Mistborn: The Final Empire: So much to like!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBrandon Sanderson The Final Empire Mistborn, The Well of Ascension reviewMistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

I was a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s first novel, Elantris, though the novel had some pretty clear flaws. I’m an even bigger fan of his follow-up, Mistborn, a book that has all the plusses of Elantris without the problems.

Mistborn takes places in an ashen, devastated world where the “Skaa” are a brutally downtrodden majority who do all the work for the aristocratic minority of the Great Houses, who themselves are ruthlessly dominated (in differing ways) by the Lord Ruler, a religious godhead. Supposedly immortal — he’s ruled for centuries via his magic power and his two competing bureaucracies — the “obligators” and the Inquisitors — a fearsome secret police who have steel rods impaling their eyes and who are near impossible to kill. There are also ominous hints that the Lord Ruler also has been protecting the people of Mistborn from some great evil known as the Darkness.

The Skaa have seemingly lost any hope of rebellion over centuries of failed attempts but this all changes with the appearance of Kelsier — a Skaa/noble halfbreed who is a “Mistborn Allomancer,” one who can “burn” swallowed metals that fuel magical/superhuman abilities, such as greater strength and endurance, greater use of the five senses, etc. This magical system, a rare stroke of originality in a genre that too often lazes along with the same old tropes (oral spells, wizard’s runes, etc), is one of the true pleasures of the novel. It’s also nice to see a system with some strong limitations to it — there are only ten metals that have the effect, one is limited by how much of the metal one has, and most allomancers have the ability to burn only one metal. Kelsier, though, and his young female apprentice Vin, are true Mistborn, able to burn all ten. The reader learns about the system sometimes through Kelsier’s usage and sometimes through his tutelage of Vin, thus avoiding the clumsy early exposition of many fantasy novels as well as teasing out the explanation, adding a sense of suspense and mystery.

The basic plot involves Kelsier’s gathering of a group of Skaa thieves to do the unthinkable — overthrow the Great Houses and the Lord Ruler. The secondary (though equally important) plot is Vin’s coming-of-age as she is tries to move from being an orphaned street thief Skaa who trusts nobody to a full-fledged mistborn who can also play the role of an aristocratic lady.

As mentioned, there is a lot to like in Mistborn. The magical system. The focus on politics and economics as a means of rebellion (as opposed to “Dark lord bad. Do bad things with swords. We use swords and kill dark lord”.) The character development of Vin throughout the novel. The character development of Kelsier. The suspense over the impending rebellion. The likeability of the side characters, who while not as fully developed as Vin or Kelsier, have their own distinctive and enjoyable personalities. The humor that shows up now and then. The quick pace of the action. The twists and turns of plot. Good action scenes. A few surprises at the end. A sense of completion nicely balanced with an ominous sense that worse is to come. The novel’s structure, which has each chapter beginning with some paragraphs from the Lord Ruler’s diary/journal during the days leading up to whatever event made him the Lord Ruler. This facet works quite well on several levels, though to go into more detail would be perhaps to spoil the ending so I won’t risk it. Suffice to say it was a nice touch of craft.

What’s not to like? The reader could have a greater sense of the world as a whole. Sometimes one wishes for a bit more struggle by the characters, especially Vin who seems to move a bit too easily at times, too naturally into both foreign worlds — the magical one and the aristocratic one. The ending seems somewhat rushed, though this is more a desire to linger over it rather than a complaint about what actually happens. But these few flaws are certainly relatively minor and are completely overwhelmed by the book’s positives. Brandon Sanderson has done something rare here — written a sharply original fantasy that stands on its own as a single book while teasing the reader into a sense of impatience for the sequel. Strongly recommended.

~Bill Capossere


Brandon Sanderson The Final Empire Mistborn, The Well of Ascension reviewIn preparation for the next Wheel of Time installment, I decided I’d like to get a feel for Brandon Sanderson’s work, so I downloaded Mistborn from Audible.com. I was completely entertained for 25 hours!

Since Bill has given you most of the facts about Mistborn, I only need to say a few things and to address the audio production.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMy favorite thing about Mistborn was the creative, detailed, and rule-bound magic system. A minority of people in the Final Empire have the genetic ability to burn certain metals which provides them temporary powers (depending on the metal) such as enhanced sensations, super strength, detection of other allomancers, influence over the emotions of others, and the ability to push and pull off of metals in the vicinity. Most allomancers can only burn one metal, but Mistborns can burn all of them. I thought this was fascinating and enjoyed hearing how Vin and Kelsier used metals to travel, jump over walls, and fight. I was particularly impressed with the very detailed and thoughtful fight scenes. It must have been tough for Mr. Sanderson to make sure that everything they did with metals made sense physically (there are a lot of “opposite reactions” to take into account). This is really cool stuff. There are hints and rumors that there may be more metals that most allomancers don’t know about, and I’m hoping we’ll see some of these in the next book.

There was really only one thing that annoyed me in Mistborn, and that was the overuse of the word “paused.” Almost every page says either “Vin paused,” “Kelsier paused,” or someone else paused. The purpose was to show that characters where thinking before speaking, but it started to get to me. Perhaps this was because I was listening to it on audio and the reader said it exactly the same way every time so that it became noticeable.

Speaking of the audiobook, it was read by Michael Kramer who also narrated the WHEEL OF TIME novels. He always does an excellent job, but I was so familiar with his voices (after listening to every single WOT book this year) that he made some of Mr. Sanderson’s characters sound like WOT characters because he used the same voices (in fact, Ham, the big beefy guy in Mistborn had the same voice as Perrin the big beefy blacksmith from WOT). It was both this and Mr. Sanderson’s writing style that made me think that The Final Empire felt a lot like early Wheel of Time installments. It is obvious that Brandon Sanderson has been influenced by Robert Jordan and this is probably why he was chosen to write the final WOT novels. I can only say that I’m looking forward to them!

So, yes, I really loved Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and have downloaded the second book, The Well of Ascension.

~Kat Hooper


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMistborn by Brandon Sanderson fantasy book reviewsI didn’t love Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy Mistborn, but I liked it a lot. I enjoyed the brisk action sequences, especially the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style combat scenes, where Sanderson’s magically-enhanced characters, the Allomancers, leap and soar about in defiance of gravity.

In Sanderson’s fantasy universe, some gifted people can access magical powers by ingesting a tiny bit of certain metals. They then rapidly metabolize or “burn” the metal and it provides them with powers. Most of the Allomancers are from the line of the nobility, but there wouldn’t be a story if they all were, and Mistborn follows primarily the growth of Vin, an orphaned street urchin attached to a gang of thieves. Vin doesn’t know she is an Allomancer.

The plot of the story is an attempt to stage a rebellion and overthrow the Lord Ruler, who has ruled for a thousand years and styles himself a god. A millennium earlier, the Lord Ruler apparently defeated an annihilating evil called The Deepness and saved the world. Since then, however, the world has gotten worse. Volcanoes belch smoke and ash year round, shrouding the sun in a red veil. The vast majority of the population belong to a slave class, the skaa, which is exploited by the nobility. The nobility are at each others’ throats, but everyone cowers before the Steel Inquisitors, the Lord Ruler’s enforcers. Against this backdrop, an escaped prisoner named Kelsier plans a revolution in the capital city of Luthadel.

Kelsier adds Vin to his gang. Vin was the “good luck charm” of her thief gang, and doesn’t realize that her ability to “push luck” is actually an Allomantic power. Kelsier takes her on and begins teaching her. To everyone’s shock and amazement, Vin is someone who can metabolize all of the eight metals, not just one as most can. It is a happy coincidence that Kelsier is also a Mistborn, as they are called, and can do the same thing. Vin learns supernaturally quickly, and is stronger and faster than some adult male Allomancers. Vin, basically, is a superhero.

Fortunately, she is not a Mary Sue because she has character flaws, and makes some decisions based on those flaws. Those decisions have consequences that drive the plot. Kelsier, the wisecracking risk-taker, also makes mistakes and those errors complicate the plot as well, which is good, because Kelsier is a fairly shallowly-drawn character (his motivation for vengeance is a stereotype in this kind of book as well as graphic novels: the murdered wife).

My two favorite characters are Vin herself and her mentor Sazed. At first, Vin’s subservience and masochism irritated me (Vin stoically endures beatings because “she is strong enough to,” a classic female-brainwashing mantra). I liked her better when she started learning, not only about her powers but about the society in which she moved. Sazed, who is from another culture, is intriguing and supportive of his young charge. The rest of Kelsier’s gang don’t develop much beyond their “types,” but this is a big book with a lot of logistics, and flat characters weren’t much of a problem because there was so much going on.

A bigger problem was Vin’s love-interest character, who is bland. I never saw why she would fall in love with him, except that she is subservient and would fall for any man who appeared to her in that circumstance. I never saw the moment where they fell in love. The realpolitik that keeps them apart was convincingly done, but his role in the book, even though predictable, is not justified by what we see of him during the course of the story.

There are little bits of weirdness, like the mistwraiths, which I loved; and the magic, which looks so much like 1960s drug culture (“Here, have a bit of this pewter. It’s groovy, man”), made me chuckle, although it’s possible that is not what Sanderson intends. The mystery of the Deepness and the genesis of the Lord Ruler are both riddles that grabbed me and didn’t let go.

While I was reading, I was irked by things that seemed like inconsistencies, until I got to the end and realized that they are probably not inconsistencies at all, but clues to be followed in the next two books. Based on that, I won’t comment until I have finished the trilogy.

So, while I didn’t love Mistborn, I certainly never set it down for very long, either, and I have already ordered the next two books in the series. I see what Sanderson was chosen to complete the WHEEL OF TIME books. He can comfortably handle a big canvas, and create a refreshing, dramatic story. Oh, and awesome magical fight scenes. Those were worth the price of admission.

~Marion Deeeds

Mistborn — (2006-2016) Publisher: For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the Sliver of Infinity, reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Rulers most hellish prison. Kelsier snapped and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark. Kels plan looks like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, shes a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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