Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

In which our Hero learns Truths he wishes he hadn’t

I love worldbuilding and Brandon Sanderson is a prolific builder of worlds. When you read one of his books you know that he has considered every detail of the world he’s building. In the Scadriel of the Wax and Wayne books the politics, the economy, the theology and the technology all come together to make a completely defined society and one whose evolution from the previous series of books seems wholly believable.

One of the things I found most interesting about this book is that it manages to work on so many levels. On one level, if you just want an adventure about a law man chasing a killer and unraveling her plan, that’s what you’ll get. If you are interested in the ongoing interpersonal and societal drama of Wax, Wayne, Steris, Marasi and the city of Elendel there’s plenty of that here, but not so much as to leave a new reader completely floundering. If you read the original Mistborn trilogy, you’ll appreciate the deepening of the mythology, the evolution of Scadriel and even the re-appearances of characters from that earlier series. And if you are searching for clues as to how all this fits together in one massive saga, there are hints and subtle clues that can be found.

Wax, the main character of this series, continues to struggle with who he is. In The Alloy of Law, Wax struggled with his place in his family and whether his duty to his family outweighed what he saw as his duty to the law. In this book, he’s struggling with his place in society as the very social structure that has supported the nobility is starting to crumble. More than that he’s struggling with his role in Harmony’s plan. In the Mistborn books, the higher powers are actual characters – personifications of ideas. Harmony is a young power by cosmological standards and Wax’s conversations with Harmony make it clear Harmony is still trying to figure out his own role. How much should He interfere? Has His help stagnated society? Why are the problems of the previous era repeating themselves when He tried so hard to create a better world?

All of these elements play into the central drama; someone is killing people but why? The killer may have a connection to Wax. The killer has powers they shouldn’t and a plan that seems insane. Wax doesn’t know if he’s being targeted because of his past, his powers, his family, his occupation or his nobility. He’s struggling with the question of whether or not the killings are part of Harmony’s plan and if they aren’t – why hasn’t Harmony stopped it? Of course, there is plenty of gun slinging, intrigue, political corruption, supernatural forces, magical powers and humor to wrap all of these more heady ideas in an appetizing package.

This book is a highly enjoyable read that has as much depth as the reader cares to bring to it. It’s genre fiction with a purpose. The central mystery is intriguing and to its credit had me guessing for more pages than is normal. At times this book is really funny, especially any section focusing on Wayne. The ending, while shocking, feels completely earned. The only downside I could see is that I wonder if a reader who did not read the original Mistborn trilogy might be missing out on some of the more interesting aspects of this book as the central mystery is more tightly bound to the mythology than a new reader might be ready for.

Rating: A-