The Alloy of Law

Although I wasn't thrilled with the last two Mistborn novels, I was keen to read Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law. Set three hundred years following the events of The Hero of Ages, the author takes his tale to a future, more modern era. Which makes it something quite different from basically everything else on the market today.

Here's the blurb:

Fresh from the success of The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, best known for completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®, takes a break to return to the world of the bestselling Mistborn series.

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs

As was the case with the original trilogy, the worldbuilding remains the most fascinating aspect of this book. But Sanderson takes it up a notch in The Alloy of Law by setting the story a few centuries in the future, in an industrial world now on the cusp of modernity. As such, the setting takes readers out of their comfort zone and makes for a number of surprises. The magic system continues to be awesome, even more so in a more modern environment. Think magical cowboy shootouts and you begin to get an idea of what I'm alluding to! As is habitually his wont, Brandon Sanderson's action sequences are incredible.

Unfortunately, the characterization is the weakest facet of this work. The original trilogy, especially the last two volumes, suffered from the same shortcoming. Sanderson's books have always been plagued by black and white characters, and the same can be said of The Alloy of Law. The good guys always look good, are too clever, never seem to make mistakes or get out of them without much trouble when they do. There is no true gray area. Juvenile humor and a general YA feel abound. Waxillium may be a better balanced protagonist than most of Sanderson's characters, yet he is no Roland of Gilead. Not by a longshot. Wayne is an often annoying sidekick and a poor man's Mat. Marasi is pretty much a carbon copy of Shallan from The Way of Kings. Didn't care much for any of the characters, and with Sanderson you just know that all the good guys will live to see another day.

Another problem is Sanderson's utter refusal to use profanities, even when the story demands a swear word or two. Even worst is the author's use of made-up expressions instead. Harmony's forearms??? Are you kidding me??? It's okay for a character to blow someone else's head up with his firearm, but it's a major foul for one of them to say "shit."

The pace is good and the action keeps you turning those pages. The plot is pretty linear and predictable. Still, Sanderson has a few unexpected surprises up his sleeves before the end is reached.

In the end, though different The Alloy of Law is no better or worse than the Mistborn trilogy. Sanderson fans -- there are legions of them -- will eat it up with a spoon. The author's detractors will find nothing to make them change their minds regarding Brandon Sanderson, however. It's no improvement and it suffers from practically the same shortcomings as the original series. But if only for the magical cowboy shootouts, you might want to give it a shot!

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

28 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Honestly while Sanderson's protagonists are white, I think the villains are very gray. None of them are actually evil that I can think of

Anonymous said...

Sanderson is really polarizing for me. I really like his magic systems, his ideas, his worlds, etc., but he always seems to be sub-par in the actual story execution department, particularly with the characters. However, I think that if Sanderson can get better with that aspect, he has a chance to be a truly great fantasy author. He has already shown some improvement, so I'm hoping it's a sign of good things to come. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Patrick why do I get the feeling your just another Joe Abercrombie fanboy. Stop sucking Abercrombie's dick. Whats with all of this grey bullshit? It seems every author these days has to have a hero who every once and a while kills a kid just to prove how hardcore they are. These hacks can't write any good stories. So they make up for it with blood and sex. Its one thing to fuck and kill in a novel. Its quite another to do it so often that you can make a fucking and murder drinking game.

SQT said...

I like that Sanderson doesn't fall back on profanity-- that's too easy IMO. There are so many "gritty" authors out there, so I don't see why Sanderson has to jump on the bandwagon. Obviously there's an audience for what he does, so why should he change?

James said...

I had to head to google just to make sure Waxillium wasn't some kind of horrendous typo. I then discovered it was much worse. Naming a character something like Waxillium Ladrian should be grounds to revoke naming privileges.

Anonymous said...

and with Sanderson you just know that all the good guys will live to see another day.

Seriously? With all due respect, that comment makes me seriously wonder if you ever read the original Mistborn trilogy. Kelsier? Vin? Elend? Heck, what about Clubs and Dockson? Sure, a few good guys survive... after a whole bunch, including the main ones, die.

And really, authors write books where the protagonists survive because that's what people want to read. Most people don't want to read a book where they get really interested in a character only to have him killed off. Sanderson's one of relatively few that's willing to at least kill off some main characters. It may not happen in every book he writes, but at least it happens sometimes. So going after Sanderson for this frankly seems pretty stupid.

Anonymous said...

So basically it's YA because he doesn't curse every other word and his hero doesn't have a penchant for raping and maiming folk?

Get off it Pat. What you want is low fantasy that's fine GRRM and Joe Ambercrombie and others do good work and I like much of it. Low fantasy features grey and black characters only and focuses much more on violence and realism.

Unfortunately Brandon is writing High Fantasy which is different. High Fantasy focuses on world building and setting up an alternate reality. It's hard to believe that an alternate reality would curse like we do instead they would develop their own words and phrasing for it. It also focuses on having black and white characters rather than gray so that it can focus on a good and evil story line. Don't bash a good author just because what he writes isn't your taste precisely or you want him to write like your favorite authors do it it's unseemly and it shows in the review which reads like something a 14 year old would write because he was pissed off there weren't enough boobies in the book he read for school.

Patrick said...

To the last anonymous, please go watch My Little Pony and let adults discuss these things intelligently.

I can be anonymous too said...

If you are going to personally insult the owner of a blog for not having the exact same tastes in books as you do, you could at least have the balls to do so under your own name rather than hiding anonymously. Not to mention, if you read the whole review, Pat actually rates the book favorably, even though he points out the things he didn't like about it as well. The only person who seems like they are fourteen here is the one who feels the need to attack someone for not having the exact same opinion of a book as they do. Try disagreeing in an intelligent manner. Or to put it in terms you can understand, "stop sucking Brandon Sanderson's dick." (No offense to Mr. Sanderson)

Ludwig Van said...

modanSanderson is an overrated author.
His sophisticated magic systems are pointless, their narrative execution is clunky, repetitive, and boring. There are paragraphs in "Mistborn" where the name of an alloy or its respective power are repeated ad nauseam just because he has to make their magical function clear.
Most of his characters lack depth and often resemble stereotypes. This is especially obvious in character groups where everyone has a very distinct type (better: cliché) of personality: The lone revolutionary, the compensating socialite, the diligent bureaucrat and so on.
His religiously motivated refusal to employ believable language in dialogues is jarring, if not to say childish.
Most of all, the execution of his plots, though solid, lacks suprise and therefore suspense.

Belechael said...

First of all, whatever people consider as Sanderson's shortcomings I find perfectly enjoyable and to my liking. As SQT wrote, it's very easy to use profanity to draw attention, and if that is a characteristic of YA novels, so be it. Why does that have to make the novel less good? or does YA imply childish all the time?

Second, Abercrombie has failed to deliver, at least for me. His characterization is focused on offering the stereotype of existing figues (Gandalf for example), but with a twist. If that is to your liking, all the better for you, but I find it extremely easy.

Honestly, I can't be bothered with gray areas when you have so many outright black ones that need to be taken care of first. And I mean everywhere, not in fiction.

Third, sentences like "Most of all, the execution of his plots, though solid, lacks suprise and therefore suspense" really make me go: "WHAT???" and should be accompanied by some examples of other writers that have offered better written stories of the same caliber.

ssgorik said...

Is it strange that I love Sanderson and love Abercrombie? Or do I have to pick one?

jvs said...

Narnia was a pretty terrible series, because of the lack of cursing. Lord of the Rings too. That sucked harsh.

I like a lot of the things you do, Pat, but it really does seem like you are dinging this novel for simply not being part of the sub-genre you enjoy. The My Little Pony comment also makes you look much more immature than the commenter you were trying to make look childish.

If you think the lack of cursing is jarring because it breaks your suspension of disbelief due otherwise gritty settings and plot for instance, that is completely fine. The story demands a swear word or two how, exactly? Be specific? Should Gandalf have been shouting "Daaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmnnnnnn Iiiiiiiiiitttttttt" all the way into the chasm at Moria? If not, how is this novel require different standards? If you are basically saying Sanderson is too Shanara for your taste, and that the genre has moved beyond that, I guess that is fine, although I don't really agree.


Patrick said...

I'm not saying Sanderson should use the F-word and various obscenities every second sentence or so.

But even nice old ladies curse when they hit their big toe on a something hard. That's the way human beings are.

To me, it feels weird that Sanderson has no qualms about blowing people up and writing bloody fight scenes and yet can't bring himself to have them utter the occasional swear word due to religious and dubious moral reasons. Graphic violence is okay, but profanities aren't???

Odd, no?

jvs said...

It's the same in movies - graphic violence will get you a PG-13 rating, but sex or language will get you R.

The lack of cursing doesn't really bother me at all. It's written in the same vein as Eddings or Brooks or McCaffery, or a lot of the 80s-90s YA Fantasy. It just is what it is.

Unknown said...

I really don't see what Brandon Sanderson is doing differently than Robert Jordan did.

RJ wrote violent scenes too, and didn't use cuss words.

Is it just because of his religion that you don't like that he doesn't use swear words?

Shane said...

I am not bothered by cursing in a story, nor am I bothered when an author chooses to leave cursing out of the story. However, when the author attempts to use replacement terms for the cursing, it sometimes makes me cringe or throws me out of the story. It just doesn't always work. I read Star Wars novelizations for years and was never bothered by the mostly lack of cursing. In fact, I remember thinking one book was odd because the characters cursed more than usual. And in recent years there has been a trend to insert fake swear words into these books that I'd honestly just as soon they left out all together.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

Just saw that is pimping kcf's review and it made me realize that they never pimp your stuff even when you write a rave review of a tor book or post an interview or a contest. Why is that??


Patrick said...

I was once told by someone from the Tor Books publicity department that sees me as "competition." is independent from the publisher's publicity and marketing department, so they control their own content.

I've never considered myself as their competitor, but that's the way love goes...

Cursed Armada said...

Damn this is getting intense!

Mark Lawrence said...

> And really, authors write books where the protagonists survive because that's what people want to read.

I can't claim to have access to a large sample, but the modest sample I do have access to suggests that authors write what they want to write. If I ever felt the book I had in hand had been constructed to hit a number of demographic targets ... I would put it down.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that some of you don't understand the subjectivity of literary quality and that some are so insecure with themselves that they need a happy ending to get any sense of closure with a story...but disparaging readers with different tastes to the point of calling an entire style "Low" simply because YOU don't enjoy it? Please grow the hell up.

Enjoy what you enjoy, let others enjoy what they enjoy.

By all means - discuss the differences in taste, but this backhanded, condescending superiority that I constantly see within discussions of genre fiction is really getting old. On both sides of the clean v. gritty argument. I know I'm guilty of it myself, but I really do enjoy both styles as long as the writing is good.

Anonymous said...

I agree that cursing is not necessary, but I can understand the criticism when it appears forced to avoid it. *nods wisely*

Anonymous said...

I love me some Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, and I love me some Abercrombie. It's good to have such diverse choices in quality authors. I for one, would not want them all to seem the same.

AJ said...

There seems to be a disconnect going on in this thread. It seems like some don't understand what a book reviewer is supposed to do - namely review the book and comment on what worked well, and what fell flat. I've been visiting Pat's site for at least 5 years (although I rarely comment on anything), and have never once seen Pat post a review that wasn't fair or well reasoned. There have been times when Pat has been a lot harder on a book I was looking forward to than I would have liked. But you know what? When I read the book, I would inevitably see what Pat was talking about. Pat simply tells it like it is - and on many occasions I've seen him start a review with "I really wanted to like this book, but ..." so you know Pat is more than capable of setting his preconceived opinions and ideas aside.

Reviews serve 2 purposes. 1) To inform potential purchasers of a work what the pros and cons of the book are. 2) If an author is smart and wants to improve their craft, they tell an author what areas they need to work on. Pat is not being unfair or biased when he says that characterization is a weak spot in Sanderson's writing. If you doubt this, read The Gathering Storm. Some of the biggest complaints about that boom were that certain characters (Mat, Aviendha) didn't "read" right. This is true as well, although to a much lesser extent, in The Towers of Midnight. Ultimately, Pat gave the new book a great overall score. I read the review as "This is a very solid effort by an author that is still coming into his own."

Finally, there is no such thing as "High" or "Low" fantasy. Frequently you will see the term High Fantasy bandied about, and usually it refers to a work that is massive and epic in scope. But, there is no dichotomy in the genre ranking some works as "High" as in better than other books and "Low" meaning inferior works. If one insists on using such terminology, all you're doing is saying you're an elitist snob and you look down on those works and the readers of those works as inferior and somehow less than you. It's immature and childish. We all like different things, and we're all never going to agree 100%. A true fan of the genre can accept that others like works by authors that you find boring or poorly written.

Anonymous said...

On the Contrary, terming what Abercrombie and Martin write as Low Fantasy is not snobbish at all. Perhaps mistaken but not wrong. Fritz Leiber and Robert Howard(Creator of Conan) focus on a narrower aspect of a fantasy world, a more western influence where the things in the balance are not countries, the end of the world etc. Sword and Sorcery Sub Genre is acknowledged as Low Fantasy. Martin writes some pretty big shit and so he's part of the High Fantasy band, though with the word 'gritty' as a rider. Martin and Abercrombie are not Low Fantasy.

John in Missouri said...

Hmmm. Don't like made-up swear maybe "goram", "frak" or "frell?"

Actually, I am of the opinion that the fewer gutter words in a story, the better...but I usually judge a story by the storyline, not the colorful metaphors used therein, though I have been known to put a book down when the language becomes too intense, or taboo words are used for their own sake. I once put a book down because the lead character used the word "shit" when "feces" would have been just as effective, and I'll do it again. Gratuitous cussing is a cheap way for an author to grab our attention. If he/she cannot be more creative, I'll spend my disposable income somewhere else.

And I'm kinda surprised, as are a few others that Pat calls the Mistborn characters a metaphorical "white." After all, they were a band of thieves. They used lying, fraud, cheating and numerous less than honorable activities to make their living. I guess it must be perspective, or something.

Nevertheless, to close, thanks, Pat for an honest review. At least you weren't fawning on Sanderson. That leads me to trust your thoughts, even if I don't agree with them.

John in Missouri said...

Okay, I've now read the book, and my personal review is that it was delightful! I did not really like the original Mistborn was okay, but it was also too dark for my tastes. Bu this one, oh my...Pat, I disagree with your comments about characterization. Wayne was utterly fascinating! And Steris? I knew the woman from the first word she uttered. Wax himself was a bit of a dilemma. He is supposed to be stoic, so how do you manage to show character in a stoic. I still think Sanderson did admirably.

And finally, what's this about no cursing? Do you realize that shouting "Harmony!" in that milieu would be the same as shouting "Jesus Christ!" in this one. The fact that I was not offended by the former no less removes the fact that it was cursing. I found plenty of "damns" and "hells" in the book and a few other words that I have not remembered, but unless they are no longer considered rude words (they are in the workplace) then Sanderson should have sated your need for gutter talk. Of course, if you were really looking for the ugly words of profanity, such as...well never mind. I was glad he did not use them, but then I said so in my last posting. Casual cussing such as what we saw in this book and even straying into the rough language of the stevedore once in a while is okay. Anything more intense than that is not really necessary to tell a good story.

Finally, to wrap it up, the epilogue was absolutely explosive, and I and my boss have decided that...well that's between us, But Brandon Sanderson, there had better be a sequel on the way or we're going to pummel you with email! (grin)