On top of this, the book does deal with one issue that has always bugged me about epic fantasy – why does epic fantasy seem to mostly mean that a society never progresses beyond a medieval stage of development? I’ve always been interested in what might happen to a society based on magic if technology was allowed to continue to develop. Well, Alloy of Law takes on this theme fairly directly. The world Sanderson has created has moved on and with the railroad and electricity just coming to the fore and the first skyscrapers being built, it resembles our world in the early 1800s. The interplay between the magic system and the technology was extremely interesting.
In the introduction, Mr Sanderson talks about his original intention to write a trilogy set in an urban fantasy setting, then another set in more of a science fiction setting. This book is not part of those imagined trilogies, rather it is a stand alone book set in the same world (although I must say that while the central plot was resolved the ending of the book did seem set to lead into another book, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a sequel at some stage).
The book is based on the return of Lord Waxillium Ladrian (or Wax) to the grand city of Elendel from years of self imposed exile in the Roughs (a wild west style setting where Wax has been operating as a sheriff/marshall/law man). His uncle had died, leaving him as the head of one of the oldest, most honourable Houses in the aristocracy which is unfortunately almost terminally short of cash. The story revolves around Wax being pulled back into the criminal chasing business (as an aside, there was a lot about the Wax character that reminded me of Vimes from the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels – the copper finding himself unexpectedly in a position of authority in the biggest city in the world. Even his negotiated betrothal to a noblewomen with a lot of cash had hints of Vimes relationship with his wife Sybil).
This book was very readable, the characters were strong and the plot interesting. I was interested with the depiction of the main female character, Marasi. Generally she was fairly well realised but I couldn’t get a bead on how this evolving society actually treated women. The female characters were mostly shown as strong individuals, but the status of women in society seemed to vary. Of course, in a stand alone novel there isn’t as much time for world building but it was hard to determine whether Marasi was a maverick pushing against the bounds of society that expected less from women or someone struggling with self imposed limitations. I lean towards the later interpretation, given the description of other female characters and some of Marasi’s backstory.
I quite liked the minor characters, in particular the sidekick Wayne and the eccentric gunsmith Ranette. Wayne in particular provided enough comic relief and was a good foil for Wax’s upright man persona.
The plot was based around solving a conspiracy and heist mystery. The mystery to be solved was satisfying enough and worked well with elements of the world. Compared to some of Mr Sanderson’s latest books this was a relatively slim volume but that allowed the book to stay focused on the main plot and move at a good pace. As with the previous Mistborn novels, I really enjoyed the description of the fighting – especially how a magic system based on the manipulation of metal deals with guns, bullets and the general background of an industrial revolution.
You could read this as a stand alone novel if you haven’t read any of the other Mistborn novels, but I would recommend reading all the series to give you some important background. Highly recommended as a fun, caper based fantasy – especially if you like your fantasy with an industrial twist.
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