The latest installment in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere is out! It’s been landing at bookstores, doorsteps, mailboxes, and e-readers, and now we need to talk about it. Tor.com has most graciously given us a playground for Shadows of Self-related spoilers, questions, debates, and general fannish chaos, so let’s dive in! But first, if you’re looking for a non-spoiler review of the novel, head over here!
Waxillium, Wayne, Steris, and Marasi are all back in fine form, taking on crime and the social elite of Elendel in their own special ways. Humor, tension, back stories, character development, and a culture in transition—yup, it’s Sanderson, all right. Also, giraffes.
Word of warning: this might, perhaps, maybe, be less of a review and more of a fangirl squee, okay? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can always ignore the squee and just head straight to the comments, if you need to. We’re really here to talk about the book anyway, right?
Where to start with this? Characters? Surprises? Plot? Worldbuilding?
I’ll take Surprises for 2000, Alex.
Because everyone loves surprises. (Well, everyone but Steris, who is never surprised because she already planned for it.) And there were definitely surprises, and questions answered in surprising ways.
Least surprising, for me, was Our Hero, Waxillium Ladrian. Don’t get me wrong—I like Wax. I just didn’t find his character development surprising, except for that bit about the Terris leader being his grandmother. On the other hand, the surprises he received were… appalling, mostly. Poor Wax. It really, really stinks to be you, sometimes.
On a roughly equal level of non-surprise for characters was Marasi. Again, I like Marasi, but while I wouldn’t say her development was predictable, it wasn’t exactly surprising either. Being a constable suits her rather well, and she’s growing up into holding her own in some bizarre circumstances.
Wayne… is both lovable and incredibly annoying. He can be insightful one minute, and then be absolutely dense the next. I loved his development—learning more about his accents and disguises, to say nothing of his rather peculiar set of moral standards, was a lot of fun. The most surprising thing, to me, was learning more of his backstory, and what he puts himself through because of it. That’s probably where most of the lovable comes from, actually, now that I think about it! But either way, he’s still funny.
Lessie. Oh, Brandon, I could be so mad at you for all this, if it didn’t make such a great story. Lessie, Paalm, Bleeder… Third generation kandra, and quite, quite mad. This was the worst surprise ever, but it sure did make for an effective plot twist!
My very favorite surprise in this book turned out to be Steris. At the end of The Alloy of Law, she was just… there. I felt sorry for her, a bit, but I fully expected her to sort of fade out of the pictures one way or another, because Wax was obviously attracted to Marasi, for all his schtick about it not working. Steris didn’t exactly change in Shadows of Self—all the seeds were in place, ready to grow. And they grew in surprising directions, at least for me. We’re allowed to see inside her mind more, and the depth of her self-awareness is almost frightening; at the same time, she uses that awareness in very practical ways to make the most of who she is. Before I was halfway through the book, she’d become my favorite character. In all of my fantasy reading, I don’t think I’ve ever met another character that I can relate to so well!
Plot and Worldbuilding
More surprises await in the worldbuilding arena. We finally get the answers to a host of questions, and some of those answers are deeply disturbing.
What happened to the kandra? Well, they mostly don’t get involved in human affairs these days—and of course, the reason they’re involved now is because one of their own has gone renegade. Still, it’s rather fun to meet a couple of old friends from the original trilogy, and MeLaan has All The Snark, concentrated over a few centuries. She was definitely… unexpected, and a lot of fun. TenSoon… I just felt bad for TenSoon. He rather gets caught in the middle of everything. Again.
Hemalurgy once again rears its ugly head, and I can’t say it was a welcome sight. This just can’t bode well, can it? I mean, I know the kandra couldn’t exist without it, but I tend to agree with Harmony, that “Lord Mistborn” shouldn’t have let this information out. It’s such a destructive form of magic, and it makes me sad every time it shows up.
The whole labor-unrest device wasn’t exactly a surprise, because it was set up in Alloy pretty well, but it played a larger role than I would have expected. It certainly fits the times, though, as the Industrial Revolution takes a toll on the workers’ lives and livelihoods. It will be interesting to see whether it continues as a significant plot device in the next books.
The Village was a surprise, as was Grandmother Vwafendal. (There are hints of a story up in here, methinks.) Finding a Terris enclave in the middle of the city was certainly an unexpected turn of events. In general, I found myself having to go back to the end of Hero of Ages to figure out how much of the whole Elendel Basin, Homeland, etc. I should have known about. So… that all took me by surprise, but those who were paying more attention probably recognized things more quickly than I did. And I think I finally figured out what the Great Catacendre was…
Those were the major unanticipated turns I found in Shadows of Self. How about you? What blindsided you? What did you find to love? Hate? Laugh at? What did you think of Harmony’s decisions? Jump on in to the discussion, and let’s have some fun!
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader. She writes the current Words of Radiance reread right here on Tor.com and loves to welcome new participants.