Brandon Sanderson knows how to deliver a gut punch. And he delivers a doozy in Shadows of Self, the latest in his “Mistborn” series. I’m not going to give it away, but damn…
There will be spoilers for the previous “Mistborn” novels though. You’ve been warned.
Set 350 years after the events of the original “Mistborn” trilogy, where Vin, Elend and Sazed defeated the tyrannical Lord Ruler and the evil god Ruin, ushering in the era of Harmony, Shadows of Self is the second novel chronicling the adventures of Waxillium “Wax” Ladrian and his sidekick Wayne. The novel, which surprised Sanderson’s fans when it was announced earlier this year, kicks off another trilogy the second entry Bands of Mourning hits shelves in January, with the finale, tentatively titled The Lost Metal, coming in 2017.
In the centuries since the defeat of the Lord Ruler, technology has proceeded apace. The previous Wax and Wayne adventure, 2013’s The Alloy of Law, was set in the Roughs, a Wild West analog on the Mistborn planet of Scandrial. Shadows of Self follows Wax and Wayne (and the constable Marasi) after they have returned to the city of Elendel. Automation is displacing, motorcars are overtaking the horse-drawn carriages and rumors of a new power called electricity are swirling in academic circles.
And life is pretty good for Wax, the heroic lawman of the Roughs. He’s engaged to a beautiful woman and is living the life of an idle nobleman. There are still criminal cases to keep him occupied, and keep his mind off the death of his previous wife, Lettie, who accidentally died at his hand in Alloy of Law. Things start going bad quickly though, when a group of organized crime figures meeting at the home of the brother of Elendel’s governor are brutally murdered.
Wax and Wayne are quickly drawn into the investigation, tracking a madman possessing an unusual variety of magic powers and the ability to change appearances who is determined to destroy the perfect world built by Harmony.
Sanderson is best known for his meticulous magic systems, and Mistborn’s is easily his finest. Based upon interaction with different types of metals, it features three forms of magic Allomancy, where users ingest metal to channel their power; Feruchemy, which involves reserving power in metal jewelry; and Hemalurgy, a brutal form where charged metal spikes are driven into the practitioner to imbue them with power.
Unlike the original “Mistborn” trilogy with its overpowered allomancers, magic in Shadows of Self is less like a videogame. Wax and Wayne are “Twinborn,” possessing limited allomantic and feruchemic powers, but still enough to earn a fearsome reputation.
Also unlike the previous “Mistborn” novels, Shadows of Self starts from a place of relative calm before descending into chaos. It is also considerably more lighthearted than the original trilogy, and especially his mammoth “Stormlight Archives.”
It still features Sanderson’s trademark pacing though, slowly ratcheting the tension until it explodes in the final 20% of the book. I’m still reeling from breakneck and heart-wrenching finale. And looking forward to unraveling the new mysteries he’s introduced.
But the greatest joy of Shadows of Self is seeing how the characters from the original trilogy have become gods and legends in Elendel. It makes the return of a previous character all the more powerful.
And Sanderson has grand plans for the Mistborn world of Scandrial. Following the conclusion of the current trilogy he has mapped out two subsequent trilogies a modern cyberpunk story and a futuristic space opera. It will be interesting to see how Wax and Wayne fit into the mythology of those worlds. In the meantime there are two more of these “19th Century” Mistborn adventures to enjoy. ~~ Michael Senft