Shadows of Self, by Brandon Sanderson
I recently finished “Shadows of Self” by Brandon Sanderson. It’s the latest in the Mistborn series – but of course this is the post-Final Ascension world, so it’s quite different from the Final Empire. I won’t call this a capital-R review, but under the cut are some disorganised thoughts…
SoS is more overtly political, both literally and by implication, than the previous novel. The plot concerns an ostensible attempt to destabilise the government of Elendel, and what’s *really* going on behind said plot. Waxillium, Wayne, Marasi and Steris find themselves dragged right into the mess, as often seems to be the case.
The first book made clear that electrification was underway in Elendel; this book has a look at the consequences of said industrial revolution. For a lot of people in the city, it seems to be too much change too soon. Thousands are out of work, thousands more are working too long hours for too little pay and the city’s heavily-aristocractic administration is either uninterested or perhaps even *unaware* of their plight.
(Hmmm. A society being reshaped by technological change while battered by seemingly-intractable economic problems, whilst an out-of-touch and possibly-corrupt government fails to do anything useful … sounds like anywhere else we know, perhaps? As I said, this is a very, very political novel, both overtly and subtly.)
However, this isn’t the Final Empire. Protestors can take to the streets without being massacred, a wide range of opinions are present in the newspapers and it is even possible for dissident voices to get elected to the popular part of the Senate – although the book does make clear that the limited democratic process that exists is grossly inadequate.
Interestingly, though, there’s also a suggestion that actually, the problem is not enough technological change. When Wax speaks to Harmony, at one point Harmony remarks that Elendel was supposed to have had radio in the previous century … and electricity is only just becoming a thing now.
There’s also a cryptic remark about some “others” who have apparently done much better in some way than the areas around Elendel. This seems to imply another human population somewhere on the post-World-of-Ash Scadriel, who apparently haven’t yet come into contact with Elendel and environs.
Incidentally, this also fits right in with the theme of tension between the needs of humans and the needs of Invested deities. Harmony apparently needs *something* that only a technologically-advanced Scadriel can supply, but the process of getting there is causing a lot of pain for the people of Elendel. It isn’t heavy-handed, but this does echo the more visible situation regarding Harmony’s former plans for Wax and Lessi.
Another thing that caught my eye was the subtle-but-significant ways that Steris and Wax’s relationship have evolved. She’s the grounded, sensible one, he’s the crazy fly-by-night one – they complement each other perfectly. It’s also Steris who stays with Wax right at the end, when he really needs comforting. And significantly, it’s implied that what she does actually helps.
It also puts the Wax/Marasi thing from the previous book into more context. Whilst Marasi is more active, more spontaneous and faster-moving than Steris, it’s also clear that she and Wax would not have had a happy relationship. They’re both just too energetic. Even just as friends or colleagues, there’s a bit too much tension between them.
One aspect of the book that I felt was weaker was the revolutionary subplot. The urban working-class protest movement felt a little vague and unfocused, almost dreamlike. None of the main characters are really from a street-level background (except maybe for Wayne), so they seemed a bit disconnected from it. This was a little odd, as the skaa’s-eye-view of the Final Empire was one of the things that the original Mistborn novel portrayed quite powerfully.
Also, the ending is quite bittersweet, although in all sorts of very spoilerific ways.
But, yes, if you enjoyed the other Mistborn novels then there’s no question that Shadows of Self is an essential read!