It’s going to be hard to keep all the spoiler-y bits out of this review, so I’ll try to bifurcate it such that the spoiler parts are clumped together.
First off, Wayne is a treasure and probably the best part of these books. I actually get a strong sense of like, Temeraire + Lawrence from His Majesty’s Dragon and the rest, with Wax a less boring foil for Wayne’s antics than Lawrence even managed to be. (Is it Laurence? That’s how much of a snooze fest he was through all million books)
I also felt like some of my issues around the female characters were resolved, partially, here. I never much like the plotting of “here is a stuck up woman who you are forced to interact with and here’s the fiery woman you wish you could be with,” which is how I felt about the whole Steris/Marasi duo in The Alloy of Law. And while there I felt like Sanderson was driving towards an eventual Wax/Marasi endgame (and who knows, maybe he is), I love how Steris came into her own without changing who she was.
My biggest issues are two fold: one which we can attribute to the book, and one which isn’t the book’s issue as much as it is my own. For the first, the overarching plot is still not clicking for me. Is there one? I feel like I’m searching for it, constantly, but not getting enough crumbs to propel me forward. The ending of this book has a similar vibe to the ending of The Final Empire–we get a bit of a cliffhanger with regards to maybe what’s the bigger story–but it feels a little late? And just a bit unclear. The books feel a bit like standalone mysteries but with an overarching thread that’s just weak enough to mostly ignore.
The second issue has to do with the main conflicts in this novel, and how uncomfortably close they are to the issues going on in our world. There’s a sinister force that’s creating strong emotions and anger in the city–rising inequality, religious fanaticism and strife, food shortages, floods, unemployment due to industrialization, workers lacking collective bargaining power…while there’s no climate change (because Harmony/Sazed made sure that this world was a world of plenty) it’s hard to say that there’s much difference between what’s going on in Elendel and what’s going on in our world, and that made the entire novel pretty stressful for me to read. Here that sinister force is an amorphous set of conflated issues. In Scadrial there’s mystical forces at play, but that makes the resolution feel too clean cut. There’s no such solution for us.
And finally, the spoiler-y bits that I liked and don’t like: [A part of me was always sad that hundreds of years after the events of the first Mistborn series the power of Allomancy/Feruchemistry was more on the wane in comparison to industrial/engineering “magic.” The reason is logical and consistent with the world that Sanderson has laid out, but it’s still a bit sad to be in a world where there are no Mistborn and where guns are the weapon of choice.
Hence I loved that not only is magic alive and well, but Sazed/Harmony is literally still puttering around and talking in people’s heads. MeLaan is around, and her code switching from being a chill 600-year old Immortal to turning on the semi-divine thy and thou is hilarious. TenSoon(!) shows up as well, and he’s still the kandra to beat when it comes to assimilating new bodies. We even get to hear more about Vin(!!!!!!!!!!!). As promised, reading these books absolutely tells you what happened to all your favorites.
But at the same time, there’s this weird tonal disconnect for me between how un-magic the world has gotten in the x hundred years since Vin and how much magic Wax discovers is still around. Kandra are a myth to most people, except that there are hundred(s?) of them still around, chatting in special pubs and doing Harmony’s work as and when needed. People still follow the Church of the Survivor even though in the Books of Founding Sazed literally laid out what the ‘reappearance’ of Kelsier was (kandras, again). It’s almost like if the Industrial Revolution had happened 500 years after the death of Jesus, and everyone was like “yeah that son of god, he rose from the dead” and “that never happened, it’s all a myth, follow the flying purple spaghetti monster” at the same time except that the apostles were still bouncing around and Jesus spoke to you when you prayed to him.
I don’t know that I’m doing a good job of explaining the issue I’m having, so I’ll repeat that it’s a tonal disconnect and hopefully that makes some sense.
Also, did we ever figure out what happened to those women that the Set kidnapped??]
All in all, though, will I keep reading? Yes!