Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Bands of Mourning - Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning is the third of Brandon Sanderson’s books set in his Alloy of Law continuity – which is set in the future of the world from his Mistborn series.

This is a world undergoing something akin to the industrial revolution, moving away from a more feudal-seeming past, toward a future which may be bright – or otherwise. I’ve already talked about  my affection for Sanderson’s world building, and for this word in particular, in my review of Shadows of Self, but Sanderson has raised his game for this follow-up.  Whilst the focus of the preceding novel was urban, this text is more of a journey, letting us see more of the world; there’s the smaller cities outside of the capital of Elendil, seething in resentment at their marginalisation, whilst  reveling in their own beauty. There’s soaring mountains, laced with ice, snow, and hidden dangers. And there’s everything in between – rolling fields, passed through in speeding locomotives, and the potential for far, far stranger things outside the knowledge of those in the capital’s bastion of what it calls civilisation. Sanderson gives the reader a broad tapestry for his world, and fills in the details intricately when required.  

On the character side – well, after the events of Shadows of Self, we see an angrier, perhaps more embittered Waxillium, a man who is, at least initially, determined to do some good from the confines of his living room, and avoid getting involved in any more world-changing adventures. This changes somewhat over the course of the text, but Sanderson still manages to paint a picture of a man suffering a crisis of faith, whilst retaining his core competence.

By contrast, Wayne, his affable, accent-changing, disguise-ready sidekick, remains largely the same quirky character we’ve come to know and love, always ready with a humorous aside, or an unusual perspective. The changes here are more subtle, as Wayne works to get over his lost affections, and discovers how far he’s willing to go for Waxillium. It’s great to see this kind of growth in the pair, which seems to come organically from the events of the preceding texts, but also serves to make them a little less heroic, and a little more human.

We also get a bit of time with the sternly effective constable, Marasi, who seems tobe settling into her role as a woman of action. She seems to take Steris under her wing a little here, which works rather well. Steris, Waxillium’s fiancée, is establishing her own character even as it passes through moments of transition. She’s emotionally distant, a compulsive preparer and maker of lists, and seems determined to keep an eye on Waxillium as he spreads a combination fo justice and havoc throughout the countryside. Over the course of the narrative, she starts to examine how she feels about her husband-to-be, and how she wishes to define herself. In between these heavy character moments there’s some great comedy from her – as when she hands a hotelier a list of potential scenarios to prepare for whilst the team is in residence, which include “building explodes”, amongst others.

The plot…well, from the start, it’s pretty fast-paced. There’s a few more reflective moments interspersed throughout the prose, but there’s always a compulsion for the reader to turn just one more page. The stakes begin relatively high – a search for Waxillium’s sister, and the titular artefact, the Bands of Mourning, and they certainly don’t decrease over the course of the novel. There’s a few interesting twists in here as well;  though I felt some were a little telegraphed, some certainly managed to surprise, and all of them promise to create large ripples in the world Sanderson has created. This isn’t a series which shies away from examining actions and their consequences, and as a result, the plot is compelling, fascinating, and makes the book rather hard to put down.

Is it worth reading? If you’ve not read the first two books in the series – or optionally, the Mistborn series before it – I’d start there. If you’re already invested in Wax, Wayne, and their adventures, then yes, this is absolutely worth your time. Pick it up, and you probably won’t be able to put it down again for quite a while – it’s a great read.

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