Shadows of Self is the latest Mistborn novel and the sequel to The Alloy of Law, which came out all the way back in 2011. It's been a crazy long time. There's been plenty of Brandon Sanderson to read since then, but my first love is Mistborn, so I've yearned for this for... well, four years. Fortunately, it's fantastic. If you liked The Alloy of Law--particularly the idea of an urban fantasy thriller set in the Mistborn world--you'll love Shadows of Self.
This time, Wax and Wayne continue their hunt for the Set, the shadowy organization seen in The Alloy of Law. Then, the murder of a huge portion of Elendel's criminal elite--including the governor's brother--pushes Wax onto the case, where he discovers that the person responsible is insanely dangerous. They need to find out what this person's plans are, before Elendel collapses in on itself.
It's hard for me to talk about Shadows without comparing it to The Alloy of Law. Alloy was a pretty good urban/western fantasy thriller. Not fantastic, but the nostalgia of the Mistborn world made it quite good. For a standalone, though, the ending was unfulfilling. Alloy demanded a sequel, and now that we finally get it, it is so very satisfying.
Shadows is quite similar to Alloy in style. They are both set in Elendel, both have a particular "case" to focus them, and are urban fantasy novels. For this reason I often compare these books to the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, the gold standard of urban fantasy. Shadows takes the good elements of Alloy and makes them better, while cutting out some of the flaws that Alloy has. The result is a novel that is as awesome as Dresden books.
I don't think it's hard to see why Shadows turned out better than Alloy, and it comes down to what Brandon does best: planning. Alloy was a short story that turned into a novel and it showed. In the time between writing Alloy and Shadows, Brandon fully planned out what he’s going to do with this time period. No longer are the Wax and Wayne novels only a bridge between the fantasy Mistborn trilogy and the 1980s Mistborn trilogy.
With this extra planning, the Alloy era has become important to the world of Scadrial. While Shadows is still about the length of Alloy of Law (making it about half of the length of the books in the original trilogy), there’s a feeling of a grand design that Alloy didn’t really have, while maintaining the fast pace that Alloy set. Brandon knows with razor-sharp focus what this era of novels are supposed to be doing in the grand scheme of everything now.
And boy, Shadows does it so well.
I've always been a reader who loves a tightly crafted plot. It's one of the reasons I love Brandon’s novels. Well, Shadows not only has a tighter plot, but also a more interesting one than Alloy. The worldbuilding of Scadrial is important to events, and for you cosmere buffs, there will be plenty for you to love here. And Shadows' villain is terrifying for so many reasons that make Miles Dagouter look tame by comparison.
One thing with Alloy and Shadows is that, like many other of Brandon's novels, there are multiple viewpoints. A lot of urban fantasy is written in a single first person viewpoints--like Dresden--and I felt that in Alloy, though it was fun to be in multiple characters' heads, it didn't make that book incredible. Not so with Shadows. Multiple viewpoints really enhances the book, and raises the overall tension. This tension is key, because it raises Shadows from being just another case file to something... more. Something legitimately awesome.
Surprisingly, one way Shadows raises the tension is through politics. Sometimes Brandon goes way too in-depth of political intrigue, like with Elantris. Considering how bad politics can be in a story (cough, Star Wars prequels, cough), you realize how well Shadows does it. The political intrigue truly heightens the threat level. It's never distracting, and is always important. Elendel is in serious danger, so it makes sense that it is so essential to the plot.
As much as I love plot, the soul of stories are the characters, and all the characters you love from Alloy have progressed in reasonable ways, with new levels of depth. Wax and his relationships advance in unexpected, but interesting, fashions. Wayne, hilarious as always, has a ton of depth that I did not expect. Marasi also really comes into her own. And speaking of Marasi, I've often seen people who dislike either Marasi or Steris. After Shadows, I've loved both.
You really do need to read Alloy before Shadows, as there is critical character depth you'd miss without it, but Shadows is such a good sequel. It's crazy to think that before Words of Radiance, Brandon had only written one other epic fantasy sequel in his own worlds: The Well of Ascension. In my opinion, that’s the weakest book of the original trilogy, and Brandon's learned so much about writing sequels since then. Brandon takes the best of the series' predecessors and makes the sequels even better than one could hope.
Shadows is faster paced, better plotted, and its worldbuilding more important and grander than Alloy. The characters advance in great ways, and the multiple viewpoints enhance this book substantially. Really, Shadows of Self perfects the formula of Alloy in every way, and is a truly wonderful novel because of it.
Score: 17 metals out of 16.
Note: Brandon actually used to call the original trilogy and the 1980s trilogy as the "first Mistborn trilogy" and "second Mistborn trilogy," with a third science fiction trilogy. Alloy didn't really have a place. Now, the different time periods are called eras, so the first trilogy is Era 1, and Alloy and Shadows are Era 2, with Era 3 and 4 set to be published in the future.
Early copy provided by Dragonsteel Entertainment. Posted with their permission.
Shadows of Self comes out on October 6th, 2015.