Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn: The Final Empire
Length: 647 pages
Started: 29 April 2008
Finished: 01 May 2008
Summary: Quite a lot of fantasy novels deal with the battle between Good and Evil, but, as readers, we always know deep down that Good’s going to win. Mistborn starts with this premise: What if it hadn’t? What would the world look like a thousand years after the Hero failed to defeat the forces of Evil? In this case, the world has near-constant falls of ash from several active volcanoes, mists that roam the night, the majority of its population as skaa slaves, and the Lord Ruler, the immortal God-man at the heart of it all. But this world also has Mistings – individuals born able to draw power from one of the eight Allomantic metals – and even rarer, the Mistborn – individuals who can control all eight. Kelsier is one of these Mistborn, and he has a plan to overthrow the the Final Empire and kill the Lord Ruler, with the help of Vin, a young woman who grew up as a skaa street urchin, and is also one of the most powerful Mistborns ever known.
Review: Fantasy does not need a logical and well-defined system of magic to be good (I’d argue that neither Harry Potter nor Lord of the Rings defines any clear rules about their magic, and of course most of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books don’t have any magic in them at all), and fantasy with a logical and well-defined system of magic can still be bad (I’m sure everyone can think of an example here). However, not least among Sanderson’s many strengths is how clear, detailed, and well-thought out his magic is. I noticed it in Elantris, and it was the first thing that jumped out at me here – the ways of working magic are totally original, unlike any other fantasy I’ve ever read, but they are so logical and make so much sense that they seem almost obvious – of course Allomancy works the way it does. That Sanderson consistently makes something totally made-up seem so self-evident is quite a skill, and it contributes a lot to the success of this novel.
Well-done magic is not the only strength of this book, however (see the first sentence of the review). Far from it. Sanderson’s got a knack for telling exciting, original stories, an ear for dialogue, and a talent for building recognizable, multi-dimensional characters (at least for his main characters; some of his supporting characters shade into fewer dimensions). Other people have referred to the “Sanderson avalanche” – where the book starts out slow, but halfway through it’s like rolling down a mountain, and you can’t stop reading. That wasn’t my experience with this book at all – it pulled me in right from the get-go and didn’t let me go until it spit me out at the end. Original story, likable and realistic characters, well-written dialogue, description, and action scenes, a detailed magical system, and an unpredictable end with a few good surprises thrown in along the way – I can’t ask much more out of fantasy than that. 5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Excellent and very original fantasy. Not that I was really in any doubt, but reading this book just cemented the fact that Brandon’s a worthy inheritor for the last Wheel of Time novel – and that’s lofty praise indeed. Highly recommended.
First Line: Ash fell from the sky.