Yet again, the Sanderlache took me. After a short break, I returned to the Mistborn saga for a brief tryst with Shadows of Self, the fifth book in Brandon Sanderson’s epic series and the second installment in the Wax & Wayne cycle. True to form, Brandon Sanderson dazzles in Shadows of Self. While The Alloy of Law introduced us to a world changed by the conclusion of the initial trilogy with a tightly wound narrative, this one busts the world wide open. Mild spoilers ahead.
Following the events of Alloy, Waxillium Ladrian is an official unofficial constable of Elendel. His experience as a lawman in the Roughs and his Allomantic and Feruchemical abilities make him a formidable force against wrongdoers in the city. But he doesn’t fall within the normal constabulary hierarchy. His pals Marasi (now a constable struggling to connect with coworkers due to her connection with Wax) and Wayne (the ever-lovable hat-wearing master of disguise and speed bubbles) help Wax in his various exploits throughout the city. Good thing, too, because when the governor’s brother is murdered and a large conspiracy starts brewing, Wax and company seem like the city’s best hope. Plagued by political assassinations and unrest among laborers, Elendel rests on the brink of chaos. Unless Wax can discover the person (or people) behind it all, the city could collapse.
Compared to its predecessor, Shadows of Self feels bigger in almost every way: scope, plot, cast, and–if you’re keeping track–page count. I’m happy to say that because the narrow (but exceptional) story of Alloy left me hankering for a sweeping, Mistborn-esque tale. Where Alloy served as a re-introduction to a world changed by industrialization, Shadows of Self dives into the long-term implications of that change, starting with the core plot.
Shadows of Self shows us an Elendel plagued by a mysterious murderer and the unrest sparked by their assassinations. What was once a city created for all people has become (surprise) a hellscape fueled by noble supremacy and corruption. The dastardly deeds of the killer become a focal point for Waxillium. Catching the crook is his singular focus. It’s hard to watch this take a toll on Wax’s psyche, but at the same time the descent is fascinating. Wax’s fervor in hunting criminals paints his noble stature in a new light. He doesn’t want to run the Ladrian house, though he understands that countless people depend on its success. While keeping his house’s affairs in order as best he can, he sets his sights on the terrorism threatening the city. And what he uncovers is a riveting, personal plot that impacts him as deeply as it does the massive city in which he dwells.
Rounding out the story, as usual, is a marvelous cast of characters. Marasi and Wayne remain two of my favorites: Wayne, Wax’s ever-trusted partner, and Marasi, Wax’s newest friend and eager up-and-coming constable. Though Alloy portrayed these characters in relation to Wax, here they get their own much-deserved time in the spotlight. Sections from Wayne’s POV are a real treat, written in his thick accent and packed with euphemisms that make the reader laugh and think in equal measure. Marasi, meanwhile, blossoms as a character and becomes a powerhouse in her own right. She receives a job in the constabulary over many other qualified applicants and constantly has to battle with her coworkers, most of whom resent her for her ties to Wax. Along the way, she starts to learn who she can trust and how she can be most helpful to those around her. As the illegitimate daughter of a noble, Marasi constantly must pave her own way, and Shadows of Self gives her the time and space to do so, all the while raising the stakes and putting her in more danger.
Steris, Wax’s betrothed, earns some time center stage in this book as well, a welcome change from Alloy. Her hypersensitivity to Wax’s needs and her intense preparedness serve as a nice foil to Wax’s cavalier, crime-fighting attitude. Scenes between Steris and Wax, two people forced into a marriage neither truly wants, are delightful. In one scene Steris ushers Wax to a party, prepared to connect him with various movers and shakers of Elendel that she knows are connected to his case. It’s heartening to watch her attempt to help him and heartbreaking to watch him spurn most of this help. Steris’ appearances, though still brief, find new meaning in Shadows of Self, and I hope to see more of her as I venture into The Bands of Mourning.
Before I wrap things up, I have one infinitesimal complaint about Shadows of Self relating to the magic system. Allomancy and Feruchemy are inventive, layered systems. I only wish this cycle would make more room for different types of powers. The original Mistborn trilogy featured Vin, able to use every Allomantic ability. True Mistborns are rare in this new world, though, so it tracks that there wouldn’t be a throng of overpowered Allomancers flooding Elendel. Still, I’m holding out hope that Sanderson introduces a Tineye, Lurcher, or Pewterarm in the next installment. This quibble, though enough to make me wish for more, is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Consider it a longing/expectation for future books rather than a direct criticism of this one. Sanderson uses his tools well, and maybe I’m the dum-dum asking him to whip out the hammer when the job can be done with a wrench.
Of course, Sanderson’s Sanderlanche hits in Shadows of Self as it always does: a 100-page conclusion that makes the reader question everything and pine for the next installment. Lucky for me, The Bands of Mourning is already out. I can’t wait.
Rating: Shadows of Self – 9.5/10