What’s this? Is Kate reviewing a mainstream author again?
Hell yeah, I am. It’s Brandon Sanderson.
This is the second book in THIS series. Which is the second series set on this world in Sanderson’s Cosmere. And don’t worry if you don’t get the second half of the last sentence. It’s SANDERSON. You can follow the story without knowing about his greater ‘verse.
But let’s unpack Shadows of Self. First off, the main plot, stopping the ax crazy maniac trying to overthrow the government. It’s solid, every threat is real, and very twist and turn is organic. At no point did I roll my eyes and scream at the characters to put it all together. Mainly because I hadn’t put it all together. I’m sure on the second read through, I’ll find the clues. Sanderson hasn’t let me down in the area yet.
The book follows the usual Sanderson pattern: slow build up, new wrinkles in the exquisitely structured magic system, and breakneck final act.
But damn, it works. Again.
The character arcs are natural without being predictable. Marasi changed her career and the trajectory of her life. We saw some small bonding with her sister, which was nice. But we’ll get into Steris below. Marasi hasn’t quite gotten over Wax, but is moving on. And her natural affinity for skirts is causing some havoc with her new and more active lifestyle. I didn’t mind the star-struck outsider, who wasn’t entirely useless in a fight, of the first book, because characters need a place to start.
But, as always, Sanderson took a logical look at actions and made consequences. The scholarly lawyer got a taste of adventure and turned into a beat cop. She main story arc was about her career, and navigating her new life. And therefore, the main female character of the book had no love interest, needed no love interest, and the only time it got brought up, she shrugged. And thus, the previously hinted at Love Triangle was averted.
Wax, our male lead, has a much more dramatic arc, that I can’t get into because spoilers. But it was his relationship with Steris that shocked me the most. So yeah, I’m getting into Steris here.
See, I didn’t like Steris in the first book, but I then, I wasn’t supposed to. She’s cold, and blunt, and far too proper. And she absolutely ruined the Marasi and Wax relationship.
But then this book happened, and she’s… well she’s cute. The far too proper act is exactly that, an act. Steris is logical to a fault, and both very good and very bad at reading people. So when she’s explaining her lists and her overplanning, it’s oddly endearing.
I’m not saying that Sanderson deliberately wrote a character on the Autism Spectrum, but that’s exactly what Steris reminds me of. My son going through his mental rolladex of polite social interactions, but she understands that that’s exactly what she’s doing.
So Wax’s fascination with her seems very organic. You can understand why he wants to figure out why she does the things she does, and why the answers are intriguing to him. She’s not like any person he’s know before.
But more than just Wax, the coldness between Steris and Marasi (which, for the record, had nothing to do with the aforementioned hinted at Love Triangle) has started to melt too. Both women seem to be coming to terms with their lot in life, and have stopped blaming each other. I don’t know that they will ever truly be close, but that’s okay. The reasons they aren’t are understandable.
So, yes, Steris is definitely the breakout character this book. She’s not an action heroine, but she is a great character to have in an action story. And her and Marasi’s annoyance with being kidnapped and used as hostages was hilarious.
There are two more characters that I want to touch on. Wayne, whom I adore, and MeLaan, whom I also adore.
Wayne didn’t really get much of an arc this book, but that’s okay, as discussed before he’s the awesome secondary character. He really doesn’t need an arc. Which is kind of why I wish Sanderson would move on from the “Abhorrent Suitor” trope. It’s not my favorite thing in the world to see my favorite character clearly hitting on someone who isn’t interested, and things get super squicky when it’s guy hitting a lesbian… and super squickier, when she shoots him (she knows he can heal fast). Never did like the idea that violence is okay just because someone is annoying. And it doubly doesn’t sit right with me when women are allowed to abuse men because women are weaker.
Okay, getting off my soapbox.
But all that ranty goodness brings me to MeLaan. MeLaan is an ancient shapeshifter, who Wax and Co think of as a divine being. MeLaan thinks that people are silly and taste delicious (makes sense in the context of the book, I swear).
MeLaan and Wayne bond in the absolutely most adorable way possible… and yeah, I ship it! I ship it hard.
So Wax. Wax get’s nailed pretty hard in this book, and… well, the ending is… well… damn.
Yeah… I can’t really get into any part of the ending, it just… nope. Too spoileriffic, but I promise you… damn.