Review: Shadows of Self

Posted: October 2, 2015 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Fantasy

That Brandon Sanderson guy keeps pumping out books. Like, a lot of books. MISTBORN (Amazon) was, in a large sense, the book series that put Sanderson on the map, and it remains some of his best work. Sanderson is an author known for his epic fantasy, and since finishing the Wheel of Time series, increasingly known for large books like THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVES (EBR Review). However, the Mistborn books remain smaller (clocking in around 300 to 500 pages), and this book is no exception.

SHADOWS OF SELF (Amazon) continues the story set forth in ALLOY OF LAW, following Wax, Wayne, Marasi, and Steris as they continue hunting down criminals and the darker conspiracy hinted at at the end of ALLOY OF LAW (EBR review). Unlike the first book, the second book is filled with flashbacks to Wax’s origins as a lawman out in the Roughs, and we get to see some of the supporting characters and backstory that formed the character he is.

The Good:
Sanderson has grown increasingly talented at handling his female characters, and some of his best writing in this book revolves around Marasi. His prose remains sharp and descriptive like readers have come to expect from him; the heroes are heroes and the baddies are baddies. Sanderson doesn’t do “grimdark” and with good reason: that’s not the writer he is. He’s filled this book with characters who embody archetypes, and then filled them out into full, excellent, intriguing characters. The pace in this book is good, and since it’s a shorter book, it moves along at a brisk pace.

The Bad:
Sanderson has a proclivity towards writing a lot of his characters and dialogue in a way that invokes witticism. It’s a little straining to read page after page of dialogue that comes across as witty and funny, and either all the witty people in the Mistborn world hang out together, or everyone is witty. The book also suffers from “middle of the trilogy” syndrome. There’s a lot of explanation and set up for the final book, and while this story is self-contained, it also serves as a vehicle for the denouement.

SHADOWS OF SELF follows Wax, Wayne, Marasi, and Steris as they continue hunting down criminals and the dark conspiracy we learned about in the last book.

The Ugly:
Nothing really. If you like Sanderson, and you liked ALLOY OF LAW, you’ll feel the same about this book. It’s almost exactly that level of quality. Sanderson has become a prolific enough writer, he’s got his craft approaching rote now. Which is really the biggest complaint. The environment and magic are the most important characters in this book, and eventually that starts to wear. The third book on this series will really determine if Sanderson is content to continue with what he has, or if he’s willing to shake things up and evolve as a writer.

  • Recommended Age: 13+
  • Language: In-universe cursing.
  • Violence: Lots of gunplay, and there is some detailed violence. I'm not sure I'd call it graphic, but someone's head gets shot off. So there's that.
  • Sex: Nope. Sanderson keeps it clean.


  • J-Town says:

    I really don’t understand that criticism of Sanderson. The dialogue he writes isn’t for everyone, sure, that’s a fairly common complaint. Humor is a difficult thing to write and rarely pleases everyone. But he’s not “evolving as a writer”? I call bollocks. He’s made loads of progress if you look at his earlier novels. I think that particular criticism (and it’s fairly uncommon) comes from Sanderson’s refusal to write more “gritty” novels. Which is fine if you prefer gritty novels.

    But let’s be honest; if you just prefer darker novels and he doesn’t write those, then that speaks more to your particular taste than to his evolution as a writer. And it’s valid for reviewers to write about what they don’t like, of course, but I dislike phrasing it as if it were the writer’s weakness. Not every author writes in a ton of different styles. I’d rather the good ones, as Sanderson certainly is, continue to do what they do best. There are few who do it better these days.

    • So in the review, the reviewer mentions that Sanderson NOT writing grimdark is a positive, and you say what he really wants is for Sanderson to write grimdark? That makes no sense. Questioning an author’s (over) use of humor is a valid concern that doesn’t have anything to do with a dark (or lack-thereof) tone. And frankly, it is a concern that numerous people have pointed out with many of Sanderson’s novels (all the new Mistborns, portions of Stormlight, and Warbreaker).

      It’s fine that you don’t agree with a review. What isn’t fine is insulting the reviewer’s opinion by twisting his words and insinuating things that were not said, nor implied. This isn’t that kind of review site.

      What’s more, it’s OK to have different opinions. It’s also OK to voice our opinions and concerns. And it’s OK to disagree. But you manner in doing so make it appear that you are insulted because we didn’t love the book as much as you did. I question whether or not you actually read the full review, since you comment seems to indicate you didn’t.

      • J-Town says:

        Steven, to answer your question, I did in fact read the review. Multiple times. And I have no issue if you or your reviewers don’t like a book that I do or if you like one that I didn’t. Truthfully, I’m more into the Stormlight Archive books than the Mistborn books when it comes to Sanderson in any event, so I’m not insulted in the least.

        However, while I saw that the reviewer mentioned that Sanderson didn’t write grimdark in the “good” section, in the “ugly” section he mentions that Sanderson is approaching “rote” now. He doesn’t mention the dialogue there, that was in the “bad” section. (My comment stated that I would take it as given that some don’t care for the humor; I had no issue with that.)

        I found the complaints in the “ugly” section perplexing, frankly. If I mistakenly identified what the reviewer considered rote about the author’s work, it is because I don’t really understand what specifically the criticism is. I assumed (and it was an assumption, I freely admit) that the reviewer was simply tired of how Sanderson writes (thus the referenced “rote” nature of his books and “we’ll see if he evolves as a writer” comments).

        Since he already referenced grimdark and that Sanderson isn’t that kind of writer, I simply assumed that he would prefer that Sanderson write differently (assuming from the sentence that evolving is a writer is a desirable thing). He only referenced one kind of something else in the review (grimdark). So I drew my own conclusions. I’m certainly not attempting to put words in anyone’s mouth. My apologies if that is how it came across.

        My conclusion may not accurately describe what the reviewer intended. But the fact that I had to guess at all means, to me at least, that the review may have been a bit vague in that regard. I still don’t really understand what was implied by the criticism, to be honest. So I guess the question is, “How SHOULD Sanderson evolve as a writer?”

        • J-Town –

          I’ve had many a conversation with Alan about Sanderson’s work. Sanderson not writing grimdark has nothing to to with anything. I think that was pretty clear in the review, so I’m not going to address that other than to say that Brandon doesn’t write dark fiction, and that’s fine.

          Now, as for the “rote” part of it, I agree with Alan. Brandon is doing the same thing now that he he has been doing for a while now. If you enjoy that, awesome. I enjoyed Brandon’s stuff more when we was pushing the envelopes of magic systems. I enjoyed his work more when the characters all felt distinct. I don’t get that feeling anymore when reading his stuff. Obviously that’s my opinion, and I’m glad other people enjoy his stuff. But for me? All his witty characters since Warbreaker feel like clones trying to be Joss Whedon characters, which gets old to me. Also to me, his stuff tend to follow a similar pattern. Actiony beginning, really long middle with lost of people standing around talking, with the last 50-75 pages being where things happen. I realize that many books fall in that realm, but that middle part tends to always be far too long and repetitive for the payoff at the end, for me.

          This stuff doesn’t bother a lot of people. That’s fine. But this is why I agree with Alan’s review. Sanderson doesn’t write bad books, but his books don’t feel as groundbreaking as they used to. His first Mistborn trilogy, for me, is incredible. These new ones don’t even come close to recapturing the magic (pun partially intended). I don’t feel like he is pushing the envelope like he used to.

          But whatever. I’m glad you like everything he writes, and that you don’t seem to be bothered by him writing more of the same each time. Brandon deserves to be read. You deserve to read books you like. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all good.

        • Oh! And “how should Brandon evolve”?

          I think he needs to take more risks. Frankly, these latest books are really safe. Which a lot of people are fine with. I want him to take on different themes. I want him to incorporate different styles. I want to seem him do more short fiction, since I think the short her writes, the better he is. I want to see him tackle different genres that are outside his comfort zone. Really challenge himself.

          Let’s talk about Dan Simmons for a sec. A BRILLIANT horror writer. Could have just hit those same notes forever. Instead decided, “Hmm…how about some SF?” Brilliant. Then, “But I like historical fiction…” Awesome. Simmons challenged himself and didn’t limit himself to one genre, gathering fans from all types of readers.

          Brandon will do what he wants. And he will likely succeed, because he is a tremendously hard worker, and a machine for producing work. Writing for different age groups has been awesome for him, and I love it. He once told me he was trying to figure out a way to take his success and exposure to the next level. Short of a TV deal, he’s gonna have to expose his work, and write work, for people outside his love-group (while still writing stuff those those awesome fans). This is Marketing 101. Not only will it improve his exposure and success, it will challenge him and ultimately make him an even better writer than he already is. Heck, even Jim Butcher writes new things and branches out.

  • Matthew McFarland says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the FIRST in the new trilogy? Alloy of Law was supposed to be “standalone.”

    • Alan says:

      Alloy of Law was supposed to be standalone, but Shadows of Self (and the upcoming third novel) are direct sequels to that story. It essentially grew into a new trilogy.

      • Matthew McFarland says:

        True, but! Bands of Mourning releases in a few months (since he wrote them back to back), and he has a fourth book planned in the current cycle–originally a trilogy before Allow of Law grew. I believe the working title is The Last Metal.

        • Alan says:

          Matthew, you’re completely correct. It’s basically a four-book series now.

          Regardless, Alloy of Law is no longer standalone and this book heavily requires you’ve read it.

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