The Final Empire (Mistborn Book 1), Brandon Sanderson

Monday, June 11, 2018

Frequent readers of this blog probably know that I am a fantasy nerd from way back. Beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, continuing through Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, The Elfstones of Shannara, The Thomas Covenant series, and Anne McCaffery's Dragonriders series, I have spent a good part of my life escaping into fantastical worlds where magic is real and heroes save the world from evil monsters.

The Final Empire, the first book of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, is epic high fantasy at its finest. The world Sanderson creates is one of order and stability. But that order and stability comes at a great price-most of the world's population, called skaa, is used as forced labor on large plantations, under the absolute and absolutely cruel power of a noble class. The Lord Ruler controls the Final Empire. He is treated like a god, revered and hated, seemingly immortal. His dictates are enforced by a brutal group of priests called Obligators, all of whom are allomancers-people who have the power to use ingested metals for magical purposes. He also controls the dreaded Steel Ministry, creatures with spikes for eyes that can command the power of allomancy in ways more powerful than any regular human.

One man has vowed revenge against the Lord Ruler for his many atrocities. Born a skaa, Kelsier is a skilled Mistborn-an allomancer who can use all of the metals, rather than just one as most allomancers can. He develops a plan for overthrowing the Lord Ruler, and thinks he has discovered a way to kill him, using a previously unknown 11th metal. While planning this rebellion, he discovers Vin, a full Mistborn girl who was raised in the streets as part of a thieving crew. Vin is timid and suspicious of everyone, a result of years of abuse by her brother and various crew leaders. Kelsier undertakes to train her, and brings her into his own crew. Kelsier's plan seems insane-to create a skaa army and take over the capital city of Luthadel. But just maybe his plan is crazy enough to work.

The plot is well-crafted, intricate even, and despite the many characters and the almost constant machinations that are happening throughout the story, the whole things holds together beautifully. While Kelsier is the main actor, Vin is the heart of the story. Waifish, paranoid, and skittish, she survived the streets through her own wit and inner strength, calling on allomancy even before she knew what it was. Her transformation from distrusting, angry girl to full, beloved member of Kelsier's crew gives the story an emotional impact it would otherwise have lacked. The action is well-paced, with detailed descriptions of fight scenes that really give the reader a sense of what allomancy would be capable of.

The world-building is exceptionally well-done as well. Despite being what I would consider high fantasy, there are none of the standard high fantasy characters here-no wizards or trolls or elves. Instead, Sanderson created a world unlike any I've read before, with allomancy as the main driver. It includes magical creatures such as the kandra, as well as a race called terrismen, allow Sanderson to write in twists and turns that would be impossible, or at least unlikely, with only human characters.

I'm on to book two, which is so far just as good as the first. I look forward to seeing where the story goes.

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