Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Shadows of Self

Shadows of Self
by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended Ages: 14+

This second book in the second "Mistborn" series, featuring lawman/lord Waxillium Ladrian, explores issues of religious faith that may arise when your god happens to be an ascended, but fallible, human being. The god of Wax's Pathian religion, known as Harmony, was once himself a theologically troubled man named Sazed (see Book 3 of the first series, The Hero of Ages). Harmony took a broken world and put it back together so mankind wouldn't have such a struggle to survive, but now (as he tells his doubting disciple, in a moment of what one might describe as "prayer backwash") he worries he may have made life too easy for them. Unexpected problems are cropping up as a result - references Wax doesn't understand, such as "You should have had radio and aviation by now." And then there's the whole problem of being loved and served by a good man whom you have chosen to use as your instrument of death. Oh, you poor, poor god.

But leaving Harmony to work out his own troubles, Wax has problems of his own. The woman he is supposed to marry is very strange, in a distinctly repulsive way, but also vulnerable and admirable at the same time. Their impending union is based on purely practical considerations - he needs her money, and she wants to rise in the social world. They need each other, perhaps in ways neither of them is ready to admit. But meantime, Steris' bastard half-sister Marasi comes closer to being Wax's soulmate, which makes both of them uncomfortable because they're honorable folks. She has given up a promising career as a lawyer to become a constable, skipping over an ambitious veteran officer to become second-in-command to the octant commander and making enemies accordingly. She has to overcome prejudices against women in high places. She has to clean up the messes Wax makes when he barges in and out of ongoing investigations. And of course, both of them - along with Wax's weird friend Wayne, for good measure - have to stop an assassin who can change bodies and can even change allomantic or feruchemical powers at will, thanks to the all-but-lost art of hemalurgy that Harmony imperfectly stamped out. Their quarry is a true monster, one whose nature and character will put Wax's struggling faith to its cruelest test.

The book before this one is called The Alloy of Law. The book after this one is called The Bands of Mourning. If you see any book with the words "by Brandon Sanderson" on its cover, however, I advise you to read it. Even at Book 5 of an epic series, he does not slow down, exploring challenging issues and crafting ever more layers to deepen the perspective of his fantasy world. This post-original-trilogy series has the additional advantage of being tightly focused and compact, compared to some of his other novels, which (if any complaint is to be laid against them) can rather sprawl. Bottom line, though, I just find that I care about Wax and those around him, and I want to see where his journey leads next.

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