Wow! I’m so happy that I purchased Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson on audible.com and listened to it. This is another of those 4.5 out of 5 stories for me. (Again, I rarely give stories a 5 out of 5, but I may change my rating as I contemplate the story even more than I already have.)
In fact, like The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, I was so impressed that I listened to it twice back to back. On second listen, I often compared Mistborn: The Final Empire to Name of the Wind and wondered why I liked one or the other story and concluded that it’s impossible to make any real comparison. The Name of the Wind was like poetry in the written form and Mistborn was like watching a well written action/adventure movie in my head. The styles were totally different but I was sucked into each story with abandon and awe.
I aspire to write as well as these authors.
On to the review…
A WriterAlina Book Review
Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn book 1)
Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book in the Mistborn trilogy, which then expands into a whole Mistborn universe of novels. It sets the stage for a very unique alchemic magical systems that promises interesting explorations. The Final Empire fantastically foreshadows the whole trilogy, while telling a standalone story at the same time. Many scenes, personal actions, and histories are woven into the story with double meanings that can be interpreted directly, but also taken as a potential story question for the future. I was highly impressed by Sanderson’s artful use of information manipulation, and I’m looking forward to listening to The Well of Souls to see if some of my guesses about the storyline are correct.
This blurb comes from goodreads.com:
In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?
In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage — Allomancy, a magic of the metals.
The Story and It’s Delivery
Like the Game of Thrones, Mistborn: The Final Empire is written in the deep third person perspective of multiple characters: mostly Kelsier (the hero) and Vin (the heroine). The prologue begins with some random lord who we never see again, and toward the end Elend Venture’s (potential hero) perspective is thrown into the mix as well. But unlike the Game of Thrones, the perspective shifts happen within the chapters and follows where the story goes. What does that mean? The perspective shifts serve the direction that the story is taking versus the story serving the shift in perspective.
There’s a linearity to the storytelling of Mistborn: The Final Empire. There’s a certain flow that the author wants the reader to follow chronologically so that he gets the most of the story from beginning to end, and the reader lands in the perspective of the characters that are most important at that moment in the story’s timeline. There are a few flashbacks but they come in the form of journal entries at the beginning of the chapters, a clever move because these chapter headers serve multiple purposes: (1) to give the reader an idea what the chapter is about, (2) to give the reader a sense of history and character, and (3) to foreshadow what’s to come in future novels.
The story begins with a prologue from some random lord’s perspective, then shifts to the POV of Kelsier, who ignites the story’s inciting incident, shift again into another character’s POV, who poses another story question, and finally shifting to Vin’s POV. And on we go being led from scene to scene in the perspective that shows the reader the biggest story impact.
I think the way that Sanderson begins this novel is amusing because he completely breaks two rules that tons of writers say to never break: (1) never start your story with a prologue, and (2) never start a story with a person you only ever see once. But as Orson Scott Card claims, you can break the rules as long as it serves the story well. And in my opinion breaking these two rules definitely served Sanderson well. Even though we never see this random lord after the first scene is delivered in his perspective, seeing the scene this way does several things for the story: (1) this lord gives the reader an immediate explanation of the world and the people in it, showing the reader the hierarchy of the people, (2) it shows two of the important story problems, (3) it introduces the hero for the first time without the story being in his perspective, and (4) it sets the reader’s expectations to anticipate POV shifts throughout the story when the perspective shifts from the lord to Kelsier. It’s all quite brilliant actually.
One more thing I’d like to add about the delivery of Mistborn: The Final Empire has to do with the flow of the action. I have mixed feelings about the way the action was written. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely exciting and does its job painting a movie inside your head. The reason I have mixed feelings is that I was surprised at the extent of stage directions used in the telling. Each action scene is a choreographed dance of this person did this and that. Sometimes I thought it was a bit over directed but then I’d think “I imagined that quite vividly. What’s the problem?” I don’t know. This is one thing I’m experimenting with myself, and it seems that when I do it the words sound amateur, but somehow Sanderson’s words are developed. I recognize that there is something to learn here.
It’s obvious that a lot of time was put into developing and showing each of the characters of Mistborn: The Final Empire. Every person who makes an appearance has motivations and a part to play in understanding the overall story.
Kelsier is exciting, rash, and noble. He is open and yet still has his secrets. His character arc is subtle, but his goals are straight forward and honorable. He is an interesting paradox of selflessness and selfishness at the same time, making for an interesting character.
Vin is also an unorthodox heroine. She struggles with her feminine side because she was raised to be mistrustful and to disguise herself so that people would forget that she’s a girl. Her character arc is long because she has to go from being self-sufficient and mistrustful to working in a team where she has to sometimes trust someone else with her. She’s both a harsh and soft person who is discovering herself as the story progresses. Overall she is a compelling character, especially when she realizes that she wears masks and doesn’t really know who she truly is.
Each of the secondary characters has distinct attributes that distinguish him or her from everyone else — sometimes it’s appearance but mostly it’s a key personality trait that does the trick, such as being philosophical or refined, or being learned or uneducated.
The world building involved in Mistborn: The Final Empire is complex and intriguing. On the surface there is this Allomantic magic that the Mistings and Mistborn can perform and the energy transferring that the Terrismen perform, — both are cool and quite unique as magic goes. But there is more to Mistborn than the magic. There is the Lord Ruler and the realities, myths, and legends that surround him. There are the constant ash falls and mysterious mist and the creatures that inhabit it. There is the complex social system with the skaa at the bottom of the totem pole. Why are the skaa at the bottom? What is it about them that keeps them down? Are they really just waiting for the right inspiration to rebel and win?
There is a lot of telling in Sanderson’s explanations of the world, but ironically I didn’t care very much about that because I found his creation unique enough that I wanted to know as much about what occupied his world as possible. I wanted to know about skaa, noblemen, obligators, Mistings, Mistborn, Terrismen and the Lord Ruler. What are their connections? What is Allomancy? Why do some people have the ability to use it and others not? What are the different powers that the Allomancers manipulate? What is the difference between Allomancy and Feruchemy? Is one better than the other? Most of these questions are answered in one way or another, some in an obvious manner and others a little more subtly.
What interests me most as a writer is Sanderson’s ability to weave the introduction of his world and the answers to these questions into the action of the story. Again, this is a technique worth study from a writing perspective.
A Word Or Two About The Art of Foreshadowing
I loved the fact that much of the information that is given throughout this story could be interpreted in multiple ways. Some of those interpretations apply to the story at hand and others could have implications for future stories. One of the best parts of listening to this story a second time was catching all of the foreshadowing that I grasped only unconsciously during the first listen. Part of what I find so masterful about Sanderson’s writing is his use of double meaning within his foreshadowing. He uses the world rules and ideas for multiple uses, he gives just enough information to make you think that you know where the action, the character, or the story itself is going, but then you realize that there is more than what you guessed.
**** Potential Spoiler Alert ****
For example there is a substance called atium that is considered the most precious of metals by the Lord Ruler and Mistborn. Kelsier is convinced that if he destroys the atium mines, he will significantly cripple the Lord Ruler and the Empire. It is known that the Lord Ruler keeps almost 90% of the atium for himself and only allows a small percentage to be distributed among the noble houses for their Mistborn to use in their Allomancy. Of course Kelsier is right that destroying the atium will cripple the Empire, but there is also the implication that the Lord Ruler isn’t actually using the atium for himself but for another purpose that is unknown to the reader. Of course I’m guessing that this other purpose will be revealed as the next novel’s story problem. But the point is that this idea, and the resulting scenes, hold multiple consequences that aren’t immediately foreseen by the reader.
**** End Spoiler Alert ****
This is a sign of a skillful author, who knows where he’s going with his story.
If you like complex world building, unique magic, engaging characters, and lots of action then you’ll enjoy Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.
Have you ever read any of the Mistborn series or any of Brandon Sanderson’s other novels? I’m going to dive into book 2 pretty soon. How about you? I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.