Friday, 15 January 2016

'Mistborn: The Final Empire' by Brandon Sanderson (2006)

Synopsis: Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first novel in the high-fantasy series The Mistborn and is set in a medieval-esque dystopian world called Scadriel - a place where there are rainfalls of ash, where all plants are brown, where mysterious mists come out at night, and where certain individuals can gain magical powers by ingesting certain types of metal. These individuals are called the "Mistings" or the "Mistborn". 1000 years before the start of the novel it was prophesied that a "Hero of Ages" would become an immortal and save the world from a terrifying force called the Deepness. However, although the Deepness was repelled, the Hero then took on the title of "Lord Ruler", established an empire, and became an evil despotic tyrant. Under his rule the empire is divided into two social classes: the nobility (the descendants of those who helped him achieve power) and the brutally oppressed peasantry called the Skaa. 3 years before the start of the novel, a half-Skaa thief called Kelsier was imprisoned in the hellish Pits of Hathsin (the equivalent of a modern-day concentration camp). It was there that Kelsier discovered that he was a mistborn. Using his powers to escape, Kelsier has now returned to Luthadel, the capital city of the empire, to recruit the elite of the criminal underworld for an elaborate heist. His aim: to overthrow the Empire by stealing its treasury and collapsing its economy. When Kelsier then discovers a 16 year old female street urchin called Vin, and discovers that she is also a mistborn, he decides to make her his protégé by training her to use her powers and by recruiting her into his criminal gang. He also gets Vin to spy on the nobility by attending opulent balls in Luthadel where she poses as a noblewoman. It's during these balls that Vin meets an eccentric, bookish and idealistic nobleman called Elend Venture who is the heir to the most powerful noble house in Luthadel. But although Vin suspects that Elend has Skaa sympathies and is beginning to fall in love with him she's still by no means certain that she can trust him, and Kelsier is having difficulties of his own as he attempts to lead the revolution against the Lord Ruler.

I'd been longing to read this book for a while! There were a few different reasons why...
  1. I first found out about it last year after seeing quite a lot of Kingkiller Chronicle fans recommending it (and also Patrick Rothfuss who is the author of those books!) and, since I loved that series, I naturally figured that I'd probably enjoy the Mistborn series as well. 
  2. The heist element of the story was extremely intriguing to me.
  3. After looking into the series some more I also found out that the technology and world of the series significantly changes over time which isn't something that I've ever encountered in a fantasy series before! For instance: whilst the first three books in the Mistborn series are set in a medieval-esque world, the other books in the series take place several hundreds of years later with the world of Scadriel having shifted into more of a Victorian-esque environment. Brandon Sanderson eventually plans to have the final books in the series take place in a futuristic sci-fi setting!
In the end this book definitely lived up to my high expectations and it was a hugely entertaining read! :) It's an epic fantasy novel that's full of action, adventure, suspense and political intrigue and, although it's rather dark and violent at times, it still has plenty of humour and heart. Sanderson's prose lacks the elegance and beautiful lyricism of Patrick Rothfuss's in The Kingkiller Chronicle but the book is still very solidly written and touches on some deep themes like that of faith, courage, hope and identity. The book is rather long but is still very tightly plotted and paced overall and its magic system manages to be hugely creative, imaginative and intricate without ever becoming too convoluted - and leads to some excellent action scenes that would be thrilling to watch in a screen adaptation! The worldbuilding in this book is also impressive. Even though we don't actually get to "see" very much of its world beyond the capital city of Luthadel and its surrounding countryside I still felt that I got a good feel for its politics, society and landscape. The misty nights and ash-stained buildings in particular gave a lot of atmosphere to the book - and another thing that enhanced the book's atmosphere was that each chapter began with a brief extract from the diary of the Hero of Ages. It was a terrific touch that added quite a bit to the novel.

The two main characters in this book, Vin and Kelsier, are extremely well-developed as well. As a lonely street urchin who has been abused for most of her life, Vin lacks confidence in herself and is extremely paranoid and suspicious of Kelsier and his crew at the beginning. But as the novel progresses she slowly begins to trust the crew and to open up to them - and the more her powers develop the more her self-confidence grows. Vin's character development in this book is excellent and is lovely to read. In contrast, her mentor Kelsier is far more optimistic and cheerful than she is (or at least he is on the surface) and isn't at all the typical kind of mentor figure that you usually find in fantasy stories. He's a sly, witty, impulsive hothead! Kelsier's character development is more subtly done than Vin's but is still apparent as he comes to terms with his time in the Pits and the death of his wife and he is eventually able to overcome his innate prejudice towards the nobility. When it comes to the secondary characters in this book I was especially fond of Breeze, Ham, Sazed and Elend in particular. I loved Breeze's wit, Ham's fondness for philosophical discussions, Sazed's air of quiet badassery, and Elend's love of books and his romance with Vin. Elend's first scene with Vin was quite possibly my favourite scene in the entire book by the way: it's so funny and adorable that it's almost like something out of a good romantic comedy!

My only issues with this book are very minor. One of the things that I initially wasn't so keen on in this book was that the dialogue features modern-day American slang in places which I found very odd given the medieval-esque setting of the book. That took a bit of getting used to. I found the book a little bit slow near the start as well although the pacing soon picked up. Overall though this book is definitely one of the most impressive fantasy novels that I've read in recent years and I really hope that the sequels can live up to its quality. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that I've flipped out over a book only to end up being horribly disappointed in its sequels so... *fingers crossed*

Rating: 5/5


Lianne @ said...

Great review Hannah, I'm glad you enjoyed The Final Empire! There's nothing else I can really add to what you said in your review except how much I also enjoyed the worldbuilding, the character development, the secondary characters, the humour =D I hope you enjoy the sequels as well when you get to them :)

Hannah said...

Oh thank you so much! Nowadays when I read a series I try to spread the books out a little bit (so I can prolong the experience) but at the very least I'd like to read the next two books in this series this year :)