At the weekend, I finished reading The Final Empire, the first book in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. What a book!
The book is set largely in the city of Luthadel, the capital of the First Empire in the world of Scadrial. With the tagline, “What if the Dark Lord won?” on the front cover, I was very excited to see what this could involve! The Final Empire is something of a high fantasy story that has a vaguely seventeenth-century feel to it. There is magic in the form of Allomancy, the ability to gain various benefits from ingesting metals. There is also a kind of industrial feel to it, with a peasant class called skaa brutally exploited by the nobility. All are harshly pinned firmly under the heel of the shadowy Lord Ruler, a living god who, a thousand years before the novel starts, had saved the world from a nameless evil referred to as “the Deepness”.
After his centuries of exploitation of the skaa, several rebel elements have formed to resist the Lord Ruler, with one such element contacting the skaa thieving crew led by Kelsier to aid them. Kelsier is a Mistborn, an Allomancer who can use all ten metals to give him power. There are also men on his crew who only have the power to use one metal to its full effect, referred to as Mistings. Allomancers add a further layer of hierarchy to the world, and over the course of the novel, all manner of subtle abuses and prejudices emerge.
While Kelsier is the mastermind behind the plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler, the story is also told through the eyes of the street urchin Vin, who is also a Mistborn, though at first she wasn’t aware of the true nature of her power. Vin essentially allows us to learn about the world of Allomancy, of course, but we also get to learn a lot of the world quite naturally, leading to a fairly slow-burn as we get a couple of hundred pages into the novel still with a lot of unanswered questions! However, while at first I found this quite annoying, I think I’ve probably been spoiled by other books, which tend to throw in a lot of exposition quite quickly!
I don’t want to talk too much about the story of the novel, in part because it’s so complex and wide-ranging that it would take up far too much space, but also because there are so many twists and turns along the way that I don’t want to spoil it! Suffice it to say that we spend a great deal of time learning about the world while seeing the various plot elements of Kelsier’s plan moved into position, with Vin masquerading as a high-born lady in order to provide intelligence on the upper echelons of society and giving us a very nice cross-section of the world in the process. There were times when I wasn’t sure if we’d actually see the plan come to fruition in the course of this book, but these are just many of the twists I mentioned!
Overall, it’s a really excellent book. It was uneven in parts, in fact I found the character of Kelsier to be quite uneven across the course of the novel – but you could easily ascribe this to his just being a very complex character. The slow-burn of getting to know the universe of Mistborn came across as a little stretching at times, as we didn’t learn anything new but didn’t seem to get anywhere either, though on reflection I think I actually appreciated a book that just took its time to tell the story, rather than going too fast. It was a nice change of pace for me, anyway!
The novel runs to almost 650 pages in paperback, and I feel that we only really scratch the surface of the world here. Certainly towards the end, more questions are posed that I hope will be answered by the next book in the series, The Well of Ascension – a reference, it seems, to the event around the Lord Ruler’s ascension all those years ago. Looking forward to seeing what that one is all about, anyway!