Just in case you hadn’t noticed the plethora of Sanderson, Cosmere, and Mistborn articles here on Tor lately, I’d like to call your attention to this phenomenon once again. There’s a reason for it; really there is. Today, a mere sixteen weeks—a timeframe unheard of in epic fantasy!—after the release of Shadows of Self, its sequel The Bands of Mourning is on bookshelves and doorsteps across the country and around the world.
Set in the world of Sanderson’s bestselling Mistborn books, this is the third of four stories which take place roughly 300 years after that first trilogy. We return to the adventures of Wax and Wayne, in company with Steris, Marasi, and the Faceless Immortal (a.k.a. kandra) MeLaan, as they embark on a new investigation with implications far, far beyond their home in Elendel.
If there’s a theme for The Bands of Mourning (other than the plot itself, of course), that theme would almost have to be “Moving On.” Geographically, temporally, politically, and personally, everything in this story is moving on. Wax is the only one dragging his feet, but even he gets into the theme eventually.
“I’m not some tortured, abandoned creature, Wayne,” Marasi said, finding herself smiling at her distorted reflection in a ladle. “I’m not sitting around pining and dreaming for someone else to decide if I should be happy. There’s nothing there. Whether that’s due to actual lack of affection on his part, or more to stubbornness, I don’t care. I’ve moved on.”
She looked down, meeting Wayne’s eyes. He cocked his head.
“Huh. You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Moved on…” he said. “Rusted nuts! You can do that?”
It’s a humorous little episode buried in the activities of the second chapter, but it sets up a movement that gradually picks up speed throughout the book, and leaves the reader dangling off the cliff at the end, wondering where this joyride will land next.
Geographically and temporally, we start in the Village, in the heart of Elendel, twenty-eight years ago. “Li’l Wax” and his sister Telsin, 15 and 16 years old respectively, are getting along about like usual—which is to say, he feels out of place, and she wishes he’d go away and let her do her thing. From that time and place, we move forward in time to Wax’s wedding day (which is the expected disaster), and then onward at a normal pace. From that place, though…
While the first few chapters stay in Elendel, it’s not long before the whole company is on a train, moving on out of Elendel for the first non-flashback time in Era 2. Out through the Basin with its political issues, the team heads to New Seran, just at the southern rim of the Basin, while Wax discovers that finances and politics are really not that much different from crime-fighting. From New Seran, they move northeast out into the Basin again, and then up into the virtually unexplored mountain ranges dividing the Basin from the Roughs. In addition, though we don’t physically go there, we receive hard in-world evidence that there is indeed life beyond the limited area of the Elendel Basin and the Roughs. There is an entire civilization to the south, probably in the other hemisphere, and it has significant implications for the future of Scadrial as a whole.
As a side note on the geography, I found it fascinating that the Elendel Basin was supposed to be the Scadrial equivalent of the Garden of Eden: a perfect place for humanity to thrive. Rich, fertile, and temperate, Harmony created this Basin during the Catacendre as a true and perfect home for humans, who in the midst of such plenty should have no need for conflict. Humans, of course, mucked it up.
Which leads, of course, into the plot and worldbuilding progression. Harmony has noticed that, while they still find plenty of things to quarrel about, the lack of real hardship for his people has resulted in a corresponding lack of inventiveness. Technology in Elendel is not progressing as quickly as it should. Elsewhere, however, where life is more difficult, some very interesting things are happening. Cosmere-building is moving into areas which were previously only hinted: Identity and Investiture come front and center as recognized concepts and magical tools.
(The careful Cosmere reader will note that we have now identified the homeland of a certain mask-wearing Worldhopper. We have also seen on the page for the first time another important Worldhopper—one who has not yet been named in any published work, but has been obliquely referenced several times. When these two are properly identified, certain speculations will be definitively laid to rest.)
This segues nicely to the characters: our friends really pick up and move on now. As quoted above, Marasi has decided that her infatuation with Wax is over; she can still admire and respect him, but she’s got things to do and a life to live. I’m not sure how many of the fans will be upset with this, though I suspect that particular ship has been declining in popularity anyway. However, she’s got her work cut out for her, since everyone expects her to function as a Wax-adjunct, and that has to stop. (I love the way she categorically refused to function as a Wayne-adjunct, though—at least until it was appropriate to the situation!)
Wayne’s version of moving on… well, y’all have already had fun laughing over that, I’m sure! And we did see it in the preview chapters. He pulls a few interesting shenanigans later that are pure awesome, though. And he moves on enough to fire a shotgun, so there’s that, too.
Steris… ah, Steris. I’ll confess, she’s probably my favorite fantasy character ever. Her progression was hinted at in Shadows of Self, but she really comes into her own here. From moments of painful honesty, to moments of sheer genius, her contribution to the team turns out to be absolutely invaluable. I’ve come to love her self-awareness and calm acceptance of herself, but it was a lovely thing to see her learn that who she is, is worthy.
“Did you know that when I evaluated everyone’s usefulness on this expedition, I gave myself a seven out of a hundred? Not very high, yes, but I couldn’t reasonably give myself the lowest mark possible. I do have my uses.”
That in itself was pretty funny, but her obsessive over-preparedness saved multiple lives, and her political and financial savvy saved them from a war. Best of all, though…
Wax has finally moved on from the tragedy of Shadows of Self and his anger toward Harmony to a realization of bigger things going on—and to an honest appreciation of Steris. He’s finally ready to move from a mere contractual obligation to a true marriage. This says it all:
“Will you be my bride? I want to be married to you. Right now, before the Survivor and that priest. Not because words on a paper say we have to, but because we want to.”
This ship is full-rigged and sailing, and I’ve never been so much on board. It’s also eminently appropriate that we don’t get to see the actual wedding. It’s just the two of them and the priest, and even the reader is… well, not invited.
The last big movement to note: We started with Li’l Wax and Telsin, at odds in a rather adolescent way, moved through what appeared to be a nice family reunion, and ended with the revelation of their true and total opposition. It’s brutal to realize that, after all this time thinking he was going to rescue his sister from their wicked uncle, she’s actually the one who’s been the power behind the scenes. (Also: Wayne, I’m with Wax on this. It really would have been preferable had you not decided to give her a second chance!)
For the next book, it rather looks like we’re heading for a showdown. Wax & Harmony on one side, Telsin & Trell on the other. And a whole new continent-full of people, to boot; one wonders how they will fit into the aforementioned showdown, and what that “Lost Metal” might be.
It’s fitting, for this book full of moving on, that we end with Marasi’s research on Scadrial’s Cosmere connections; Suit’s overconfidence and demise due to those same Cosmere connections; and Wax’s experience through the coppermind:
That arm… That arm. Lined with a network of scars layered atop one another, as if made by scraping the skin time and time again. The haunting word he’d spoken echoed in Wax’s mind.
Well, well, well.
And then there’s the postscript. Is your mind blown?
Please, for the love of the Cosmere, PLEASE do not talk about the contents of the item referenced in the postscript on this thread. It will have its very own spoiler discussion thread tomorrow, I promise. And it will be well worth discussing. Note that when you go looking the title and introductory text will be… disguised, a bit; we don’t want the blurb that shows up on the Tor front page to spoil anything for anyone, and even the existence of that item is a spoiler in its own right. All I’ll say here is that…
There’s always another secret.
Alice Arneson is a long-time Tor.com commenter and Sanderson beta-reader.