The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson. Tor, 2011. 332 pp. 978-0-7653-3042-0.
... in which Waxillium Ladrian, Allomancer, uses his Allomantic abilities and his skills as a lawman to bring down a ring of dangerous and powerful criminals.
The Alloy of Law is a sequel to Sanderson's amazingly awesome Mistborn trilogy, though this book is a stand-alone story and can be read without any familiarity with the original Mistborn books. Set about three hundred years after the events in the original Mistborn trilogy, this story follows Waxillium Ladrian, a former lawman and current lord of the House Ladrian. Wax spent twenty years as a lawman in the Roughs, working in tiny, backwoods towns to apprehend criminals, much like a sheriff in an old-fashioned western. However, when his uncle dies in a tragic accident, Wax is summoned back to the capital city of Elendel to assume his duties as the head of his House. Struggling to adjust to life among the highborn aristocracy after spending two decades in the Roughs, Wax sets aside his lawman tendencies. However, when a series of mysterious and high-profile robberies and kidnappings continue to go unsolved, Wax begins to investigate and finds that the case is far more dangerous than he anticipated.
One thing to know about this book is that it is definitely a very different story than the stories told in the original Mistborn trilogy, but this story retains many of the original trilogy's strengths. The systems of magic, Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemalurgy, are among the most unique and interesting kinds of magic in modern fantasy. Allomancy in particular is very well-developed, and is a good tool for driving a plot forward without being too much of a plot convenience for the characters. Sanderson does a great job in creating characters with these amazing supernatural abilities, while also giving the characters very human problems to deal with.
In the acknowledgments in the front of the book, Sanderson explains that he intends for the Mistborn world to eventually be a trilogy of trilogies, with one in the past (the original trilogy), one in an urban semi-modern setting, and one in a futuristic setting. This book, however, is not part of any of these trilogies and is meant to be a self-contained story. Because it's a shorter work, the plot ends up losing some of the depth and intricacy that made the first three Mistborn books so great. It also ends up being a more straightforward mystery caper, as opposed to a sprawling epic dealing with governmental collapse, philosophy, destiny, and religion. However, it does a very good job at being a fantasy mystery caper. It's a quick, enjoyable read, with an interesting protagonist, amusing side characters, and an intriguing villain. It's got a lot of action, which helps propel the plot forward at a pretty quick pace without a lot of sitting around (most of the action takes place over the course of two or three days). The ending, while not exactly shocking, was interesting enough to leave me satisfied. So, although I missed a lot of the original characters and some of the bigger, grander aspects of the first three books, this book was a nice glimpse into the Mistborn world. Also, I can't complain... if the original plan was for Sanderson to just write three trilogies (in between his other fairly massive projects), then we probably wouldn't have gotten this book at all, so in that way, it's like a bonus. (I would happily have him abandon the WoT nonsense and leave it unfinished until he gave us approximately 15 more Mistborn books, but that is neither here nor there)
It was also interesting to read a book where none of the characters were actually Mistborn. For people unfamiliar with the Mistborn system of magic (why are you reading this review), Allomancers are born with the ability to ingest and "burn" certain metals, with each metal giving the user some particular power. Almost all Allomancers can only burn one metal, but very rarely a person comes along who can burn any Allomantic metal; these people are called Mistborn, and they are very powerful and almost unstoppable. In the original Mistborn series, by the end we had at least seven (by my count) Mistborn appear in major or minor roles. There are none in this book, so it's interesting to have a main character with a really cool power but still have a lot of limitations as compared to our previous protagonist. Granted, Wax can use Feruchemy in addition to Allomancy, but he's still far more limited in his abilities than Vin was. His task in this book are quite a bit smaller than Vin's were, but they're still significant obstacles, so it's interesting to watch him use his one Allomantic talent and his one Feruchemy talent to try to apprehend the bad guy.
Probably the coolest thing about this book is that it addressed one big failing with a lot of fantasy works. Sanderson mentioned in his acknowledgments that he was interested in exploring a fantasy world where technology and innovation actually change over the course of the years, rather than remaining stagnant (three thousand years between the two Ring Wars in Middle Earth, and the biggest innovation is that Saruman figured out a way to make a really primitive bomb? Really?). So, in a believable progression of innovation, in the three hundred years between books, society has progressed from being dependent on candles and oil lamps to having trains, basic electricity, guns, and rudimentary automobiles. It adds a really interesting element to the story, since we now have the magics involving metals, and pre-Industrial technologies. I will be very interested to see where this goes in the next two trilogies, especially the one set in a futuristic world. I did spend a very long time (at least a half hour) comparing the maps from the Mistborn trilogy to the maps in this book, and I can't exactly figure out where this city of Elendel is supposed to be with relation to the old landmarks (I'm assuming it's supposed to be the same city as the one in the first books), since the landscape seems to have changed (mountains moved around and some seas appeared), which is less realistic in a three hundred year span, but I think that's a very minor complaint overall.
Recommended reading for fans of the Mistborn series, as long as you recognize that this book is NOT meant to be a full-fledged successor to those books. If you're not a fan of the Mistborn books.... why? Get off this blog.