Well, this is exciting. Any time a new Sanderson novel comes out, especially one set in the Cosmere, I have a little field day. It’s been well over a year now since we got a new Cosmere novel (the last was Words of Radiance, which I reviewed here), and the hype has really built. Due to the importance of some of the Cosmere-wide tidbits in Shadows of Self, this review will have some spoilers, not only for Shadows of Self, but also for others of Sanderson’s works.
Shadows of Self is the fifth and latest installment in Brandon Sanderson’s popular Mistborn series. Properly the second book in “Era 2” of Mistborn, Shadows picks up a year after the events
of Alloy of Law. Most of the usual suspects return, with more from Wax and Wayne and Marasi and Steris, along with a wider cast that helps anchor the new era even better than Alloy. Indeed, one of the strengths of this book is the broadened scope of character: whereas Alloy concentrated mostly on Wax, Shadows moves the focus onto Wayne and Marasi for large chunks of the book. The return of beloved kandra TenSoon, from the Era 1 trilogy, was a great touch and provided easily the most endearing thing Sanderson has ever done (if we don’t see licensed “Soonie cubs” coming out in the future, I’ll be shocked).
Importantly, Steris gets much better treatment in this installment. In Alloy, she was kidnapped and absent for almost the whole book; in the few scenes she was present, Steris wasn’t given much of a chance. Her character is pretty off-putting on the surface, but we finally had a chance to get to know her a bit more in Shadows. She was delightful during the party scene, amusing, and surprisingly endearing. Her unrelenting support for Wax, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances surrounding their engagement, speaks to her resilience and depth. I look forward to getting more from her in future books.
Marasi, too, makes some big strides in this book. While she still has some infatuation with Wax, she’s really grown up a lot. Her blushes are still there from time to time, but they’re something she’s adjusting to instead of being annoying little reactions to Wax.
As far as the plot goes, it’s not quite as fast-paced as Alloy of Law, though still moves along at a good clip. The major role that kandra play is part of this: a lot of worldbuilding is done, establishing how kandra act and what role they hold in the new era. This slows some scenes, at times, but not in any real detrimental manner. In fact, the richness of this plot gives more satisfaction than that in Alloy. The stakes are way, way higher now, and Wax isn’t the only one who has real implications to deal with.
And this takes me to the metaplot. Hoid is here again, of course, though he doesn’t seem to be acting in any events directly. On the other hand, there is definitely outside influence at work here. The hints were there in Alloy, with Trell earning significant mentions, but we now see some real results—and of course one colossal mystery dropped in the epilogue: who is Trell?
Well, let’s just say that people who want to have some more ideas should keep an eye on the coming release of the White Sand graphic novels next year. Among other things, the Shard on Taldain (the world on which White Sand takes place) is Autonomy. I’d say there’s a pretty fair chance that Autonomy fits nicely with Paalm’s desire to “free” everybody from being controlled by Harmony. I also expect we’ll get more information in the forthcoming Bands of Mourning this January, of course.
Fittingly, I think, I want to talk about the ending at the end of this review. While Sanderson has done all right with his romantic relationships throughout his works, he hits a new high in Shadows of Self with the Wax/Steris relationship. Two very different characters forced into what at first appears to be a loveless marriage is something new for him. Most of his romances have the feeling of kismet to them (Vin/Elend, Raoden/Sarene, Dalinar/Navani, etc.), but Wax and Steris just do not line up. However, there is active work toward building something together in Shadows. The final scene, with Wax and Steris in front of the fireplace, is simply wonderful. It evokes another one of my favorite romantic scenes in fantasy, in Glen Cook’s The White Rose. This is the kind of stuff that readers are looking for when they want to feel close to characters, and Sanderson hit a home run this time.
Shadows of Self is an impressive addition to Sanderson’s catalogue. It’s an economical book that packs a lot into 300+ pages, from worldbuilding to meaningful character progression. For anyone who is a fan of fun, action-packed fantasy, this is a must read.