Book Review: Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Two of the Stormlight Archive)

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I couldn’t get my hands on this book fast enough after finishing Way of Kings and eagerly dove into the next 1,000 pages of the series.  For those of you reading on, please be aware that this is indeed the second book in the Stormlight Archive.  I don’t provide any spoilers for this particular novel, but you can probably assume a few things about the first novel based on what I say below.

The action picks up not long after the end of the previous book and once again focuses primarily on Dalinar Kholin, Kaladin Stormblessed, and Shallan Davar.  Arguably at the center of all the action, Dalinar opens this book with a major target on his back.  Seeking to protect the legitimacy of the throne, he embarks on an ambitious plan to change the course of the war against the Parshendi for good, perhaps permanently altering the Alethi political landscape in the process.  Meanwhile, as the members of Bridge Four adjust to their new lives and positions, Kaladin finds his faith in Dalinar and King Elhokar severely tested when certain past events begin to figure prominently into shifting present day alliances.  Finally, Shallan and Jasnah Kholin have set off for the Shattered Plains with information vital to the Alethi war effort.

I absolutely loved this and had a really hard time putting the book down.  At one point I exclaimed to my wife that even though I was already 870 pages in, I was really worried I wasn’t going to get enough before the ending.  The world created on Roshar is immense and absolutely fascinating.  In addition to the main story, there were once again a number of one-off chapters depicting people and places somewhat removed from our heroes.  I really enjoyed this variety of perspectives and appreciated finally seeing the world through Parshendi eyes.  By the end of the book it is quite clear we’re gearing up for a major conflict in the next installment.  It will be interesting to see how the new Surgebinders develop their skills.

What really made the story for me though where the characters.  The main ones were all well written and interesting, though it did take a bit of time before Shallan and Dalinar’s son Adolin grew on me.  I know there’s a lot of readers out there rooting for a love triangle, but I find them well suited for each other and don’t find that potential story arc that interesting (yet at least).

Kaladin, however, is without a doubt my favorite.  He’s an easy guy to root for, not just because he’s both honorable and a total badass, but for his personality as well.  His relationship with Syl is simultaneously funny and rather touching and in combination with his spells of depression serves to humanize someone who might otherwise be an overly intense character.  Although I most definitely want to see him get vengeance for the wrongs done to him, my biggest hope is that his circumstances have changed enough that he can better channel the anger and resentment he carries.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops his personality and powers throughout the series.

Another character I have particularly enjoyed so far is Wit.  He gets very limited page time, but I just can’t get enough of him.  He’s obviously a major player in whatever events are happening in the larger Cosmere and spending time with him always feels like getting a peek into the inner workings of this universe.  He also has some of the best lines in the series and makes several excellent plays on language.

I can’t wait to find out where the series goes from here and am already getting started on book three, Oathbringer.  Certain developments in this story also have me looking forward to the next  Mistborn book, since it seems there may be a major connection between the two worlds (though only someone who’s caught up on that series would notice).  Pretty safe to say I’ll be reading a lot more Brandon Sanderson novels.

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Ipswich Ale Brewery – Oatmeal Stout

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I am ending my streak of local stouts by revisiting a long time favorite of mine.  I’ve had plenty of good things to say about this brewery on here previously, but I would say that this is beer I most often associate with them.

Beer Name: Oatmeal Stout

Brewery: Ipswich Ale Brewery (Ipswich, MA)

Style: Oatmeal Stout

ABV: 7.0%

Description: Billed as a deep, rich, and malty brew, you can some more of the specs here on the brewery website.  Although I only bought a single bottle on my last shopping excursion, you can find this most places around here that beer is sold in the range of $100 for six pack of bottles.

Appearance: Black body topped off by a thin, bubbly tan head.

Smell: A little bit of sweetness mixed with a little bit of roast.

Taste: A slight sweetness upfront sat atop a rich base of grains and dark malt.  A hint of roast came through as the beer went on, joined towards the finish by dark fruit, dark chocolate, and slight bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus thickness with low level carbonation.

Hype: It would be wrong to call this beer hyped, but it does have a solid reputation in the Massachusetts beer community and almost always pops up on lists of the best local stouts.

Overall: A delicious and extremely drinkable stout that more than holds its own against comparable offerings from more popular brewers.  It may not have been as big or as bold as some of the others I’ve had this month but it was still extremely satisfying to drink.

Trillium Brewing Company – PM Dawn

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I picked up a can of this the other day when I swung by the brewery for the Fireplace Bananas release.  I was subsequently very surprised to find out that despite my love of both Trillium and stouts (and yes, even Trillium’s stouts) I’ve never had this before.  How did this happen?!

Beer Name: PM Dawn

Brewery: Trillium Brewing Company (Boston, MA/Canton, MA)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 9.0%

Description: An Imperial Stout infused with cold-brewed coffee.  As usual, you can check out Trillium’s website for some more details and brewing specs.  

Appearance: Black body with about a finger’s width of light tan foam up top.

Smell: Rich dark roast coffee with a hint of sweet cream on the end.

Taste: It started out with a bit of creamy sweetness just before a moderate layer of dark roast coffee and chocolate set in to dominate the middle.  The finish saw some of the initial sweetness return and added a slight bit of heat as the beer sat.

Mouthfeel: Very smooth with a thick, creamy body and minimal carbonation.

Hype: Elevated, as all things Trillium tend to be.  That said, this doesn’t get quite the same level of attention as the more hop forward releases do.

Overall: I really liked this.  Great coffee notes and just the right amount of sweetness.  I’ll also add that pairing this with Hershey’s kisses was an amazing experience.  Going to make sure I don’t overlook this one again!

Exhibit A Brewing Company – Sunday Paper

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I seem to have an unofficial theme of local stouts going on this month.  It wasn’t planned, but I sure am enjoying it.

Beer Name: Sunday Paper

Brewery: Exhibit A Brewing Company (Framingham, MA)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 9.9%

Description: An imperial stout brewed with locally sourced malts and fresh roasted coffee.  Check out the brewery website for a bit more information.

Appearance: Dark, black body with thin, foamy tan head.

Smell: Slightly sweet with hints of lightly roasted coffee.

Taste: Very smooth, creamy malts mixed with subtle notes of light roast and sweetness.  The finish offered a hint of espresso mixed with just a touch of heat.

Mouthfeel: More than medium bodied but not quite thick. Minimal carbonation.

Hype: I really enjoyed my last two offerings from this brewery and was hoping to keep the streak alive while branching out from their double IPAs.

Overall: It was good, but ultimately not really something that stood out for me.  I think it was almost too smooth for what it was and could have done with a slightly bolder flavor and definitely a bit thicker mouthfeel.  Wasn’t bad, but got overshadowed by some of the other beers I’ve had recently.

Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) – Cream Stout

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Like a lot of beer drinkers in my area, Sam Adams was the gateway brewery that got me into drinking craft beer.  While this offering was by no means my first beer, it does have the honor of being the first brew I checked into Untappd way back on September 4, 2011!

Beer Name: Cream Stout

Brewery: Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) (Jamaica Plain, MA)

Style: Milk Stout

ABV: 4.9%

Description: Drawing its inspiration from English sweet stouts, the brewers describe this as a rich and creamy beer offering subtle sweetness and deep roast.

Appearance: Black body with a thin covering of light tan foam.

Smell: Blend of sweet cream and light roast.

Taste: Creamy sweetness and lightly roasted coffee were pretty much the dominant flavors throughout.  I would say the sweetness was slightly more prominent on the front end while the roast came through just a bit more on the finish where it paired with bittersweet dark chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a touch less than moderate carbonation.

Hype: Is reverse hype a thing?  One of the founding fathers of “craft” beer in America, a lot of beer enthusiasts today kind of turn their noses up at them.  

Overall: A solid example of the style with a nice balance of flavors.  Pretty much exactly what I expected from a Sam Adams beer.  Put prejudices aside and hold this up against similar brews; it should more than hold its own.

Lamplighter Brewing Company – After Midnight

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Another musically themed beer from Lamplighter Brewing Company that put a song in my head.  I’m not sure if I am officially declaring a Stout Season this year, but from here on out just go ahead and assume we’re already there.

Beer Name: After Midnight

Brewery: Lamplighter Brewing Company (Cambridge, MA)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 9%

Description: The label on the can told me that this Imperial Stout was brewed with Bourbon Madagascar coffee beans and over 200 pounds of Vermont maple syrup.  

Appearance: Poured a thick black body that got topped off by a thin tan head.

Smell: A light amount of roast mix a bit of heat mixed in.

Taste: A lot of bold tastes going on in here.  The front part of the beer featured an inviting blend of sweet, bitter, and roasty flavors.  Dark chocolate, espresso, and molasses were the standouts.  Towards the finish there was a subtle change in the balance of flavors with a bit of maple syrup, vanilla bean, medium roast coffee coming through.  It culminated with just a slight bit of heat on the very end.

Mouthfeel: Thick bodied with a very minor amount of carbonation.  Pleasant warming feeling on the end.

Hype: I had a good feeling about this one when I saw it.  The can I bought was the last of its kind on the shelf, so I felt like it was meant to be.

Overall: A very, very good brew that was executed amazingly well.  I was heavily into this flavor profile a few years ago and had this existed then I probably would have stockpiled as if for the zombie apocalypse.  Though my tastes today are a bit different today, instill really enjoyed this beer and highly recommend it.

Book Review: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson (Book One of The Stormlight Archive)

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My next reading adventure starts me off in another epic fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson.  Published in 2010, this is the first book in what is currently planned to be a ten book series that explores a different planet within the author’s Cosmere.

Coming in at roughly 1,000 pages, there is a whole lot of world-building and introductory information provided in this novel.  The story takes place on a planet called Roshar, which is populated by various human (and a few not quite so human) races advanced to roughly the medieval era on Earth.  Severe weather phenomena called highstorms regularly rage across the planet, resulting in some interesting adaptations in the indigenous plant-life and allowing crustaceans to flourish in niches we might  otherwise expect to see mammals.  Also in abundance in this world are a vast array of fairy-like creatures called spren that seem to be semi-physical manifestations of emotions and elements.  Highly varied in shape, size, and ability to interact with humans, these creatures appear and disappear according to their surroundings and are suggested to be not entirely a part of our plane of existence.

The main system of magic is centered around using gems to collect energy (referred to as Stormlight) released by highstorms.  Once infused these gems are used to power a variety of objects, the most common of which are devices called fabrials.  Depending upon the type of device and skill of the user, fabrials provide a variety of functions ranging from simple heaters and light sources to allowing for long-range communication and the transformation of matter from one state to another.  Stormlight charged gems are also used as to power the formidable shardplate armor and shardblade swords held by the planet’s elite.  Prized relics of legendary figures from Roshar’s distant past, these weapons were originally wielded against evil creatures called voidbringers during a series of devastating upheavals, but now only serve to grant their bearers an immense advantage in more mundane conflicts.  Also connected to these legends are Surgebinders, people able to physically draw Stormlight into their bodies and from it obtain greatly enhanced skills and abilities.  Supposedly a lost ability, we nonetheless meet at least one such individual in the story.

The story is told by following the paths of four primary characters.  The first of these is Szeth-son-son-Vallano, a man largely responsible for setting off the central conflict in the novel.  Outcast by his people for an as yet unspecified heresy, Szeth is referred to as Truthless; a status that binds him as an absolute slave to whomever holds his Oathstone.  Despite a deep-seated personal aversion to violence Szeth is a highly skilled assassin and Surgebinder, two talents he is often forced to make use of at great cost to himself.  We first meet him at a feast held in honor of a truce between the powerful Alethi and Parshendi kingdoms where he succeeds in dramatic fashion at recreating hostilities between the two powers.

Cut to six years later and the two sides are still at war.  Despite their numerical advantage, the Alethi highprinces overseeing the war effort are unwilling to unite their forces and have instead made sport of the conflict, competing amongst themselves for the right to battle the Parshendi over harvesting gems from the cocoons of rare creatures that live on the battlefields.  It is here that we meet our next two characters, Dalinar Kholin and Kaladin Stormblessed.  Dalinar is a high-ranking Alethi noble and a trusted advisor to his nephew, and current king, Elhokar Kholin.  An honorable man and legendary warrior, he is dismayed by the lackluster war effort and is pushing for a resolution to the seemingly endless conflict.  His fellow lords, however, view his skepticism as cowardice and there are whispers questioning his sanity and competence as rumors regarding the visions he sees during highstorms start to spread.

Kaladin, on the other hand, is a former spearman.  Nicknamed Stormblessed in better times for an uncanny ability to stay alive, he has been betrayed by the minor lord he was serving and sold into slavery.  To his surprise, he eventually finds himself sold into the army of highprince Sadeas, a brutal and callous man who also happens to be the chief rival of Dalinar Kholin, and given the role of bridgeman; the lowest and most expendable position in the army.  Depressed and defeated, Kaladin is on the verge of giving up until he is coaxed back from the edge by an unusual spren named Syl.  With newfound determination he begins to organize his fellow bridgemen and seeks a way to become the man he once was.

The final main character is Shallan Davar.  Though she is currently somewhat on the periphery of the main conflicts, her character looks to be very important going forward.  The only daughter in a collapsing noble family, she is desperately seeking to apprentice herself to Jasnah Kholin, esteemed scholar and sister of King Elhokar.  Her real goal however, is to steal a powerful fabrial from Jasnah, a device she and her brothers hope can transform worthless tracts of their family’s land into valuable mines.  It’ not long, however, before Shallan’s natural curiosity and scholastic ambition take over and she begins to doubt her resolve, especially as she comes to value her new experiences and discovers some hidden abilities of her own.

Reading on a Kindle, I didn’t realize at first just how long this book was and continued on in awe as the story just kept coming.  Fortunately, I found it to all really fascinating and absolutely loved the world and it’s characters.  Everything in the book felt necessary towards building the story, even the smattering of one-off chapters featuring people and places seemingly far removed from the main plot.  However random some of them may seem at present, these characters all felt like they had important perspectives to offer and presented tantalizing glimpses of the world beyond the gaze of the main characters.

On that last note, there were definitely a few places where I caught references to the larger world Sanderson is creating.  In this regard, I am particularly happy to have read Mistborn: Secret History before this book, as having knowledge of some of the people and places encountered therein really enhanced my appreciation of this story.  I was really excited when I caught a passing reference to Ruin at one point and have since learned that there izs considerable fan speculation that one of Roshar’s constellations is seen briefly in Bands of Mourning.  Since I don’t presume to know much of this larger universe yet, and I’m sure there was even more stuff that I missed.  

What I can say is that all this left me very eager to jump right into the second book, Words of Radiance.  I have so many questions and can’t wait to get answers!

Trillium Brewing Company featuring Cloudwater Brewing Company, Monkish Brewing Company, Other Half Brewing Company, and The Veil Brewing Company – Fireplace Bananas

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Apparently we’re putting bananas in stouts now.  Not the craziest thing I’ve heard lately and it gave me a good excuse to go for a walk to the brewery.  At the very least I figured it would be something different.  It sure sounded intriguing.

Beer Name: Fireplace Bananas

Brewery: Trillium Brewing Company (Boston, MA/Canton, MA), Cloudwater Brewing Company (Manchester, UK), Monkish Brewing Company (Los Angeles, CA), Other Half Brewing Company (Brooklyn, NY), The Veil Brewing Company (Richmond, VA)

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 10.4%

Description: You can find a rather lengthy description and background of this beer on the Trillium website, but in a nutshell what we have here is a stout fermented with a whole lot of “advanced banana product.”  The bomber cost $16.05, which is about mid-range for their bottled releases.

Appearance: Murky dark brown body topped by a thin line of thick yellowish-tan foam.

Smell: Sweet, with hints of banana and light roast.

Taste: A really interesting blend of sweetness, roast, and bananas.  The brew started out with ripe bananas and chocolate leading the way.  From there it took on more of a banana bread flavor in the middle.  As it approached the finish, it turned a bit more roasty with notes of bittersweet dark chocolate and definitely a bit of heat on the end.  The longer the beer sat, the stronger the roast and heat on the finish became.

Mouthfeel: Thick, heavy body and minimal carbonation.

Hype: Apparently rather high, which makes sense considering the scope of this collaboration and the breweries involved.  Also of interest to me, the early reviews I saw were very divided; some people loved this while others denounced it as running on hype alone.  My curiosity was even further piqued.

Overall: Put me in the faction of people who liked this beer.  It had the perfect amount of roast for me and I really enjoyed the combination of sweetness, heat, and banana goodness.  It brought to mind chocolate covered banana bread with a slightly boozy twist.  It’s not really the kind of beer you need a lot of in one sitting, but I definitely enjoyed it in moderation as a dessert beverage.   Props to the brewers for being adventurous.  This easily could have been just another “New England” IPA, but instead they did something different.  It might not be the beer for everyone, but I’d it sounds intriguing to you I recommend giving it a go.

 

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers – Sibling Maker

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My 16 month old, who happens to be named Jack, was way too excited when he got a glimpse of this bottle.  Not sure what he was expecting, but it’s not happening.

Beer Name: Sibling Maker

Brewery: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA)

Style: Bourbon Barrel Barleywine

ABV: 12.6%

Description: Per the brewery website, this barleywine was aged in bourbon barrels previously used for aging their delicious Framinghammer Baltic Porter.

Appearance: Body was a dark maroonish-brown with a short lived bit of sudsy beige foam.

Smell: Sweet toffee and bourbon heat.

Taste: Toffee and molasses are the initial tastes before the bourbon came in around mid-sip to add some nice warmth to the initial sweetness.  Finished hot on the bourbon with undertones of oak, mild sweetness, and a slight leathery presence I couldn’t quite pin down.

Mouthfeel: A few notches above medium bodied.  The carbonation was minimal and really only apparent at the very end.

Hype: I was excited for this.  I really liked the previous “Maker” brews and Jack’s Abby generally does an excellent job with their barrel aged stuff.

Overall: Very good, but it didn’t quite blow me away.  The boozy finish was just fine by me, though I would have preferred just a bit more sweetness to go with it and that leathery taste on the very end threw me off a bit.  Still had a great evening sipping this after Thanksgiving dinner.  It was an excellent way to end the day.

2017 Night Shift Barrel Society Release #3 – Macbeth

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I found out recently that this is looking like it will be the second to last Barrel Society brew ever since the brewery is taking the membership in a different direction for next year.  With the end of an era fast approaching, I took advantage of a day off and swung by the brewery to check this out on tap.

Beer Name: Macbeth

Brewery: Night Shift Brewing Company (Everett, MA)

Style: Saison

ABV: 5.7%

Description: I present to you, the brewer’s notes: Macbeth pours bright yellow and glows as it hits the glass. On the nose, it sports bold notes of grapefruit zest and Sauvignon Blanc, supported by funky Brett character. Once you sip, you can expect notes of lemon, vanilla, and ripe grapefruit pulp; with an earthy quality from the Brettanomyces, and a lingering oaky finish.

Appearance: Light, easy to see through golden-yellow body with some small bubbles lazily running up the sides.  White foam formed up top around the edges of the glass only.

Smell: Tart and (citrus) fruity.

Taste: Subtly tart throughout, the lemon was definitely the standout taste with grapefruit pith more in background.  The finish was crisp and dry in a way very reminiscent of white wine.  There was a slight bit of funk on the very end.

Mouthfeel: More or less medium bodied, with a bit that slightly syrupy finish I tend to get from sours.  Moderate carbonation towards the end.

Hype: Always elevated for these releases, though I think this one and the next will have very high expectations.  Hoping for the series to end with a bang.

Overall: There’s a small part of me that’s all  little bit disappointed that this wasn’t a Scottish ale, but I can get over that.  I really enjoyed this brew and found it refreshingly light and delicious.  This was probably as good as the style gets for me and I  was really impressed with how well the wine barrel aging came out in this beer.  Although I’d personally consider this more of a spring or summer beer myself, it would fit in nicely on any occasion where one might consider a glass of white wine as well.