Book Review: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

Even a low-water mark for this premier fantasist is miles above the best of the rest


AUTHOR: Brandon Sanderson

PLOT: Metal-magic user Wax sets off after the sublime mystical presence of the metalminds themselves.



     Fantasy master Brandon Sanderson delivers the sixth book in his Mistborn series (third in the second series, with one left to go). Set a considerable distance in the future of the first Mistborn cycle, this journey through a place where the metal-based magic of Allomancy rubs shoulders with culture reminiscent in some regards of historical England (somewhere in the Elizabethan/Victorian era, I’d say).

     But this isn’t Earth.

     This is a place where old technology (from the reader’s vantage point), such as classic six-guns, are brandished in the face of pure magical abilities, where non-magic-using law enforcement agents fight side-by-side with aristocractic Coinshots. That’s the term for one kind of metal-magic user, such as the main character in this second set of Mistborn yarns, a headstrong nobleman who channels metallic magic, once served as a lawman out in the wilds, habitually shocks polite society with his antics and their shameless disregard for cultural mores, and tends to be a magnet for countless varieties of violence and disaster.

     His name is Waxillian. Wax, for short.

     He and his colorful cohorts, a motley and quite unlikely cast of protagonists whose actions frequently blur the line between lawful and criminal.

     Sanderson’s sharply defined magic system and unique pantheon of deities, demi-gods and more, powerfully coupled to his jaw-dropping ability to write action sequences (of which there are plenty) that are *gasp* both coherent AND engaging, brands The Bands of Mourning as yet another feather – make that quill – in the cap of a skilled storyteller who breathes rarified air in a rightfully elevated position among fantasy authors. He’s superior to the over-lauded Robert Jordan, whose bloated Wheel of Time series Sanderson completed – tying up so many loose plot threads, one imagines, to earn Sanderson a scout merit badge and a naval stripe on his sleeve.

     (It may fairly be pointed out that Sanderson himself is two books into a projected ten-book epic fantasy series, and that the first two volumes are each longer than the bulk – maybe all – of Jordan’s novels. But it’s not just an issue of length; it’s also what fills the page-count. And already, at only two tomes into his Stormlight Archive epic, Sanderson has already surpassed Jordan in terms of depth, originality, readability, gravitas and richness of content, etc.)

     I do have one quibble, which admittedly dwindles in the shadow of Sanderson’s literary accomplishment. This second Mistborn cycle is noticeably lighter in tone (this is not the quibble) to the previous Mistborn series, as well as some other of Sanderson’s work. These are zippy novels, rollicking action front-to-back, tongue-in-cheek yet quite “serious” about the fantasy, and so forth.

     But just as many epic fantasy novels or fantasy series hit a sag somewhere in the middle, this second multi-book romp through the Mistborn reality feels as though maybe it’s too “multi-book” by one. The seminal Mistborn cycle was a trilogy, while the second series is shaping itself into a four book set (one left to go). It feels a tad stretched and the thinness seems more evident here.

     Still, it’s not a bad story, and it’s still a good book. Just that maybe the story could have been better served integrated into a larger trilogy instead of occupying its own volume in a group of four that maybe should have been a trinity. Nevertheless, compared to the stratospheric bar set by this author, a slight slip like this doesn’t threaten Sanderson’s altitude above the vast majority of his fellow fantasy creators. 

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