Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self were both strong books that stood well on their own and made excellent use of their western/mystery genre plotting combined with increasing epic fantasy elements in a fantasy setting. Shadows of Self left plenty of plot threads to lead into The Bands of Mourning, so it might seem a strange statement, but much of this book felt poorly foreshadowed to me. That’s not usually a problem I have with Sanderson novels, but it was the case here.
Maybe the problem is that, instead of the more unique plots of the previous books, this novel is more or less a standard fantasy quest novel with a few variations thrown in and a Sanderson-esque intricate world-building. There’s a mysterious, powerful, magical weapon that we heard nothing about before this book, multiple parties with varying interests attempting to reach it, bad weather and difficult terrain, myths about whether the weapon exists or not…do you see what I mean? While the characters, detail-level plotting, and world-building are all at Sanderson’s usual high level, the main plot felt like something out of Shannara. Actually, it reminded me strongly of the Voyage of the Jerl Shannara sequence.
I really enjoyed the characterization in this book, especially of Wax and his wife. The continued exploration of the conspiracies that have been a problem since the beginning of the series was excellent, and the twist with Wax’s sister was well choreographed. Even the titular bands of mourning and their significance, and the sudden appearance of people from another land on Scadrial, could have worked had they been better foreshadowed over the rest of the series. As it is, it almost seems like Sanderson was intending on going one direction, and decided to go another, or perhaps needed something to better fill an interim book before he went into the events of The Lost Metal.
Now, I might sound pretty critical, and the truth is that if this were a book from another author, I might not be quite so hard on them. So much of life is a matter of managing expectations, and my expectations for a book that says ‘Sanderson’ on the cover are quite high. Considering how tight his plots usually are, it seems strange that this one feels off in the ways it does.
A lot of new developments happen at the end of this book, setting it up for massive changes to come in the final book in the second era. While this story is not as strong, in my opinion, as Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, it is still enjoyable, and it carries outsized importance and impact for the series. If you’re following the Mistborn series (or extended series, as perhaps we should start calling it), I think you’ll appreciate what this book does.
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