Format: hard cover, first edition, 2016
Pages: 437 (not counting a postscript and appendix)
Reading Time: about 11 hours
In my review of the previous Mistborn Novel, Shadows of Self, I was less than thrilled at the way it felt cobbled together, with an uninteresting plot, shallow characterization, and dark ending. I was hoping that despite being published only 16 weeks after Shadows of Self, in The Bands of Mourning Brandon Sanderson would be able to rediscover the magic that made the Mistborn novels so much fun. Did he succeed? Read further to discover my thoughts, but beware – there are a lot of spoilers of not only The Bands of Morning, but also Shadows of Self.
First, a look at some other reviews around the Cosmere. Alice Arneson at Tor.com writes: “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.)…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.”
Dina at SFF Book Reviews states: “As in Shadows of Self, it felt like a number of sub-plots were being juggled, but juggled rather hectically and without as much planning as in the first Mistborn trilogy. Where plot strings beautifully wove together to create a bigger whole at the end, here it feels like every book introduces new side plots, new political factions and character side stories, only to unceremoniously drop some (Wayne’s attempts at redemption, or his obsession with their weapons supplier, for example). Others feel like they should have been foreshadowed way earlier but were instead thrown in quickly and info-dumpy to prepare for the scenes to come…This book also took me on quite an emotional joy-ride. Not only was there a lot going on and it was a thrill to follow the characters as they solve problems each in their own way – I will never forget Spoiled Tomato – but I have also come to love all of them for being who they are. Marasi has grown into herself and trusts as much in her instincts as in statistical data, Wayne is slightly more serious, although you still mustn’t take away his hat. Ever! And Wax, who has been through so much, is put through hell once more. The biggest surprise was Steris, in her cold mathematical manner, who showed kindness and courage and creativity in the face of danger. So yeah, I love that gang!”
Finally, Joshua S. Hill of Fantasy Book Review says: “It’s a fantastic bit of worldbuilding which makes Brandon Sanderson’s novels somewhat unique, in that we are really watching two stories – one a micro-story, focusing on the lives of individual characters trying to eke out answers, the other, a macro-story, of an entire civilization on the move, that has so far been spread out over six different books (and likely to be many more)…I spend most of my time reading these new Mistborn books hoping for more time with Marasi, though Sanderson continues to tease me. Obviously the focal point of the book is Wax, but the immediate supporting cast is so important to these books that I’m not surprised when I find I’ve gone a chapter or so without entering into his POV – in fact, I think the way that the story is going allows for this possibility even more as we progress…The Bands of Mourning represents exactly how you write the middle book in a trilogy, without it simply being seen as the stepping stone between book one and three. The character growth for everyone is vital, and beautifully fleshed out, leaving you absolutely enthralled.”
Let’s start with pacing and structure. The book is divided into 3 parts…Part One covers events in Elendil; Part Two focuses on New Seran; and Part Three takes place in the Southern Roughs and mountains. However, I thought of it more in this way: Elendil is more like a prologue, which is followed by a train action sequence, then the events in New Seran, leading to the warehouse in the Roughs, and finally ending in the mountain fortress. So I consider it four parts with an introduction. The pace of The Bands of Mourning is fast with several hectic action scenes, sharing more in common with The Alloy of Law than Shadows of Self.
Perhaps the most notable improvement over Shadows of Self, however, is the characterization. The odd traits, shallow depth, and loss of team dynamics are gone. In its place are characters with more depth and interaction, restoring the team dynamic, and each character has his or her (or its) moment to shine. Wax is still struggling with what he feels is betrayal by Harmony, and though he makes a number of missteps, it just makes him all the more human. Wayne has toned down the eccentricities to a more palatable level, and even shows growth in a moment of grief by breaking his rule of not using guns and yet showing mercy. Marasi, having moved on from an attraction to Wax, deals with living in his shadow while continuing to show poise and adaptability in difficult situations. MeLaan the Kandra is a delight, not only in her abilities but in her growing comfort level around humans. And Steris? In my review of Shadows of Self I complained about her being underdeveloped, but that I liked her smart observations. Well, that complaint can be shelved, because as Alice mentions above in her review, Steris is an amazing character. Every scene featuring Steris (and there are a lot more of them here) is among the best in the book. I don’t know how Sanderson managed it, but he has completely turned around her development, and as her relationship with Wax becomes more caring, more intimate, I couldn’t help but grin and think, “why couldn’t this have happened sooner?”
Several new characters and concepts are introduced in this story, from a strange race of people to the south, to flying technology, to batteries and generators, to allomantic grenades – Sanderson shows he’s not afraid to think outside the box. In contrast to the new peoples and concepts are the many references to a classic Mistborn concept – hemalurgy. The use of spikes to create creatures or allomancy can be traced all the way back to the first Mistborn book. It’s very cool to see it come around again, and the concept that allomancers can be “created” by spiking them. I’m not one who follows Sanderson’s Cosmere concept…apparently, for those who do there are some hidden clues in this novel relating to his other works. For the rest of us, however, the book stands fine on it its own without the need to know the Cosmere.
The antagonists in this book are really nothing special. Mr. Suit is actually somewhat of a disappointment, and the identity of the main “bad guy” was a bit too predictable. “The Set”, the evil organization trying to start a war, remains somewhat of a faceless entity, although the revelation that it is being backed by a rival god named Trell (another old Mistborn reference) sets up some intriguing possibilities involving a battle between gods Trell and Harmony, as well as civil war between Elendil and all other peoples, that seems to be inevitable. And as Harmony pulls back the curtain a little bit, we learn of a mysterious “red mist”. What in the heck is that?
The map at the front of the book that features Elendil is practically useless – a map of the Southern Roughs and mountains where the warehouse and fortress are located would be far more useful – although I very much liked the map of New Seran. The broadsheets between chapters are still very fun to read as well. The usual appendix has been provided that explains all of the metal capabilities; however, there is a section that talks about the three metallic arts in a first person perspective. I don’t know who this narrating person is, but they reference Roshar a couple of times. Though I have not read any of the Stormlight Archives yet, I do know that it is set in the world of Roshar, so I better get busy with tackling that series soon.
There are a few small problems with The Bands of Mourning. At times I found modern words from our society dropped into the story, which was annoying, but fortunately it doesn’t happen to often. Sometimes the action sequences are so chaotic that they are hard to follow. And there were also a couple of times where I thought to myself, “well why didn’t they do this instead or in response?” It is a result of having a complicated magic system, which makes it difficult for the author to foresee every possibility a character might take. We also continue to have references to characters like Lord Mistborn and the Final Emperor, and when those names are used along with Lord Ruler it can become hard to remember who is really being referred to. And the hint that the Lord Ruler isn’t dead – really? Why would Sanderson undermine the original Mistborn story like that?! Finally there is a beggar who gives Wax a coin outside of a party and sets certain events into motion. The identity of the beggar remains a mystery, and hopefully Sanderson reveals the beggar’s identity and intent in the next novel, else it reeks of deus ex machina.
All of those problems are minor and did not affect my enjoyment of the story, and as a matter of fact I did enjoy The Bands of Mourning very much. I would say that this is the best book of the newer Mistborn entries and one of the best Mistborn books Sanderson has written. It is an action-packed thrill ride with superbly written characters and enough secrets and hints to keep me intrigued, and has me anxiously waiting for the final novel in the series, which is to be titled “The Lost Metal“. Bravo to Sanderson for overcoming what I felt was a previous letdown and for writing a superb novel that recaptured the magic and has hooked me once again.