I hate it? Honestly, no. It was OK, but it was just OK when before it was awesome, and that’s the reason some of this seems negative.
Spoiler Free Summary: Words of Radiance is the second book in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. My review for Book One is here. As Shallan Davar prepares to make her way to the Shattered Plains, her plan gets ruined before they even have a chance to begin. She’ll need to find her own way, and in the process, she’ll have to confront her greatest secret and her biggest lie. Meanwhile, Kaladin has escaped the oppression of the light eyes, choosing to align himself with the only honorable lighteyes in the world, maybe. The more he works with them, the more he fears what he thinks is their inevitable betrayal. Just as everything comes to a head, he discovers a plot that puts him on the wrong side of his oaths. What effect would breaking his oath have on Syl?
NOTE: This is my third (if not fourth) read of the book. I usually re-read books in a series like this before the new one comes out. I read this book again after finished Rhythm of War.
Since this is a re-read, I don’t want to give you information that I’ve already provided. That wouldn’t give you any value as a reader, so for this review, I’m going to focus on the characters. This book is already the best in the series (by a long shot). That doesn’t mean the other books aren’t good or even awesome in some cases, but it does mean this one still stands out.
Kaladin really steals the show here. This is supposed to be Shallan’s book, but for her, this is just the book where I stopped being so annoyed by her. Oddly, some will say Kaladin starts to annoy them in the future books (and I can’t really blame them), but not here. This book is where Kaladin becomes a beloved mainstay character. In fact, for those who feel the later books sort of let them down, I’d argue this book and how Kal progresses is exactly why people are willing to endure Kal’s struggles with him. I’ll talk more about those issues in the future reviews for the next books. For now, I want to express what a great story this was for him.
Kaladin, in this story, is a hero who doesn’t trust his good fortune, and with good reason. Every time he’s done something amazing in the past, he’s had that taken from him and been sent lower than he’d ever been. So how can he not be in a position where he doubts? This journey of a man who doesn’t trust his good fortune is unique because that fear of falling or losing is real despite not being the most overt threat one could see. Indeed most stories would have an identified villain who is in fact trying to take everything from the hero. Not so in this tale.
Shallan however, starts every bit as annoying as she was in Way of Kings. In that book, she pointedly felt like the expositional character. “Oh no, here comes Shallan and another lecture on the economics of Roshar!” However, this story gives us more on Shallan. While she’s still absolutely the characterization of Roshar, its history, and its economics, she’s also a character in her own right. Her history is compelling, and that builds sympathy.
Then we have Adolin, who I will never forget because I get so frustrated with people who do. Adolin doesn’t come into his full potential until the fourth book, but right about here is where we see him start to exist as more than a foil to Dalinar, and Sanderson openly admitted Adolin got more screen time to play that role. In this story, we start to see Adolin as more of an individual. As his goals and earnest charm start becoming clearer, he starts being a more beloved character. After this many reads of the saga, I might actually think he’s my favorite in the who series (though let’s see how Kaladin goes in Book 5). He’s certainly in contention at the moment, and that affection is born here. Adolin should be an arrogant jerk who is only after a new fling and another fight, but that’s just not how it goes. Sure, there’s a duel here where Kaladin get’s an awesome hero moment, but Adolin is all the more impressive because it’s all just him.
This book is the best book in the series because it’s the book that focuses most on the characters reaching their potential. This book shines because the characters grown and evolve, ending with them in a better place. I think the third book falls short because the characters regress. As an overall series, characters need to regress. However, seeing Kaladin regress as far as he does and Shallan do something relatively similar is actually a pretty big letdown because this book ends in a spot where we feel those characters should start to shine. That doesn’t make the future books bad, but it does explain why some may resent them and why this book stands out so well.
Spoiler free summary: In Clara’s Diary by Angelique S. Anderson, Detective Desmond is a man haunted by the death of his daughter. When a new case lands on his desk that is disturbingly similar to his daughter’s death, Desmond is plunged (OK, I’m going to take this pun for all it’s worth), into a mystery that ties to the strange octopus people who live in this steampunk world. On such person, Sadie, helps Desmond, and her past is the key to all of Desmond’s questions.
Character: In terms of the standard measurements of character (sympathy, competence, proactivity), these characters are ok. I think the reason they suffer is they have odd bouts of incompetence in situations their characters should be the most confident. At every point there should be tension, there’s a brief conversation, and the conflict is resolved in an unfortunately boring way. What could have been a very compelling factor in this relationship ark felt cast aside because the author had a clear idea where they were supposed to end. The problem is, the end is supposed to be a conclusion of a journey, not an objective that denies any twists and turns because the end is more important, and that’s what I think happened here. Desmond is supposed to be this “Sherlock-like” detective (and that is a challenge as well), and the first thing he does is completely wreck a crime scene he probably shouldn’t have been in to begin with. Those little inconsistencies undercut what was actually a pretty charming story.
Exposition: This was actually pretty good. Sure, we have the inevitable dialogue world history, but how else is the reader going to learn about these octopus-human hybrids? So while there were parts that were a bit dumpy is some places, it wasn’t an amount that I didn’t expect. Could it have been better? Yes. Was it so bad it ruined the story? No.
Worldbuilding: This is probably the strength of the story. It has a bit of the same feel as Carnival Row (without the constant sex, which I appreciated). We have this species of sentient beings that are in this world and that world has origins (which are actually pretty important to the plot). The presence of the wordlbuilding was great. The execution is probably what held this story back for me. If you can fast-forward or skip the spicy scenes and focus on the world building of Carnival Row, you see what that show did well that this book didn’t do so well. However, I still feel this book is better because the content is much more appropriate. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t analyze the storytelling aspects of the two. Diary gives us the history and scope of this world through exposition hidden in dialogue. This story would have been better served if we saw this world expand. Yes, it would have expanded the size of the novel, but I don’t mind that much.
Dialogue: So the portions of dialogue that were clearly there to provide exposition through the character’s point of view do drag the story down, but the dialogue is actually pretty charming. Sadie shines in this regard. It’s clever, and the characters have unique voices. The conversations between Desmond and Sadie were a big part of what kept me reading. (I always finish a book, even if I hate it, but reading this book wasn’t nearly as difficult as some others.)
Description: I wonder if any steampunk fans have read this story. You see, I expected much more description here than I got. Steampunk is all about the gadgets and romanticism of a period that wasn’t actually so romantic. Yet this story was pretty sparse. Sure, it had description, and I didn’t personally feel like I was missing out. But a part of me was mentally prepared for these huge blocks of description that just weren’t in this story. I don’t know if that’s common or not. This is probably the second or third steampunk book I’ve read. I think it was better than one, and a little less fun than the other (coming in a future review). So while I didn’t have a problem with the lack of description, I only call it a lack because of what I expected. My question for steampunk fans is: How much description do you expect in a steampunk story?
Overall: The story is charming in its presentation, but it really falls short as a mystery because it was either super predictable or super convoluted. The author didn’t do herself any favors because we always got a giant block of dialogue-hidden exposition right before the “reveal.” That really spoiled it. Instead of sprinkling clues along the way for the reader to gobble up, the author smashed us over the head with a giant sign that (metaphorically) read “You need to know this before you read the next part!” This is a story that I still liked because the characters were actually adorable, but if you love mystery, you’ll feel differently.
Spoiler free summary: In White Sand Volume 3 by Brandon Sanderson, everything comes to a head as Kenton fights for the title of Lord Mastrell. He must earn the respect of his peers, preserve his guild, and discover the reason for the murder of his clan.
Character: I appreciated Kenton’s progression here as a rebellious son to one who better understands his father. That might even be my favorite part of this trilogy, but that’s actually a bad thing. The final fight was pretty cool. I’ll mention more about that below. I think I saw a bit more development from some of the other characters, but my issue is with one of the side characters. He has a pretty big shift in the story, and I didn’t really feel like it was natural. He had a very minor role though (in a manner of speaking), so it didn’t have that big of an impact on my opinion. It was just something worth noting.
Exposition: I think this is where the exposition was the roughest. There was a lot of data to share, and it either came up in exposition/narrative boxes or in dialogue that was a bit more Scooby Doo than I would have liked (see below).
Worldbuilding: Most of the worldbuilding was established in the previous volume. There’s a bit of a reveal here that I thought was interesting, and the political reveal (which is an aspect of worldbuilding) was believable if not satisfying.
Dialogue: So the aforementioned Scooby Doo. There really was a scene here were the Kenton calls someone out, and the guy gives a speech very akin to a villain’s Scooby Doo speech. The only thing missing was, ” … and I would have gotten away with it, too.” That one scene was certainly a bit corny, but the bulk of the dialogue was crisp and witty. It might have been enough to bring the quality down a few pegs, but it didn’t ruin the whole story.
Description: This was probably the place where the graphic novel adaptation was at its best. Sure, there were other scenes that looked cool to see in the other volumes, but the pace and style of this final volume. That fight was cool to watch, and the scenery and scope was brought to life as well.
Overall: I think I’m being unfair, but I can’t help it. I’m used to epic storylines with vivid description that lets me play the movie in my head. I’m used to prose and style that pull me along. I’m used to deeper plots that let me get to know a character, and this format just doesn’t allow for that. But, if I were being fair, I wouldn’t have bought this graphic novel if it wasn’t Sanderson and Cosmere, so I wanted something that felt like one of the other Cosmere books. Maybe I just wish it was a longer series. Maybe I wish the plot wasn’t centered around political intrigue (the assassins and sand magic were tertiary devices at most). It’s not a bad story; it’s just not what I love about Sanderson’s other work. I think fans of the Cosmere should still pick it up to know what happened and get to know the magic system, but it’s not his strongest story.
So earlier today (as I type this), I had some students who wanted to take a portrait of me with my books (I haven’t received a copy of it yet). As I lugged the physical editions of my work (seven items), I couldn’t help but smile. One of the students asked about how one publishes so much.
This is really the crux of a lot of questions:
How does one become a writer? How does one get published? How does one find an agent?
The simple truth of the matter is that none of that happens if you don’t write.
Every time I’m interviewed, every panel I go on, I come to this defining moment. The only way a book ever gets written is if a person sits down and commits to writing it. That commitment is the thing that matters.
I understand time constraints. I’m at work for about nine hours in a day (one for lunch). I have a beautiful wife I love and three sons I enjoy teaching and spending time with. I love spending time in God’s word. Those things all take time.
Then I find time to write. It might be about 20 minutes during my lunch break. I do my marketing and blogging after everyone has gone to bed.
The more you write, the more you will write. It’s a true correlation. However, even if you’re super busy, just find a few minutes. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’ll have a full length novel done in three months. Even if you only write 300 words a day, you’ll have a book finished by year’s end. If you want the book done sooner, find more time to write.
This isn’t the first post I’ve done about finding time to write, but it is essential to hear again and again. The number one reason you probably haven’t finished a novel is because you haven’t started one.
Sure, it’s hard to get an agent. If you self-publish, it’s incredibly hard to market and become successful, and forget about how hard it is for anyone to find that rarified air status like a Brandon Sanderson. But you have no hope of finding that air if you’re not committing at least some time to the craft.
I’ve been at this longer than it feels. Six years is a long time, but 12 titles in six years isn’t half bad. My message to you, reader, is that it starts with the first step, and then you take another.
So just start walking, and keep walking. Before you know it, you’ll end up somewhere you never thought you’d be.
Spoiler free summary: In White Sand Volume 2 by Brandon Sanderson, Kenton ends up Lord Mastrell by default, but the Sand Masters who are left aren’t necessarily fully supportive of him. The ruling council is out to end the guild. Oh, and did we mention the assassins? The only person he can trust (if only a little) i s Khriss, a visiter from the dark side of the planet who has her own goals. Can these two work together to save the Sand Masters guild?
Character: Kenton’s growth here is more as a leader and a negotiator, but the man who strove to earn his father’s respect is starting to see his father in a different light. I stand behind what I said in last week’s post, but character growth is definitely something we see here. Not only does Kenton grow as a character, but his journey as the Lord Mastrell causes him to grow in literal power as well. This is one of the strengths of the trilogy.
Exposition: I feel more or less the same about the exposition in this volume that I felt for the previous. The exposition blocks were more scene and background portions of exposition. The story moved fine, but it didn’t pull me along.
Worldbuilding: The worldbuilding picks up in this volume. It’s more political than any other aspect of worldbuilding, but there is some development in the magic system. That’s probably the part that interested me the most. I have to say it wasn’t quite as prominent as I’d have liked, but it was enough to keep me interested in a story that more politically driven than by mystery or action.
Dialogue: Once more the graphic novel format allows Sanderson’s typically witty dialogue to shine. It also helps drive the plot even if it’s harder to hide the expositional dumps that are normal in dialogue. The story is at it’s best when Khriss and Kenton are talking, though there are some other conversations that stand out.
Description: I felt like this volume was oddly (strangely) segmented. The idea may have been to weave the political intrigue alongside the assassin plot. So there were some incredible skirmish panels, but there weren’t the fight scenes that normally carry a graphic novel. So it’s good art that lacked the truly epic imagery that we normally find in these limited series.
Overall: This was a setup volume, and I think most trilogies would have this same style, so you can’t really hold it against this particular story. It sets up the drama and establishes a bit of mystery. I still affirm this story would be far better in a longer medium, but it’s an interesting story.
Spoiler free summary: In White Sand by Brandon Sanderson, Kenton aspires to be a master, but he’s barely able to control on stream of sand. That doesn’t stop him from taking on a challenge only a master could overcome. No test, however, can prepare him for the events of the future. His guild is devastated by betrayal and murder, and Kenton must rise up despite his lack of power.
Character: Kenton is a fine enough character. I like his drive and effort. The most interesting part of this book is that Kenton is weak. Most stories reveal a main character who discovers a great power. Kenton is probably the best part of the story.
Exposition: So it’s here that I’ll I’m not a fan of the graphic novel format for Sanderson. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it since I finished reading it a few months ago, and I can’t really identify it except this: the graphic novel deprives a reader of Sanderson’s prose and perspective. So while the story was ok, it lacked the life Sanderson writes with even with the quality of the art. The story didn’t drag, but neither was I pulled along the way I was with nearly every other Sanderson book. Yes, I’ll probably check out Dark One, but I was surprised to realize how much I missed Sanderson’s writing.
Worldbuilding: This is a strength of Sanderson’s, and lack of prose didn’t diminish that. The world is interesting. The way the magic system works within the society is interesting. I feel like this got right what Elantris didn’t do so well for me. I am of the opinion that Taldain has a much bugger role to play in the Cosmere than it currently has, so I may think more highly of some aspects of White Sand’s worldbuilding than is justified, but at its worst, the story’s worldbuilding is comparable to most Sanderson stories.
Dialogue: Where I really missed his prose in some areas, I think the graphic novel adaptation did Sanderson’s dialogue justice. The characters were unique. The conversations weren’t just vaguely hidden expositional blocks. The dialogue was even charming in some places.
Description: This was the other area I felt hurt the story for me at least in regard to Sanderson. Sure, the art was well done, and it was cool to see the power work in a visual format, but I felt like my imagination was deprived of its ability to visualize the story. It’s kind of unfair to say about the format, but it is how I felt. I think another aspect was actually how there weren’t a lot of fights. White Sand is more of a political drama than an adventure story. It has fight scenes, but they aren’t what drive the story, so a graphic novel loses some power without a lot if great fights to give it that cinematic feeling.
Overall: I’m glad I read it, and it was an OK story, but I hope Sanderson doesn’t release that much stuff (especially Cosmere stuff) in an exclusive graphic novel format. The story doesn’t have the same power it would have in a fully fleshed out Sanderson book. However, I’d take a graphic novel version as opposed to nothing.
Spoiler Free Summary: Demon Slayer Volume 23 by Koyoharu Gotouge is the twenty-third and final volume in the Demon Slayer manga. Even as the battle reaches its bitter-sweet conclusion Muzan Kibutsuji deals a blow that may mean the end for everyone. The demon hunters must set their feelings aside to take on one of their own. Can such a horrible turn of events ever lead to a happy ending?
Character: Tanjiro shines here in his determination and love, which this manga had established from the first volume. This conclusion brings everything perfectly together, and it’s Tanjiro’s heart, not his swordsmanship, that drives this story.
Exposition: I was a bit surprised here that the volume slowed down for me. The exposition here wasn’t anywhere near bad, but there were some parts that bogged the pace down. I think I noticed it more because I wanted to see how things progressed, and I felt like there were these periodic pauses that tripped me up here and there. It’s not anything crippling, but it’s there.
Worldbuilding: I don’t know how often worldbuilding plays a role in foreshadowing, but this series pulled off a wonderful plot reveal that was satisfying. From the beginning, we see something special, and that element turns out to be so very important as the story comes to a conclusion. Another element, the one that most manga of this style (Naruto/Bleach), would normally be the difference maker. We see Tanjiro’s skill develop, and like those other stories, we naturally assume that development would make the difference. That assumption is wrong.
Dialogue: From Volume 2 to Volume 23, the dialogue is more or less the same. There were several conversation and expositional (or thought) boxes that harken to older genre’s, but they’re not so many that they drag the story down. I found them mostly charming through the series, but the trend got a bit annoying in this specific volume.
Description: The panels aren’t as cinematic as the others, and some would think that means this volume is less impactful. However, I feel the opposite is true. This volume focuses so much more on character. While that means we don’t see as many epically awesome fight moves, we get much more satisfying emotional validation and closure.
Overall: As I thought about this final thought, I decided this: Demon Slayer is officially my favorite manga series ever. It’s predecessors (Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and Bleach) were all wonderful, but Demon Slayer gets right what those other series got wrong. Those other series focused on length, but they inevitably ran into repetition issues that where meme worthy. Sure, it’s nice to have another volume to read. Yes, I still thought those series were fun to watch, but they dragged on and on. Demon Slayer is a concise, character-driven story that grabs readers by the neck and drags them along for 23 volumes until we see what might also be the most satisfying resolution I’ve ever read in a manga. That’s my opinion. I’m not saying the other sagas weren’t good, I’m just saying this saga (possibly learning from those others) is even better because I get my big fight and I get my conclusion without having to read 60 volumes (or watch 100 filler episodes) that are basically the same thing. If you haven’t started it, you should. It’s truly wonderful.