Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Alloy of Law" by Brandon Sanderson

I have a confession to make; I haven't read the "Mistborn" trilogy. I've been meaning to for the longest time and even read a good portion of the first book. But, like so many reviewers, I got sidetracked by books that I had committed to review and and haven't returned to the series. But when I heard that The Alloy of Law was a book that I could read as a stand-alone novel, I jumped at the chance.

Waxillium Ladrian has lived in the Roughs for twenty years and made his name as a no-nonsense lawman. But Wax is also the heir to the Ladrian estate and when his uncle is killed in an accident, he is forced to return to the big city of Elendel and try to salvage the family fortunes that have been nearly ruined through years of mismanagement. It's a tough adjustment for Wax. The city might look mannerly on the surface but, in its own way, it's even more treacherous than the Roughs. Yet Wax is determined to do what is required of him, even considering a marriage of convenience, to set things right.

Also complicating matters is an unusual spate of robberies Elendel had been experiencing before Wax had returned from the Roughs and, though he is tempted to investigate, Wax decides to leave the problem in the hands of the local constables. But when the robberies begin to escalate to kidnappings the crimes become harder to ignore. And when someone close to Wax becomes the latest victim he has no choice but to get involved.

At first glance "The Alloy of Law" looks to be a steampunk fantasy. But Elendel is moving into a modern electrical era and one is more likely to see electric lights rather than steam powered mechanicals. The feel is definitely that of a magical Wild West thanks partly to the style of dress that incorporates bowler hats and cravats as well as multiple discreetly hidden pistols. The railroad is still a big part of life in Elendel as mechanical cars are yet too expensive for common use and a horse and carriage are still the most common way to get around the big city. The upward mobility of the technology is rather useful to a Twinborn like Wax (known as a "Crasher," the mix of a Coinshot and a Skimmer) who is able to draw on metals like iron and steel for power.

“The Alloy of Law” is lighter in tone than I thought it would be and it has a sense of adventure that is a lot of fun. At its heart it’s a story of friendship, loyalty and honor. Wax is torn between a longing for his old life and a commitment to his new one. When his friend and protégé Wayne shows up hoping to encourage Wax to investigate the robberies committed by the Vanishers, the story is given an extra depth as the interactions between the two reveal more about Wax’s struggle than any part of the earlier narrative. The banter between the two characters has a natural flow and makes it easy to connect to the story.

But if I had to pick my favorite aspect of the story it would have to the powers displayed by Waxilliam and Wayne. Because "The Alloy of Law" is a book that comes later in a well-established series, the system of magic isn't spelled out as specifically as it would have been in earlier books and it is assumed the reader will have some basic understanding already. If you're like me, and coming to the book without the foundation of the earlier books, the mechanics of Ferumancy and Allomancy-- as the magical systems are called--can seem a little confusing. I understand little more than the fact that metal is the conductor and that a person can 'push' or 'pull' on a metal to propel themselves around space, draw or repel a metal object, and speed-up or slow-down time within a limited space. But one doesn't need to fully understand the mechanics to really enjoy the way the characters soar through the air. The fight scenes have such a flair to them that I couldn't help but envision a Wild West version of "The Matrix" and I found myself nurturing the hope that I might see this on a movie screen someday. Gunfights on a speeding train have never been this cool before.

Having been a fan of Sanderson ever since I read "Elantris" I had high hopes for "The Alloy of Law" and they were definitely fulfilled. It amazes me that Sanderson can write so many books, including doorstops like "The Way of Kings," and yet write so consistently well. I also think he has shown considerable growth since "Elantris" when it comes to writing dialog (the only weakness I thought existed in that book) and I really enjoyed the interplay between the characters. "The Alloy of Law" also has a very strong sense of atmosphere and a well-drawn culture. I wish that I had gone into the book having read the earlier Mistborn trilogy because I was unable to fully understand references to characters, now legends, from the earlier books, but that's something I plan on remedying immediately. The book also surprised me in that it didn't turn out to be a stand-alone book after all and there will surely be sequels to follow. But I wasn't at all disappointed thanks to great characters, lots of action and an engrossing setting. I can't wait to read more.

4 and a half  out of 5 stars.


Blodeuedd said...

I did hate the end of the Mistborn trilogy but still, yes I want to read this book cos I do love his owrks

The Happy Booker said...

One of the things I loved about this series is also something you mentioned you enjoyed, the way the characters interact with one another. I enjoy the way that Sanderson creates relationships between the characters that are so genuine. It definitely makes it that muc easier to become invested in their trials and triumphs. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I just finished Alloy of Law today and will hopefully get my review written soon.