Review: “Alloy of Law”

Previously I’ve talked about my previous novel attempts, difficult revisions and cutting, actually getting work done, and reviewed Low Town.

Background

After his excellent Mistborn trilogy and being tapped to finish The Wheel of Time. Brandon Sanderson has risen swiftly through the ranks of fantasy authors.  Personally, Mistborn is my favorite series of all time.  When I found out that a new novel set in the same universe was coming out, I was excited.  The magic in the world revolves around using metals to have significant, but limited, magical effects.  Whereas the first novel took place in a fantasy dystopia with apocalyptic rumblings, this novels problems are decidedly more limited in scope.

Setting

With the same magic system firmly in place, Sanderson moves out of medieval stasis into a Wild West/ Industrial Revolution era in a novel that smartly extrapolates a world’s progression even if it fails to capture the grand scope of the original.  Alloy of Law starts in the Wild West (called the Roughs), but spends most of the time in a bustling metropolis.  Although Sanderson’s new characters lack the variety of powers found in the first trilogy, he uses his magic system adroitly to come up with formidable (and interesting) twists on what existed in his original Mistborn trilogy.  Coupled with very cool newsprint/dime store inserts between some chapters, the setting is one that easy to enjoy.

Story

Sanderson spoiled me with the Mistborn Trilogy.  It was a series that carried  immense scope and grand design, but managed to make the grandiosity expertly personal.  I expect the same from him in his other works.  In this instance, the story is a drama involving people grounded in a world of laws and high society.  A rough lawman must come home and assume his responsibilities as a noble.  Along the way, we meet haves and have-nots, urban and country folk, and even a few old characters make brief cameos.

In Alloy of Law, only a few characters get enough focus to experience significant growth and development.  The protagonist, his sidekick, the damsel in distress and the bad guy are the only developed characters in the novel.  Even then, their characterization is consistent, but more defined by their roles than their personality.   Make no mistake, they are portrayed convincingly, but somehow this novel doesn’t live up to the expectations I had for it.  The reader moved from a story about saving the world from a cascading set of terrible evils to stopping a flagrant band of thieves.   It left me disappointed.  The narrative is logical, brisk, and entertaining, but aside from some quirky moments the story goes just about the direction you expect it to.  I know Sanderson can do better (he wrote the best trilogy climax I’ve ever read) and the book feels just how he billed it: a side project.  Ultimately, its flaws are not so great that it hampered my ability to enjoy the novel.  Sanderson’s setting has evolved , characters we knew have become legends, and the magic system is still awesome, but this feels more like a stop-in than a true worthy sequel.  I found myself reading as much to discover snippets about the immediate legacy of the characters from the original trilogy as much as the new character’s story.

Overall

B. If you’re a fan of the Mistborn trilogy then reading this is a no-brainer.  If you haven’t read Mistborn yet, pass over Alloy of Law for now.  If for some strange reason you didn’t like Mistborn, well, you’re crazy, and this book won’t change your mind about Sanderson.

What I Took Away from this Book

I have always been a fan of creating ‘lore’ for the setting ala Dune.  I’ve used the trope before, and avoided it other times, but when you’ve established yourself like Sanderson its really awesome to see the graphic design, layout, and illustrations of ‘era’ newspaper broadsheets in between chapters.  It makes me want to create some setting lore documents ahead of time for the next novel I write, not necessarily to shoehorn into the novel, but have as a resource to draw on as I plot things.

Conversely, I think I learned about staying true to the world and mythos you as an author created.  You can write a book about a heist, or a murder mystery, or life on the streets, but when your the story of your world is grander and bigger than that you set up that expectation in the reader that the scope and grandeur will continue.  If this book had been released before the Mistborn trilogy my opinion on it would have been completely different.  Its not only important to think about what your next step as a write may be, but also to consider what it is the reader expects out of you having traveled with you thus far.

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