The Final Empire


Brandon Sanderson


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 28, 2008

was pleasantly surprised by Mistborn: The Final Empire. I expected another routine fantasy when I spotted it on the paperback shelf at the library. This is the first book I have read by Brandon Sanderson. I picked it up on whim, just to see if Sanderson can write. It turns out Sanderson has an original set of ideas and characters, it seemed clear to me that a lot of thought had been put into the writing of the book, the magic system and fantasy world are well developed and clever.

Sanderson describes a bleak world devastated by ash that falls like snow(the source of this ash is never explained, perhaps it has something to do with the defeat of the Deepness?). At night, the ash-blanketed world is covered by swirling mists which hide strange and dangerous creatures. The world is dominated by an immortal, all powerful tyrant called the Lord Ruler. Unfortunately, Lord Ruler is completely ruthless and his empire oppresses all the common people, who are called ska. Opposing the Lord Ruler is a Mistborn named Kelsier, who is half ska, half aristocrat. (This is a bit murky - to imply that someone is halfbreed implies that ska and aristocrat are different species, but clearly it is only their political standing that separates the two classes.) Kelsier has a secret plan for overthrowing the Lord Ruler and liberating the ska.

Kelsier is a thief by profession. His powerful Misting skills give him the ability to move with great speed, to influence the emotions of the people near him, to tap into inhuman strength and endurance. The magic system in this book is called "Allomancy"; certain people can ingest metals which they then "burn" in their bellies. As long as there is enough metal to burn, the Allomancer can display such powers as super powerful senses (enhanced hearing, sight), super strength, the ability to control metal at a distance (just like Magneto, the X-Men supervillan). But Kelsier has more than simple thievery in mind: his long term agenda is nothing short of overthrowing the Lord Ruler.

The Allomancy magic system appears to have a lot of careful thought by Sanderson. Given the established constraints of his magic system, Sanderson sticks to the rules and displays some unique ways of using the powers - for example, since some Allomancers can attract or repel metals, Kelsier can launch himself into the air by repelling against metal on the ground, like bouncing off of a trampoline. Kelsier carries pockets of cheap coins - after he launches himself, he will throw down a new coin beneath him and push off of it. Using a string of coins in succession, Kelsier hops along through the air at great speed. I like original ideas like this, much better than merely the wizards of generic fantasy novels who fly because it is convenient to the plot that they do so. I especially liked Vin's novel uses of Allomancy in her attack on the Lord Ruler's castle.

In addition to Allomancy, Sanderson describes a parallel magic system called Feruchemy. The practioners of Feruchemy use metals inside the body as batteries for storing up abilities such as strength. A Feruchemist will spend days of lying around weakly, while charging his strength battery. This will allow the Feruchemist to use that stored strength at a later date in a time of great need. Feruchemists will store sleep, or endurance or any other handy skill that might be needed at a later time.

Besides his unique magic systems, Sanderson also describes some wonderful intimidating villains in the form of the Steel Inquistors. These fearsome servants of the Lord Ruler are powerful Allomancers who somehow survive despite having giant metal tusks driven through their eyes and out the back of their heads. This doesn't make any sense, but it is a nice image that would look good in a movie or graphic novel adaptation of this story. The Steel Inquistors are sufficiently scary henchmen for the Lord Ruler

Other neat inventions by Sanderson are the mistwraiths, which seem to be similar to the gelatinous cube monster from Dungeons and Dragons. Mistwraiths shamble along through the city, absorbing the bodies and bones of corpses; the cube will reuse some of the absorbed limbs and faces for its own body.

The heroine of the novel is Vin. Vin is an orphan girl who comes to the Lord Rulers capital city as a teenage girl. Vin possesses undeveloped misting powers, which means she draws the attention of Kelsier and the Lord Rulers minions. She is not interested in Kelsier's insane quest to overthrow the Lord Ruler, but an orphan girl does not have many options, and certainly she needs a mentor to teach her how to use the Mistborn powers.

Although Mistborn is the first novel in a trilogy, it works as a stand alone story. Rather than leaving the reader with a cliff hanger ending, Mistborn works well as a complete stand alone tale. Nice of an author to give you a whole story without forcing you to buy 3 books. Mistborn was good enough that I will now look for the second one in the series.