Tor, November 2011
Hardcover, 336 pages
At this point in his short career, Brandon Sanderson needs little introduction. He is after all finishing off what is arguably the defining Epic Fantasy saga of our generation, in addition to having penned some well-received fantasy series and novels of his own. The Alloy of Law, is set in his popular Mistborn milieu, though hundreds of years after the events of that initial trilogy – far enough beyond those events that Kelsier and Vin are revered as gods. Smart move since by that virtue, Alloy of Law works as a good entry point for new readers. It also allows Brandon to break the mold in certain ways, allows him to show how a world progressed and not rely too much on many of the details and elements from the previous trilogy, and boy, does he do something different.
Set at what might be described as the dawn of the Industrial age in Scadrial, the world in which Mistborn takes place, the scion of a once proud family – protagonist Waxillium (Wax) Ladrian – returns to assume the status of familial head in the glorious city of Elendel after the tragic death of his uncle and sister. Wax is returning from a stint as a lawman in the Roughs and returns as something of an enigma. His deeds are well documented, though the society in which he finds himself considers him lowly. In order to cement his and his family’s standing, Wax begins the political maneuvering, at the behest of the family’s butler, to meet Steris, a woman of high standing as a potential wife. When they attend a wedding together, Steris is kidnapped. Her kidnapping is part of an overall succession of kidnappings involving highborn women with a common thread.
So, a fairly straightforward plot – rescue the kidnapped girl – but layered with a lot of fun details and accoutrements to enhance the overall ‘taste’ of the stories. For starters, Wax doesn’t exactly return to Elendel alone, in tow is his old partner/sidekick Wayne. Wayne provides much of the comic relief and balances Wax’s often stoic bearing and character. Marasi, Steris’s cousin, proves a more deep character as balance to Steris’s cold bearing. Steris joins Wayne and Wax in the pursuit of Steris from her captors. The characters are well done, and as is always the case, the magic system of Allomancy and Feruchemy are more than a simple window dressing. Their use is essential to the story and Sanderson weaves in the details of how these abilities work fairly well into the narrative of the novel, though on a couple of occasions it does seem to be a lecture. Sanderson; however, does lampshade this with the character of Wayne.
While Alloy of Law is indeed set in a secondary world where magic works and a destiny / prophecy have shaped the world, the story here is quite different. For one, electricity is on the verge of becoming the dominant power source, and locomotives / railways are growing in popularity and prevalence. These elements give the story almost a Victorian/Steampunk feel. With protagonist Waxillium Ladrian returning to his familial estates after a well-document career as a lawman in the Roughs, what amounts to the Wild West, Sanderson has also added a Western feel. Considering Wax attempts to act outside of the law, one might say as a vigilante in secret, when he returns from the Roughs, and I also got the feel of a superhero story. I wonder if the sidekick being named Wayne (rather than the protagonist) is a bit of a nod to readers as either a superhero story (Bruce Wayne) or flat out Western (John Wayne).
The life of this novel is fairly well documented, Sanderson wanted to tell a shorter story that grew to novel-length in the telling. The pacing is brisk and made for and exciting, page-turning read. I got the sense that Alloy of Law could even be seen as a prelude to a larger story of this era on Scadrial and in the life of Wax. The epilogue calls out to the previous trilogy and hints at this greater story that (I hope!) Brandon could (SHOULD) tell.
In any event, Brandon wound up surprising me with this novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, it is his shortest novel-length work, but still contains the hallmarks of his previous work – likeable/believable characters, layered plot, detailed magic, and genre savvy – but new things like the added elements of a dynamic fantasy world that is constantly evolving.
I liked Alloy of Law a great deal, and will be eagerly waiting until after A Memory of Light to see where he next takes the Mistborn saga.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford