Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cleared: The Alloy of Law

It's been entirely too long since I finished a book, but at least that changed last night. The book in question was, as I'm sure the reader has discerned, The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson. I've previously read his original Mistborn trilogy, so when I heard that he had a new book in the setting, I was pretty excited. The book takes place about 300 years after the events of The Hero of Ages, and the world has transformed from a quasi-medieval setting to a quasi-Victorian one. All of the stuff that makes Sanderson's work so good is very much there. His characters are likable and interesting, his story has some great twists and turns in it, and his action scenes are phenomenal. The one thing that was a bit less present this time around was the whole sense of epic struggle - the story here was tighter and more personal, which was fine, just different. Sanderson has also left himself very much open for a follow-up novel. It's hard to go much more into the book's contents without going into spoiler territory, but I will say this: the setting has definitely grown and changed, but it's obviously the same world, which was a nice little bit of authorial craftsmanship. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who has read the original series, and I'd recommend that someone who has read neither start with the original series, for two reasons: first, the original series is utterly brilliant. It's one of the best works of fantasy I have ever read, and second: there are a lot of little nods back to those three books in this one, which make the experience richer and more fun. I do find myself wishing that Vin and Kelsier had been using Bendalloy back in the original trilogy after having read this. In any case, highly recommended. Sanderson's work is very solid, as always, and as always he does a great job of handling things with intelligence and good taste without getting pretentious or pulling his punches.

RPG notes: Well, it bears mentioning at the outset that there is an official, licensed Mistborn RPG out there, though I have yet to see an actual copy of it, so I can't comment other than to say I'm glad someone got the Mistborn license and made a game out of it. Anyhow, as usual, there's an excellent chance that I'll spoil something you'd rather not have spoiled in here, so if you haven't read the book yourself, be aware that this is a potential likely virtually guaranteed source of spoiler content. The Alloy of Law does a couple of things useful to GMs: it makes an excellent case for how much you can change a setting and still have it be recognizable, and it also shows the value of having your players know their setting history. Having Marsh show up in the epilogue, especially since he is now the setting's equivalent of The Grim Reaper, was a very powerful and cool moment - IF you've read the first three books. Otherwise, half the impact of that scene will sail right over the reader's head. Likewise, the naming of the city after the characters from the first series, some of the house names carrying through, etc. add extra weight and continuity to the story. Interestingly, though, the world itself is a radically different place. The original series took place in a bleak, scorched world with red skies and black ash falling from the sky. The world in The Alloy of Law is the one Sazed created at the end when he set things right again, and yet, with Allomancy and Feruchemy (and I assume Hemalurgy - my money's on that being the real purpose of the kidnap victims) still around, albeit in a diminished form. But the magic system and a few proper nouns, albeit both used judiciously, are enough to make the setting recognizable. That's huge. And that's also something useful to remember when doing multiple campaigns in a common setting: a world can change, and change a lot, and still be the same world. Look at how much the map of Europe has changed in 300 years, and also how much technology has advanced. And yet Earth is still Earth. The same can be true of your homebrew setting. Don't be afraid to change it between campaigns.

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