The Alloy of Law
Tor ( $24.99, 329p)
Reviewed by Charlene Brusso
Sanderson burst onto the fantasy landscape with his creative Mistborn series, about a world where allomancers and feruchemists use different metals to feed their magical powers. With its solid world-building, believable characters, and twisty intrigues, the Mistborn series turned what could have been an adequate medievaloid good guys vs the Dark Overlord into a thoroughly memorable read.
Sanderson could have gone ahead and continued to mine that same setting for plenty more stories. And those hypothetical books would’ve been fun–but not half as much fun as what he actually chose to do with The Alloy of Law.
The new book begins some 300 years after the core events of the original Mistborn trilogy. The old characters are now hazy figures of legend. Rising technology, both Allomancy-based and non-magical, means railroads, barges and boats, steel skyscrapers, and, in wealthier enclaves like capital city Elendel, even electric lighting.
But technological changes are one thing. Cities like the capital, Elendel, maintain a veneer of sophistication, but life in the frontier called the Roughs remains anything but easy. The men and women fighting to maintain law and order have their work cut out for them. Waxillium Ladrian was one of them for twenty years, until two things happened. His sometime partner and lover Lessie was murdered, her death engineered by a sadistic serial killer. Then Wax’s uncle and sister died in an accident, leaving the waning Noble House of Ladrian without a head. Wax is next in line. Bound by family obligation, and psychologically hobbled in his lawman’s duties by Lessie’s death, Wax returns to Elendel, a place and culture he’s been avoiding for all of his adult life, to take on a role he never expected to have.
Once one of the most powerful families in Elendel, House Ladrian is also low on cash. Wax has agreed to a marriage contract with Steris Harms, daughter from a wealthy family looking to increase its influence. Suffocated by the growing city, not exactly enthusiastic about his passionless engagement, is it any wonder Wax still packs a pistol under his jacket and gets easily distracted by news of crimes?
Especially the crime wave caused by a mysterious outfit the newspapers have dubbed “The Vanishers”. The crooks start out by robbing trains– “vanishing” valuable cargos–and now they’ve started kidnapping women. Wax can’t help looking into the crimes, but you can be sure the local constables aren’t eager to have a legendary lawman from the Roughs butting in. Then Wax’s old friend Wayne, another lawman, shows up, looking into the disappearance of a cargo of food bound for Wax’s old stomping grounds. It’s not long before Wax is up to his neck in the investigation too, along with Steris’s cousin Marasi, a criminology student at the local university.
The plot twists and turns as they dig deeper, uncovering a plot that goes far beyond the theft of some railcar cargo. Sanderson’s action scenes are smooth and breathtaking, with Allomancers pulling off tricks straight out of anime. Likewise Wax and Wayne are a pleasure to watch, a buddy story that pulls out all the stops dramatically while never failing to draw a laugh. As characters, we’ve seen their type before, but here they’re just familiar enough to resonate without ever feeling like stereotypes.
Sanderson manages to blend familiar fantasy and action tropes into something that is new, exciting, and just plain fun, full of neat ideas, crackling dialogue, and a very big helping of dry wit. It’s the start of a new series, of course, so things don’t quite end here–but I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Charlene Brusso is a science fiction & fantasy author and science writer. She also reviews science and genre fiction for several venues, from Ad Astra and Black Gate to the NY Journal of Books and the SF Site.