Earlier this year, I bought the Mistborn trilogy boxed set, expecting a fairly good epic fantasy– nothing spectacular, but not too shabby either. I was pleasantly surprised. The author, Brandon Sanderson, is now one of my favorite authors. The Mistborn trilogy redefined my idea of epic fantasy, changing it from long, boring, and ponderous to long, exciting, and fast-paced. Once I had finished the Mistborn trilogy, I was eager for more. I found it at last in a companion novel set in the same world: The Alloy of Law.
The Alloy of Law is a stand-alone fantasy, tied to the events of the Mistborn trilogy, but not inextricably. The world has progressed far past its original state, becoming the site of an Industrial Revolution that ties together the Allomantic, Feruchemical, and Hemalurgic magics with steam engines and guns. It was a delightfully different look at a familiar world. While the Mistborn trilogy was written in a heist format, the Alloy of Law was a cross between a Western shoot-em-up, Sherlock Holmes, and an epic fantasy; a combination akin to the Firefly TV series, which I have found most interesting.
The book was written surprisingly like an action movie, and its stand-alone state contributes heavily toward that. With new characters who will not appear again in later books (if any), the entire thing felt like a sideshow, but an extremely interesting sideshow at that. The book was self-contained. Different techniques that appear almost exclusively in stand-alone action movies were featured in this book (such as the Marvel Mistake), but it didn’t seem corny– it felt like the way action movies should be written.
The main characters were vivid and excellent. From the prologue, I was engaged in the main character’s personal struggles; from the sidekick’s first scene (yes, there’s a sidekick– Western action movie, I’m telling you), I was excited to get to know him. The author did amazingly well creating suspense within the first few scenes, telling characters’ entire backstories in a few short paragraphs without telling anything– only showing. This book was written by a master of sympathetic characters.
The plot was strong and very complex. Although at the very end the laws of physics seemed a little wonky (completely aside from the magic influencing them), the entire thing was excellent and well thought-out. Every conclusion the main character came to seemed inevitable and correct, and the author foreshadowed so well that nothing seemed like a Deus Ex Machina or a weird jump in reasoning. And while the main characters sometimes kept their plans from the audience, it never seemed contrived or annoying that they did so, as it often does in other such situations.
The romance in the book was expected, but never old or cheesy. We all knew what was going to happen in that subplot, but it was never boring. Neither was it overpowering. It had just the right prominence, never so much that it became sickening, never so little that it became contrived. It was just right.
The humor was perfect. In times a little crude, it was nevertheless funny. The sidekick was comic relief– a staple, I believe, of the Western movie format– but he was always necessary to the plot. He cracked jokes right and left, but he wasn’t there simply for comic relief, as it sometimes happens. And he wasn’t the only source of amusement– the other characters had humorous moments of their own. It was altogether a funny book.
The characters, while capable, never seemed completely in control of the situation. Well… they did, but not completely in control. There were plot twists as surprising for them as for the audience, but there were also plot twists that only affected the audience. As I said before, they kept plans from the audience a lot, but when those plans were executed, the suspense remained tangible. It didn’t seem like they had things in hand, although they did. It’s a heist technique, I think, which goes beyond simply faking the danger. It’s a technique I desperately want to learn.
The book was amazing. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has read the Mistborn trilogy. If you’re just looking for a good, unique stand-alone Western fantasy detective story full of train robberies and guns and magic, go for it. It was an amazing book.
Things I learned:
- With several third-person limited narrators in a story, the first name to be mentioned in a chapter is the person who narrates. For instance, if the chapter begins with, “Fred looked out over the ocean,” the chapter is narrated by Fred. It would be jarring to then go on and say “Mary wished Fred wouldn’t look out over the ocean so much,” because that’s headhopping in the first two sentences. No, it wouldn’t be a heinous crime, but it’s less smooth than the original. Also, if you’re doing blocking for designating dialogue, the first name mentioned in the chapter is the person who says the following words. Malcolm sighed. “Cheese.” In this case, Malcolm is speaking. If you said, Harry snorted as Malcolm sighed. “Cheese.” Now it seems like Harry is speaking, doesn’t it? This is an easy thing to mess up, but it takes the reader out of the story a little too much.
- Somehow, you can make people excited about the main characters’ competence instead of boring them by it. I’ll have to think more about this.
- Even though swords are cool, guns are pretty cool too. Never underestimate the appeal generated by technology mixed with fantasy.