Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

TheFinalEmpireSeries: Mistborn #1
Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575089911
ISBN 13: 9780575089914
Published: July 2006
Pages: 647
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites

‘The Final Empire’ by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the ‘Mistborn’ series, of which there are currently four books in total (though more to come, as I’ll speak of at the end of the review). At 600ish pages each, there’s a lot of goodness to be read if you haven’t already discovered just how amazing Sanderson is.

The novel is set in a land where ash has been falling for a thousand years, and each night a mist appears, keeping most people inside, for fear of the mistwraiths and the tales that you lose your soul if you walk among them.

The Lord Ruler is known as their God – living among them, yet immortal.

Skaa, the peasant race, have been enslaved for these thousand years and live in constant fear, for they are slaughtered for any mistake, no matter how small. Even the nobility live under the controlling hand of the Lord Ruler, but as a thousand years have passed, they know of nothing else. They have their parties and their Skaa to clean the ash from their manors, and so they live in relative comfort.

However, not everyone is going to sit quietly and accept this way of life. Kelsier, a half-born of both Skaa and nobility, is enslaved in the worst prison the Lord Ruler has – the pits of Hathsin – and then loses the one thing he had left. From the horrors he has gone through, the pain and suffering… Kelsier ‘Snaps’ and awakens powers usually found only in nobility – the powers of a Mistborn.

He was already a talented thief, and was always a natural leader – now he has powers to rival those who control them. He gathers the best of the commoners – the smartest, most daring, most cunning, and, most importantly, most trustworthy, and reveals his plan of taking down the immortal God.

However, this isn’t going to be anything close to manageable. At least, it doesn’t seem so… until he discovers a half-born orphan like himself, a young girl called Vin. She’s lived a life much harsher though, betrayed literally by everyone she has ever met. If she is to learn how to control the powers they both posses, she is going to have to learn to trust – but this seems almost as impossible as their plot to take down the immortal Lord Ruler.

It reminded me a little of Scott Lynch – a band of men of talents, who trick and skill their way into stealing (well, earning) what they want, yet the characters themselves reminded me of the movie Inception (though this was published in 2006). The character Breeze is so close to Eames, in a very, very good way.

I was especially fascinated with the magic in this book – the Mistborn are able to burn metals. They ingest them (usually from a vial filled also with alcohol) and then they burnthem. Different metals grant different abilities. For example, burning tin grants heightened senses which is good if you want to see or hear better, but not so good if someone then shouts near your ear, or suddenly turns on a light. Burning pewter makes you stronger and survive wounds that would normally incapacitate or kill, and can also help with exhaustion. There are many metals that grant abilities, all with different uses and limits.

The world itself was also fascinating. What would a world constantly under ash fall be like? There is such a division of classes – the skaa from the not-skaa (basically) with little shown of those of lower status (yet not slaves). In this, it reminded me of Empire Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.

Here we have men in suits and vests (not often seen in fantasy series) who travel by canal or carriage, and girls in gorgeous dresses wearing scent and jewellery… yet then we have people dressed in rags and utterly filthy from the constant ash.

Adventure and action are shown brilliantly – the fight scenes are detailed without becoming slow, and you really get to learn how one must fight with these powers either upsetting the balance or bringing the fight fair yet almost impossible.

The characters are well rounded. Fittingly, when making a team for such a hard job, Keliser found someone who can do everything – and that also means personality. The touching thing is, they also care about each other. This isn’t just work, they depend and look after each other, and it’s nice to see a group of characters who can sit and have a meal together – it makes you wish you could join them even more.

The ending… it left me speechless. I cried a little (which, I’d like to point out, is rare). I immediately recommended it to many friends, all who I’ve recommended enough books to now that I know will adore it, and organised a copy for my partner so I can force it on him, too. (He’s eager for it, after all my flailing.)

I can’t find anything to fault in this series. I simply don’t want to. It has become one of my top three series of all the books I have ever read, and I’m quite happy this way. No mistakes or flaws were immediate to my eyes, which is good enough for me.

Sanderson has always planned nine books set in this world. This Mistborn trilogy is set in the past. A second trilogy that is more of an urban fantasy shall be set in a 21st century. And last, a trilogy set in the distant future for his take on science-fiction. (The Alloy of Law, already available, is set as a quick, in-between novel.)

I can’t wait to read the second in this series, yet I’m trying to hold back so they’re not finished too quickly. If I had to rate this book out of five, I would give it ten stars. And a biscuit.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 11th December 2011.

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