The Bands of Mourning are a mythical set of bracers owned by the Lord Ruler, who reigned over the entire world in the days of the Final Empire, and are said to be bestowed with his immense power. When their location is seemingly discovered, nobleman law keeper Wax is recruited to retrieve them, bringing him into greater conflict with his power-hungry uncle and a shadowy cabal he works for.
Middle instalments of trilogies are often tricky prospects, being placed in the unenviable position of having to continue the narrative previously set out, while simultaneously setting things up for the finale and being a complete story in its own right. It’s in this regard that The Bands of Mourning doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessors. While it’s never anything less than an entertaining read and just as action-packed as ever, it lacks the narrative tautness of Alloy of Law or Shadows of Self, for the most part feeling like filler material merely paving the way for the finale where some events of note actually occur.
Along the way, there are several allusions to the Cosmere, Sanderson’s slowly expanding mythos encompassing all of his epic fantasy works, and in particular Hoid, the mysterious and apparently immortal figure who crops up somewhere in almost every book, interfering with events to varying degrees. While providing further details regarding the invisible interstellar backstory of the universe carries a certain degree of satisfaction to those determined to unlock its mysteries, the information provided is given too much prominence and gets in the way of the actual story.
On the positive side, the book gives some much needed character development to Steris, Wax’s fiancé who, up until now, has been a rather distant and aloof presence. While their engagement is principally a society pairing calculated to advance both of their stations, it’s clear she harbours some genuine affection for him, also stoically accepting her general uselessness in any kind of confrontation, while providing some of the book’s humour with a running joke of the ludicrous improbabilities of potential crises she plans ahead for. Additionally, it thankfully seems that the previous unspoken implication that Marasi, Steris’ sister and Wax’s regular adventuring cohort, would be a far better romantic attachment, has been abandoned.
While misdirection within presented information is a regular feature of Sanderson’s writing, the revelations this time aren’t quite as clever as they think they are, and ultimately lack the significance of twists seen in his other stories. The Bands of Mourning is largely more of the same in terms of action, adventure and mystery, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it would have been nice to have a better-paced development of the overall plot driving the trilogy.
THE BANDS OF MOURNING / AUTHOR: BRANDON SANDERSON / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW