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The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson. Book Review

January 27, 2016

The Bands of Mourning

In ten years Brandon Sanderson has become a fantasy writing phenomenon, prodigious both in his output of books and sometimes the pages within them (the first two Stormlight Archive books run to over a 1000 pages). The Mistborn series was my first exposure to his writing, so when the chance came up to read the follow-on to the original series I was curious to see what had been done with a new cast of characters and three hundred years on. There was certainly a change of pace and the new setting has a steampunk feel with the Wild West never far away from the relative gentility of the city of Elendel.

In The Bands of Mourning, Wax and his band of associates set off in search of the Bands of Mourning, which were once owned by the Lord Ruler, the despot of the first trilogy of Mistborn books. Once worn, they are rumoured to offer the wearer incredible powers. But, until recently, they have been thought be nothing more than a myth. The group set off to the city of New Seran in the south to investigate a report that the Bands are a reality. However, Wax’s uncle is also intent on finding them for his own evil purposes.

The reason Sanderson’s writing works so well is what he does with his characters and the way they interact with the world he weaves around them. He takes stereotypes and tweaks them. Waxillium is your typical hero, good looking, rough around the edges despite his nobility, but is also a gentleman with a heart of gold. He is a Twinborn who, as an allomancer can push metals to move them around or can use feruchemy to become lighter as he stores his weight up, or become heavier as he uses that stored weight. Such is the strange and very clever conception of physics in the Mistborn world, where ingesting different metals can bring out the special skills of individuals gifted with particular characteristics. But despite Waxillium’s obvious status as the male lead, his kleptomaniac sidekick Wayne is never far away to bring him down to earth. Police woman Marasi, stepsister of Waxillium’s intended is also someone to be relied upon when it comes to deduction, and a gunfight. MeLann, the Kandra (immortals who are able to digest dead humans, forming themselves around the remaining bones) is back to lend a hand complete with luggage replete with skulls and spare skeletons, which are the Kandra equivalent of a change of clothes. It is also good to see seemingly genteel and defenseless Steris, the perfect foil for Wax, taking more of an active role in the proceedings. Her list-making ensures every eventuality is accounted for, including the devastation Wax and his team leaves in their wake. There are also her priceless comments which, in my opinion, make her one of the most interesting characters of the story. Watch out for the point where she has the metals to hand, just in case Wax needs them to save the day. As he downs them he realizes they are not suspended in alcohol, but fish oil, because Steris thinks it is a healthier option.

But as everyone is so well written and working brilliantly as an ensemble cast it is hard to choose a favourite. Although Meelan, with her luggage full of spare skulls and skeletons, for me comes a close second to Steris.

I particularly like the way the male characters of the piece, although overtly so macho (noticeably in the action scenes) exude a quiet respect for the women in the group, knowing they can rely on them to watch their backs when the chips are down. This gives the narrative so much more for a reader to get their teeth into than a simple action story, and great use is made of the ensemble cast who each play their own part in different combinations as the story progresses.

The story starts with a very steampunk feel, turns into a Western, then into a political thriller, before shifting into the type of adventure Allan Quatermain would kill to be involved in. This book really brings out how the author can play with genres and stereotypes to create something where there is great gravity to the underlying narrative, but it doesn’t stop it being a darn good romp and a thrilling adventure.

This particular set of Mistborn episodes leads itself to a very entertaining computer game or a film I would be very keen to see.

And yes, I am going to read it again.

 The Bands of Mourning was courtesy of Orion via NetGalley

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