The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is sort of like a constant in fantasy. You know certain things going in. The magic is going to be unique and interesting. The characters are going to be very clever at what they do and the magic is going to be used in some fascinating and interesting ways. You also know that when it comes to prose Sanderson is utilitarian at best.

There are possibly three things that Sanderson does better than almost anybody else. His endings are always huge (which is why he’s a good pick to finish the Wheel of Time series since he’s basically writing a three book ending for a fourteen book series). His magic and the ways in which it is used are always clever and interesting. His action scenes are beautiful.

I’m going to go through those three things backwards. Action is hard to write well. It’s usually confusing and often the fast paced timing of the action is slowed down by the fact that it takes words to describe everything. Sanderson has the ability of making his actions scenes play out almost cinematically — I can still ‘see’ scenes in my head from some of his books that I didn’t actually see because they were just words. The memories are there, nonetheless.

Sanderson’s magic is always interesting because of the humbly named Sanderson’s First and Second Laws. The first law is basically that if an author wants to solve problems using magic then the reader has to understand how the magic works. The second is that limitations are more interesting than powers. Properly applied these two laws have some fascinating implications.

Big endings sort of stands alone. Sanderson is the king of big endings. The ending is always huge.

Sanderson’s weakness is his beginnings. The first chapter or two is always awkward, the dialog feels stilted and the paragraphs feel like they were cut and pasted from a newspaper column. That usually lasts for one short chapter. Then it’s pretty smooth sailing.

In The Alloy of Law Waxilliam Ladrian has returned from the Roughs — where he was something of a self appointed law man — to the city, Elendel. Once there, he gets mixed up in secret plots, old enemies and phantom train robberies.

Sanderson at Bubonicon 2012

What follows is part mystery thriller, part old west John Wayne movie, part Kung Fu epic and part steampunk heist adventure. What’s not to love?

This book takes place three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy and the world is a vastly different place. It is also a world in which the magic has become even more limited than it was before. In fact it was different enough that I feared I would not like it. Sanderson was quick to show how awesome this world could be, mostly by employing his Second Law. There are three different magic systems in this world, all of them depend on different kinds of metals to do different things and bestow different kinds of powers. The Alloy of Law perfectly explores one aspect of combining two of those magic systems.

I would highly recommend this book to anybody who has read Sanderson’s Mistborn books. If you haven’t then this is a great place to start. I do have to warn you, however. If you read this you’ll quickly find yourself seeking out the others. But it will be worth it. Trust me.

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