REVIEW: THE ALLOY OF LAW (MISTBORN #4)
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 This new era in the world of MISTBORN is one that is pretty different in some ways from the original trilogy, but I found it to be a fun and rather unique experience that is absolutely worth a read both as a follow up to the books that came before it and as a story in it's own right.
Our story stars the middle-aged Waxillium (or Wax for short). In spite of the goofy name, Wax is a deeply compelling character who I immediately felt invested in. We spend a short prologue with him going through a personal tragedy only for him to then be sucked back to Elendel (his home city) to take over the family's affairs after members of his family suffer tragic deaths. It's a bit of a whirlwind to throw readers into, but I liked that we very quickly get to learn about who Wax is, what's important to him, and what his personal struggles are. He only really gets more interesting as the story goes on and by the end, I found myself eager to spend more time with him and his companions.
As with really any Sanderson story, there is a host of colorful side characters that are nearly as compelling as Wax. A cranky gunsmith, a brave yet bashful young woman with a keen mind, a business-like heiress, a judgmental butler, and a wise-cracking master of disguises are just a few of the highlights. I will also say that the villains were extremely interesting. I don't really want to spoil exactly who they are or what they are trying to do since much of that is meant to be mysterious, but I loved the scenes told from their perspectives and the completeness of their characterization made for some awesome points of conflict. Wax spends the most time with Wayne and Marasi, both of which were compelling in their own way and I enjoyed how each of them related to Wax. That said, Wayne is a character I have heard a lot of people complain about and honestly, I do understand why. If you are not a fan of Sanderson's brand of humor, then this character will likely drive you nuts. Even as someone who is generally unaffected one way or the other by Sanderson's "jokes," I will admit that Wayne is a bit much. I did love his affinity for donning disguises though. There were a lot of moments that reminded me of Robert Downy Jr.'s rendition of Sherlock Holmes which was a huge positive for me when it came to Wayne's character. I also enjoyed his shockingly dark backstory and I hope that future books explore more of that and less of his idiotic quips. Lastly, there is Sterris who I think might turn out to be a rather compelling character as well, though we don't get to see much of her in this book.
This is probably the area in which most fans are going to be put off. Whereas the original MISTBORN trilogy started as a medieval heist story that expanded into a larger-scale political struggle and then ultimately into a cataclysmic war with world-ending stakes, THE ALLOY OF LAW sets out to tell a story that's much less grandiose, though in my opinion, no less exciting. While I felt like the story's opening might have been a little too chaotic for me to feel the full impact of, I did appreciate that things start of with a bang and I think that Sanderson needed to begin the new era in this way given how crazy things got at the end of the original trilogy. The narrative is a lot more streamlined this time around too with there being one central plot. I personally enjoy this type of storytelling and prefer it over the multitude of subplots and side perspectives that we got in previous books, but I know a lot of fantasy fans will find this to be a letdown. For me, I thought the pacing was superb with things always moving in a forward direction and there being a nice balance of tense action and quieter moments. There are also some fun twists and turns that the story takes although I will say that I saw the reveal of the big villain's true identity coming from a mile away. I also enjoyed how Wax and Wayne's past kept creeping into the story. The way that different people and events from before the story's beginning affected the current events enriched the narrative without ever feeling like exposition. There are also some vague allusions to the history of this world that the original trilogy covered which was nicely handled as well. In the end, I loved how the conclusion was both a satisfying resolution to the core source of conflict but also a nice setup for some things to come in the future. There is a particularly interesting section of the epilogue where a surprise cameo really took me off guard and made me wonder where things will go when it comes to the more mythical aspects of the world.
If you're even casually a fan of fantasy westerns, then I think there are a lot of things here that you will really appreciate. A lot of the action scenes in particular seem to be inspired by Western Movies and there's a certain cowboy swagger to some of the characters as well. There are also little flourishes of industrial revolution chucked in for good measure with automobiles entering the streets and electricity being installed into homes for the first time. In many ways, this is a radically different version of the planet, Scadriel, that we have come to know and love. The events of the original trilogy and all of it's main characters have faded into history and there are even religions that have sprung up around them. While the more mythological elements remained a mystery even by the end of this novel, I am very curious to see if/how certain key figures from the past may still have some kind of role to play in the present. Conceptually, I really liked the idea of coming back to a familiar location after a big time skip. There are also some poignant similarities between these two different eras with society still being divided into the haves and the have-nots even if there isn't the same level of societal disparity between the two classes. Instead, you have something a little more reminiscent of the wild west where the rich city folk think themselves quite safe and refined while they perceive the citizens of "The Roughs" to be barbaric and brutal. The dialogue around how different or similar these two different sections really are was interesting and it was fascinating to see Wax slowly uncover how dangerous Elendel really is and how much it truly needs someone of his talents. On the topic of talents, I'd gone in expecting Wax to be another Mistborn, but it actually appears like there may not be any of those left. Instead, both Wax and Wayne are what is described as "Twinborn," meaning that they have one Allomatic Power and one that is Feruchemical - a result of the Terris bloodline mixing with that of the general population. I liked this new combination of powers and enjoyed learning about the possibilities and limitations of different combinations. The way Allomancy works also seems to be changed up somewhat, although perhaps I am just misremembering those details from the prior books. All in all, I think there's still a lot left to discover in this new era for Scadriel and I very much look forward to continuing with the series to uncover it all.
Sanderson's non-Dragon Steel editions have always been a little lackluster in my opinion. I tend not to like the covers TOR selects and they seem to love publishing their paperback editions in the Mass Market size, which I dislike most of the time. That said, I think the hardcovers for these Era Two books are actually pretty nice. I like the character art that is on the covers and found the interior formatting to be nice. There are also these "broadsheet" (newspaper) clippings which are inserted at different points and I liked those a great deal as well, especially since the broadsheets play an important role in the story. It's not quite the same thing as having a true illustrated edition, but I think that there are enough nice little flourishes and a solid enough presentation overall to make this one worth owning physically (I actually only have the original trilogy in eBook format).
Fans of the original trilogy do need to understand that this book is very different from it's predecessors and it may be best to leave some time in between finishing the first era and jumping into this one, but those that give it a fair chance may find it to be a worthwhile (and quick) read.
(+) Wax made for an excellent protagonist
(+) I honestly enjoyed the supporting cast even more than I liked the secondary characters in the original trilogy
(+) Fast pacing and exciting action scenes coupled with a relatively short page count (for fantasy) made this a delightfully quick read
(+) Some interesting connections and references to the original books
(+) Exploring the new Scadriel was so much fun and it seems to have much more to offer
(+) A good setup for continued conflict
(-) The sharp departures this entry takes from the first three MISTBORN books will turn some fans off
(-) Those who do not appreciate Sanderson's humor will find Wayne's banter insufferable