Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
Late one night I finished reading The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and reacted in a way that I rarely do – I was excited, very excited. I immediately got out the computer and wanted to talk about it with people. Which proved to be difficult since I had read it over a month before it was released, but the excitement was real and unusually strong.
Waxillium Ladrian (Wax) is a young aristocrat who left the civilization of the big city behind of Elendel to find his way as a lawman in the wild frontiers. After the tragic death of his lover he is called back to the city to take over as the head of a major noble house and suffer the politics of high-society. It doesn’t take long for a string of crimes to hit close to Wax as his role as patriarch and rugged lawman collide.
In many ways Sanderson has become very well known as something of a ‘cool magic system guy’. He first developed this magic system in the Mistborn trilogy (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review) and he takes it to the next level with The Alloy of Law. It’s cool, it’s fun – it’s magic with guns and train robberies. The action keeps coming and coming as genres are mashed together – Fantasy, Western, Mystery, with a dash of a few others.
In The Alloy of Law Sanderson steps things up from previous novels he’s written, speeding up the pace and ratcheting up the action. It’s fun, exciting, utterly addicting and hard to put down. This isn’t supposed to be deep, meaningful fantasy, it isn’t supposed to be gritty and subversive, it’s not even particularly epic – it’s entertainment and it succeeds well within its goals.
The Alloy of Law is enthusiastic and energetic. In comparison to his previous works, think of the best of his fight or battle scenes in Mistborn and The Way of Kings (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review). The Alloy of Law carries that high level of energy throughout most of the book.
Archetypes rule in The Alloy of Law. This is the buddy movie of fantasy thrown in with a hefty dose of Western where the wild-wild west meets up with civilization. Wax is a classic hero and Wayne his faithful sidekick. The Lady Marasi is the equally classic potential love interest. The big, bad enemy is also pretty standard – he knew Wax in the past, he’s a former lawman turned bad for his own sort of idealistic reasons that Wax can almost sympathize with. I suppose you could call it all cliché, call the hero a Gary Stu, etc. However that is the point – the cliché is embraced and the rather predictable story is hugely entertaining. The Alloy of Law succeeds because it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t.
Of course this is where the problem will lie for many. Classic, archetype fantasy is not what is ‘in’ these days – fantasy is supposed to be hard core, gritty and subversive. Characters aren’t just flawed, they are really messed up, dialogue as rough as the slums, etc. Sanderson is both praised and criticized for his more PG to PG-13 portrayal of fantasy and the dreaded YA label is often thrown about (I’ve ranted before about how that’s a pretty short-sighted view). Sanderson has also come under fire for his dialogue – and I think that the overly witty dialogue of The Alloy of Law will be seen by many as a step backward.
But for me, this is all expected and not (necessarily) a bad thing. Sanderson does it all well and he tells the story in his typical style that has become very recognizable. Basically, I find his prose and style to be essentially negligible. To put it another way, it’s so benign that it fades to the background and the story takes over. I find it a perfect balance for getting sucked into the story and just running with it. The flaws and minor annoyance pass by without impact or notice as I simply enjoy the ride.
I started this review with the excitement I felt after finishing the book, so I should really discuss that a bit more. The Alloy of Law is billed as a stand-alone book in Sanderson’s Mistborn world. This is only somewhat true – for the end of the book throws a wrench into things. There are many questions left unanswered, a few exciting reveals that leave ending literally begging for an eventual sequel. And I really want to read that sequel. Unfortunately Sanderson is quite busy with other projects and any sequel is seemingly far off into the future, but I am hopeful – The Alloy of Law came out of nowhere, surprising Sanderson fans, so I hope that in the near future another surprise will emerge bearing the continuation of Wax’s story.
To sum it all up, The Alloy of Law really comes down to how you feel about Sanderson’s books. If you haven’t been a big fan of his previous books, particularly Mistborn, then this probably isn’t the book for you. However, if you like Sanderson’s books, particularly Mistborn, this will probably turn out to be one of the better books you’ll read this year. And fear not, if you haven’t read Mistborn, The Alloy of Law is fine introduction to Sanderson’s writing. The Alloy of Law is a relatively straight-forward book with lots of action and overly witty dialogue. It isn’t trying to be anything overly deep, gritty or subversive. It succeeds very well within its goals and yes, it's a lot of fun with some really clever use of a cool magic system.