Fantasy Book review: Mistborn : The Final Empire

It’s been neigh on 15 years since I’ve last done a book report, but I thought I’d give it a shot in review form on this blog. Hopefully this will introduce some folks to new books that they may not have heard of.

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to lay by the side of a pool and just read. I can do this for hours and since I do not own an e-reader, I like to get a long series to read and enjoy over the course of the trip. On my most recent trip, this was the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. This review will cover the first book in that trilogy, Mistborn: The Final Empire. Warning, this review will contain some spoilers but not the ending. I hate spoilers in general but some are required to at least cover what the book is about and I promise not to ruin more than the first hundred or so pages.

This doesn’t match my cover but sorta gives you the fantasy feel (Image courtesy of wikipedia)

I just came off finishing the epic Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and was really feeling in a fantasy mood. When I was last discussing fantasy books with some co-workers, multiple people suggested I pick up the Mistborn series and extolled how great Brandon Sanderson’s writing is. So when browsing Barnes and Noble the night before my flight, I found all three books in a nice boxed set (and yes, my OCD habit for completing series kicked in here) and I was good to go.

Mistborn takes place in a fantasy world that’s frequently referred to as the final Empire. Most of the book takes place in one central city of Luthadel though. The world is very dark and gloomy with frequent rains of ash from the sky. The few plants and trees that exist are all yellow and brown, darkened by the ash. Pretty gloomy world! And it gets worse, very quickly, you are introduced to the skaa, basically just humans who are slaves to the human nobleman. These two classes of people are very divergent, to the point where the noblemen do not consider the skaa to be people. They treat them like slaves, beating them, raping them and outright killing them. This has all been going on for 1000 years, to the point where the skaa just consider it their lot in life and the noblemen just consider it the way things are. All of this is carefully orchestrated by the Lord Ruler, a man who became a god of the world when he ascended 1000 years ago.

Very quickly, we are introduced to the two main characters of the book. Kelsier, who meets with the skaa and wants to stir things up, and Vin, a petty thief skaa in the capital city. Vin seems to be able to draw on a luck source in order to influence the world around her and make her scams just go that much better for her.

As circumstances push Kelsier and Vin together, he begins to train her in the trilogy’s central hook, Allomancy. By swallowing metals, rare individuals can “burn” the metals within them to grant themselves powers. For example, swallowing and burning pewter, makes Vin and Kelsier exceptionally strong. Some individuals can burn a single metal, and a rarer few can burn all the metals (10 or so…). Being able to burn all these metals makes one known as a Mistborn .There’s an exceptionally well done system of the various metals and how they are grouped together. There’s iron and steel which push and pull metal objects; some that push and pull on emotions, etc. The Allomantic system is very well thought up and is used well throughout the book. By midway through the first book, you know which metals do what and how they can be used. It’s all introduced very well and I really like how Mr. Sanderson has built the rest of his world out of this idea of consuming metals for powers.

The first 25% of the book is centered around introducing Vin and the reader to the world of Allomancy while the remaining bit focuses on Kelsier’s overall goal of overthrowing the Lord Ruler. I’ll end my spoilers here on what happens and just say that the book is followed with the normal set of twists and turns. It’s not formulaic, but it’s fairly close. For those who have read Campbell’s The hero with 1000 faces, one will quickly see the pattern. Overall though, and partly because of the heroic foruma, it’s an enjoyable read. It’s a big epic quest that the heroes are on and it’s a fun journey along the way. Coupled with the entire metal system, there’s enough variety in the story to feel like you’re both reading something that is unique yet familiar.

Coming off of reading George R. R. Martin’s books, I’ve been a little spoiled in the writing style differences. I’m not enough of a book critic to know the differences here, but there’s a significant difference in the tone and feel between Martin and Sanderson. Sanderson’s feel more “folky” in the sense that they’re more explicit about character’s thoughts and feelings. The plot is also a lot more explicit. You know the direction things are heading before they occur. The character’s lack subtlety in their motives and actions. The descriptions, while good, do not have the same level of feel. I could never quite picture myself in their world the same way I could whilst reading Martin’s works.

The one other major critique I have of the book is that while Vin’s character feels very real, Kelsier’s does not. He comes off as a bit of a joker at some points, always smiling and laughing things off. It feels a bit out of place given some of his background and the trials he’s faced in life. At some point, he does say something to explain this behavior but when you have to be that explicit about a way a character acts, it feels disingenous. Their personalities should come out of their experiences in order to make them feel real.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’ll continue on with the trilogy, but so far, the series has felt like a solid fantasy adventure, filled with new mysteries and unanswered questions. There’s a lot to still discover and it’s been a fun journey. While I do have some critiques on the style of writing, I easily reccomend this book to the geeky community.

Overall rating: 7/10

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