Title: The Alloy of Law
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Western
Publisher: Tor (US)/Gollancz (UK)
Publication date: November 2011
Hardcover: 336 pages
Fresh from the success of The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, best known for completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®, takes a break to return to the world of the bestselling Mistborn series.
Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.
Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.
One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.
Stand alone or series: The fourth book in the Mistborn universe, though can be read as a standalone novel as The Alloy of Law is set hundreds of years after the conclusion of the original trilogy.
How did we get this book: ARCs from the Publisher
Why did we read this book: We are huge Sanderson fans here at Book Smugglers’ Headquarters, and we both adored his Mistborn trilogy. So, when we learned he would be writing a steampunk-ish western sequel/second story arc set 300 years after the events of the original trilogy in the same universe, we did a collective fistpump and bananadance of victory.
Ana: Having enjoyed the original Mistborn trilogy so much I was ecstatic when I heard that not only Brandon Sanderson was going back to the Mistborn world but he was also setting it a few centuries in the future and with an added Old Western flavour. The Alloy of Law is at once familiar and new, and although some of the book is perhaps too familiar, there is enough freshness here to make it an altogether fun, enjoyable read.
Thea: I, too, love the Mistborn trilogy. I mean, seriously LOVE it. The first book, The Final Empire, is probably one of my top 10 favorite fantasy novels EVER, and it is easily my favorite of Brandon Sanderson’s novels. Like Ana, I also happen to love westerns, so needless to say, I was excited for this book. While I don’t think anything will live up to the singular awesomeness that is The Final Empire, I was thoroughly entertained by this new entry in what is already a stellar series. I do agree with Ana that there is a high level of familiarity (particularly where characterizations are concerned) to the book, but the thing that most surprised me was how much quieter and un-epic this particular novel is. Despite these qualms (which aren’t major), there’s no denying that Mr. Sanderson has a flair for action and storytelling, making The Alloy of Law a fun start to a new arc in the Mistborn universe.
On the Plot:
Ana: I am a great admirer of Branson Sanderson’s extremely creative magic systems and the Mistborn is quite possibly my favourite one. It is inventive, unique and full of possibility not only in terms of awesome action sequences but also in the ways economy, politics, religion – all aspects of power – can be constructed around it. What I find incredibly worth of appreciation is how with The Alloy of Law, this particular magic system becomes fluid. Instead of a static world, we have one that is clearly moving: this particular story takes place three hundred years after the events of Hero of Ages and the whole setting is entirely different. There is a new power structure and a new religious system. Gone is the era of the miraculous Mistborn – these days most people can only look forward to be Twinborn at most.
Beyond those more overarching elements, the plot of this particular book is driven by the investigation of a series of robberies and kidnappings by the two main characters, a pair of lawmen. At first these crimes seem random, but it becomes clear that there is a much larger scheme at play. This combination of macro and micro is really well done and in terms of plotting and pacing, this is probably Sanderson’s best book to date. It is a much more slender volume than his previous novels, with much less repetition than usual (and this is particular true when it comes to characters’ internal monologues).
On a more personal note, I loved the Western feel to the story, the action sequences, the way the guns were used when coupled with each character’s power and ultimately I thought this was an immensely fun book to read.
One last thing though: I’ve seen some reviewers saying this is a standalone novel and I honestly don’t know in what universe this book could be constructed as standalone. It is not. You can definitely start reading into the Mistborn world with this one, but The Alloy of Law is the start of a second trilogy and it ends with an awesome cliffhanger (sort of).
Thea: The first thing I said to Ana when I started reading this book was, I forgot how much I love allomancy. The magic and mechanics of the Mistborn universe is incredibly detailed, unique and memorable – this is a realm where those born with allomantic skills can ingest and “burn” metals to achieve different effects. While Vin, Kelsier, and Elend were rare mistborn allomancers that could use all the known elemental metals, most only have one metal they can manipulate. There’s also another school of magical ability with the related gift of feruchemy, which allows users to store energies in metalminds to be used at a further date (all of this is covered in the original Mistborn trilogy in great detail, so I would recommend reading that series before starting this one, just to get a better understanding of the world and its rules). In The Alloy of Law, however, we start to see new types of skills that meld what we’ve known from the past with a new wild-west sensibility. Instead of pushing off metal coins, Waxillium uses bullets or shell casings – he also has the ability to not only push and pull with allomancy, but enjoys the powers of feruchemy (growing larger or smaller, stronger or lighter). Another main character, Wayne, has the slick ability to create “time bubbles” that allow him to freeze everyone outside of the radius of his bubble, allowing him to move at what appears to be great speeds. I love these evolutions of powers and seeing how they would fit in a new era, with guns, complications of aluminum bullets, steam trains, strange incandescent lamps, and so on and so forth.
While I love the tweaks to the “rules” of these mistborn powers, the actual story proper is much more small-scale than the grandiose, world-ending saga of the original trilogy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – The Alloy of Law is simply a much smaller, more contained story that has more in common with a classic Western than it does the actual Mistborn trilogy. I mean, seriously – the book’s centerpiece is a tough ex-lawman that just can’t get out of the game, who dons his hat, duster, and trusty pistols once again to save the day from an exceptionally clever bandit. Of course, what’s any gunslinger without his trusty wise-cracking sidekick? Or the quick-witted damsel that despite having a tendency to get kidnapped, can hold her own? It’s an interesting juxtaposition, this cross between Western and the more traditional fantasy of the Mistborn universe, but I’m happy to say that Mr. Sanderson balances these elements well and creates a fun, enjoyable story with more than a few easter eggs and shoutouts to the prior series.
I just have to mention one last writing nitpick, in that Sanderson tends towards the repetitive, as Ana mentions above, and this holds true in The Alloy of Law. While Sanderson does an admirable job of paring down on the excesses that have characterized his earlier novels, there’s no shortage of internal monologuing, or repetition of the same phrases ad nauseam (“Rust and Ruin” quickly becomes tiresome, as does Marasi’s tendency to blush at everything).
On the plus side (so far as random factoids about the book are concerned) The Alloy of Law has newspaper divider inserts throughout with some excellent easter eggs for the attentive fan – definitely pay attention to those to heighten the reading experience!
On the Characters:
Ana: If the plot and the magic system are as good as ever, the characters (and their development) are perhaps the book greatest letdown because they read just like all of Sanderson’s characters, almost indistinguishable from previous incantations.
One default character that appears throughout his books is the reluctant older hero and as such, Wax is just like Kelsier from the original trilogy and just like Warbreaker’s Vasher. They are ultra good, heroic and supposedly tormented; hesitant and yet extremely successful in their endeavours. Truth be told, I don’t mind these characters. I actually tend to like them – they are supremely lovable characters – but for someone like me, who has read most of Sanderson’s work (barring The Wheel of Time series and Elantris) it is getting a bit tiresome. I did like Wax’s friend Wayne though and I enjoyed his witty banter with Wax but (and here I go again with the “but”) it felt like the author was trying too hard for wittiness and sometimes it missed the mark.
The villain of this piece is perhaps the story’s best character: someone who at times didn’t even sound too much like a villain because his motivations were actually pretty understandable. I also do enjoy Sanderson’s female characters though and I think the three present in this series are great – they are all strong heroines, if in different ways, and I have high hopes for their development later as the series progresses.
Thea: I have to echo Ana’s sentiments. If there’s one complaint that is consistent for me across the gamut of Sanderson’s work, it’s that his characters are too damn good. There’s an incredible familiarity with Waxillium, who, like Kelsier, Elend, Sazed (Mistborn), Vasher (Warbreaker), and Kaladin (The Way of Kings), tends to operate on two speeds: emo and badass. Wax is a great guy. He’s smart, he’s incredibly powerful, he’s noble hearted, and he does fine by the ladies. Unfortunately, Wax is also tormented by the demons of his past and suffers from extreme bouts of self-doubt and self-pity (the emo setting). When he’s on as a badass, he’s ON, but otherwise he laments the loss of his former lady love at his hands and shies away from confrontation (you know, to protect all the innocents from dying on his watch). Needless to say…I’m not a huge fan of Wax.
The secondary characters were far more fun, in my opinion. I loved Wayne, Wax’s wisecracking sidekick with his flair for disguises and witty comebacks (although I do agree with Ana that at times the banter between Wayne and Wax could become stilted and repetitive). I also adore Marasi, the book’s central female character, who pretends at meekness but hides a quick mind (and a steady shot) beneath her pretty exterior. I love that she’s markedly different from Vin, who was always rough around the edges and never the kidnapped damsel in distress, but she’s strong and memorable in her own way. Not a huge fan of the inevitable romance that seems to be burgeoning between her and Wax (it seems a little creepy since she has this hero-worship thing going on), but we’ll see how all pans out in future books. I do agree with Ana that the other two female characters, Steris in particular with her penchant for contract-making and standoffish attitude, have great potential, and hopefully we’ll see more of them in the next book.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: It is always a pleasure to go back to the Mistborn world and this was no different. I had a great time reading this and am totally onboard for more.
Thea: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I did miss the epic scope and high-stakes that I’ve come to expect from every Sanderson title. The Alloy of Law is a fun Western extension of the Mistborn trilogy, and I’ll certainly be back for more.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Thanks to Tor’s awesome teasers, you can read the first six chapters of The Alloy of Law online HERE. Here’s a snippet from the prologue:
Wax crept along the ragged fence in a crouch, his boots scraping the dry ground. He held his Sterrion 36 up by his head, the long, silvery barrel dusted with red clay. The revolver was nothing fancy to look at, though the six-shot cylinder was machined with such care in the steel-alloy frame that there was no play in its movement. There was no gleam to the metal or exotic material on the grip. But it fit his hand like it was meant to be there.
The waist-high fence was flimsy, the wood grayed with time, held together with fraying lengths of rope. It smelled of age. Even the worms had given up on this wood long ago.
Wax peeked up over the knotted boards, scanning the empty town. Blue lines hovered in his vision, extending from his chest to point at nearby sources of metal, a result of his Allomancy. Burning steel did that; it let him see the location of sources of metal, then Push against them if he wanted. His weight against the weight of the item. If it was heavier, he was pushed back. If he was heavier, it was pushed forward.
In this case, however, he didn’t Push. He just watched the lines to see if any of the metal was moving. None of it was. Nails holding together buildings, spent shell casings lying scattered in the dust, or horseshoes piled at the silent smithy—all were as motionless as the old hand pump planted in the ground to his right.
Wary, he too remained still. Steel continued to burn comfortably in his stomach, and so—as a precaution—he gently Pushed outward from himself in all directions. It was a trick he’d mastered a few years back; he didn’t Push on any specific metal objects, but created a kind of defensive bubble around himself. Any metal that came streaking in his direction would be thrown slightly off course.
Ana: 7 – Very Good
Thea: 7 – Very Good
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