I remember having several English teachers, especially early in my schooling, who spent a great deal of time talking about how important a good opening line is. As they likely did for many of you, they called this opening line a “hook,” and explained how the entire fate of the universe, or at least my essay, rests on having a “hook,” a first line that will draw readers in and make them desperately excited to learn more about what I have to say on such fascinating topics as Lyme’s disease, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home, or the intelligence of dolphins.
As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I suspected that I was going to enjoy it. I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but when you read enough in a given genre you start to know what styles of covers tend to be associated with the books that you particularly enjoy. This book’s cover evoked the fantasy and science fiction of the 1980s, like Dragonriders of Pern, or Xanth novels; in other words, it reminded me of a lot of the books that I read in middle school, usually by my dad’s recommendation (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon research, I discovered that the cover artist is the same for some of these titles). By the time I had finished the first chapter, I was enjoying it as much as anything I’d read in a long time.
I don’t remember if this was a comparison I developed, or if I read it somewhere and expanded upon it, but I’ve taken to using windows to explain different styles of writing to others. What I do remember is that it's based on Brandon Sanderson describing his prose as "transparent." This made perfect sense to me, but when I mentioned it to others, they were confused by the idea, and ever since I've been trying to come up with a better way of explaining this metaphor. In other words, I hope that this post is going to make sense to you.
Unsouled, and the Cradle series as a whole, is described as something called martial arts fantasy. The magic system has defined levels of skill, with each skill level gaining distinct abilities and possessing unique attributes. It's not a design that I generally prefer, but it worked well in Unsouled. Which matters, because Unsouled is not necessarily the kind of book that you read for the compelling characters or political drama. You read it for the vivid magical fights.
The Unfettered anthologies are collections of short stories collected and set forth by Shawn Speakman, and are something of a "who's who" of fantasy writers. Genre heavyweights like Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and dozens of others have contributed stories to the anthologies since the first Unfettered was released.