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Mistborn: Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn: Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
Book Name: Mistborn: Alloy of Law
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Paperback
Genre(s): Fantasy / Private Detective / Steampunk
Release Date: 2012

I was nervous going into Mistborn: Alloy of Law. I’ve read pretty much everything that Brandon Sanderson has ever written for adults and never given anything less than 4/5 stars. Mistborn the original trilogy was very good, The Way of Kings was phenomenal, and both Warbreaker and Elantris were some of the finest examples of standalone fantasy I’ve come across.

Why was I nervous? Well, whilst reading the blurb for this novel, it became quickly apparent that this was Sanderson experimenting – trying out new things. Rather than an epic fantasy/adventure novel it sounded more like a Harry Dresden/Philip Marlowe type detective novel set in the Mistborn Universe and I wasn’t sure how Sanderson’s writing style would translate.

Brandon SandersonSo, before I go into reviewing this title (feel free to skip this section by the way) let me explain to you why I standby Sanderson as one of the finest authors writing fantasy literature. To me, Brandon Sanderson is THE best worldbuilder in fantasy. Obviously, worldbuilding isn’t the be-all and end-all of writing within the fantasy genre, but it’s a pretty big part! The worlds and magic systems that Sanderson has created are logical and so well thought out that they feel incredibly real. I can’t think of a world, even Tolkien’s Middle Earth, which feels more real to me than the Final Empire.

That’s a bold statement, I know, but Sanderson’s worlds, like real life, have strict rules and everything within them is there, having evolved as such, for a reason. In Mistborn the magic systems, named Allomancy and Feruchemy, are so well defined that if at any time a character was to break the rules of these established systems you’d be writing Sanderson an angry e-mail demanding an explanation. Tolkien’s worlds never managed this – Gandalf did what he needed to do when he needed to do it – there was no set rules in regards to what could be done.

The same goes for the world the novel is set within. I should mention, before Tolkien fans go mad – I loved Lord of the Rings, it is one of the best fantasy trilogies of all time, but the world of The Lord of The Rings, and especially The Hobbit have always felt ‘constructed’, built around the story and characters at that particular time. In comparison, the setting of Mistborn feels like a world that has existed for a long time and Sanderson has simply crafted a story on top of this world. I know enough history about Middle Earth to know that this wasn’t actually the case – Middle Earth came about before the story for Lord of the Rings, but my point is that the locations the characters visit seem to appear to make a story, which as a reader can lead you to rolling your eyes. So, what I’m taking forever to say is that: when you pick up a novel by Sanderson, you feel as though this story is happening in a world that has existed for a long time, and that the story has limits based upon that world. You feel you know the rules and that is difficult to do in a wholly constructed universe.

So, Mistborn: Alloy of Law gives Sanderson’s worldbuilding abilities the ultimate test. Sanderson has set this novel 300 years after the events of the first Mistborn trilogy. The characters we grew to love from those three novels are now long gone, remembered as part of the history and – in Vin and Kelsier’s case – part of the religion. Sanderson has mapped out how technology would influence this world and how much/how little of it would be needed with Allomancy. What amazed me, right from the prologue, was how natural this huge leap in time felt. We have gone from a society that was ruled by those who had Allomantic powers, a twisted and yet traditional epic fantasy setting, to a world on the brink of a technological revolution.

Sadly, even 300 years hasn’t managed to break the class divide, you still have the rich that live in the city, Elendel, and the poor that live in the aptly named Rough. It appears that the abilities of Allomancy and Feruchemy have become something to be ashamed of and nobles in the city aren’t quick to admit they have any kind of abilities. Perhaps it is for this reason that electricity, guns and the various other technology have come into existence so quickly – with nobles no longer using their powers to travel or fight each other – transport and weapons are required.

Alloy of Law (cover 1)The new technology hasn’t helped matters; the invention of guns has meant that even regular beings can turn to a life of crime and violence. For this reason, those policing the Roughs tend to be Allomancers, Feruchemists or Twinborn with abilities that allow them to fight back. For example, only they are capable of blocking a shot from a bullet (by pushing it away) or speeding up time around them to move away from it.

Waxillium Ladrian, a rare twinborn, who has the powers of both Allomancy and Feruchemy, is one of those working as a detective/law enforcer in the Roughs. He has spent the majority of his life, using his abilities of pushing metals and becoming lighter or heavier at will, fighting those who give the Rough its bad name and trying to bring a little peace to the region.

Following a vigorous prologue, the novel begins from the perspective of Waxillium Ladrian. After twenty years fighting for order in the previously described Roughs, he has been forced to return to Elendel following a death of a family member that leaves him as heir to the Ladrian estate. Waxillium has made a promise to himself that he is going to have to leave the crime and investigation scene behind him. Events in the prologue have maimed him anyway; he is no longer able to point a gun.

His plan seems to be working. A powerful family shows interest in Wax and his house, deciding that he would make a good prospect for their daughter to take as her husband. His associates seem to have his business activities in place and so, financially, he should be okay. If it wasn’t for those newspaper headlines declaring a spate of train robberies and kidnappings, which Wax can’t help wonder about, he’d pretty much be over his detective days.

The fact the city relies so heavily on transportation, means there trains being robbed is a real problem and the fact the robberies are so strange is intriguing to our ex-detective. Those living the city are losing a fortune as a ghost-like train suddenly appears in front of the speeding transportation trains, carrying the city’s fortunes, and forcing them to slow. Suddenly, from nowhere, men appear and steal everything from everyone on board. When the train drivers go to search for the cargo, it’s all gone. In the few short minutes that people are on board, it seems a physical impossibility that so much could have been taken in such a short space of time.

And I think that’s about all I’m going to give you in regards to the story. It is a relatively short novel, about 80,000 words I believe, and I’ve taken you to around 10,000. Suffice to say that Waxillium does get involved in the investigation and the novel is about him solving this great mystery, whilst at the same time trying to conquer his demons from the prologue and finally make that choice: The City and his heritage, or The Roughs where he feels he belongs.

So, did Sanderson pass his test? Did his experiment work? Well, in many ways yes. I think Sanderson nailed the 1960s American detective novel style and tone he was going for. The third person is free indirect style with internal focalisation (basically a fancy way of saying that Sanderson adopts a third person style where we see through the characters eyes and for the most part their internal thoughts are revealed) is something that brings you very close to the character and attaches you quickly to him. Within a couple of chapters, I was a supporter of Wax and felt happy to have him as a guide through this evolved version of the Mistborn World.

As well as the protagonist, Wax, there are a number of supporting characters. The predominant ones are Wayne and Marasi. Wayne is a not quite reformed ex-con, but you’ll learn to love him. Wayne supplies much of the humour within Mistborn: Alloy of Law, whilst Wax tends to mope around the beginning of the novel, it is Wayne who provides the humour and brings the real Wax out of the dark-places he is trapped within. Marasi is Wax’s wife-to-be’s sister, which is an interesting dynamic as she appears to be a more apt match for Wax than her sister. Marasi is intelligent, strong and independent – a woman who certainly breaks the mould of other City-like ladies.

I think that readers who haven’t read Raymond Chandler’s work (or other P.I. genre authors from that period) may not quite get the intentionally cheesy lines that Sanderson drip-feeds to his readers. Women swoon at times (although there are also tough female characters as I’ve said) and there are some really awful one liners. But, the thing is, they are put in there by Sanderson on purpose, because that’s what this genre of fiction is all about. There is a new reaction to lines that you will have when reading this novel, it’s called the ‘roll-your-eyes-smirk’. For example:

Wayne: You wanna know why I really came to find you?

Waxilliam: Why?

Wayne: I thought of you happy in a comfy bed, resting and relaxing, spending the rest of your life sipping tea and reading papers while people bring you food and maids rub your toes and stuff.

Waxilliam: And?

Wayne: And I just couldn’t leave you to a fate like that…I’m too good a friend to let a mate of mine die in such a terrible situation.

Waxilliam: Comfortable?

Wayne: No. Boring.

Did you role your eyes and, yet, smirk at the same time? That’s what I mean! I rolled my eyes at that, it’s so damned cheesy – but I enjoyed it and it is the kind of thing you have to have in this kind of literature to invoke the setting. You almost can’t do a detective novel without it.

Alloy of Law (cover 2)As the novel progresses, you will find yourself looking to solve the mystery of how the trains are being robbed and follow Wax’s attempts to foil the robbers. The climax is satisfying and hints towards further books in the series – there are also a great number of twists along the way that make this more than a simple open and shut novella – you will gasp at a number of the reveals and that’s always important with this kind of novel. That being said – some readers, myself included, will find themselves wanting a little more substance and perhaps an extra story-thread or two.

So, not Sanderson’s most epic and memorable novel and not a book that I’m going to remember as a classic – but it wasn’t meant to be. What Sanderson has done is prove his ability to work within crossover genres and that promises exciting things for the future. I’d like to salute Brandon Sanderson on a well-written, action-packed book that readers will finish in a couple of days and cross their fingers in anticipation for follow ups.



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Oh dear – mentioning Lord Of The Rings was dangerous – don’t crucify me Tolkien fans… I’m sorry :'(

  2. Avatar Mazarkis Williams says:

    I’m not going to savage you regarding the LotR, but I do disagree. Sanderson provides a lot of rules for his worlds–one could easily make an RPG from the Mistborn trilogy, for example. But Tolkien provides history, myth, songs, geography, and everything else you’d expect to find in a real world.

    “you feel you know the rules and that is difficult to do in a wholly constructed universe.”–yes, that is exactly what I mean 🙂

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      Yes, I know what you are saying and I expect most people will find that a rather shocking comment seeing as Tolkien’s status. My aim wasn’t to say that Tolkien’s world building is poor – rather to emphasise just how great, in my eyes, Sanderson’s is.

      It’s perhaps a preference thing with me. Although I enjoyed Tolkien’s work, and I really do see his importance in transforming fantasy from a children’s genre into a mass-market for adults, I’ve struggled to be pulled deep into those books because I don’t find the World real enough. Tolkien is at a disadvantage here though, he deals with Elves and Dwarves and Orcs and such, whilst Sanderson is primarily humanoids.

      There is also the fact that Sanderson has the benefits of people’s complaints regarding Tolkien’s work (i.e. no defined magic system) and has learnt from this – he has even done Essays on the subject (Sanderson’s First & Second Laws).

  3. Avatar Mazarkis Williams says:

    Personally, if I wanted to write rules about magic systems, I would write gaming modules 🙂 I do understand, though, about the suspension of belief regarding elves, hobbits and the like. But then there is also MAGIC in fantasy, which with or without rules is highly fantastic.

  4. Avatar Khaldun says:

    I love Brandon Sanderson, but I don’t think he is as good as George RR Martin or Tolkien with regards to worldbuilding. Does he come up with really cool magic systems? Sure. Understandable rules? Yup. Interesting settings? Absolutely. But do his settings have the same spice and flair and variety and realism as GRRM’s Westeros? I don’t think so. Think just of how many cultures he created and how distinct they all feel: the sands of Dorne, the frozen North, the Dothraki sea, Braavos, and the 6 kingdoms of Westeros. Think of the wildlings, the faceless men, the long-dead valyrians, whalers from Ibben, slavers from Astapor, etc. Such richness and detail and flavour everywhere you go and everywhere you look.

    That said, it’s probably a preference thing once again, as I don’t an algorithm exists that can accurately and objectively rate someone’s skill at worldbuilding. It depends on where your priorities lie with regards to how the world is developed. Do you prefer variety of magic? Different cultures? Poems? Songs? Regardless of where your priorities lie, I don’t think there is any single aspect that Sanderson beats Martin except perhaps in the understanding of the magic system (and I don’t rank that as highly important, because the costs of magic in Westeros are so extreme at the moment and so I don’t need to understand them fully).

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