Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book in the Mistborn series and the second novel written by Brandon Sanderson, the author selected to complete the final novel in the Wheel of Time series. The second book in the series, The Well of Ascension, is currently out in hardcover and the final book, The Hero of Ages, has a scheduled release date of October 20, 2008.
The immortal Lord Ruler has been both a leader and god to the people ever since he came to power and saved them approximately a thousand years ago. He has gifted some of the nobility, who were his allies during the time of his ascension, with special abilities known as Allomancy and forbidden them to breed with the commoners for fear of passing this power on to children not of pure noble blood. An Allomancer is one who can perform magic using metals he or she has swallowed. Mistings are those who can activate one metal and use its power. Mistborn, more rare than Mistings, are those Allomancers who can use all the known types of metal and their powers.
The skaa (commoners) have been oppressed and subject to the whims of the noble class ever since the beginning of the Lord Ruler’s reign. One of these, a Mistborn named Kelsier, has become a legend among his people as the only one to survive the punishment of being sent to the infamous Pits of Hathshin. Kelsier’s brother tells him of Vin, a 16-year-old Mistborn street girl he detected, and Kelsier invites her to join his band of thieves and begins training her with her powers. Under the leadership of Kelsier, Vin and other skaa rebels form a plan to do the impossible – overthrow the Final Empire and its Lord Ruler.
The book was a bit slow in the beginning as it introduced the characters and skaa life, but it was nearly impossible for me to put down during the nonstop action of the last 100 pages or so. The story focuses on politics and planning a lot, but it also includes some really spectacular fight scenes. The fights are based on skill with Allomancy and using clever tricks to outsmart your opponent rather than merely whacking each other with weaponry, and some of the descriptions were quite well done. It certainly had some of the more fun fight scenes I can remember reading.
The magic system was unique and interesting, but it had its disadvantages as well as its advantages. It was refreshing to have magic following a set of rules instead of just being unexplained mysticism, but on the other hand, sometimes it would have been nice if a little were left to the imagination rather than all the descriptions of how Allomancy worked. Kelsier’s training of Vin reminded me of tutorials in RPGs where you are learning how to use your character and what all the different controls do. I also found it really hard to get over the swallowing metal part of it – all I could think of is how unhealthy that sounded. (I know, kind of silly to get hung up on that in a fantasy book, but I just kept wondering why at least some of these people weren’t dying from poisoning even if it was semi-explained.)
I liked the characters, but none of them were particularly unique or well-developed, although I did enjoy that they were fairly contemplative and thoughtful at times, particularly about religion, friendship, and betrayal. My favorite was Elend, the eccentric nobleman, but I came to love Vin as well as the story went on. I will not spoil the details of the ending, but I felt like some of it did not fit with the characters’ actions through that point in time. The ending was also a bit rushed, and one part of the story that had potential to be very compelling was wrapped up in an unsatisfactory manner.
It may sound like I did not enjoy this book since I am being so critical of it, but the truth is, once I got past the slow beginning, I really had a lot of fun reading it. It did not live up to the expectations I had for it based on what I had heard about it, but that was mainly because I had some preconceived notions about the story that were false. It was not as original a story as I had been anticipating, but it was still very enjoyable with a unique world/magic system and more examination of it than most epic fantasy books offer. I will definitely be picking up the sequel.
Mistborn: The Final Empire was a strong and fun sophomore effort. It was nothing extraordinary, but it is certainly worth the time of epic fantasy fans.
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