Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson

A steampunk sequel to the Mistborn trilogy.

The Alloy of Law

Tor, 2011, 325 pages

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds. Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion.

Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice. One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will.

After 20 years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

Yes, I was reading this book when I wrote about Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card here.

The Alloy of Law is a sequel to the Mistborn trilogy. I had some issues with Sanderson's worldbuilding in Mistborn, and they're still present in this book. Additionally, the story is less compelling and the writing is more mediocre.

Taking place three centuries after the end of the last series, the world once ruled by the Final Emperor is now heading into the industrial age. They've got steam engines, locomotives, electric lights, six-shooters, and Allomancers and Feruchemists plying their trades. There are law-keepers and bandit gangs out in the Roughs, the "wild west" of this new world, but back in Elendel you still have noble houses who control most of the power and wealth, though commoners are no longer chattel; civil rights have also progressed to approximately the industrial age.

Don't really expect this to be much like Mistborn. It's a fantasy Western with magic/superpowers. Brandon Sanderson loves his RPG-like magic systems, and here he gets to combine Allomancy and Feruchemy with firearms. The result is a lot of "Look how clever the characters are at thinking up a new stunt they can pull with their powers."

The main character is Waxillium Ladrian. (Yeah, seriously.) He is a nobleman from a prestigious but impoverished noble house, and he is square-jawed and heroic and Righteous and True, because Brandon Sanderson has a real fetish for the inherent nobility of noble blood. Wax is also haunted by the memory of his girlfriend who got fridged in the prologue. Hey, do you think that traumatic scene in which his girlfriend was being held hostage and he had to try to make an uber-difficult shot to save her from the bad guy might get replayed by the end of this book? Do you, do you?

Waxillium used to ride around in the Roughs dealing out justice to bad guys, but he's called back to Elendel because he must needs get married for the sake of his house. Introducing Lady Steris, who upon introduction gives him in businesslike fashion a voluminous marital contract detailing exactly how often they will enjoy conjugal bliss, protocols for mistresses, and so on. Of course her rigid and pedantic manner will eventually be revealed to be a shield for her insecurity and she's not such a bad sort, because this is what passes as "complex characterization" for Sanderson. Likewise, Marasi, Steris's cousin, the one we're supposed to actually like, is cute and smart and studying law and has a habit of quoting passages from her textbooks when she's scared. She has several other personality quirks listed on her character sheet, along with her unique, supposedly useless Allomantic power which will (surprise) prove critical in the climax.

Waxillium's best bud, Wayne, is a wisecracking sidekick out of Central Casting. They exchange quips and insults and Wayne has a thing for his lucky hat, and he has a useful Allomancy power of his own, and he's always being crude and outrageous and funny and cliched. They might verbally spar with each other, but they got each other's backs, man! Bros 4evah!

I am making fun, because Brandon Sanderson is totally that guy who grew up playing RPGs and now writes novels that could be plotted with a gaming session.

The plot is fine, there are the obligatory twists and clever revelations and tricks by both heroes and villains, and of course we eventually get hints that our old friends from the original trilogy are lurking somewhere in the background. The Alloy of Law leaves the real Big Bad uncaptured at the end, with Waxillium vowing to take him down, so obviously Sanderson will be continuing this series, in between writing Wheel of Time and Stormlight Archive doorstoppers.

But the writing in this book was pretty bad at times. Sanderson really overindulged in the superpowered battles and showing off how clever he is at thinking up combo moves, but what really got me were the repeated clunkers like "Rust and Ruin!" exclaimed every other page. And Marasi blushing. All. The. Time. Drinking game territory, folks. Every time Marasi opens her mouth, she blushes. I don't know if there was a single conversation involving her that didn't include the sentence "Marasi blushed deeply." Sometimes more than once. The poor girl must have a terrible case of rosacea. It became so repetitive I was waiting for it every time she appeared in a scene, and then I wanted to throw the book when it happened.

Verdict: Brandon Sanderson's books range from disappointingly mediocre to almost really good. The Alloy of Law is definitely in the mediocre category. I didn't like it as much as Mistborn, it had none of that book's epicness, nor were the characters as interesting. Sanderson's books appeal to those who like complicated worldbuilding as an end in itself, and endlessly detailed and precisely delineated magic systems and many battles exhibiting said rules. He still hasn't moved beyond characters who consist of summary description and backstory and a list of quirks and powers, and plots suitable for the RPGs he likes so much. He has done better than this; I'm not really interested in reading the rest of this series.

Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of The Mistborn trilogy, Elantris, and The Way of Kings.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, brandon sanderson, fantasy, reviews

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