Title: Mistborn: The Final Empire
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor (US) / Gollancz (UK)
Publication Date: Jan 2007 (US) / October 2009 (UK)
Paperback: 672 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Mistborn trilogy.
Why did we read this book: We’ve actually had our eye on the Mistborn books for a while. A year or so back, a commenter recommended them, and we’ve been wanting to read them ever since!
Summary: (from amazon.com)
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 Ruler’s 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.
Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s 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.
Thea: Holy burning metals, Batman! Mistborn is flipping fantastic. Though it had a bit of a slow start, I soon became fully immersed in this new, dark world of ash and mist, where Allomancers “burn” certain metals to work magic, and a cruel tyrant rules with an iron fist (pardon the pun). At 700 pages long, I was scared that I might not be able to finish Mistborn in time to review it this week, but I needn’t have worried. I devoured this book. From the superb worldbuilding to the wonderful leading characters to the action-packed plot and overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere, I loved Mistborn. A brilliant start to what looks to be an incredible trilogy.
Ana:Thea has such a way with words. Look at how perfectly she conveys how much the book is good. Meanwhile, here I am, trying really hard to contain myself not to write: “SQUEE, this book is awesome, read it” and be done with it. Since I can’t I will just say this: I recently read (and loved) Warbreaker, the latest book by Brandon Sanderson, and I knew what the author is capable of creating in terms of magic system and world building. Still, Mistborn surprised me as it’s even better than Warbreaker and the good news is: it is only the beginning of what I am 100% sure will end up being one of my favourite Fantasy trilogies of all time. Squee.
On the Plot:
For a thousand years, the world has been plunged into in wasteland of gray ashfall and thickly misted nights. Ever since the Lord Ruler ascended to power by defeating the Deepness that threatened to destroy mankind, he has ruled the world with his incredible power. Immortal, the Lord Ruler’s so called Final Empire, however, is at unrest. Since his ascension, he has wiped out all religion except the worship of him, and has split society into two classes – nobles and skaa (or slaves). Beaten, raped, and murdered, the skaa have no hope and no will to rise up against their oppressors as every revolution has been met with disaster – and further, who can kill God himself? But one day, a very enterprising skaa, thief master and legendary “Survivor of Hathsin,” the indomitable Kelsier discovers a legend that means the end of the Lord Ruler.
Kelsier sets about to assemble a crewe of noble thieves for the biggest job in history. Though the task is likely suicidal, Kelsier has a few aces – in addition to the legend of the mythic Eleventh Metal, Kelsier also discovers a young ragamuffin urchin named Vin…who happens to be a Mistborn, just as Kell is. Able to use the powers of Allomancy, together Vin and Kelsier and his crew will undertake the impossible – the liberation of the skaa, and the felling of the Final Empire.
Thea: The greatest strength of Mistborn lies in its beautifully detailed and unique world-building. In this world, magic is real, but only Allomancers can use it. In the mechanics of magicking, there are ten metals – each with a specific ability or reaction. Allomancers, or Mistings as they are also known, ingest these metals and can “burn” them in their bodies. Only those of noble heritage can use allomancy, and almost always they can only command one metal. However, a very few Allomancers can use all ten metals – and these strong magicians are known as Mistborn. The way each metal works, the physics of “pulling” or “pushing” iron or steel is breathtaking – in many scenes, Kelsier and Vin use their allomancy to soar over buildings and fight enemies, and I could only sit and marvel at Mr. Sanderson’s imagination. Allomancers are kind of like Magneto, only much more detailed and realistic in process.
The world itself is similarly well defined – it’s dreary and plagued by constant ash falling from the sky, and dead gray landscapes. And of course, at night, the mists come out and cloak the land. What’s most impressive about the landscape, however, is the fact that all of the characters are blissfully ignorant of its bleakness – to each skaa and nobleman in Mistborn, the world has always been gray and raining ash, and every night has always been heralded by cold mists that hide monsters. Gradually Mr. Sanderson reveals that there is no green grass or flowering plants; these concepts are completely alien to his characters, though the world once had them. There’s an eerie, pervasive sense that something is very wrong with this world, and Mr. Sanderson injects this dreary oppressive atmosphere into the story flawlessly.
Then, of course, there’s the story itself. And, simply put, it is brilliant. There’s a building sense of menace as Kelsier’s plans for revolution come to a head, and there are a number of unexpected twists and turns that make this a genuinely unputdownable book. And the ACTION! Oh, it’s any adrenaline junkie’s dream. The fight scenes are brilliant, enhanced by the allomantic properties of metals…I couldn’t be happier.
I should also mention that each chapter begins with a brief excerpt from the journal of the Hero of Ages – the man who thwarted the Deepness. It’s a wonderful stylistic touch that gives insight to a character that failed in his task to bring peace and prosperity to the Final Empire, and one that I appreciated very much. It did get a bit repetitive towards the end of the novel, but for the most part, the parallel storylines worked beautifully.
The only drawbacks I had in terms of plotting was how conventional the plot premise is. Weary slaves rise against their tyrannical oppressor, overcoming insurmountable odds (with the help of course of a hero that has unparalleled magical powers), etc. Also, some of the writing felt incongruous with the fantasy setting. On occasion characters would speak in a variation of usual fantasy speak (“Aye,” etc), but then would slip into modern colloquialisms that didn’t really sit right with the period. Also, the dialogue at times could be a bit clunky and info-dumpy, which felt a little forced. But, I should say that these very minor qualms were easily overshadowed by the strength of the world, the pacing of the story, and the innumerable twists along the way.
Ana:Mistborn has a low-burning start but soon it becomes clear that the author is simply laying out the grounds for his story to expand. The book starts with Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin visiting one of the country plantations and talking to a few skaa slaves and finding out that one of the skaa girls has been summoned to attend the Lord of the place – according to the law, she is to be raped and then killed and no one can do anything about it. Kell is taken with rage and with his Mistborn powers proceeds to annihilate the Lord and his House and frees the Skaa. And that is how his plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler begins.
As much as I try (and I have thought about the book continuously since I finished reading it) I simply cannot fault the plotting of this book. It may start with a simple enough, conventional premise with a band of noble brothers who get together to overthrow the oppressive lord and free the populace and lead by a charismatic leader; but the richness of details, the imaginative world building, the unique magic system, diverse religious beliefs and the politic intrigue of the upper members of government with its Houses and Inquisitors makes this a most fantastic read.
There are layer upon layer of events – both present and past – that intertwine throughout the book and lead the reader through a maze of non-stop action (once the book gets going, that is) till the most awesome climax I read in a while, full of twists and turns coming left and right and with some of the most amazing fighting sequences I have ever had the pleasure to read.
Brandon Sanderson seems to be a writer that has a flair for eccentric magic systems and his Allomancy proves it once again – I can’t help but to be awed at the laws he created and how creative it is. The most astonishing thing though is how by the end of the book, there is the introduction of a SECOND magic system also with its own laws. On top of that, there is the presence of several levels of government officials, of aristocratic Lords and their Houses and their direct oppressed counterparts, the skaas with their Thief Crews, the city Skaas and the plantation skaas. There is scheming and conspiracy everywhere and from all sides and all combined make for a magnetic read (ha. Another lame pun from us).
I simply loved how, as you move along, the story becomes more and more complex until all falls in place by the end of the book. Although, on second thought, one can argue that the very neatness of the conclusion can be a drawback, it is not enough to make a dent in my adoration for the novel. If I have to be nitpicky though I could mention that Kell and his plan did sound a bit paternalistic towards the poor, skaas slaves that can’t think for themselves but since this is the very premise of the story – that the skaas have been oppressed over a thousand years and have fallen into a life of conditioning and needed to be shown that there was hope in fighting – there is not much point.
The real point I want to make is: this is a kick –ass, imaginative book and I loved it. Squee.
On the Characters:
Thea: Ahh, sweet Kelsier! And Vin! These dual protagonists are absolutely fantastic (though Kelsier is easily my favorite character of the book). Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, is the charming, wise mentor to Vin’s youthful distrust and inexperience; he’s the Dr. Dre to her Eminem; the Obi Wan to Vin’s Luke Skywalker. In fact, while reading this book and emailing Ana, I remarked on the Star Wars similarities – because both George Lucas’s original trilogy and Mr. Sanderson’s Mistborn really are both Hero’s Journeys at heart. Kelsier is just…cool. His story is tragic – once the best thief in Luthadel, he was betrayed by one of his teammates and sentenced to a harsh life of labor in the mines of Hathsin by the Lord Ruler himself. But Kelsier escaped the inescapable, and “snapped,” thus becoming a full fledged Mistborn. Having lost everything, including the love of his life, Kelsier is a man with nothing to lose, but he’s not bitter or cruel. Rather, he’s determined to bring down the Final Empire, to destroy the Lord Ruler, at any cost. And the coolest thing about Kelsier is that he isn’t perfect – he’s clever but he makes mistakes. And yet, ultimately, he has a plan. And he’s so much fun.
Then, of course, there’s Vin. A sixteen year old girl who has been living rough her whole life in a crew of thieves who beat her and see her as more trouble than she’s worth, Vin has grown into a distrustful girl that believes in the worst in people, and struggles to keep herself safe at all costs. It is Vin’s journey that is the Hero’s tale of Mistborn – and it is quite a tale of self discovery. Vin grows from a quiet, distrusting young girl to a powerful (one of the MOST powerful) Mistborns over the course of the novel; again I have to applaud Mr. Sanderson for this pretty near flawless execution. Vin is a heroine worth rooting for, worth loving, and she’s tough enough to be believable as a complete, allomantic badass. Her thoughts, her fears, her questions are an integral part of the story. Needless to say, I am a fan.
As for the rest of the cast, however, it’s a bit hit or miss. Some secondary characters, such as the Terrisman Sazed and Kelsier’s brother Marsh, are fantastic standouts in their own right. Both are given character arcs that are captivating and believable – in particular, Sazed’s background as a Terrisman is fantastically drawn. But then, there are other characters that fall under the realm of too-good-to-be-true. The other crewe members and their undying loyalty to Kelsier’s suicidal mission – even when they know the promised payday will never happen – is feel-good awesome, but somewhat unbelievable given how dangerous and cutthroat the Final Empire really is. Then, there’s Lord Elend, Vin’s love interest. Blah. The romance element of the story didn’t particularly work for me. The chemistry was fine and as a subplot it was certainly entertaining, but Elend himself is a bit of a pushover. A wuss. In fact, I found myself far preferring the thief Spook to Elend’s foppish lordliness. But that, of course, is a matter of personal taste (as Ana will get around to, I’m sure). Villainous characters weren’t given as much insight as I wished, and everyone fell into either the “good” or “bad” categories with only a few shades of gray.
Still, despite these problems, the strengths of the main characters (who are the only ones that really matter, really) more than compensated for the lesser secondary characters, and on the whole I was quite pleased with the cast of Mistborn.
Ana: It is not a secret that between a plot-driven novel and a character-driven one, I shall always gravitate towards the latter and that nothing makes me happier than a book that is BOTH. Mistborn, I am glad to report, is one of those.
The point of view alternate between Kelsier and Vin (for most part, more on that later) and I was a happy camper with both protagonists. On one side, you have Kell, the larger than life anti-hero, the rogue, who is a bit uncompromising in his beliefs and his quest for revenge and (ultimately) justice, who always has a funny comment and smile but deep down there is more to him than most see. Thea mentions Star War’s Obi Wan and this is certain a spot on comparison but Kell has a bit of a Han Solo-ish personality to go along of his Obi Wan role to Vin. He is definitely a fun character to read about but his arc, although essential to the novel (and how essential it is!) it is not the one that I related to the most.
That would be Vin’s – who begins as the street urchin whose sad past of spoke beatings and abuse from her own brother and crew members and becomes a strong woman on her own. As a character, Vin is wholly relatable mostly because Brandon Sanderson excels at showing the inner workings of her mind as she goes from one end of the spectrum (powerless, abused) to the other (the most powerful Mistborn) and tries to make head from toes as she goes along. I liked how at first she is so mistrustful that she rejects the very idea of friendship until Kell’s teachings and way of life become her own – but not without some serious consideration. Kell is the daredevil, Vin is the more balanced of the duo. One of the regular tropes of Fantasy is the Hero’s journey and I can’t begin to express how good it feels to read one where the female character is the one to undertake it, how refreshing it is! To me, this is Vin’s book and I love her.
There is also a plethora of secondary characters and I have to echo Thea’s feelings about Marsh and Sazed, although out of the two Sazed has a larger role to play as Vin’s relentless aid and protector and as such, he is more fleshed out. He is my favourite secondary character not only for his kick-ass moments but because of the extra layer of knowledge he adds to the story. His background as a Keeper of knowledge for his Race is so interesting and I was glued to the pages whenever he had a conversation with Vin or Kell about one of the myriad of religions he knew about it. As for the remaining members of the crew – well, I have to say I do have a soft spot the Noble Crew of Misfits and I felt like I was there in their meetings: I love that each had a role to play relating to the sort of metal each was able to burn and how there was so much sense of humour amongst them. Did it seem unrealistic that in the horrible world they lived in, they had such lightness amongst them in contrast? Yes. But it didn’t matter to me.
As for Vin’s love interest, Lord Elend. I have to disagree with Thea, I love the guy, love his interactions with Vin and I basically fell a little bit in love with him from the first time he walked into a ball and step aside to read a book. Yes, compared to Kell and Vin, he is a bit feeble but hear me out: I am convinced he will have a much larger role to play and to back me up we have one, the fact that he is granted his point of view towards the end and two, the way he behaves in the climax.
And of course, I need to mention the villains of the piece. We have the totally creepy, immortal invincible Inquisitors who are constantly searching for Mistborns such as Vin and Kell and who scared me to death and the Lord Ruler – who by the way is not only a ruler but actually an Immortal GOD – who was once mortal until he was chosen as The Hero of Ages, the one to save the world from the Deepness and someone who would either turn out to be a hero or a tyrant. It was riveting to read each small piece from his journal which opened the chapters and see that inner fight and indecision prior to becoming the Tyrant he is as the book opens. What went wrong and why?
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: If you couldn’t tell, I loved Mistborn. I really loved it. Fantastic worldbuilding, solid protagonists, excellent plot…there’s very little not to love in this fantastic first novel of a trilogy. I’m buying my copies of books 2 & 3 immediately. Absofreakinglutely recommended, and one of my favorite reads of the year.
Ana: This is the sort of Fantasy book that I love to read: with a great, tight plot and wonderful world building without ever losing touch with its characters. I already bought books 2 and 3 (and we will be reading those soon) . Highly, highly recommended and it is easily one of my faves of the year as well.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I consider myself to be a man of principle. But, what man does not? Even the cutthroat, I have noticed, considers his actions “moral” after a fashion.
Perhaps another person, reading of my life, would name me a religious tyrant. He could call me arrogant. What is to make that man’s opinion any less valid than my own?
I guess it all comes down to one fact: In the end, I’m the one with the armies.
Ash fell from the sky.
Vin watched the downy flakes drift through the air. Leisurely. Careless. Free. The puffs of soot fell like black snowflakes, descending upon the dark city of Luthadel. They drifted in corners, blowing in the breeze and curling in tiny whirlwinds over the cobblestones. They seemed so uncaring. What would that be like?
Vin sat quietly in one of the crew’s watch-holes—a hidden alcove built into the bricks on the side of the safe house. From within it, a crewmember could watch the street for signs of danger. Vin wasn’t on duty; the watch-hole was simply one of the few places where she could find solitude.
And Vin liked solitude. When you’re alone, no one can betray you. Reen’s words. Her brother had taught her so many things, then had reinforced them by doing what he’d always promised he would—by betraying her himself. It’s the only way you’ll learn. Anyone will betray you, Vin. Anyone.
The ash continued to fall. Sometimes, Vin imagined she was like the ash, or the wind, or the mist itself. A thing without thought, capable of simply being, not thinking, caring, or hurting. Then she could be . . . free.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Ana has read and reviewed Warbreaker by this author, and loved it too (Thea’s Aside: Dammit, I wish I had received that review copy). Mr. Sanderson is a science fiction and fantasy writer who has also written the Elantris books, and has been writing the twelfth and final book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Needless to say, after we finish reading the Mistborn trilogy, we’ll be back for Elantris!
On the Mistborn books, the UK is re-releasing the trilogy under Gollancz with new covers. Aren’t they gorgeous? We love both the original US covers, but the new UK ones are fabulous too.
US Covers (books 2 & 3):
UK Covers (books 2 & 3):
Thea: 8 Excellent – leaning towards a 9, and definitely one of my favorite reads of 2009
Ana: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Next Joint Review: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente