Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Around the time when Brandon Sanderson finished publishing his Mistborn trilogy, he revealed that his goal was to make a set of trilogies set in the same world and spanning a long period of time. In the meantime (and among many other projects), he decided to fill in the gaps between the first and second trilogies with stories of a band of characters in a sort of Old-West Mistborn time period. The first of these was The Alloy of Law, published in 2011. Now we get to see the next of these: Shadows of Self, which is actually the start of a brand new trilogy beyond the original plan with the second book coming out in January (so The Allow of Law is a bit of an interlude between the trilogies).

Read on for my spoiler-free review.

Overall Impression
This was another great book by Brandon Sanderson. The Mistborn series is one of his most popular and it's easy to see why. It combines interesting characters, action-packed plots, and an intricate world with amazing magic. While I'm not a fan of Western-type stories, this one was still fun and it was an enjoyable read. Most interesting for me were the little details thrown at the end that hint at future story developments.

Like many of Sanderson's novels, the plot is fast and action-packed. Many scenes seem straight out of a movie or video game. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of moments for lighthearted humor and character development and interaction. The main driver for the plot is a detective investigation of a gruesome massacre at a nobleman's party. The characters must unravel the mystery while the city seethes with socio-economic unrest due to class struggles and the division of labor and wealth. Unfortunately, the story does end a bit abruptly, so while the mystery is solved, some of the broader aspects or implications are left open.

Sanderson has always created good characters and this novel is no exception. However, it doesn't feel as new or fresh as the predecessor novel given that the cast is pretty much the same and it was never a large cast to begin with. We have Wax, the nobleman constable who burns steel to fly around and beat up bad guys; Wayne, Wax's trusty sidekick who is a master of disguise and surprising wise (and very comical); and Marasi, the young woman eager to prove herself as a newly minted constable. Joining them are several other characters ranging from key figures like the governor, to cameos such as Hoid, and even some kandra, which date from the pre-Ascension Era (ie, the original Mistborn trilogy).

Setting / World Building
Similar to the prior Misborn novels, this one is set in the same world (Scadrial) with the same systems of magic-- allomancy, ferruchemy, and hemalurgy. However, this is many years after the first trilogy and the characters in them are considered part of legends and myths. There are frequent references to the Ascendant Warrior and the Lord Survivor, so you can tell that the old stories have become part of the religious background of the people living in this time. I recommend you check out the first trilogy, starting with Mistborn: The Final Empire, to see the adventures firsthand, and The Alloy of Law, to see how much the world has changed in that time.

One cool aspect of this time period is that pure mistborns and feruchemists are no longer around, instead you have people that can only use one of the 16 metals and a few rarer people known as twinborns. These can use one metal for allomancy and another metal, or the same, for ferruchemy. As with most of Sanderson's books, the Ars Arcanum at the end has a lot of detail on the various metals, their powers, and speculations as to other metals and powers that can be gained. It's a very interesting read.

In contrast to it's predecessor, Shadows of Self focuses on some of the lesser known aspects of this world. Beyond the metal-based magic, there are also odd creatures that inhabit this world, such as mistwraiths, kandra, and koloss. The kandra, in particular, take center stage and it was fun to be reminded of them from the first trilogy.

Final Thoughts
As a fan of Sanderson's work, I enjoyed this book. It has good characters, plot, and setting, as can be expected from Sanderson. However, it feels a little incomplete, probably since it relies so much on the prior novel to set the stage on who the characters are. Furthermore, while the Mistborn universe is very cool, I've never been a huge fan of cowboy/old-west type stories. Despite these personal preferences, I still think the book is solid and would recommended it to fans of the Mistborn universe particularly since it sets the stage and has some interesting speculations for some cool stuff to happen next.

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