Book Review: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Three of the Mistborn Series)

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Here we are with the final entry in the original Mistborn trilogy.  It has been an excellent journey so far and I couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended.  As usual there are no spoilers for this particular book, but since this is the end of the series I highly recommend skipping this until you have read the first two books.

Another year has passed and all is not well on Scadrial.  Ruin, the malevolent force released at the end of the previous book, has been growing in power and is on the verge of fulfilling its desire to destroy the world.  Koloss led by Steel Inquisitors are marauding through the countryside, ashfall and earthquakes are occurring with alarming frequency, and the mists have begun appearing earlier and earlier and have begun to seemingly strike down people at random.  The only hope for our heroes appear to lay within the Lord Ruler’s hidden storage caches they discovered to exist at the end of the last book.  Desperate for the vital supplies and cryptic clues about fighting Ruin, Elend and Vin are struggling to secure the final two caches which lay in unfriendly hands.  With time running out Elend splits what remains of his forces between the two sites.  While Breeze, Sazed, and Spook travel to the city of Urteau to parlay with an erratic Skaa populist that has risen to power, Elend and Vin lead their army towards the heavily fortified city of Fadrex to secure the final store by any means necessary.

I liked this book a lot and definitely felt it provided a worthy end to the story.  Full of surprises and suspense, it also gave satisfying answers about the origins of the mists and what caused the drastic changes to the world.  I won’t give away the ending, but what I do want to say about it is: Wow, I did not see that coming!  For the book as a whole, the author did a great job in setting a tense, urgent mood, and I particularly liked the mysteries surrounding the storage caches.  I was often reminded of my favorite parts of Heretics of Dune, in particular the chapter in which Odrade uncovers the ruins of Sietch Tabr and the God Emperor’s message.

I also enjoyed that the story again explored a larger portion of this world.  It gave the book an even more epic scope than the others while allowing characters like Spook, TenSoon, and Sazed more page time as well.  There were again a few slow spots, this time on account of an unnecessary amount of time spent rehashing established information every few chapters or so.  My eagerness to read on gave me the momentum to speed through these parts, but what really bothered me was that this took away time I could have been getting more new story.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought this book was great.  I just wanted to get as much of it as possible in the pages provided!

Luckily for me there is indeed plenty of more story out there.  There are a couple of novellas associated with this trilogy and a follow-up series set a few hundred years after these events.  Further, as if all that wasn’t enough, I found out all of those works are part of an even larger collection of the author’s works known as the Cosmere, a shared universe in which some of his various other series take place (and eventually overlap).  Pretty safe to say my reading list is now well stocked for the immediate future.

Brewery Ommegang – Gnomegeddon Blonde Ale

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This beer came to me via my wife, who surprised me with it after work one day because she’s just that awesome.

Beer Name: Gnomegeddon Blonde Ale

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)

Style: Blonde Ale

ABV: 9.5%

Description: I couldn’t find anything on the official brewery website, but a careful reading of the label revealed this to be a blonde ale that underwent secondary fermentation with Brett yeast and got a few months extra conditioning in the bottle before hitting shelves.

Appearance: Poured a dark golden-yellow/almost amber body.  There was fluffy head of slight off-white foam that formed with the pour and lazily bubbled away.

Smell: Sweet upfront, with some linger herbal/floral spices in the back.

Taste: Sweet malts and bubblegum sweetness to start.  From there the beer took on a subtle barnyard funk in the background as banana esters, herbs, and a light peppery yeast came on for the finish.  Very mellow and smooth drinking.

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus bodied and creamy to start.  Ended in a flurry of tiny bubbles.

Hype: Always happy to drink a beer from this brewery.  I don’t seek them out as often as I probably should.

Overall: I really like this, though it did creep up on me a bit.  I started drinking without paying much attention to the label and was well into my second glass before realizing it was 9.5%.  This was a tasty, quality that brew that made for some great drinking on a warm spring evening.

Book Review: The Well of Ascention, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Two of the Mistborn Series)

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As I mentioned in my previous review, I jumped into this second entry in the Mistborn series immediately upon finishing the first.  I won’t bring up any spoilers for this novel below, but please be warned: major, though perhaps expected, elements of the previous novel will unavoidably be brought up.

This story reunites the reader with the surviving members of Kelsier’s crew.  A year has passed since the end of the last book and our heroes have had limited success consolidating their victory under the benevolent kingship of Elend Venture. Challenging his legitimacy, however, are three aspiring kings who have lain siege to Luthadel in the hopes of seizing both political power and the Lord Ruler’s rumored store of riches.  Included among them are Elend’s estranged father, a desperate warlord, and a former friend who has somehow managed to control the monstrous Koloss, the feared elite forces of the Lord Ruler.  Despite these threats, Vin’s thoughts lay elsewhere.  Haunted by the Lord Ruler’s dying words, she feels ominous forces gathering in the world, manifested by a phantom creature stalking her in the mists and the calling of an ancient power running through her mind.  And if that wasn’t enough, a rival Mistborn arrived with the enemy forces and has taken a keen interest in Vin, leading her to doubt both her relationship with Elend and role within his government.

I found this an excellent followup to the first book and enjoyed it every bit as much.  I particularly liked having more of the world and its inhabitants revealed.  Whereas the first novel was mainly focused on the inner working of the crew and events in and around Luthadel, this time we’re given a glimpse of what is going on elsewhere as well.  We also get more formal introductions to other the other magical beings in this world groups like the formidable koloss warriors, shape-shifting kandra spies, as well as the more well-meaning and scholarly Terris people who their own unique abilities involving metallic alloys called Feruchemy.  As for the characters, I liked both Vin and Elend (which is fortunate since they are the main ones), though I did feel that the story occasionally slowed down around them in a few places on account of repetitive dwelling on their unchanging mental states that came up more frequently than necessary.  I also really liked that Sazed had a bigger role in this story since I feel like there is a lot of potential with his character.

Although answers to my biggest questions about this world understandably go unanswered here, there were a lot of interesting reveals to be had.  Going along with this new information was plenty of action and intrigue, not to mention a huge cliffhanger ending.   Put this all together and it made for an excellent bridge novel wrapping up the previous story and starting the next.  It certainly made me eager to press on.

Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer

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I picked this up not intending to review it, since I was sure that I must have done so at some point already.  Since it turns out that I haven’t, I figured I might as well.  As a fan of this beer and its variants for a few years now, I did this more for fun than experimentation.

Beer Name: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer

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

Style: Baltic Porter

ABV: 10.0%

Description: Stylistically similar to all those big imperial stouts I’ve been drinking lately, you can read a bit more about this barrel-aged version of the brewery’s popular Baltic Porter here.  My .5 liter bottle was dated 03/07/2017 and cost a reasonable $10 downtown.

Appearance: Poured a thick black body topped off by a thick, two-plus finger head that formed without much encouragement.  The foam gradually settled down to a thin coating as the beer went on.

Smell: Light mix of oats and sweet bourbon.  Inviting, but not as strong as I was expecting.

Taste: Rich, sweet dark malts upfront set the tone for this beer.  Following up on this were hints of vanilla, grainy oats, and an extremely subtle bit of roast.  A sweet bourbon presence carried this through to the finish, mixing with oak and vanilla along the way and leaving a pleasant lingering sweet heat at the end of the sip.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, thick body with low carbonation.  Accentuated the beer perfectly.

Hype: This is a very respected beer, but the hype isn’t really what it once was.  When this first started being released it flew off the shelves, but since then the brewery has ramped their production way up and can better meet demand.  Doesn’t make it any less tasty though.

Overall: Excellent beer, every bit as good as I remembered.  Highly recommended, definitely check this out if you haven’t already.  I also highly recommend picking up any of the variants you may find as well.

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson (Book One of the Mistborn Series)

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Reading this book taught me an important lesson.  Namely, that when my wife recommends something I should listen to her.  Picking up this series gave me another revelation as well: reading books you already own can be just as worthwhile as finding new ones.

Set on the planet Scadrial, we are introduced to a feudal society roughly analogous to our own Middle Ages.  Dominating the land from his fortress in the capital city Luthadel is the despotic Lord Ruler, a once-prophesized hero who has reigned as king and deity for roughly 1,000 years.  With his ascendency came many changes to the Earth-like world; all plant-life turned brown, frequent volcanic eruptions regularly pour ash over the land, and every night a dense mist engulfs the land and confines most of the terrified population indoors.  Society has stagnated in this time and a rigidly enforced strict class system emerged.  Beneath the Lord Ruler and his bureaucracy lays a heavily regulated noble class to oversee the Skaa, a brutally subjected class of laborers who work, live, and die at the mercy of their masters.  A few other groups fill in the gaps, but as a general rule if one is not at least noble born they are not doing too well in this world.  Holding this order together is magic, which here revolves around the ability to metabolize particular metals.  Each metal grants a different mental or physical power to its user, or Allomancer, though practitioners can typically access only one type.  There are however, rare and powerful individuals known as Mistborns with the ability to burn them all.

Now that I’ve set up the background, our two primary characters are both Skaa, one a teenaged thief named Vin and the other a legendary dissident named Kelsier.  Vin has spent the majority of her life on the streets and we first meet her as a low ranking member in a group of thieves. Prized by her boss for an uncanny ability to influence people and situations she is brought in on a plot that goes wrong, drawing the attention of the authorities in the process.  With the Lord Ruler’s agents closing in, Vin is approached by Kelsier, who shocks her with the news that her role in the incident has exposed her as Mistborn.  Being Mistborn himself, he invites her to train with him and join the small but skilled crew of Allomancers he is assembling in Luthadel.  She accepts, and in doing so agrees to help them they to accomplish the impossible – overthrow the Lord Ruler and avenge society’s poor treatment of the Skaa.  

I really got into this book and the world in which it takes place.  I found myself eagerly looking forward to finding out more information about what was going on and enjoyed the teasers offered by the chapter introductions, especially once I got far enough in that I was able to get a sense of what they were suggesting.  In addition to liking both Kelsier and Vin, there was an excellent group of supporting characters that were all well written with a clear purpose beyond exploring the full scope of powers available.  Speaking of powers, the magic system was not only different than what might be expected, but very well thought out, balanced, and rewarding of ingenuity in some really interesting ways.  The one negative for me was there were a few places I felt the story slowed down a bit, most notably in relation to Vin’s drawn out love/hate musings on ball gowns and a slow-moving courtship with Elend Venture, a potentially sympathetic noble.  My wife, on the other hand, strongly disagrees with me on this so take my opinions for whatever they’re worth.  Regardless, I really enjoyed this novel and jumped right into the next book.  I guess that’s an advantage of reading something you already own.

Third Anniversary Imperial IPA – Other Half Brewing Company

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I am probably fashionably late in celebrating this occasion, but I figure I’m OK since this wasn’t exactly a personal milestone.

Beer Name: Third Anniversary Imperial IPA

Brewer: Other Half Brewing Company (Brooklyn, NY)

Style: DIPA

ABV: 10.0%

Description: I’ll just come out and say it: I got lazy this time.  Given the lack of clear and easy to locate official information about this release I went to Beer Advocate for my description.  This triple dry-hopped features “copious” amounts of Citra, Motueka, Galaxy, Simcoe, and Citra Lupulin powder.  The can was dated 01/27/2017.

Appearance: The body was a hazy, juice-like yellow/orange color.  A thin, foamy white head sat up top.

Smell: Lots and lots of tropical fruit sweetness with a touch of bitterness in the background.

Taste: Bursting with fruit upfront, lead by pineapple, mango, and apricot.  A sweet and piney bitterness gradually built up toward the end and lingers for a bit after the sip.  There was also a hint of bready malts underneath this all, giving the flavors a nice smoothness which gave absolutely no indication of the higher ABV.

Mouthfeel: Medium, slightly creamy body with a moderate carbonation level.  Finish was a little bit sticky.

Hype: It sounded like there was a ton of hype around this release, which I guess is to be expected when a popular brewery makes a special release these days.  Based on the ratings I saw in the link above, it looks this was well received.

Overall: Very impressive.  Something about this beer just made it really relaxing to sit down and drink it.  It managed to impart all the juicy highlights of the style without being overly aggressive in the process.  

Brix City Brewing – Cosmic Charlie

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Still going strong with my cans from my New Jersey peoples.

Beer Name: Cosmic Charlie

Brewer: Brix City Brewing (Little Ferry, NJ)

Style: IPA

ABV: 7.0%

Description: From the website this IPA went heavy on the hops, featuring Calypso, Denali, El Dorado, Citra, Mosaic, Eukenot, Lupulin Powder, and hop oils.  Whew.  My can was from a release in early March.

Appearance: Cloudy golden/amber body with a foamy white head that steadily bubbled down to lacing across the top of the glass.

Smell: Sweet tropical fruits atop a slight hint of pine sap.

Taste: Lots of subtle fruit upfront, mostly melon, apricot, and tangerine.  About midway through a mild to moderate grassy, piney hop bitterness began and lingered on for a bit after finishing the sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium creamy/juicy body with relatively low-level carbonation for the style.

Hype: Since I have a bit of a personal connection to the brewery, I am always excited to try out Brix beers.

Overall: It was a solid IPA.  It didn’t really give me anything to rave about, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it either.  Nice juiciness and a pleasing amount of hoppy goodness made this an easy beverage to kick back and enjoy.

Brix City Brewing – ’68 Ryot

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For my next beer, I decided it was time to share the love and brought in a four-pack to drink with the beer crew at work.  Not only was it a great way to build karma, but I got to show off some of my friend’s recent efforts as well.

Beer Name: ‘68 Ryot

Brewer: Brix City Brewing (Little Ferry, NJ)

Style: Rye IPA

ABV: 7.0%

Description: Per the brewery website, this rye IPA was brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops.  Canned on 03/03/2017.

Appearance: Hazy dark straw yellow body topped off by a thin yet persistent slightly off-white foam.

Smell: A little bit sweet upfront, followed by a bit of rye and bitterness on the end.

Taste: Started out sweet and tropical.  From there it took on an earthy, piney bitterness and culminated with light grains and a small hit of rye.  Flavors were all very complimentary to each other and well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, medium body with a low to moderate level of carbonation.

Hype: I was excited.  I really enjoyed this beer the first time I tried it and had it on good authority this was a particularly tasty batch.

Overall: I really liked this.  Great, balanced flavor profile from start to finish perfectly backed up by the mouthfeel.  I’m not usually a big rye IPA enthusiast, but the bit of rye at the end really gave this beer a little something extra to make it stand out for me.  It was a hit with the coworkers as well.

Book Review: Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey (Book Four in the Expanse Series)

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With Abbadon’s Gate having successfully renewed my interest in this series, I eagerly went into book four, Cibola Burn.  As with my past reviews, while there are no spoilers that follow for this particular novel, I cannot make the same promise for content from the previous books.

Cibola Burn skips ahead two years in the timeline and takes place on the first human settlement within the newly accessible alien worlds.  Barely one year into the fledgling colony’s existence old conflicts from back home threaten its stability.  The colonists, all survivors of the disaster on Ganymede, have unwelcome visitors when scientists from an Earth-based corporation arrive with permits to study the world.  Fearing the eventual loss of their home and its lithium deposits, more extreme elements of the settlers attack and critically damage an incoming shuttle, causing a political crisis back in the centers of humanity.  Realizing few good outcomes exist, the UN and OPA nominate none other James Holden to mediate between the two sides and defuse tensions.  Holden, however, has more than diplomacy to worry about.  The protomolecule consciousness, still in the guise of Detective Miller, is very interested in the alien ruins on the outskirts of the colony and is imploring Holden to help it uncover the answers about its creators.  Those answers, however, might not necessarily benefit the world’s human population.

Overall I liked this book.  It did an excellent job advancing the protomolecule/Miller storyline in some really interesting ways.  The few chapters from what was presumably Miller’s perspective were fascinating and eerie.   On the human side, the growing political intrigues make for very compelling reading as they are getting more complex and far-reaching as the books go on.  There was a pretty major development at the end of this novel, and the teaser chapters featuring two of my favorite characters from previous books, Bobbie Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala, hint that they will have significant roles to play in upcoming events much to my delight.  Although I have had somewhat mixed feelings about the characters in this series as a whole, the possibility of more Avasarala is alone enough to keep me going, at least as long as the overarching story remains strong.

That said, when I consider how much I like the overall story, it is disappointing that similar character issues have hurt my opinion of three out of the four books I’ve read so far.  This time around I was troubled by two major flaws.  The first of these was pretty much the majority of POV character Elvi Okoye’s storyline.  As a scientist visiting the first alien world humans have landed on, there was a lot of potential for her character.  Unfortunately that was largely wasted on a ridiculous storyline involving a crush on Holden and a personal “problem” that took up way too much of the book and frankly felt out-of-place and a bit insulting to both character and reader.  The other flaw was that upon first arriving at the planet, Holden’s reactions to events on the ground were mind-bogglingly inept.  I don’t want to get too much into the details, but I felt he inexplicably gave one side way too much leeway and as a result enabled events to more rapidly escalate out of control.  As a reader, I was able to clearly see merits of both sides in the dispute, as well as recognize the terrible people in both groups.  With Holden’s outlook being so central to the story, I feel like this insight was mostly lost and prevented the novel from making a more effective point – if that was even the intention.

I do plan to continue on with the series. At this point I guess I’m committed to see it through.  I am almost reached a different sort of problem.  I am four books into the nine that have been planed and only the next two are currently out.  Book number seven is slated for release this year and then I am waiting for 2018 and 2019 for the last two, which almost sound like SciFi dates themselves.  As someone who’s not accustomed to reading a series before it’s done this is rather troubling to me!

Funky Buddha Brewery – Nib Smuggler

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When I saw that my usual bottle shop downtown received a delivery of some Funky Buddha brews I took an early lunch to head on over and pick some up.  I haven’t had a chance to try any of their beers outside of a festival and this particular one sounded like my kind of thing.

Beer Name: Nib Smuggler

Brewer: Funky Buddha Brewery (Oakland Park, FL)

Style: Porter

ABV: 6.3%

Description: Per the brewer’s description, this porter was brewed with black cocoa from Brazil and Madagascar vanilla beans.  A four pack of 12 oz. bottles came at a pretty reasonable cost of $13.

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

Smell: Big dose of a sweet chocolate and fudgy cocoa, not entirely unlike chocolate milk.

Taste: Sweet, creamy chocolate with a very light amount of roasted malt and mild coffee bitterness.  Finish was a combination of sweet chocolate and light roast with a bit of nuts and vanilla thrown in as well.

Mouthfeel: Medium-thin body that felt smooth and slick.  Minimal carbonation.

Hype: Elevated.  The brewery has a pretty solid reputation and is just starting to get distributed in my area.  They made quite the impression on me at the Extreme Beer Festival a few years back.

Overall: I liked it, but wasn’t particularly blown away.  My biggest wish for this beer was that it had a thicker body, which I think that would have better complimented the flavor profile and made the creamy chocolate flavors stand out a bit more.  Not a bad pickup, but not one I feel overly compelled to make again either.