Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve had my eye on Brandon Sanderson for a while as an author that I want to read. When it was announced that he would complete Robert Jordan’s final Wheel of Time book, A Memory of Light, I finally got around to getting a hold of his Mistborn books. It remains to be seen how successful Sanderson will be with Jordan’s legacy, but Mistborn: The Final Empire is fantasy that gets it right.

Imagine a world where a prophesized hero rises from obscurity in opposition to a great destructive force. Now imagine said hero, victorious against the known threat, falls victim to a darkness, inviting 1000 years of brutal rule by an immortal dark lord. Imagine a world where the good guy lost.

Humanity subsists under the yoke of the Lord Ruler with a majority of the people forced into slavery. While numerically superior, these ‘skaa’ have been so long oppressed that hope itself is little more than a myth. Even the brutal nobility who lease the skaa from the Lord Ruler are subject to the Lord Ruler’s tyranny by enforcers of a dangerous bureaucracy under theocratic rule.

Vin, a talented skaa thief, barely survives a horrid existence in the slums of the empire’s central city. Kelsior, rumored Survivor of Hathsin, the inspirational leader of a successful team of high-society thieves and a powerful allomancer, has a new plan. His seemingly impossible plan is to rouse the skaa and overthrow the empire and its powerful, immortal Lord Ruler.

Sanderson really nails the characterization in this. Vin and Kelsior get the most screen time and development, yet even the minor characters are presented as whole. Even the cliché caricatures seem alive. Most authors can get one character right, a few can do more, but in fantasy its rare when the minor characters have soul.

The writing generally provides a fun, even quick feel about it that serves the story well. Descriptions are not overdone and info-dumps cleverly integrated. However the narrative flow stumbles at times. Third person perspective is the utilized point of view, and Sanderson concentrates on a few characters. Problems arise when he feels the need to show us more, introducing new and unexpected points of view very late into the story. A bit more seasoning will hopefully give him the tools to avoid such slips in the future.

One aspect of Sanderson’s world that appeals to me in particular is the magic system. Certain metals and their alloys have ‘magical’ powers when ‘burned’ by allomancers, also known as mistings. Most have the ability to burn just one metal, a rare few can use them all – the mistborn. As a geologist, any magic system with such a geologic foundation is going to get thumbs up from me.

Mistborn: The Final Empire is a story of hope in a hopeless world, the story of trust, of rising up, of sacrifice, and corruption. Its religious implications offer some of the most interesting thematic elements. A sage-like secondary character collects the memories of religions long lost to the Lord Ruler’s tyranny. Kelsior seeks inspiration from these extinct but not yet forgotten beliefs, Vin struggles with the point. While this might have been my favorite aspect of the book, it’s also the greatest unrealized potential. I wish there was more.

Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, but can easily be read as a stand-alone book. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end – things are mostly tied up at the conclusion, but the characters and the world will move on and have possibly greater things to do in the future – a future I plan to follow in Mistborn: The Well of Ascension and forthcoming book 3, Mistborn: The Hero of Ages. I highly recommend this for fans and potential fans of epic fantasy. 7.5/10
Related Posts: Review of The Well of Ascension, Review of The Hero of Ages, Review of The Mistborn Trilogy


Carl V. said...

I have this book on my shelf and have been wondering about it. Glad to finally see a blogger review of it and am even more glad that it sounds like it is well worth the time. I have yet to pick up the sequel but probably need to one of these days. I also have Elantris sitting on my bookshelf. I've enjoyed Sanderson as a blogger and seriously need to take some time to read his novels.

Robert said...

I'll be interested to see what you think of "The Well of Ascension". Personally, I didn't think it was as strong as "The Final Empire", but I think it sets up the finale nicely...

SQT said...

I have "Mistborn" but haven't read it yet. I really liked "Elantris" so I have high hopes for this series.


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