Thursday, 8 December 2011

‘The Alloy of Law’ – Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)

The blog has been going for a little while now (four and a bit years and counting, go me!) and what I find myself doing more and more is to go back and look at earlier reviews I’ve posted, just to get caught up on the events of a series really, especially if it’s been a couple of years since I read the last book. Whilst reading ‘The Alloy of Law’, I dipped back into the blog to see what I’d thought of Sanderson’s earlier works... only to find that I’ve barely read any of them.

There are loads of posts going on about what Sanderson is up to (signings and so on) but only two posts about his books. These posts covered the first two Mistborn books and, as it happened, I couldn’t finish the third one and have never been able to get into his work since. Warbreaker? Never opened it. The last two ‘Wheel of Time’ books? I’m keep telling myself that I’m waiting for the series to end before I get stuck into these (the truth is more along the lines of ‘Crossroads of Twilight’ killed this series for me...) ‘The Way of Kings’? It started off promisingly but fell foul of the ongoing ‘no time to read big thick books’ issue and is currently nestled somewhere under my bed...
Clearly something had to be done, if only to figure out for myself just why it is that I can’t get into Sanderson’s work. ‘The Alloy of Law’ came along at just the right time then as it’s relative brevity (only three hundred and twenty five pages long) ensured that I’d have time to give it a read and finally clear things up once and for all. Imagine then, how surprised I was to find that I really enjoyed ‘The Alloy of Law’ and that I might have been wrong the whole time. Now I find myself in the position of having to dig under the bed for that copy of ‘The Way of Kings’ but if it’s anything like ‘The Alloy of Law’ it’ll be worth it...

Three hundred years have passed since the events of the ‘Mistborn’ trilogy shaped the world of Scadrial. The main players have disappeared into history (or even religion) but the world continues to evolve and change in their absence. While Scadrial is still a world of magic, steam and electricity power day to day living and ever growing towers and railway lines stand as monuments to this. Outside the cities though, Allomancy and Feruchemy still play an important role in the enforcing of frontier justice in the ‘Roughs’; land where life is unfortunately still very cheap.
Waxillium Ladrian was one such law keeper until a family tragedy forced him to return to the city of Elendel and take up the duties of Lordship over one of the noble houses. Wax is determined to restore his house to its former glory but his past life won’t let him go that easily, especially when a wave of crime overtakes the city. Wax has twenty years of law keeping experience to draw upon but the mean streets of Elendel can be even more dangerous than the wide open plains of the Roughs...

‘The Alloy of Law’ is a book that is incredibly easy to get into and more than a little difficult to put down as a result. The following phrase is probably bandied about a little too much these days (and I’m as guilty as anyone else) but ‘The Alloy of Law’ is genuinely one of those books where the pages somehow turn themselves while you sit there comfortably and enjoy the ride.

Having never finished the third ‘Mistborn’ book (I can’t even remember what it’s called, damnit) I did wonder how easy it was going to be to get into ‘Alloy’ without that prior knowledge. The answer was ‘incredibly easy’ as it happened. Sanderson gives us enough time between ‘Mistborn’ and ‘Alloy’ for the plot and setting to stand very nicely on its own. ‘Alloy’ is a book that can be read by newcomers and there were enough links to the first trilogy to satisfy long time readers and fans. It’s inevitable though (just because of where the book sits in the overall timeline) that will be some spoilers for those who haven’t read the ‘Mistborn’ books. You can’t get away from that, just the fact that this book exists as it does hints at the ending of the original trilogy. I was fine with that and you might be as well; if you haven’t read the ‘Mistborn’ books though then you might want to bear this in mind.

The story itself presents the reader with an apparently unsolveable mystery and then prompts us to sit back and watch whilst Wax solves that mystery within a very short space of time. Does Sanderson make it too easy for Wax to get to the bottom of things (given how quickly the mystery is solved)? I did wonder at first but then put this down to Sanderson having to write a much tighter plot than normal and not having as much space as a result. Clues are discovered quickly and answers arrived at in a manner that is a little too good to be true; Sanderson balances this out though by showing us exactly how Wax (and his companion Wayne) come to these conclusions. There are no intuitive leaps here, just two guys who have done detective work for a long time and are very good at what they do.

All the while that the mystery is being solved, Sanderson is spicing things up with the kind of action that you can only get in the world of the Mistborn. We’re talking ‘Matrix’ style action again with all sorts of acrobatics being performed as a result of burning metals in your body (I still can’t quite get my head around the intricacies of this but I’m getting there). This time round though, there’s a ‘Western theme’ being played out and it’s all credit to Sanderson that he fits his magic system into this newer setting so well; it feels so natural and like it should be there. These confrontations are spectacular and the ‘Wild West’ spin made for a refreshing change to me.

Waxillium is set up to be a sympathetic character right from the beginning (even I felt for him after that initial shootout) but the ease with which he fell back into his old life made that initial bout of sympathy feel a little bit contrived when I looked back at it. After that, Wax became a character that I followed more because of his tenacity than any sympathy that I had for him (which was none really). He’s a guy that will take one hell of a kicking and still keep trying to do the right thing; you’ve got to admire a man like that.
The character I was more interested in was Wayne; a man also trying to do the right thing but still bound, by his own internal logic, to break the law in any number of minor ways. I also couldn’t place his accent (the only cockney on Scadrial?) which may have been the point...

The setting was as well drawn as I remember it being in the ‘Mistborn’ books and Sanderson does a fine job of keeping to the roots of the first trilogy whilst also showing how the world has moved on. I couldn’t help but think though that the setting grew less detailed the further the characters moved into the depths of the city...

This niggle (as well as the others) was a minor one though. ‘The Alloy of Law’ was a thoroughly entertaining read that I couldn’t get enough of. Any book that makes you want to go out and read everything else an author has written is doing its job very well indeed.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

P.S. If you're in the US then Tor are publishing 'The Alloy of Law', you probably knew that already though ;o)

2 comments:

Mandorallen said...

Man it confuses me that people hated Crossroads of twilight so much, i enjoyed that book. Definitely not the best but still.

Anyways i know what you mean about hero of ages. Probably the worst stuff i've read from Sanderson. But Warbreaker is great, and The Way of Kings is probably my favorite book of the last five years.

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

It's shocking that I've still not read ANY Sanderson, and that is a crime. I've The Way of Kings as the only book on my Christmas List this year, and if I don't get it I'll be taking a little trip to Amazon soon after!