BY PETER ELLISON
As the last installment of Peter’s Picks for the school year, I’ve decided to present a few of my all-time favorites to you. These aren’t new releases as I have typically covered in the past, rather some of the books I regard as my favorites in the categories of fantasy, science-fiction and historical nonfiction. I hope you enjoy these and wish you a happy reading.
“Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson (2005)
This 555-page stand-alone novel by Brandon Sanderson from Tor Books tells a complex story of three intertwined characters in an imaginative fantasy.
The novel is built around Arelon, a relatively small city built in the shadow of the once marvelous city of Elantris, home to godlike beings until it suddenly collapsed and fell into ruin. Ten years later the events of the novel unfold as Raoden, the crown prince of Arelon, contracts a mysterious disease and is exiled to the ruins of Elantris. Conflict begins when Hrathen, a foreign missionary, arrives in Arelon with the explicit command: Convert the city or watch them die. Opposing Hrathen is Sarene, a newcomer to Arelon, who needs Arelon to remain independent in order to protect her homeland.
While my description of the plot may seem a little confusing or lackluster, let me assure you that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read with a beautifully crafted story, world and characters. My favorite aspect of the novel is the internal conflict within Hrathen; his moral questionings as well as his intentions make for a very interesting villain.
What I love most about this book is how well each element of the story fits together. Reading it is almost like solving a puzzle; it slowly comes together from scattered and confusing pieces to form a perfect picture.
One complaint I will levy about the book is its pacing. While it doesn’t bother me all too much, the book is slow, and the story takes its time to develop. There’s not a whole lot of action, but there is a lot of interaction between the characters.
Although I gave it my slot, this book is not my favorite fantasy book. That title belongs to another of Brandon Sanderson’s book, but “Elantris” would be the best introduction to Brandon Sanderson’s style and pace. If you read and enjoy this book, I’d highly urge you to continue to explore Sanderson’s work.
“Leviathan Wakes” by James S.A. Corey (2011)
The first installment in the instant-classic space opera “The Expanse,” “Leviathan Wakes” is a 560-page novel from Orbit Books. The book, written by S. A. Corey, is filled with political intrigue as the characters investigate a mysterious organization that appears to be pushing the solar system toward war.
“Leviathan Wakes” is set in our solar system in a future where humans have expanded to Mars and established societies on the asteroid belts. In this environment three main groups vie for power: Mars, Earth and the OPA. The Outer Planets Alliance is a terrorist organization (according to the inner planets) that fights for an independent belt.
The first of two main characters, Captain James Holden is pulled into the fray when his ship is destroyed by what appears to be the Martian Navy—Holden quickly realizes that instead of the Martians, it is another third party. But tensions around the solar system are already on the rise and the tide of war seems impossible to stop.
The second major plotline follows Miller, a detective on the asteroid Ceres, as he investigates the disappearance of a wealthy Earth heiress who got involved with the OPA. Eventually, Miller’s investigation and Holden’s mission collide as they work to unravel the mystery.
While “Leviathan Wakes” is a bit of a door stopper, it is among the best science fiction stories. The book’s main strengths lie in the imaginative world and the interesting plot; later on in the series, however, the characters truly begin to shine and become my favorite part of the story.
The writing can’t be described as beautiful, as it takes a more modern approach than what might be expected from science fiction. However, the quality of the writing doesn’t distract from the story, enabling the best elements of the book to shine through.
The series has all the makings of an instant science-fiction standard. While the first book is concerned largely with unraveling a mystery, the scope and cast broadens considerably in the next couple books. The series currently has seven books with an eighth planned for December 2018.
“One Summer: America, 1927” by Bill Bryson (2013)
“One Summer” is an incredibly detailed exploration of America in the 1920s just prior to the Depression. The book is published by Random House and is about 500 pages long.
Author Bill Bryson examines the summer of 1927 in extreme depth; he explores a variety of cultural realms from the rise of Babe Ruth to the advancement of aviation and the instant celebrity of Charles Lindbergh. He weaves these threads together to form an amazing picture of America at the peak of luxury, right before the fall into Depression.
Bryson also focuses on “Silent” Calvin Coolidge and the infamous Al Capone, among other minor topics. The book is divided into five main sections that tell the story of 1927 together.
The characteristic that sets this book apart from other historical or journalistic books is the pairing of extraordinary detail and a beautiful writing style. A fortunate side effect of this condition is a strong narrative pulse that helped me through a couple of dry sections to still enjoy the book at large.
I enjoyed this nonfiction text because it opened my eyes to a time I had never learned about before and a genre I had never really dabbled in. Yet while I was reading about the real world, I was still engaged with the story told.
The greatest flaw with the book is simply its historical nature; if you don’t like reading about history, you won’t enjoy this. However, if you do enjoy reading about history, this will be one of the finest books you will read this year.