Book Review | MISTBORN: THE FINAL EMPIRE
Coming fresh off of back-to-back reads of Patrick Rothfuss' fantasy masterpieces, The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear, I spent the next few weeks scouring the Reddit boards for theories and speculation. One of the most common questions in the board, of course was something along the lines of: "I just finished The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear, and I am going crazy waiting for Doors of Stone... what should I read next to keep my mind occupied so I don't go crazy waiting for book 3?"
I won't lie, being many years late to the party in the Four Corners, I was thinking the same thing as these other newbies. There were a variety of answers to this question, but one stood out as the clear favorite: the original Mistborn trilogy.
In a way, I understand how Mistborn was recommended almost invariably to fans of Rothfuss, but there is another part of me that thinks the two authors could not be more different in their approach to the same type of story. Where Rothfuss is visceral, flowery, superfluous, and (sometimes overly) self-indulgent, Sanderson is direct, informative, maticulous, and (sometimes overly) tedious. While I'm on the topic of contrasting the two authors, I might also point out that they are polar opposites when it comes to quantity, with Sanderson pumping out an unbelieable amount of books—nay, tomes—every year, and Rothfuss pumping out a book at a present rate of one every 5.3 years (and I'm being extremely generous here by counting 2014's The Slow Regard of Silent Things. It may be a novella, but it's brilliant and beautiful, and I'm counting it, so deal with it). In any case, Rothfuss and Sanderson like peanut butter and jelly. Do they go together? Absolutely! Do they have the same flavor? Not even close, and yet I love them both.
But let's backup a bit to the moment I begrudgingly tore my curious and anxious mind away from the comfortable home it had made in the Four Corners (and the Fae), and I embarked on my maiden voyage into the Cosmere with Mistborn: The Final Empire.
When I first entered the world of Scadrial—a depressing world plagued by falling ash and haunted by mist—I was a bit shocked at how drawn out the plot was. This is chess, not checkers—The Godfather, not The Dark Knight. It was a little off-putting at first, but only because I had not yet experienced the extremely satisfying payoff once that slow burn hit its crescendo, then flared up, then roared, then fully exploded, then melted everything in sight. I didn't realize it at the time, but this sort of character, plot, and world-building development that under-promises and over-delivers has become Sanderson's signature brand of storytelling.
For those of you who don't want spoilers, let me give you the broad overview. The Final Empire takes place mostly within the city of Luthadel, the capital city of the Central Dominance—a society which operates within a strict and harsh caste system. The skaa are mistreated, overworked, and brutally beaten down when needed, or on a whim, in order to keep them in their place. Over the skaa are the nobility, belonging to one of eight great houses of nobility. Ruling over all of them is the god-like and seemingly immortal Lord Ruler who has been reigning for the past 1,000 years. The Lord Ruler's unmatched and overwhelming power is somewhat of a mystery, though he uses unnatural creatures called Steel Inquisitors who have their own powers along with spikes driven into their eye sockets to enforce the Lord Ruler's will.
Though no one is any match for the Lord Ruler, there are those who do have their own supernatural abilities—various powers fueled by burning metals. These are called Mistings and Mistborns. These abilities used to be more common, but have faded and are exceedingly rare at the time of the story's start. The nobility are descended from the mistings and mistborns of old. Mistings are the more common of the two—those who can utilize one of the known abilities. Mistborns are more rare, and far more powerful, as they can harness all of the abilities.
Kelsier is a Mistborn, and a skaa who has been through some of the harshest circumstances imaginable, and has lost everything—yet survived despite all odds. In doing so, he's earned a reputation for himself that causes others to follow. When we meet him, he is reunited with his old thieving crew who are loyal to him, but Kelsier's not interested in small scores anymore. After what he's been put through, he's interested in one thing, and one thing only: overthrowing the Final Empire.
This story is so much more than advertised. The plot was intricate, complex, incredibly well-thought out, masterfully executed, and just a whole lot of fun. It does get a bit brutal at times, but there is little-to-no swearing and sexual content. Based on the level of brutal violence, however, I would still only recommend this to adults, or possibly older highschoolers at the youngest.
Though the entire story was very well-done and I loved all three books, The Final Empire was my favorite of the three—probably due to the awe and wonder with which I entered this new world. I think most readers would agree that this trilogy is an absolute must-read for fans of fantasy. I give The Final Empire 10/10 hands down.
Okay, so that's enough to give you a feel for what this book is going to be about, so I'm going to move on to the spoilers, so if you haven't read The Final Empire, you'll want to stop reading right now and go rummage your local used bookstore!
WARNING: SPOILER SECTION
ONLY AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT
Okay, so if you've gone past my spoiler warning, you've (hopefully) already read The Final Empire, and you don't need a recap. Let's talk about what Mistborn did right and what I could have done without. I'm going to start with what I could have done without, but don't worry, it's a very short list.
As I said before, the plot seemed overly drawn-out, and while it was absolutely worth it, I still think we could have done with a little less tedium. I understand it. I really do. My novel, The Withering, is about half the word count of Mistborn, and I couldn't keep anything straight. I tried very hard to make sure I went though and took out any redundancies so that readers never had to deal with being hammered with the same information over and over again. It seems to me that Sanderson took the opposite approach, making sure you remember in each chapter who that person was, and where Vin had met him/her before, or how that power works again, just in case you forgot even though you've seen it used multiple times already. This really didn't bug me very much, and it was actually quite helpful in a story with so many different moving parts and an enormous cast of characters. I actually found myself thinking maybe I need to incorporate this tactic into my own stories, though probably to a lesser extent. While I do feel like it could have been pulled back a little, I'm not mad about it.
Really that's it for the negatives. This book did practically everything right in every way. It was absolutely fascinating. Kelsier became pretty much my favorite book character of all time, and (SERIOUSLY LAST WARNING FOR MAJOR SPOILERS) I spent the entire novel thinking he was the main character, so I was absolutely rocked when he went and died on us. I don't know if it's the fact that the book opened on Kelsier, or the fact that he was the head of the whole operation and the most proficient with his powers... and perhaps it was by design by the ever sneaky Mr. Sanderson, but to me, Kelsier was the main character. When the Lord Ruler killed him, it was a real gut-punch to Vin, the crew, and to me as a reader. It didn't take long at all though for Sanderson to sell me on Vin as being able to carry the rest of the trilogy. Her subsequent battle with the Lord Ruler was so exciting and incredibly well-written. It quickly solidified Vin as the hero in my mind, and I loved following her for three enormous books.
How Sanderson created so many different characters who all felt so distinct and flushed out is going to be a matter of study for me for some time. My favorite characters were Kelsier, Vin, and Sazed. Some of my favorite moments in the entire trilogy were of Kelsier teaching Vin to use her newfound mistborn powers. I love the way this beautiful sequence captured the thrill of those first nights experimenting with burning metals and soaring through the mists over Luthadel. There were more epic moments, there were more shocking moments, there were more powerful moments, but after reading the entire trilogy and letting it sit for some time, those were the moments that really stuck with me. Sanderson really has a gift, and somehow he wrote those scenes in such a way that I truly felt like I was learning to use allomancy alongside Vin—to push and pull and soar over the city walls and back down with the cool mists soaring through my hair as I landed safely, burning my pewter of course. Incredible.
I loved the friendship and the trust that developed between Vin and Sazed, and his analasys of everything that was going on. He was clearly a vessel for Sanderson to explain to the audience some of the more nuanced mechanisms of his unique world and magic system, and I'm here for it. Though Sazed was clearly a device, he was so much more than that, and is the favorite of many readers. Kelsier still sits at the top of my list, followed by Vin, but Sazed takes the bronze, at least for The Final Empire. The rankings will change as we get into The Well of Ascension, and we meet another favorite of mine.
The world is so detailed that it really makes you feel like you're there, that you can see the mistwraith churning bones in the night, or that you can feel that overwhelming pressure in your head as the Lord Ruler enters the square with his entourage. The settings were so vivid, from the bright and cheery ballroom of House Venture, to the grim and dreary spires of Kredik Shaw—the "hill of a thousand spires."
Finally, I have to say that the magic systemsssss—plural—that Sanderson created for this world are so well-thought out, so well-executed, and just so much dang fun. The magic system of Mistborn is the gold standard for authors to attempt to live up to. I don't know if there's much else I can say, because this is most definitely a case of "If you know, you know."
Okay, so I've blathered on and on about my favorite characters and moments of Mistborn: The Final Empire, and now it's your turn to let me know what I forgot to talk about. What were the moments that stuck with you? Which characters, places, or details did I leave out that really made this book special? Let me know in the comments so I can try to hit them in my next Mistborn review where I'll review Mistborn: The Well of Ascension.
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