Let’s say you read the Mistborn trilogy. You liked Mistborn, it had a good ending. Each book was satisfying, and the final one was most satisfying of all.
Then Brandon Sanderson goes and changes the whole scope of everything on you. That trilogy you just read is now just a small part of an over-arching series that spans literally everything he’s ever written. You enjoyed the Mistborn trilogy, maybe even read one of his standalones like Elantris or The Rithmatist, so you figure you’ll give this giant meta-series a go. Then you look at the entirety of The Stormlight Archives and realise you’re never going to read every book in BrandSand’s so-called ‘Cosmere Cycle’.
But you really liked Mistborn. You would like to read more Brandon Sanderson.
Guess you better buy The Alloy of Law then.
The Alloy of Law takes place a few hundred years after the events of the original Mistborn Trilogy. I say ‘Original’ as the leads of The Alloy of Law go on to star in their own trilogy after this particular novel. The world has changed quite a bit. So much so, in fact, that the world is largely inhabited now by sheriffs and trains.
Ok, I jest, but truly the timeskip and change in setting feels a little like a convenient way for Brandon Sanderson to have a backdrop for a western that happens to use the magic system he came up with for his Mistborn trilogy.
You follow Waxillium Ladrian, or Wax, and his partner Wayne. Both are former lawmen in an area known as the ‘Roughs’ (i.e. ‘The Wild West’). When Wax is recalled to the city to stop the decline of the noble house he belongs to (ooh, an aristocrat who fled The Good Life(TM) to go and do What Is Right(TM), give me more of this Extremely Fresh Concept(TM) BrandSand), he finds himself returning to his ways of taking down criminals (shocker) when a mysterious group known as the Vanishers starts robbing trains.
Ok so the setting feels awfully convenient, and I really feel maybe Brandon Sanderson should have just gone and written a western with magic set in a different world altogether with a different magic system altogether. I get that it’s cool to see the same magic system from Mistborn applied to a world with trains and guns but ultimately I was left feeling more like I was reading ‘Mistborn (Western AU)’ than ‘The Alloy of Law’.
That being said, I really did find the story and setting entertaining. The world, western pastiche as it may be, didn’t really feel hackneyed. That’s not easy to do, especially when the legacy of Westerns is equally as looming as the legacy of Fantasy in the form of Tolkein etc. so Brandon Sanderson being able to blend both as ably as he does is a real feat.
The two lead characters, Wax and Wayne, are decent enough. They felt more real than ‘one-shot throwaway characters’, which I guess is important since they now have their own trilogy (spin-off show, anyone?). They come in with big boots to fill in the form of the original trilogy’s cast of characters, but they’re able to fill them by simply not trying to. Neither is an analogue for a previous character in the series, nor are they easy ‘just add water’ stock-characters from another western. They’re fresh, they’re original, they’re believable.
Then something absurd happened. Brandon Sanderson reached the limit of his ability.
There are two characters that reveal some major flaws in BrandSand’s writing. In both cases I was equally baffled. First up is actually Wayne himself. The character is 100% believable, his British idiosyncrasies in his dialogue are not. No-one else is notably British in this entire world, except for Wayne who says things like ‘bloke’ and ‘mate’ constantly. I’m actually British, and I do use these words, but nowhere near as often as Wayne. I wondered if Brandon Sanderson had ever met a Brit. Surely he has, so how did he get it so wrong here? It was jarring, and it made me not like this otherwise very likeable, very well-written character.
Then he does the exact same thing in an even more unforgivable circumstance. He messes up a female character.
Wax and Wayne are joined by a girl called Marasi, the cousin of Wax’s soon-to-be-arranged-wife Steris who was kidnapped as a part of the Vanishers’ plot. Marasi is an educated, independent young woman but gosh darn it if only she could stop blushing all the time. Oh gee, she just gets so flustered every time someone mentions a titty. Which she has two of, did I mention? And they’re big and soft and round. Oh my, how improper. She really does read like Brandon mixed one-part ‘capable educated young woman’ with one part ‘blushing damsel’, which is so weirdly simplistic for him given how very nuanced most of his characters are. We do see an amount of nuance at the very end for Marasi (I’m talking last 5 pages) so maybe she’ll read better in the rest of the series, but why is she so poorly handled over the majority of this book? Combining two female stereotypes to try create something ‘fresh’ is just as bad as using one stereotype.
It’s one thing for me to wonder if Brandon Sanderson has never met a Brit, it’s another thing for me to wonder if he’s never met a woman. And I find this baffling, because the main protagonist of the first Mistborn trilogy is a woman. A teenage woman at that, with all the extra complications of new hormones and budding romantic feelings. That character felt believable, and nuanced, and not obviously written by a man. This one in The Alloy of Law somehow does not meet that mark. And after committing that major sin BrandSand goes on to describe Steris, who we re-encounter after spending the entire novel kidnapped, as being aroused during her rescue!
Shame, shame, shame, Mr Sanderson.
I probably will read the entire Wax and Wayne trilogy as it nears its completion, because I do like these characters, I do think the setting is cool and the story did entertain me, although the plot maybe wasn’t as tense and enthralling as it could have been. But I tell you, I’ll put those books down if the women in the story are written the same as the ones in this one.
Cardinal sins, BrandSand. Cardinal sins.