Words of wonder: Brandon Sanderson seeks, delivers 'something big' in epic fantasy

Published: Saturday, March 1 2014 6:00 p.m. MST

Brandon Sanderson, whose new book, "Words of Radiance: Book 2 of the Stormlight Archive," is scheduled to be released March 4, is pictured at Weller Book Works in Salt Lake City on Feb. 22.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

When word of a new fantasy book by Brandon Sanderson reaches the forests, the trees tremble. They know that sacrifices will have to be made by many of their sylvan sisters to provide enough paper to print his vision of another world.

The New York Times best-selling author, and Utah resident, started his epic fantasy series The Stormlight Archive in 2010 with the 1,007-page "The Way of Kings," a book that Publishers Weekly called "massive" and Booklist called "colossal."

Now in the wake of his Hugo Award-winning novella, "The Emperor's Soul," and the successes of his short novels "Steelheart" and "The Rithmatist," Sanderson is poised to slay more trembling trees with the second offering in The Stormlight Archive series, titled "Words of Radiance" (Tor Books, $28.99), a 1,087-page book.

The two Stormlight books together weigh almost 6 pounds and take up 5 inches on a bookshelf. That's wider than two full collections of Shakespeare and about the same width as "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes."

With eight more books planned for the series, Sanderson is just getting started.

"What I love about the epic fantasy genre is the chance to do something big — lots of characters across a long time," Sanderson said recently in an interview at Weller Book Works at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. "The scope you can cover in a book like this, in a series like this, is fun for me to deal with. You can really dig into characters and show them changing over a large period of time."

Creating characters

Sanderson was signing and numbering about 500 copies of "Words of Radiance" for fans who preordered the books from Weller. There were no crowds as he signed each book secretly in the store's back room. The sounds were of a black Sharpie marker on the pages and the thump of the books as helpers plopped them down in piles next to him and then squirreled them away on shelves to be sorted for shipment around the world.

Sanderson is known for well-thought-out worlds that have elaborate magic systems. When somebody uses magic in a Sanderson book, there are laws. Some things can't be done — and using magic has a price. The world created in The Stormlight Archive is as in-depth as any ever created for a fantasy book and rivals that of The Lord of the Rings in its intricacy and joy.

But what Sanderson would like to be known for is his characters — the people he writes into his imaginary worlds. Such as Kaladin, the soldier-turned-slave in The Stormlight Archive who is as compelling as Jean Valjean in "Les Misérables." Or Szeth, the assassin who weeps as he is forced to kill. Or Shallan Davar, a woman with secrets that threaten everyone and everything she loves. Or Dalinar Kholin, the reluctant prophet who must unite a world gone mad.

"Action is only as interesting as it is putting people you care about in danger," Sanderson said while signing another book. "A great world is only as interesting as the people who live in it and have to live with this really interesting world. And so if you don't have a compelling character, you don't have a story — at least not of the type I would like to read."

Generosity and fame

Sanderson doesn't just create worlds in fiction; he also helps others create their own fictional worlds. With his friends Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler, Sanderson puts out the weekly (and Hugo Award-winning) Writing Excuses podcast. He also teaches one creative writing class at Brigham Young University each year.

In 1994, when Sanderson was a senior in High School in Nebraska, he went to a local science fiction fan convention called Andromeda One.

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