Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mistborn is set in a world where people have a special magical ability, allomancy. They can manipulate metal to endow themselves with specific abilities. The Final Empire is in the stranglehold grip of a tyrannical ruler, the Lord Ruler, considered a God, and his enforcers, the Inquisitors. The world is a place of overt injustice and ecological disaster. The ruling class manipulates and abuses the lower classes, who are enslaved (skaa).
There is one man who is determined to dismantle this system, the only man who survived the worst hell, The mining Pits of Hathsin, where atium, the most powerful metal for allomancy is mined and controlled by the Lord Ruler. Kelsier is a mistborn, a person who has the ability to manipulate all the known metals, and has found another one that he feels is powerful enough to kill the Lord Ruler. He has assembled a group of incredibly skilled allomancers who work as thieves, and a new addition, a young female street thief named Vin, who might just be the most powerful Mistborn of all.
Sanderson has written a novel that combines several genres together in one punch: the caper thriller, political drama, martial arts historical action, coming of age drama, epic fantasy, and even a bit of star-crossed romance thrown in. And it's a great mix. While this book is quite long, and it takes a while to get a feel for the world-building and the magical system, it's intriguing the whole way through.
The characterization shows a deft touch, with layered portrayals, and gradual revelations of the leads. Kelsier is appealing in his flaws and his strengths, a charismatic man who truly believes in what he's doing, even if his actions are not strictly moral. Vin is a good stand-in for the reader, normal enough to gain a sympathetic connection from the reader. She is also deceptive in her normality. While Kelsier seems like he's the one to save the day, the reader might just be surprised at what little Vin can do. The secondary characters round the story in a desirable manner, each character serving a specific function.
Sanderson tackles some important issues in this novel. Ecological mismanagement (something we know a lot about with our rapidly escalating climatological changes and their effects on the world and even the economy), for one. Also the lack of ethics in a system of vast inequality where the rich are very rich and can commit crimes without reprisal, and the poor are desperately poor, with no rights. How this system in itself contributes to societal breakdown and criminality as the poor have little resources to do other than commit crimes to improve their situation in society, and they have no protection under the law.
Vin is placed in a situation where she sees both sides of the equation and can understand that while not all the nobles are bad, the system itself is broken and needs to be changed. Through her eyes and Kelsier, we are able to evaluate the ethics of Kelsier's plan and make up our own minds. Although seeing the horrible actions of the Lord Ruler and his bullyboys, and the way they manipulate and abuse the skaa, it wasn't difficult for me to believe in what Kelsier is working for.
While this is a thoughtful book with some serious subject matter, it has plenty of action and fantastic magic battles for the action-craving reader. The allomancy concept is fascinating and provides a very fertile foundation for plenty of intriguing magic-driven scenes, many action-oriented. It took me a while to get a good understanding of the allomancy principles, but once I started catching on, it made sense and adds up to a fun read. I liked how it has plenty of twists and turns and builds to an exciting climax. And I think that it was far from predictable.
"Mistborn" is a fantastically complex novel that offers plenty of action along with a fair amount of food for thought. I can see this is going to be a great series to follow. This definitely earns five stars from this reader.
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