Friday, June 07, 2013

Review: "Mistborn: The Final Empire" by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn: The Final Empire” ($7.99, Tor) may have spent a record amount of time on my to-read pile. The hardcover got shuffled around for at least a year or so, and when the paperback came out, I added it to the pile as well, where it spent quite a bit of time. I never seemed to get around to it, though.

After enjoying what Sanderson did with the conclusion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I thought it was time to give some of his works a try. I looked at “The Way of Kings,” but I wasn’t really ready to start another monster epic fantasy series that might take up a couple more decades of my life. So I returned to “Mistborn,” which had always seemed to have something that interested me, but never seemed to make its way off the pile.

I’m sorry I waited so long.

Sanderson introduces us to a world where some cataclysm in the distant past has caused swirling mists at night that the people feel and regular gouts of ash falling from the sky. The Lord Ruler of the world, a godlike figure, has reigned for 1,000 years after he defeated a mysterious foe called the Deepness. The world is sharply divided between the nobles, descendants of those who supported the Lord Ruler, and the skaa, who are treated as little more than slaves – downtrodden, beaten and forced to work in mills, mines and fields. The peace is kept by the Steel Ministry, the religion established by the Lord Ruler, and its strange Steel Inquisitors and obligators.

Enter Kelsier, the only man to ever survive and escape from the Pits of Hathsin, one of the harshest prisons the world has to offer. Kelsier is also a forbidden and hunted half-noble, half-skaa. He returns to Luthadel, the home of the Lord Ruler, with a grand scheme to make changes. Vin, a young girl in a local thieving crew, soon catches his eye for her hidden talents as an Allomancer, individuals who can ingest and burn metals to enhance strength, senses and other abilities. Kelsier takes her under his wing to train her, and brings her into his own crew, a much more upscale group than she’s used to. Together, they’ll attempt to do what most of the world thinks is impossible.

The first thing that you have to talk about with this book is the magic system. It’s interesting and unique. There are 10 allomantic metals that those with the ability to use them can draw upon. The users have to ingest the metals and then “burn” them to draw on their powers. Tin, for example, heightens the senses. Pewter gives the user strength. Iron and steel allow the user to push and pull on other metals. Zinc allows the user to enflame the emotions of others, while brass soothes emotions. And so on. The power of alomancy is usually passed through noble bloodlines. Any skaa that has the ability has some noble blood and therefore will be put down by the Steel Ministry if caught. Most allomancers are Mistings, able to use one power. Much rarer are the Mistborn, such as Kelsier, who are able to use all of the metals.

While it’s a fascinating system, it won’t hold your attention without story and characters, and Sanderson delivers on those points, as well. The flamboyant, yet deeply troubled Kelsier is a great character who draws the reader in, but as intended, it’s Vin that we end up feeling a sense of closeness with and rooting for. She’s the more relatable character, with elements that allow us to better indentify with her.

The story works on several levels. At its heart it’s a heist tale as Kelsier and his group plan and attempt to execute their schemes. There’s plenty of action and adventure in that portion. There’s also an element of coming of age for Vin, and an element of mystery in the story of the Lord Ruler and his ascension. We learn much about that last part throughout the book, but we’re left with a lot of questions and still with a feeling that all is not as it seems.

The only thing I could think when I finished the book was “why didn’t I read this years ago?” If you’re looking to explore Sanderson’s work outside of the Wheel of Time, this is a great place to start.

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