Review of Mistborn
For a thousand years, the Final Empire has been controlled by the immortal Lord Ruler. He has maintained dominance through monopolizing raw materials, hand-picking the aristocratic families, engaging horrific and ruthless Inquisitors, and by being apparently unkillable. The skaa, slaves who provide all labor, see no hope for a better future until a man named Kelsier survives his captivity in a grueling political prison, escapes, and returns to the capital of Luthadel with every intention of overthrowing the Final Empire. To this end, he gathers a team of underground revolutionaries, thieves, and a collection of wizards called Allomancers who perform amazing feats by ingesting and “burning” bits of metal. Among the recruits is an orphan girl named Vin. Because of her recently discovered Allomancy and anonymity, Vin becomes indispensable to Kelsier as a spy among the noble houses and surrogate because she, like him, has near limitless potential as an Allomancer. Against all odds, Kelsier’s scheme seems like it might make progress, but Vin has her doubts not only about the possibility of usurping a god-king but also about the betrayal she has come to expect because of lifetime of crime an oppression.
The Survivor of Hathsin
So much of Sanderson’s works are refreshing because, like Ursula K. Le Guin, he is a fantasy writer who has no interest in simply mimicking Tolkien. The setting of Mistborn is an urban high fantasy dystopia, characterized by environmental degradation, criminality, and oppression that is social, political, and economic in nature. The detail is such that Luthadel feels both fantastical and grounded. Most of the action takes place in this one, sprawling, urban location, which is a far cry from most fantasy novels. Similarly, the central characters seem like magic-using refugees from a heist movie, which again, is nothing like the tropes of the fantasy genre. Vin, too, often reads like a character Charles Dickens would have invented. All of this provides the novel with a fresh vibrancy that carries through the long page count.
As for story progress, the book rarely feels weighed down by it many moving parts. Focusing primarily on Kelsier and Vin gives readers a clear window into the lives of these characters and the goals and efforts of their crew. Even though the book is long it is also remarkably well-paced. Each character moment, plot point, and setting detail is called back to greater effect, so nothing goes to waste. Much like Elantris, the plot really speeds up in the last one hundred pages or so. This sense of compression and tension pulls readers through this final stretch with an additional sense of urgency and propulsion. Though some member of the audience will not doubt wonder is such a long set up was necessary or if some of those plot twists could have been just as effective scattered throughout the novel.
One trait that Sanderson has in common with Golden Age science-fiction writers is his desire to make sure the readers understand how things happen. Allomancy and how it works is explained in detail. At a narrative level, this choice makes sense as Vin is learning to use her various abilities, so the audience learns along with her. Readers who find this level of detail exhausting might find themselves skimming pages, waiting to see Allomancy in action rather than have people talking about it. These choices are, in part, a measure of Sanderson’s theories regarding “hard” and “soft” systems of magic. While these details can be lengthy, they never bring the novel to a halt. Nevertheless, for readers who do not care about scholastic and metaphysical explorations of how magic happens, these sections can read like the volume and excitement was turned down. They never reach the bizarre asides some of Sapkowski’s Witcher novels, but neither do they add to the tension
The Final Empire
While Mistborn is the start of a series, it stands strong on its own. The story is suitably epic and engaging, and the characters are distinct with their own parts to play. Some elements of Sanderson’s style may irk readers who aren’t interested in detailed explanations of how things happen, but on the whole the novel is an incredible read and worthy of the attention of any fantasy fan.
Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn. Tor, 2006.
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An honest book review of Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn: The Final Empire," which is part of the "Mistborn Trilogy."
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