Year of Sanderson: “Mistborn: The Final Empire”

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“Year of Sanderson” is an on-going, monthly series that will post on the last Friday of each month in which I will cover various Brandon Sanderson-related things. This will largely be comprised of book reviews (some from his back catalog and some from the books being released this year), as well as assorted other topics like reviews of the items in the swag boxes that will be coming out as part of Sanderson’s Kickstarted campaign. Frankly, we’ll just have to see what we get from this series, very much like the Kickstarter itself!

Book: “Mistborn: The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: 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. Then Kelsier reveals 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. She will have to learn trust if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

Review: While “Elantris” was the first book that Sanderson published, he really took off with the release of his “Mistborn” trilogy. One funny note now looking back, when the books were first released, this first book was very prominently labeled “Mistborn” as its title. I can’t remember if the subtitle “The Final Empire” was even on the cover? But in later years, the trilogy itself is labeled the “Mistborn” trilogy and this first book has been re-released with various covers and “The Final Empire” made more prominent. Indeed, Goodreads lists “The Final Empire” as the title outright, which I always find immediately confusing until I do a double-take. Anyways, on with the review!

Vin, a young woman who has grown up on the streets, has no expectations from life. Indeed, if she must expect something, it’s that everyone is using one another and will betray you for the barest scrap of advantage. So when she is approached by Kel, a man with powerful abilities, a gang of misfits, and a dream of revolution, she is wary to the say the least. But Kel has abilities that haven’t been seen in this world for years, so much so that he has hopes of challenging the tyrannical Lord Ruler himself. As Vin begins to trust Kel’s vision of the future, she discovers that she, too, is much more powerful than she had every imagined.

This book is the worst! Ha, no! I’m just very aware that I’m writing a review for a book that is almost twenty years old and is massively popular within the fantasy genre. Many reviews have come before mine, and there’s probably nothing original under the sun to be said of this book, so if anyone is looking for a novel take from me, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Instead, I’m here to parrot the same old lines that fantasy fans have been saying for years now: this book is an astonishing work of fantasy craftmanship on its own and an almost unbelievable precursor for the books that would follow, not only in this trilogy but in the larger Cosmere universe itself. It’s honestly kind of astonishing. Not only does this book stand on its own, but reading it now, after years and multitudes of additional books have been added to this universe, there’s no evidence of it buckling under that weight or feeling like a lesser entity that was still an author growing into what he was to become. No, this book feels fully realized and polished on its own.

It’s also just a super fun story. For one thing, all of the characters are so incredibly likable. This, perhaps, does make it feel the most like a relic of the past, but I think that says something more negative about our current fantasy climate than anything else. Nowadays, so many fantasy books that come out are clearly suffering from the “G.R.R. Martin” effect: they must be overbearingly grim and all characters must be tormented, brooding, and generally pessimistic. Somehow it’s come to be thought that any fantasy novel that is optimistic or features characters who laugh and can enjoy life at all must mean that the world is “unbelievable” and “unrealistic.” What does that even mean?? Looking around at the actual “real world,” I’d say any person trying to recreate it using only paint brushes loaded with the most grim parts of the human experience are failing pretty badly at depicting “reality.”

All of this to say, Sanderson highlights how you can write epic fantasies that can have stakes, can have grim, dark aspects, but can also have characters who are fun to read about, who experience joy and wonder at the fantastical parts of their lives, who are generally people that one enjoys reading about. Kel and Vin are incredible characters. Vin, in particular, is probably one of my all-time favorite fantasy leading ladies. Her journey throughout this trilogy is impressive, and in this book, she highlights how the whole “mentor trains newbie in the ways of magic” storyline can still feel fresh and new.

Beyond the characters, this story also highlights Sanderson’s skills at action. It’s well-known that he creates incredible magic systems, but I don’t think that alone would stand-out as much as it does if it wasn’t for how he leverages those magic systems into incredible action sequences. Reading descriptions of how Kel and Vin use their ability to “burn” metals to fling themselves through the air and whip weapons to and fro across a room is simply breathtaking.

Honestly, how this hasn’t already been adapted into a TV show is beyond me. This book has all the elements of a stand-out hit: a large cast of interesting characters, fast-paced action, political maneuvering, disguises, romance, tragedy! It’s all there. I know the entire “Cosmere” universe has had its rights sold, but still, where’s the active development already?? Honestly, I could probably rave about this book all day long, but at a certain point it would simply boil down to me just saying “wow” over and over again. Reading this again, it’s no wonder that Sanderson went on to be the fantasy powerhouse that he now is. It was all there right from the beginning, and “Mistborn” is the perfect example of fantasy at its best.

Rating 10: Perhaps the rare example of how a book that was once fantastic on its own has grown to represent the true might of its author from the very beginning.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mistborn: The Final Empire” is on these Goodreads lists: Most Interesting Magic System and Best “Strong Female” Fantasy Novels.

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