The fifth book in the Mistborn saga and the second in the Wax and Wayne subseries after the standalone Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self begins another trilogy and sees the titular investigative duo attempting to solve a series of murders committed by a kandra, one of the quasi-mythical shapeshifting immortals from the days of the old world.
Although westerns are a bit unfashionable these days, throwing fantasy into the mix grants some welcome variance to the genre’s well-worn tropes. The setting perfectly fuses the remembrance of the world’s past of magic and monsters and its present that captures the spirit of the Industrial Revolution, rapid technological change spearheading the acceleration into the future. Magical steampunk, if you like.
Central character Wax is a study in contrast. Born into a life of privilege that he rejected in an attempt to bring some degree of order to the lawless badlands, he is ostracised by high society for his rough persona and shunned by the lower classes for his noble birth. Some story details hark back to the prologue of Alloy of Law, chronologically a decade and a half previously, and are incorporated into events of the overall series, giving them far greater significance than just existing to grant Wax a suitably tragic backstory. Much like in the original Mistborn trilogy, by the end of the saga we can likely expect everything to have combined into one single multifaceted tale.
Despite the duality of Wax’s character, Wayne is actually the more interesting of the pair. He has a gift for mimicking accents and dialects and is possessed of a chameleonic ability to blend in with any group of people, and such is his commitment to each of his masquerades he practically becomes his disguise, his very thoughts shifting into those of the character he temporarily plays. In this regard, he is much like the Artemus Gordon to Wax’s Jim West, nobody ever sure if the man they’re speaking to is the genuine one, or if such a person even exists.
The Mistborn series is far and away Sanderson’s best work, and Shadows of Self is a worthy continuation of it. Like the religious undertones of The Chronicles of Narnia, Sanderson’s own faith becomes an increasingly clear influence on the story’s themes, relating to objective morality and how much responsibility a god has to directly intervene (or not) in the affairs of humans. The book is far deeper than its surface description of fantasy-western-murder-mystery might imply, and as the series progresses such themes will likely become more prominent.
SHADOWS OF SELF / AUTHOR: BRANDON SANDERSON / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW