Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

What: Mistborn: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer for Macmillan Audio on 9 CDs, with bonus PDF of The Elendel Daily


How: Review copy requested from Macmillan Audio after seeing it as a loose-leaf late insert in their catalog.

Why: I’ve heard a lot of praise for Sanderson’s Mistborn novels and really enjoyed hearing him read from (and talk about) The Way of Kings in person in the fall of 2010, where I got a chance to talk to him a little and turned the event into an article in Bull Spec #3. I missed the 1-credit introductory price for The Way of Kings (asleep at the switch, alas) but eventually listened to Elantris and really found the magic system compelling. I’ve also enjoyed the episodes of his Writing Excuses podcast, and following his forays into fantasy literature conversations on reddit, where he comments as mistborn. (And where he’s just spent time answering questions about The Alloy of Law for the Fantasy Bookclub.) I haven’t actually read his Wheel of Time novels yet, either. I was starting to get curious about The Alloy of Law and asked Sanderson if the previous trilogy was required reading. When he said no, and the title showed up in Macmillan’s catalog, I decided to go ahead and see if he was right. (He was, but more about that later.)

The Story:

The prologue introduces Wax, lawman in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, and immediately we know we are in for something a little different than the epic fantasy for which Sanderson is known. For starters, Wax is carrying a revolver and wearing a duster, rather than being outfitted in plate and mail. Secondly, well, there’s not much time for secondly, as bullets fly, aided by an Allomantic Push here and there. (As in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, for which this is a centuries-later sequel, the magic system in metals-based, with Allomantic and Feruchemical powers which both feed off of and control metal. Wax is a rare Twinborn — someone with both Allomantic and Feruchemical powers.)

By the end of the prologue, Sanderson has already let bodies hit the floor — the woman Wax loves and the psychopath who put her in harms way, both by bullets from Wax’s own gun. Along the way, though, a dark, dry humor develops, an absolute feel for the dust and whisky and steel which inhabits Sanderson’s frontier.

Months later, Waxillium Ladrian is trying to fit back in among the high society of Elendel, looking to give up (and forget) his life as a lawman and rebuild his family name through a financially expedient marriage. Meanwhile, fantastic train heists are the talk of the town; an associate from his days on the frontier, the vocal chameleon Wayne, arrives at an inopportune time, adding mischief and humor; the plot thickens, but not too much; and Wax must take up revolvers and save the city, of course!

Throughout, Sanderson doesn’t dawdle on backstory. Characters are deftly introduced in the prologue, barely, once, engendering a feeling of true history inhabiting the characters’ world rather than that a feeling of an overly detailed travel guide. Throughout, wonderful touches such as in-world-character swearing — “Rust and ruin!” or “Hamony, I love that woman.” — and the lingo of Allomancy and Feruchemy — coinshots, skimmers, pewter arms, lurchers, referring to the person’s particular powers — again create a feeling of inhabiting this place, not having it described to the reader.

Trains. Dynamite. Gold. Augury. Powers over metal, mass, flesh, and time. Ruminations on the place of law and power. Butlers and “new” electric lamps. There are some timing issues here and there, and at times the too-slight introduction of characters-I-should-probably-remember comes back to confuse, but overall The Alloy of Law presents a unique and curious combination of guns and magic which was quite a lot of fun. The heroes might be a bit too all-powerful, but there are some places to go from here.

Lastly, a word on being lost, not having read the Mistborn trilogy: I wasn’t, not once. Sanderson did a great job creating a new entry point for readers new to Mistborn, while (according to reviews and friends who to this day tell me to stop what I’m doing to read the original trilogy) building enough bridges of character, setting, and magic to “welcome home” those who have read the books, introducing a new series of adventures. And for me, not having read the trilogy, I’m intrigued to see how Allomancy and Feruchemy mix in with armor, arrows, and blades.

The Narration:

This was actually my first Michael Kramer audiobook — as I said, I haven’t jumped aboard the Wheel of Time 14 books of 30 hours each train, or the original Mistborn trilogy — and I found his narration smooth, rich of timbre, and easy to listen to. I was less sold on the voice of Marasi, Wax’s “contractually engaged” bridge-to-be’s female cousin, but any missteps there were completely blown away by Kramer’s characterization(s) of Wayne. I say “characterization(s)” because Wayne’s dialect and accents shift and mimic their way — as essential plot points, mind you! — across the pages, and Kramer nails them in a miniature tour-de-force of accents and subtlety.

Extra:

  • Sanderson’s wrote a brief essay for Tor.com: “My 14 year old self might take issue with The Alloy of Law
  • A nicely-done fan-made book trailer
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