REVIEW: THE SHADOWS OF SELF (MISTBORN #5)
HOW I RATED IT
5/5 Fast pacing, exciting action, shocking plot twists, and compelling character development all came together to form what I would personally consider the most enjoyable story in the entire MISTBORN series so far.
Wax (Waxillium) and Wayne return alongside Marasi. Some time has passed since Wax was deputized and in the meantime, Marasi has obtained a new job as part of the constabulary. I don't always like time skips, but in this case, I think the jump between books worked well. The major twists at the end of the previous entry are quickly followed up on and it was really interesting to see the characters from this era have interactions with certain figures from the original trilogy who now have deific roles in this reimagined world. We also get the return of the kandra people who were mentioned in THE ALLOY OF LAW, but are now properly reintroduced in some really interesting contexts and serve as important catalysts for the main plot of this adventure. Wax and co. are all also built upon in some compelling ways. It was nice to see Wax fully embrace his new role in Elendel, but then also learn about how he might not be fully embraced by the people he serves and is instead viewed as a necessary evil. Marasi really comes into her own in some ways, though she still wants to feel included as a part of Wax and Wayne's team. Her struggle between defining her own identity, yet still caring about the approval of others felt deeply human and extremely relatable. Wayne didn't bother me as much as he has others, but I still found myself liking him a lot more this time around, largely due to how we get a lot more insight into his past and how those experiences may have contributed to who he is today. Even Sterris, who really didn't get too much time to develop before, is given some much needed page time as she and Wax spend some plan their wedding and meet social obligations together. I enjoyed having a little more depth added to her character and even though she doesn't show up much in the latter half of the story, I am optimistic about her role in future books. Without spoiling anything, I will also say that the main villain of this book is one of the best that the series has ever seen and the twists we got from them at the end absolutely blew my mind.
Things start off with a flashback to the first time that Wax met Lessie. While I initially thought this was just a good way for us to remember what Wax lost, I was so impressed by how tangibly these events ended up factoring into the core narrative. I was also blown away by how the events of the original trilogy came back and had direct impact on the plot. Often times with these kinds of things, there are simply callbacks to prior characters and moments, which is nice, but it was a real treat for certain figures and history to play so integral a role in the story being told. Beyond these welcome surprises, I also just really enjoyed the plot of this book. Wax and the team are pulled into a new case that quickly escalates into something much more serious. This time around, I would say that there was more of an espionage and noir type of feeling rather than the pseudo-western vibes from the first installment in this era. That may rub some people the wrong way, but I liked the shift just fine myself. I think a lot of this had to do with the main villain, especially when it came to their goals and abilities. I loved the focus on the mystery elements as well as the game of cat and mouse that is played all while the city of Elendel is on the brink of violent riots. The twists and turns that the plot takes along the way kept things fresh and I loved how expertly the character development was woven in with it all. There is always a somewhat cinematic quality to Sanderson's work, but I feel like that came out in full force with this piece. Absolutely no time is wasted and even the quieter moments felt intense in their own way. I honestly think that this is some of the best storytelling that Sanderson has ever done, though I know many would probably not agree with me and I do have to admit that a lot of this would not have landed the same if this story wasn't written on the shoulders of those that came before it.
Outside of the prologue chapter set in The Roughs, the narrative remains firmly planted within the city confines of Elendel. While that might not sound super exciting, I actually liked that the city itself is kind of developing as a character of sorts, similar to how fictional cities like Gotham or Metropolis take on an identity of their own. I also loved a part towards the story's end where Wax gets to literally walk through a bit of Scadriel's history. The overall mood of Elendel is a lot different this time around. Whereas THE ALLOY OF LAW saw Wax trying to reintegrate with the city's high society, this book spends more time looking at the lives of the common people. Things have gotten harder for those who aren't part of the noble houses as labor conditions worsen and supply chains don't run like they used to. Unemployment spikes and tensions feel like they are about to bubble over. This level of societal discord added some extra layers of suspense to an already gripping main conflict. It was also really interesting to see Wax make a brief visit to a Terris sanctuary. There were some vague allusions to how the Terris culture has adapted over the centuries, but getting some firsthand exposure to it was fascinating, especially since Wax himself is part Terris. There aren't a ton of new additions to the magic system, though the main villain is capable of some things that shouldn't be possible based on the previously defined rules. Those breaks in the systems made for some interesting mysteries that do get partially resolved, but those answers opened up some even more fascinating questions to be followed up on in the future. I think what takes a bigger focus here is the magic that was used to remake the world and how certain choices have affected the version of Scadriel that we are now in. There are some really interesting questions raised about the nature of godhood and I look forward to seeing how the faith of certain characters wavers or remains steadfast going forward.
All of my praise of the previous book's hardcover edition remained true here. The book is well constructed. I love the cover's depictions of Wax and Marasi. I think there might have been slightly fewer broadsheet pages, but I am not sure about that and even if that is the case, I felt as though the ones we did get were even nicer than those from the previous book (especially when it came to the illustrations that they included). I also always enjoy the inclusion of the Allomatic symbols at the start of each chapter. It's a small flourish, but I feel like touches like that can go a long way to making a book feel special.
Though this is likely a very unpopular opinion, I think this book might be my favorite in the entire series so far. The expert pacing, depth added to each character, high-stakes tone, callbacks to the past, and revelations that will likely rock the future of the series all made for an immensely enjoyable ride that has left me eager to get to the next book.
(+) Wax is back and even better than before
(+) Sterris, Wayne, and Marasi are all developed brilliantly
(+) This book has some of the smoothest pacing in any book I have ever read
(+) Even more incredible callbacks to the original trilogies with more returning characters
(+) Although the story stays in Elendel, it feels like a very different place in some ways
(+) Some spectacular revelations that will likely have some major consequences in the next books