I’ve heard a lot of great things about the novels of Brandon Sanderson over the past few years, especially once he had written the completion to The Wheel of Time series and was firmly on the radar of most fantasy readers. As a teen and young adult I read a lot of fantasy, including a lot of bad fantasy. This soured me on the genre for a while, but getting into A Game of Thrones 6-7 years ago and then discovering The Name of the Wind has brought me back to fantasy. And I’m glad it did because I was now able to greatly enjoy Mistborn: The Final Empire.
The Final Empire is a land where the hero lived long enough to become the villain, and everyone else is subservient to the Lord Ruler–the nobles, his ministerial church made up of Obligators and Inquistors, and the Skaa who are the bulk of humanity. The Skaa live to serve the nobles and The Lord Ruler and have harsh lives of toil in plantations, factories, or cities. The world is a dystopic post-apocalyptic late medieval setting where ash constantly falls from the sky, all plants are brown, and supernatural mists cloud the land at night.
Magical power is tied to those fortunate few who have the genetic gift of Allomancy, the ability to swallow and burn select metals within their body to increase their strength, hide themselves, to push metal coins at enemies as though they were bullets, or pull yourself up to a metallic window ledge in the air. Most people with this gift can only burn one of the metals with Allomantic properties, but a few rare souls–called Mistborn–can burn all ten.
I won’t go into too much detail about the plot, other than to say it concerns a crew of Allomantic thieves who plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler, but be warned that this book is epic fantasy–there will be a great length of the book devoted to political schemes and long infodumps of exposition about the setting. The magic systems are impressive and seem to follow the rules well enough that the critical climaxes of the book seem like logical progressions of the rules and not a Deus Ex Machina. Sanderson is a skillful and prodigious writer who has a lot of ideas to share, but doesn’t waste much space on florid prose or sensory descriptions to aid versimilitude. A friend of mine, Tex, described him as “Pretty good worldbuilding, pretty workmanlike prose. He’s prolific as hell though, so there’s plenty of material.” I think that’s a fair summation of Sanderson’s style, although there are moments here and there than transcend his workmanlike prose and extend into the sublime.
This is a dense book, big enough for it’s length to become intimidating. I checked an audiobook version out from my library–this is my favorite way of getting past the barrier of entry to books I know I need to read, but might not immediately grab my attention. With the next Mistborn novel I will go for a print or ebook version. I’ll wait a month or two beforehand to cleanse my palate with another genre until I get ready to tuck myself back at the festal table of epic fantasy.