I lived in a town with an independent bookstore. If you needed to own a book, The Book Bag was happy to order it for you. I hadn't yet become accustomed to the destination bookstore experience and I well knew the importance of supporting small local businesses over national chain stores. So I'd never visited the new threat in the next town.
But my boyfriend's mother did.
One day she brought home a paperback with a silly cover and dropped it on my lap. "They were giving this away for free as some kind of promotion over at that new Barnes & Noble. I don't read this crap, I told the cashier, but my son's girlfriend reads everything."
More true than untrue. I immediate dove in. "Feh. Blatant Tolkien knock-off," I thought after reading the first few chapters. Well, I liked Tolkien, so I kept reading. And, suddenly, it wasn't a Tolkien knock-off after all. It was something quite new and different and compelling. The giveaway was the first half of Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World and I bought the full book so that I could finish it.
I also bought, borrowed, or begged each of the next books in Jordan's Wheel of Time series until I caught up to the author - then on his sixth series novel - and began anxiously awaiting new titles as they were published. The series has its ups and downs - there are some sagging books in the middle where I feel Jordan has introduced too many characters, has too many balls in the air, and concentrates too hard on keeping them all up and spinning to actually move the plot forward or resolve any of the loose ends.
Then he died.
I was saddened by the author's death, of course. And I also was concerned about the rest of the series. I'd been reading it for more than a decade, since I was in college. Many thousands of pages, some reread several times. I wanted to know how everything turned out.
Several weeks later, I read an announcement: the series would be completed by a young author named Brandon Sanderson. I immediately looked him up, read what he had to say about taking on the challenge of finishing a series started by another author. An author with particularly enthusiastic and demanding fan base. Then I picked up a few of Sanderson's books and started reading.
I enjoyed the books, but Sanderson has a strong style of his own, and it's different from Jordan's.
When the newest Wheel of Time book came out this fall, I immediately bought it in hardback. Then I left it sitting on my nightstand for a couple of months. I was scared to read it, or to read anything about it. I cared too much for the series. "Maybe I should just wait until it's all done (two more books after this one) and read the summary online," I thought. "That way I'll know what happened in the end - Jordan summarized the ending and closed the character arcs before he died - without having someone else's voice change the characters for me."
Then I was chatting with a friend who has very strong opinions and shares them freely. (A little like me, no?) He's also a big Wheel of Time fan. "Have you read the new book?" I asked.
"I got it from the library and I stayed up until 6:00 the next morning reading," he said. "Stuff really happens in this book."
"Really? It's good?"
"It's good," he assured me.
I stopped waited for Christmas vacation and started reading immediately. He was right. The book is good. Stuff happens. The plot advances. Character and story arcs close. Tension builds. Best of all, the style, the characters, the world itself, all of the important stuff still "feels" like Robert Jordan to me.
Very occasionally I could hear Sanderson's voice (he is fond of opening sentences with a "However," construction). But those moments just served to remind me of what a great job he was doing with Jordan's story, telling it as the creator himself might have done.
I've read lots of fan fiction online, and none of it has ever satisfied me. It feels . . . forced when a fan manipulates someone else's characters to do what the fan would like them to do, and the imitation of style is never convincing to me. I have no idea how Sanderson managed to take on this huge challenge and succeed so mightily.
But he did it, and I can't wait for the last two books.
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