The original Mistborn trilogy was a masterwork of fantasy, artfully combining a cool magic system, detailed and lush worldbuilding, and a plot and characters that were incredibly enthralling, weaving them together so perfectly that every piece depended completely on every other piece.
Sanderson has spoken and written about his goal for the world he created: three trilogies, spanning many centuries on the same world. Sometime in the future we will see an “urban fantasy” trilogy and finally a “science fiction” trilogy, all based on the same magic system and, if The Alloy of Law is any indication, religions and mythologies derived directly from the first series.
But the author decided to give us a treat in the meantime, something that initially started out as a short story but due to an epic writing style, even “short” turns out to mean 300+ pages. And so we have this novel, in a setting similar to the American Old West, with the most notable difference of gunslingers with magical powers.
Overall, this is a very fun action/mystery novel for anyone looking for something unique or genre-bending. The tone is a bit lighter than Sanderson’s other work, so while crime and death and moral questions abound, it is still not quite so dark and serious as it could have been. I am certainly glad, though, that these ethical issues were not left out, as they are one of my favorite aspects of his writing. There are some great twists and turns, exciting gunfights enhanced by abilities to push and pull metal, manipulate time, and heal quickly, to name a few.
Because it’s a short novel, however, there is a distinct lack of Sanderson’s trademark world building; the reader is largely left to imagine a vague western setting. It’s also not nearly the intricately planned masterpiece his other novels tend to be, so expectations should be set appropriately for a more straightforward novel where the author is simply having some fun in his fictional playground.
Some have claimed that this book stands on its own, and that one needn’t read the original trilogy in order to enjoy it. That may be so, but I suspect that anyone who does will have a distinct sense of being left a little bit out of the loop. Many of the original characters are referenced in passing as parts of various religions, and so without that prior knowledge of the world’s history, such a reader would be at a disadvantage. There are also a couple of more important passages that cannot be fully appreciated without knowing those characters. For those of us who loved the first trilogy, they point to an exciting potential aspect of the future trilogies, and make me very excited for the next Mistborn book, whenever that may arrive.
In the end, the last couple chapters are the most meaningful, both to the story and to the world itself, so I would recommend that this not be the book that introduces you to the Mistborn series, as the best parts of the climax and resolution would go right over your head, and the trilogy novels are each superior to this one. Those books are the main courses; The Alloy of Law is just a delicious snack meant to hold you over until the next big feast.
Rating: 4 out of 5
UPDATE: How exciting! Mr. Sanderson commented on my review:
This is a really solid review of the book, Gunner. Thank you. You basically captured what I feel is the spirit of the book. One of my primary worries with this is that readers will expect too much. It’s meant to be fun and enjoyable, but the shorter length and smaller scope means that it’s not going to have the depth of the original trilogy or of TWoK.
I kind of look at this like I view some of the great sf television series out there. Many, like DS9, had beautiful, long-running arcs with enormous scope. But occasionally, they’d stop to do a stand-alone episode that was just meant to be fun. That’s what Alloy of Law is.