Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire (Book One of the Mistborn Trilogy)
This seems to be the summer of sequels for my reading list. I’ve now read The Great Hunt and Foundation and Empire, with Catching Fire and Speaker of the Dead on my shelf. It’s the fault of beginning different series all at once. It just means that next summer will be the season of finales.
Keeping with my strange summer theme, I just finished the second Mistborn book by Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension. I did this with my review of The Great Hunt, so I’m going talk about the first book before I move on to the second.
The first Mistborn book is simply called Mistborn, though there is also the title Mistborn: The Final Empire. This was my second Sanderson book, after reading and loving Elantris. I was given the Mistborn trilogy for my birthday the following summer and finally fit it into my reading schedule.
The book follows the journey of a street urchin named Vin, a scrawny girl with a hidden power. Early into the story, she becomes part of a rebellion plot to over through the Empire and destroy the Lord Ruler. Her recruiter and mentor is Kelsier, a survivor of the Lord Ruler's mining pits. The story, while being a showcase for magic and a rebellion, is about the journey Vin goes through in order to learn about trust.
One of the elements that makes this series cool is the original magic system. Those with powers are called Allomancers. By “burning” metals inside their body, Allomancers are able to gain special properties, such as strength or telekinesis. Those who can use all of the Allomancer powers are called Mistborn and are considered to be the most powerful. Vin, of course, is a Mistborn and one of the most powerful there has been. Kelsier, who is also a Mistborn, teaches her about her powers as the train for the destruction of the Empire.
There is a lot going on in this book and I wouldn’t be able to cover it all without writing my own short story. There are great moments and some cool fights with Allomancers, even if they get bogged down by some early exposition. I want to like the fights more, but they sometimes border on being too systematic. The characters are what make this book enjoyable. Kelsier is a wonderful character, an anti-hero if there ever was one. You understand his reasoning for seeing the Empire fall, but his methods become less forgivable as the book goes on. Still, you never lose touch with his human side and you want to see him achieve his goal.
Vin is the main character on display and though she can suffer from Katniss fever, she’s one of the easiest to like characters out there. She has an innocence about her, even though she learns to kill with ease and refuses to trust those around her. Her innocence, then, is more about how plainly she can see the world. Having grown up on the street, she has her own set of rules and applies them to all of life. As she enters high society, as a spy, she begins seeing the world differently, especially as she grows closer to Kelsier and his crew. Watching her fall into her powers is fun; she learns fast and experiences the freedom we would all hope for if we had those abilities. The biggest problem with Vin is that her lack of trust becomes redundant. We are constantly reminded about her doubt and after a while you feel as if that well has been tapped.
There are plenty of other characters as well, the scene stealer being Sazed, a Terrisman, who has his own power and secrets. He’s easy to like and you end up wanting more scenes with him. Kelsier’s brother makes for a good show, even if he is less interesting than his kin. Vin’s love interest left me bored, though. Elend is a nice guy but he comes across as too much of a lightweight for Vin. Kelsier’s crew is hit or miss with some being decent and others being forgettable, the strongest being Ham and Breeze, two Allomancers who bounce wit back and forth.
The first book is good, great even, but it was always under the shadow of Elantris. Perhaps, if I had read this one first, I would have loved it, but maybe not. Sanderson has a habit of having his characters think to themselves a lot and it can drive one crazy. I know he’s trying to hammer home a point, but I got it the first few times. His books are also longer than most, which wouldn’t be a problem, except I found this one easy to put down. Not that Mistborn was ever bad; it was that I would read a few chapters, leave the book alone for a day, and have to force myself to pick it back up. I always liked it while I was reading it, I just had less interest in coming back than I needed to finish it in a reasonable time. Others might disagree; my mother read the whole trilogy in one go and couldn’t put it down.
My suggestion is that if you like epic fantasy, interesting magic systems, or something different, read Mistborn. The problems I had were due to personal preference, the book is still a great one and once I finished I found that I missed the characters. It starts as an interesting hybrid of a heist story and the hero’s journey and becomes a something far more intriguing. Sanderson doesn’t shy away from religion or morality and his books benefit from that. Vin is one of the best female heroes I have ever read and she’s easily one of my favorite characters to come along in a while.
Recaping the first book took longer than I thought, so it looks like the second book will have its own separate review. I hope this one was helpful and that you check the book out, and be sure to read my review of the sequel, The Well of Ascension!