The last time I reviewed a Brandon Sanderson book, I complained of Sanderson fatigue, the review got featured, and several more people complained about it with me. So it is a bit sheepishly that I confess I not only went back to him but that I read the entire second Mistborn series minus the one book that hasn’t been published yet. And I enjoyed them immensely. In fact, for someone like me who still had fond memories of earlier Cosmere experiences, The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and The Bands of Mourning were perfect way to pull me back in.
The Wax and Way series (I know, har har) shakes things up a lot from what I’d come to think of as “typical Sanderson,” and it benefits greatly from these shifts. Set several centuries after the first Mistborn trilogy, this series keeps many of the same magical rules but has allowed them to evolve with new possibilities and limitations, refreshing the magic system while preserving a cozy familiarity. Even better, technology has also progressed, moving the setting from medieval to a blend of Wild West and steampunk. Allomancer shooutouts and train heists? Yes, please.
This series centers on Waxillium “Wax” Ladrian, a nobleman who ran off to the Roughs (the Wild West outskirts of civilization), did a stint as a gunslinging lawman, loved, lost, and then gets reeled back into politics and conspiracies at the beginning of the first book. As with most Sanderson narratives, smaller incidents crop up and tie together as things progress, pointing to bigger schemes, impending disasters, and lost histories. Society has its patterns but is also facing political and technological upheaval, forming ripe opportunities for chaotic and ambitious forces. Along the way, Wax builds his team: Wayne, a quippy, gun-averse scrapper; Steris, his staid fiancee of convenience who turns out to be wonderful in so very many ways; and Marasi, a somewhat sheltered woman of noble blood learning how to charge semi-responsibly into adventure. (Others join later, but I won’t spoil the surprises.)
Perhaps it is unfair to compare Sanderson’s more recent work with his first novel, the subject of my earlier complaint, but reading them relatively close together did make it very clear how much he has grown as a writer. Overall, the prose just flows more smoothly; the clunkiness of the descriptions is gone and the action is thoroughly absorbing. The emotional beats feel genuinely earned, especially as things ramp up and start taking shape in the third book. The relationships don’t fall into such neat categories and shift significantly but believably as the characters get to know each other better and go through perils and setbacks together. It also has some of the best handling of a love triangle I’ve seen in a while, and I usually hate those.
It’s also grown up a little bit from Sanderson’s past sanitized track record, though I still wouldn’t say he’s reached “gritty” level by any means. The peril feels a bit more real, the crimes a bit darker, the tortured pasts a little more expanded, the body count and sudden killings a tad more common. Sometimes the characters even (gasp) swear a little. It never goes too, too far, though, and I’m fine with that; if it did, I can’t help thinking it would come across as trying too hard, especially in his style. For me, it really hit a sweet spot.
Even if it is removed from the first Mistborn trilogy, the Wax and Wayne series (I know, it’s still a little groan-worthy) does build enough on its predecessor that I would recommend reading those first. Then, if you liked them, definitely pick up this one. They’re a good time, and they reminded me of why I fell in love with much of Sanderson’s work in the first place.