Book Review: Mistborn (The Final Empire)

Book Review: Mistborn (The Final Empire)

I was told by several people that if I wanted to start reading Sanderson, I should start with the Mistborn series. If you're a regular reader, you'll know I didn't listen. The Way of Kings just appealed to my epic fantasy loving self more than the thief-with-heart-of-gold vibe I got from reading Mistborn jacket copy. But now that I'm finally caught up with Stormlight Archive, I needed a new Sanderson fix.

If you've haven't been living under a fantasy rock (unlike me, apparently), you'll know that Mistborn follows the adventures of thief and Allomancer Vin. In the first book (known as both The Final Empire and also just Mistborn), Vin's abilities are identified by Kelsier, a thief-turned-revolutionary set on taking down the despotic ruler of the land...who is creatively named the Lord Ruler. Problem is, the Lord Ruler is supposedly a god. Kelsier recruits Vin to his crew, and together with her newfound friends, they set about building an army and encouraging nobles to go to war, in the hopes of toppling an empire.

There are a lot of things Sanderson does really well in this novel, and I can see why it's so popular. His characters are incredibly sympathetic and engaging, for one. Each has their own tragic backstory, their own personal reasons for joining this fight against the Lord Ruler. They're not all the nicest people, and they certainly have their flaws, but it's hard to stay angry with them even when they make mistakes.

Vin and Kelsier are the two leads here, and they're a powerhouse duo. Kelsier is the more experienced of the two, and the more charismatic. It's he who leads this revolution, who puts himself in the limelight as a figurehead for the skaa rebels. He has survived the Lord Ruler's death camp, and that puts him in a unique position - to say nothing of his abilities as a Mistborn. His confidence is not unshakable, but his hope for the future certainly is. He becomes a father figure, first to Vin and then to the entire skaa population.

But Vin is the novel's real lead, its emotional heart. As Kelsier's crew goes on its journey toward bringing down the Lord Ruler, Vin's emotional journey serves as an important counterpoint. Vin grew up on the streets, where trust and hope were dangerous. Yet that is precisely what Kelsier brings back into her life. She struggles throughout the novel to determine whether trusting her new friends is worth the risk, as well as grappling with her identity as a street thief vs. her identity as a Mistborn. 

Sanderson's worldbuilding chops are on full display as well. Allomancy is such a cool system of magic that I wish I had come up with it. Its focus on metals is unique, and while it's powerful, it can be countered. The Ironpulling and Steelpushing stand out as a unique mechanic for Kelsier and Vin to take on their enemies.

Once you get past "Lord Ruler" as a silly name, the actual political system set up around the man himself is fascinating. The Inquisitors, in particular, are terrifying bogeymen who really heighten the tension of the book's climactic moments. 

I've said before that Sanderson really knows how to pace a novel, and it shows here as much as it does in the Stormlight Archive books. The bloat problem is still there, with the occasional chapter that doesn't really add to the narrative or emotional arcs, but on the whole, Sanderson makes the book's structure work and work well. It moves forward at a steady (but not breakneck) pace, with enough time to let big events have emotional impact for the characters.

Other than the supremely clever magic system, Mistborn doesn't feel like anything special or unique to me. It definitely utilizes a lot of tropes common to the fantasy genre. That said, Sanderson's execution of those tropes is on point, and as a result, Mistborn is immensely enjoyable to read. It's fun. And that makes it well worth the time to pick up.

Grade: 4 / 5

Memorable Quote:

Mistborn. Vin had heard the term before Kelsier had mentioned it to her, of course. Who hadn’t? Yet, the rumors about Mistborn made stories of Inquisitors and Mistings seem rational. It was said that Mistborn were heralds of the mists themselves, endowed with great powers by the Lord Ruler. Only high noblemen could be Mistborn; they were said to be a secret sect of assassins who served him, only going out at night. Reen had always taught her that they were a myth, and Vin had assumed he was right.

And Kelsier says I - like he himself - am one of them. How could she be what he said? Child of a prostitute, she was nobody. She was nothing.

Never trust a man who tells you good news, Reen had always said. It’s the oldest, but easiest, way to con someone.
— Mistborn: The Final Empire, pg. 65
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