Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Book Review: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning is the third book in the Wax and Wayne series of books in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn universe. It continues to explore the characters while introducing new things to the world. There is a fascinating mix of allomantic magic and technology presented, which sets the stage for future stories in this world.

Keep reading for my spoiler-free review.

Overall Impression
This was a fun book to read both for its great cast of characters and the hints of a larger world beyond what we've seen in any Mistborn novel. The premise starts of a bit silly, though. A quest for a holy relic in some forgotten temple supposedly built by the Lord Ruler of the original trilogy? Sounds like a job for Indiana Jones, not Wax and his friends. Still, it does get better once you get past the premise and into the thick of it. Overall, it was quite a good book, likely my favorite of the Wax and Wayne books for its insights into the rest of the world.

As I mentioned before, the plot starts off a bit cheesy with a hunt for the mysterious Bands of Mourning, supposedly created by the Lord Ruler. As far as I can remember, these were not introduced in the original trilogy which made me hesitate. While I know the universe in the book can be bigger than what we see, Sanderson is usually very good at foreshadowing, providing hints and teases of what's to come. I'll have to check out the brand new Mistborn:Secret History novella, which may have the answers I seek. Other than that, though, the story is fun and fast-paced with plenty of action scenes towards the middle and end. There are a few plot twists and while some of them can be seen coming, they don't detract from the story much.

Sanderson's characters tend to be very good and they certainly are in The Bands of Mourning. The main story follows Wax, Wayne, Marasi, Steris, and MeLaan and all of them have great moments that help define them. Wayne especially is a great comic relief character, with the occasional/rare moment of insight. Steris, who felt very much like a background character in prior novels develops much more here and manages to grab the reader's attention. The characters who changed the least are probably Wax and MeLaan, by virtue of who they are. One of my favorite scenes that shows of each character's personality is probably when they check in to their hotel in New Seran. Each one is slowly freaking out the innkeeper with their own individual quirks despite assuring her that everything will be fine.

Setting / World Building
The setting is pretty much the same as the prior novels: the world of Scadrial with its Metallic Arts, the unique magic of allomancy, ferruchemy, and hemalurgy. In this novel, our heroes travel south to the city of New Seran so we get to see a new city as well as the countryside and the mountains. One of the reasons behind chasing the Bands of Mourning is that it's potentially a new way to use allomantic powers. With this book, Sanderson pushes at the limits of what his magic system can do while still holding to its basic principles. I can't wait to see how it develops in further novels.

Probably the most exciting part of the setting for me was getting to see people from beyond the Elendel basin. These are people who were never really conquered by the Final Empire, though presumably still felt its effects. Although the impression of the Final Empire is that it conquered everything, I seem to recall brief mentions of peoples or kingdoms that were not yet conquered by the time the Empire fell. It seems that these people continued living and developing while isolated from the events of the Final Empire and the Catacendre, which promises new and exciting ways to use allomancy and the related magic systems.

The appendix, or Ars Arcanum, is interesting as it describes the Metallic Arcs in more detail and as seen by someone from another world in the Cosmere. There are references to Sel (Elantris) and Roshar (The Stormlight Archive) in it, which is a nice touch.

Final Thoughts
This book was great, much better than some prior Sanderson novels I've read (namely, Calamity and Perfect State). Not that the others were bad, just that they didn't seem as well crafted as this one. While Sanderson writes good books, he is at his best when writing long, epic fantasies. The Bands of Mourning excels at presenting intriguing new aspects to the world of Scadrial and at developing already great characters. I look forward to seen how Scadrial continues to develop over time in Sanderson's planned future books.

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