As the Years Go By

I recently had the pleasure of finishing my reading of Brandon Sanderson’s latest Mistborn novel: The Alloy of Law.  It was fantastic, full of his snappiest dialogue to date, hilarious self referential jokes and a plot that moved forward with the stunning pace of a bullet train.  Taking place some hundreds of years after the conclusion of the original Mistborn trilogy, the world and setting had completely changed, and yet it was at once instantly familiar.

In fact, while the main and supporting characters were thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly hilarious with all of their requisite Sanderson corniness and wit, I found myself mostly intrigued with the setting itself.  I was stunned to realize: the setting of this book was just as much a character to me as Wax and Wayne and the rest of the cast.  What made that so?

I think, for me, it was the progress, the change and development to the setting since last time I had visited Scadrial in the original Mistborn trilogy.  Without throwing out too many spoilers, within the three hundred or so years between books technology had begun to modernize.  Trains now race through the city and branch out through the unsettled “Roughs”, criminal and lawman alike have dropped their blades and taken up potent firearms, main characters from the original story have faded into myth, legend and theology.  As I said, I found a new sense of conflict and development in the actual world building behind the story.  It had become a living, breathing character.

I tried to pin down how, exactly, Mr. Sanderson was able to achieve this, and I think it boils down to the most obvious aspect: the passage of time.  In a lot of fantasy stories and series, it is sometimes surprising how little time actually passes.  For example, in The Wheel of Time, after twelve exhaustive books, I’m pretty sure only 2-3 years have passed.   Sure, the setting might be growing and changing based on the actions of the characters, but profound change in technology, government and lifestyle usually takes decades, even centuries.

That is why after three hundred years or so “off screen” I was fascinated by my second trip to Mistborn‘s Scadrial, and I’m really interested in finding more stories or series in which time and generations can pass, and the setting is able to develop as a prominent character.  Another one I can think of off the top of my head is Kevin J. Anderson’s Terra Incognita series.  The stories move at a blistering pace and sometimes years pass a decade at a time.  The landscape and inhabiting cultures are scoured by war and the vast scope of the story really gives room for the world itself to develop.

3 responses on “As the Years Go By

  1. Colette Vernon

    “Alloy of Law” was the book review I’d hoped to write soon. I agreed with everything you said, but what Brandon Sanderson always amazes me the most with is his endings. This one took me by surprise even more than usual. I’m not talking about the final conflict, although that was also amazing, but the denouement which held almost as much excitement as a plot turn-which it also accomplished. All the clues were there, all the elements of a well thought out overall story line, and yet it completely blindsided me to the point that I set the book down and just said, “Brilliant.”

  2. Brandon M Lindsay

    I definitely agree that the passage of time definitely made that story more interesting, and I think that a large part of why it worked for me was because it made the events of the trilogy that much more significant: those events became this book’s history.

    One of things that I think defines what an epic story is the scope of its consequences. The events in the trilogy affected the whole world for centuries; The Alloy of Law showed us how. While I think the book itself stands on its own merits, I think a lot of its coolness comes from its relationship to the previous books.

    I also agree with you about Terra Incognita. It was fast-paced; though they were pretty hefty books, there wasn’t much in the way of padding or fluff. Despite that, each of the events seemed to carry the weight of history with them. Reading it, I knew that once I had finished a chapter, things were going to be different for everyone involved, and that’s one of the reasons it worked so well.

  3. frank

    I haven’t gotten to Alloy of Law yet. Thanks for not including the spoilers. I appreciate the review and am that much more anxious to fit it into my reading schedule.

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