Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

(9.0/10)

Book of the Year 2015 (see all)

Several hundred years have past since the rebirth of Scadrialand, its peoples emerging from the long dark earth and stepping into the light of a new world, a world of balance, where perseveration and ruin can coexist in harmony.

The time of Allomantic and Feruchemical powers is waning, as steel and technology take its grip on a newborn land. However, not all is as Harmony wished it to be.

Lord Waxillium 'Wax' Ladrain, self-styled Guardian and Lawman of Elendel and his trusted companion Wayne, rare Twinborns who can use both Allomantic and Feruchemical powers return once more, working against the clock to halt civil unrest and solve the mystery of who is masterminding the instability gripping the city.

Shadows of Self is the second in Brandon Sanderson’s “Wax and Wayne” series, but you could be forgiven in feeling it is a first. While there is a history and depth of knowledge already in place its delivery comes across as a fresh beginning, of a story building itself anew.

In reality, if you are reading Shadows of Self, you may have already read Alloy of Law and/or the Mistborn series. As they say, once you go Sanderson you don’t go back. Shadows of Self takes the ethos and the quality of the Mistborn trilogy and offers it back to the reader from a new perspective, giving you the best of the old, with the adventure of the new.

However, if you have not read any of the Mistborn series (where have you been - a cave in the ground awaiting the world to spin itself to harmony?) then you are going to struggle. A rewarding struggle but a struggle none the less.  Whilst it is not strictly necessary to read the original series you really should read Alloy of Law to ground yourself in the story’s modern history. On the other hand, if you can't wait that long to jump into Shadows of Self, Sanderson does provide a little of the backstory as the narrative progresses.

Wax and Wayne once again take up the role of independent Lawmen for the city of Elendel. They are a pair of fast-talking, long thinking and quick acting agents of law and order. Wayne’s internal monologue and turn of phrase provides the humour, while Wax supplies the moral compass and drive, with his desire for justice forged during his years in the raw and wild of the Roughs.

Wax and Wayne feel like they have been given more room to breathe, to stretch their proverbial legs and let the reader get a firmer grasp of who they are and what makes them tick. Because of this we are given a plot which builds layer by layer with familiar and unfamiliar themes. Carry over characters from Alloy of Law and the Mistborn books, such as Tensoon, the Kandra and Sazed, add a welcome continuity.

With SoS I quite enjoyed the Sazed perspective, particularly as he deals with the realities of divinity. Sazed struggles to walk the line of action and inaction and knows that even when humans have it good, they still get it wrong, make mistakes and only slowly evolve and understand once they have picked themselves up from their missteps. It’s these varying elements of gradual progression and narrative insight which keeps the book in your hand and impossible to put down.

Wax and Wayne are not alone this time, along for the journey is Marasi, who in comparison to her presence in Alloy of Law is cast in a more prominent role.  While not the most dynamic of characters, at times being undistinguished in her contributions to the greater story, her perspective and interaction with Wax does add a greater complexity and humanity to his, at times, rigid personality.

For all its positives, nothing is as perfect as each individual reader inevitability wants it to be. We always want a little more of this or a little more of that. For my own personal tastes I would have enjoyed seeing a greater overt use of Wax and Wayne’s powers from the outset. It’s not until the last quarter that you get a rolling and continued feeling of the old Mistborn sorcery. Throw in a little more detail on modern history, material on what occurred after the Emergence until the current day Elendel and I would have been a happy camper.

By no means is the Shadows of Self story a convoluted and Machiavellian mystery. At times it felt a little too easy for team Wax as they didn’t have to tax themselves too much to solve the next clue or puzzle. The flip side to this is you are swept along smoothly and easily with the plot and transported to that world and characters built long by a skilled story teller who is planting a seed of new promise and giving the reader a root’n toot’n adventure as well.

In Shadows of Self you can feel the world, it's mists and people. You can smell the horse leather and the coal in the air and you just want more.

Review by

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