Title: Mistborn: The Final Empire
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Date Published: 2006
Pages (Hardcover): 537
First Line: Sometimes, I worry that I’m not the hero everyone thinks I am.
Like, I hope, a lot of folks, when I heard that Brandon Sanderson was tapped to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, my first thought was:
I say I hope a lot of folks said this because I don’t want to be the only idiot who has never heard of him. Thank goodness he finally landed on my radar, though, because, in a nutshell, Mistborn is a fun, fast, thoroughly entertaining read. It has some flaws, to be sure, but all in all I couldn’t wait to turn the page, and I tore through the story as fast as anything I have read in the last few years.
Much of what makes this such a quick, light read is the marvelous pacing Sanderson established from the very first scene. Mistborn is, at its core, a heist story. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven with with magic and a couple of fantasy tropes thrown in to complicate matters. The pace starts off slow, almost plodding, as the players are introduced, but it builds steadily, page after page, complication after complication. From a purely mechanics point of view, the work Sanderson has done with tension and plot is quite astounding. The pace of the action is easily what kept me reading well past my bedtime.
Another element that I enjoyed was the magic system Sanderson developed. There is great danger in creating a magic system, I think. In a world such as Sanderson’s, where so much depends upon the use of magic, a balance must be struck between revealing too much detail and not enough. Sanderson achieves this balance by having his protagonist, Vin, discover and train her abilities through the course of the novel. His system is unique, though. Rather than your standard wizard or warlock, in Sanderson’s world, some people, most often those of the upper class, are born as “mistings.” By ingesting a particular metal, they are able to tap its resources. This allows them to either enhance an ability they already have, such as heightening their senses or strength, or it grants them a more mystical ability, such as pushing metal objects with their mind or allowing them to see a few moments into the future. The ability all depends upon the metal ingested, and what their body is predisposed to “burn” or utilize. Someone who uses strength can only use strength, for example. Someone uses tin (sensory enhancement) can only use tin. Even rarer in Sanderson’s world, however, are the mistborn, who are able to use all eleven metals at the same time. There were times I thought that Sanderson was a bit repetitive in his explanation of his system, but overall I found it quite compelling. And because we learned about it as Vin did, Sanderson was able to spare the reader any long passages trying to get the basics of the system across.
But while the magic system and pacing were so good, there were some minor issues I had with the overall story. **Potential spoiler here. I’ll be as vague as I can, but if you absolutely don’t want any hint about the end of the book, skip to the next paragraph!** The biggest problem for me was the giant “ah-HA!” Sanderson pulled at the end of the book with a “FINALLY! The Truth Comes Out!” kind of moment. It wasn’t a tremendous let-down, and I think, perhaps, it may well be a technique used in heist stories, but I hate having huge, gigantic plot elements withheld from me. It’s one thing if the story is told in 1st person PoV and the narrator makes the discovery right along with the reader, but Sanderson tells the story in 3rd person, and one of the characters he focuses on knows everything from the very beginning. It was handled fairly well, all in all, but I still couldn’t help feeling a bit deceived.
Another issue for me, and more minor than the first, was that I just didn’t buy into some aspects of the growth of Vin. There were times I felt as if she had shed her past all too easily without any kind of justification. The intent, I think, was to create an inner conflict for her, but most often I felt it failed as it led to what seemed to be obvious contradictions in her motivations. These contradictions then complicated matters by making the characters around her appear foolish in their affection and trust of her.
Those points aside, though, there is a lot to like in Mistborn. It’s quite a refreshing take on the fantasy genre, and it brings loads of new and exciting possibilities for the remaining two books in the trilogy, which I plan on getting to just as soon as I possibly can.