Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
By Michael Baker
It has been a while since I have written one of these, but it is high time I returned! Today is the beginning of my long series into the Cosmere by Brandon Sanderson. I finally completed both Mistborn trilogies, and with Oathbringer now out (the book sitting on my shelf ready) I cannot wait to get back into the thick of things.
Today, I bring you my review of Mistborn Era 1: The Final Empire. I started reading this back in February, at the turn of the year. I picked it up and decided to give it a go (as well as hearing good things about it.)
I really liked it. At least in its overall sense of what it set out to do. There are issues I will discuss throughout my review, but overall I am quite a fan of this book (helped by the excellent Graphic Audio edition of the audiobook, which transforms it into a true mind-movie).
Set in the vicious and ash-laden world of Scadrial, the Final Empire as it’s called (roll credits) has been under the heavy thumb of a tyrant demigod known as the Lord Ruler, who rules his lands with an iron fist. There is a lot of classism in this, with the nobility being seen as the violent, dickish group, and the masses of the skaa, seen to all as inferior and fit to be abused. It really sets a dark tone for the opening book, and the opening scene shows this completely.
Now, if people have read my reviews before and know me, you will know I am not a fan of YA fantasy. This is exactly how Sanderson portrays the series as. Now, I think this was his first book/series, and it…kind of shows in the writing? Not to be harsh in that sense, but the writing is quite basic, with very one-dimensional actions and descriptions and very little risk-taking. This doesn’t make it bad; on the contrary, I rather liked it because it is very easy to understand, but there is a time when there is a bit too much eye-rolling from every character, to the point I wanted to strangle them. For YA, this book really pulls the punches in terms of brutality. You get to see a skaa kid get his throat slit in front of a bunch of noblemen later in the book, and they do not give two shits (Except for Valette, but of course, she is a skaa herself. Tension!)
The plot is about as simple as it gets in a traditional fantasy. A group of rebels conspires to overthrow the evil emperor, led by a charismatic leader (This will be Kelsier, a powerful sarcastic twat with likable tendencies. No really, I do like this guy), but again, this is not a bad thing. I had zero trouble following the storyline, and even today find myself going back to the book and picking up odd bits. The world is well designed especially in this opening story, and it really has the Heros Journey vibe to it. There is a fair bit of info dumping throughout the book that can be trying to get through, and he keeps shoving the rules of Allomancy in your face throughout the series. Yes, I know the skaa are oppressed. I know the magic rules already. Stop showing me them! I got it the first time. I listen to what I read.
My word though, the action scenes were completely nailed by Sanderson, holy shit. Gut-wrenching and brutal with so much love for the metal-based magic system, I can write essays on how much thought went into it. This was the two parts that nailed the series for me, and the battle between Kelsier and the brutal Inquisitor of the Steel Ministry was the crux of the entire book. Much better then the climatic fight (I do feel sorry for the Lord Ruler though, even if he comes off as a bit of a knob.)
Main Protagonist Vin starts off as a street urchin with brother issues and a ton of trust issues but slowly comes into being as the most powerful Mistborn in the world. Now, again, I hate chosen ones. I really bloody hate them, and in my first read of the trilogy, Vin really annoyed me because she didn’t really seem anything special. However, in re-reads, I am growing to like her again. It might have just been from the basic layout of the writing for the masses that ground me, as she is a bit overpowered (very overpowered in fact, but one of her fights two-thirds into the book was excellent).
This takes me into characters, and there is a good range of them. I really liked the thieving crew, although once again, having them as nice thieves felt a bit convenient. Give me the backstabbing arseholes any day, but I did enjoy their dynamic. Breeze and Ham are hilarious when they are together even though the crew at times felt a bit like a frat party. Kelsier and Sazed steal the show from book one, and you’ll see Sazed slowly grow in importance (him turning into a love-broken emo during Book 3 annoyed the hell out of me, however), and in Era 2…well, he is a bit of an asshole. (Spoiler Alert) Although there is a lot of black and white viewpoints, we get to go into the nobility mind, which brings us to Elend Venture.
A lovable moron, his and Vin’s growing…romance was a big part of the book and a mixed one. If there is one thing I’ve seen Sanderson sometimes struggle with, it is pulling off romances, and their relationship always felt a bit strange. Book Two really struggled on this regard in one of the worst love triangles I have ever read, (Nothing beats Twilight on shit though), but the final book of Era 1 was a masterpiece on their romance, and the final scenes were heartbreakingly beautiful. You got me rooting for their romance, and I really dislike romance in fantasy in general. Their scenes together throughout The Final Empire was interesting and I slowly grew attached to the pair of them, and the scene when Elend comes looking for Vin in the climax is one of my favorite moments and a huge moment for Vin. Nobody ever came back for her before and her emotion was beautiful.
In conclusion, even though I had a couple of gripes with The Final Empire, I really liked it, and reading more of Sanderson’s works, he managed to fix a lot of issues he had with this opener, especially regarding romances. Era 2 was brilliant for that I think (and hilarious, Wayne is fucking brilliant) and some of his attempts at humor was a lot better. (Except for Shallan in the Stormlight Archive. Seriously. Fuck off Shallan. Love that series though!) Easily a 4/5 book, on some days it is a five star. Usually when I re-read Kel fight the Steel Inquisitor.