I really wish I hadn’t gotten behind in my reviews (stupid Canticle for Liebowitz) because it’s been so long since I’ve finished this book that I’m not sure I can do it justice. But I shall try anyway.
Mistborn (sometimes sub-titled The Final Empire to differentiate it from the trilogy as a whole, which is also called Mistborn) is Brandon Sanderson’s second published book after Elantris, which I very much enjoyed when I read it a couple of years ago. It was obvious even then that he had a gift for creating complicated fictional worlds with intricate social systems, as well as systems of magic and politics. He is also rather fixated on placing his characters in worlds that are dead or dying and using that as a thematic backdrop for more character-centric stuff.
The two main characters in Mistborn are Vin and Kelsier, and they live in a stagnant, oppressed world. Both of them are skaa (read: uneducated, oppressed slave/peasant hybrids) in a land ruled over by a man who calls himself The Sliver of Infinity, or The Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler has governed his Final Empire for a thousand years thanks to a set of mysterious circumstances he claims made him into a God. He lords over a world that is covered in ash thanks to constantly erupting ashmounts (see also: volcanoes), and that at night, is covered in a creepy mist that most skaa believe to be dangerous. The people are split into two castes: the nobility, who serve the Lord Ruler, and the skaa, who serve the nobility as slaves. Enter Vin and Kelsier. Vin is a sixteen year old girl who grew up on the streets with her deranged brother, making her way in various thieving crews because of a strange power she seems to possess. She is cunning and ferile and trusts nobody. Kelsier is a hardened escaped prisoner, the only man to have survived the infamous mines at Hathsin (whatever those are). And he’s got a plan.
His plan, in case you were curious, is to rip out the foundation of the Final Empire and bring it to its knees. Also, to kill the Lord Ruler. It’s how he plans to do this that sets Mistborn apart from most fantasy series. He and a chosen bunch of fellow highly, erm, skilled, skaa thieves are going to con, burgle, and revolt the Empire out of The Lord Ruler’s grasp, despite the fact that no skaa rebellion in over a thousand years has managed to do so.
So when I say ‘skilled,’ what I really mean is that in addition to being thieves and con artists (but you know, classy ones), these chumps have magic powers. Not just any magic powers, either, these are Brandon Sanderson style powers, and that means intricate, logical, and like nothing you’ve read before. The magic in the Mistborn series is too complicated to fully parse in a review, and is most likely going to sound stupid if I try to boil it down, so let me just leave you with a feeling: it’s seriously cool.
I don’t want to go too far into the plot in this review because half the fun of the book is watching it play out. There’s a certain structure to these sorts of long-con, heist stories that Sanderson plays with, and it’s really fun. It was also great to read a fantasy book (maybe even an epic fantasy book, I’m not sure) that didn’t follow the usual path. It was also pretty neat to read a story that was purportedly set in a world where the hero actually failed to save the world and defeat the bad guy. The Final Empire exists because the hero failed 1,000 years before, and now Vin, Kelsier, etc. have to try to clean up the pieces.
If you’re a fantasy fan, this is definitely recommended. If you’re not usually a fantasy fan, this might be something that even you will like. Either way, I like it, and Brandon Sanderson is officially on my very exclusive shelf of favorite authors.