Alloy of Law takes readers back to Scadrial, the world of Mistborn, and it does it in a new time period, with new characters, new technology, and new story structure. I thoroughly enjoyed that book and looked forward to seeing where Wax and Wayne would go next. Shadows of Self picks up a little after the events of Alloy of Law and builds on the threads leftover at the end of the first novel. In a way, you can actually think of Alloy of Law as a sort of prequel novel to the second Mistborn trilogy consisting of Shadows of Self, The Bands of Mourning, and The Lost Metal, though that is more obvious in retrospect than it is during the reading process.
Not to spoil anything, but in my opinion each book in the second Mistborn era is progressively weaker than its predecessor, and Shadows of Self is not an exception. Don’t misinterpret – I enjoyed each book, and the overall story they weave – but the refreshingly new twist on the familiar Mistborn story drifts back towards epic fantasy as the series progresses, and not to its benefit. However, those trends are still relatively subtle in Shadows of Self, and I found this an excellent read.
It is easy to call Sanderson a master of magic systems, but it may be more accurate to call him a master of world-building. You might think, that in the second book in a series and the fifth book set in the same world, this would be a minor point, but that would only show that you haven’t read Shadows of Self. The world-building that Sanderson does for the political intrigue and the potential layers of conspiracy for this book are as thorough, realistic, and compelling as in the original Mistborn.
In some ways, though, the story feels a little derivative. Not derivative from other fiction, but from history. Sanderson deliberately sets up a close parallel with nineteenth century America, which works, but it can feel a little forced in places. Yes, there are arguments to be made for parallel cultural evolution, similarity of circumstances, and so forth, but the resonance is just a little too close to be fully immersive for me. Maybe that’s just my familiarity with history, or my own interest in world-building. It is the difficulty inherent in attempting to craft convincing, alternative world fantasy in latter-day settings.
Millions of individual events, interactions, and personalities created the world in which we now live, or the world of the nineteenth century, or any other century, really. The advantage of writing in earlier time periods is that societies, cultures, and civilizations had less interaction with each other and less knowledge of history. As that changes, the world-builders job becomes increasingly complex, and inevitably we have only one reference – human history on Earth – from which to draw. Since it’s impossible for an author to fully extrapolate every little thing that will affect their invented civilizations over centuries, we turn to real history for guidance, but that can be a difficult balance to walk. Every now and then, I think Shadows of Self slips.
Over the whole course of the book, though, those occasions are minor, and the plot and characters remain as convincing as ever. Sanderson’s understanding of people and leadership shines through, and though this becomes a little more fantasy and action in its plotting than the mystery that characterized Alloy of Law, I found it quite enjoyable, and worth reading in its own right, not just as part of a series.
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