My goodness, I read ten books by Brandon Sanderson this year. I will probably finish The Rhythm of War when it comes out too. What a Cosmere-centric year! That universe represents about 20% of everything I read this year.
This series is known within the Cosmere as Mistborn Era 2. It takes place about 300 years after the events of the Mistborn Era 1. In those missing years, Scadrial has undergone somewhat of an industrial revolution. There is burgeoning electricity and motorized vehicles are beginning to grow in popularity. Apparently, the series began as a writing exercise for Sanderson who was trying to clear his head between writing two different series. The Alloy of Law was intended to be a standalone but will now be a quartet – fourth book estimated for 2022.
I did not enjoy the book immediately. Perhaps it was because I was still coming down from finishing the precursor- I find that these days I really don’t let myself process books the way I used to. I’d love to have more time to sit and reflect after reading a series but life gets in the way. The other possibility is that the time jump of three hundred years took more adjusting than I expected. Anyway, it took a while for this book to get me hooked but once it did, I was all in. I went from feeling a little meh to arguing with myself about which Mistborn series I liked more. Mistborn Era 1 is much more traditional fantasy whereas this series has a lot of western flair, which I like a lot, and it felt a little steampunk-y, which is not really my thing. I don’t think it was intended to be steampunk but its what I think it ended up a little and has me willing to try other books along those lines (I’m thinking The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher- I’m interested in other opinions on this).
Shadows of Self is a lot of fun. One of my favorite aspects is the development of religions that tie into the greater Mistborn mythos. Sanderson explores two of his religions pretty extensively in this book: Survivorism and The Path. Survivorists first showed up in Mistborn Era 1 after the death of Kelsier. According to Coppermind, the wiki for all things Cosmere, “followers of Survivorism are considered anyone who survives on their own, or thinks for themselves.” Followers of The Path, called Pathians, believe that worship rehires only that one does more good than harm. The antagonist of this novel, for that character could hardly be considered a villain, creates conflict that forces these two sects to odds with one another. I find it quite amazing that both of the fictional religions are derived from another work of fiction in the same shared universe. This is why Sanderson is considered so great at world building.
The climax of this book caused me to audibly gasp and then explain everything to my wife about why I was so worked up. The twist is magnificent and really develops Wax as a character. While it only direct impacts Wax, the emotional repercussions affect all three of our protagonists (Wax, Wayne, and Marasi – Steris isn’t a protagonist yet, thought it impacts her immensely as well). I loved seeing Wax experience real emotion trauma and have to deal with it. This isn’t your classic fantasy wherein something awful is revealed, the character is stoically sad and then carries on only to have other characters occasionally remind us that he is tough. Wax experiences something that shakes him to his core. It makes him question his spirituality- which is extra interesting since he and Harmony speak semi-regularly. Imagine belief in a deity that you KNOW exists and then having to question why you were intentionally deceived by that deity and not getting a straight answer. Dealing the with the death of someone you love only to find out they were never that person or even real in the first place and that your deity knew but never told you. It was heavy and done very, very well.
The impact of the climax in the previous book did not just go away when we started book three, The Bands of Mourning. Wax is still dealing with the fallout of learning that his first love was never real as he is walking into his wedding with Steris. I love that nothing magically went away, even though time passed. Real time and book time in this case. This book reminded me of King Soloman’s Mines crossed with a spaghetti Western. Big Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom vibes here. This time our crime-fighting team includes Steris who started so boring and bland but has become so interesting and fascinating. She could have been such a blah character but in Sanderson’s hands she continues developing and I am excited to see where her arc ends up. It is through Steris and her development that Wax begins to become himself again. Or at least changes for the best, feels like himself, I’m not sure the best way to describe it. He changes, without a doubt, perhaps the best way to say it is Steris brings out the traits that best define Wax as we the reader see him. That play a major part in the climax of the Band of Mourning.
The Bands of Mourning is very good but is definitely a “middle book in larger series”. The story is interesting, there are lots of developments that are WOW but at the end, it feels more like set up for something bigger. I don’t think this is a bad thing, though it seems that my friends do not like this in books. They are wrong. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Wizard in Glass, book four from the Dark Tower, are the best books in their respective series. I’m not sure I’d quite say that about Bands of Mourning but it depends on what happens in the next installment. In this book, the “Big Villian” changes to someone else, who is both obvious and surprising but the end came unceremoniously to the previous big bad, which is never my favorite. The new big bad has WAY more potential so we shall see.
This series is more fun that Mistborn Era 1. It’s faster paced. The action is nearly non-stop. Wayne is a one-liner machine and quickly became one of my favorite characters in the Cosmere. I would definitely recommend reading Mistborn Era 1 first but it is not necessary. I think the reading order of what I’ve read should be: Mistborn Era 1, Mistborn Era 2, and then The Stormlight Archive. Starlight is magnificent but start with something smaller to see if you like it first. If you like Mistborn, you will probably like Stormlight.