Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: Mistborn

The world of The Final Empire is one that is covered by falling volcanic ash during the day and shrouded in mist by night.  For a thousand years the Final Empire has been ruled by one god-like man known as the Lord Ruler.  During those thousand years, both the nobles and the slave-like skaa have been manipulated, and controlled by the Lord Ruler and his minions.  Though there have been some Skaa rebellions, all have been thoroughly and soundly crushed by the Lord Ruler.  However, a glimmer of hope survives.  That hope lies in the hands of one man, Kelsier, a skaa himself, but possessor of some magical skills and thieving know-how that might just be the perfect combination to topple the Lord Ruler once and for all.

Kelsier is what they call an Allomancer, or in common terms Mistborn.  As an allomancer, Kelsier has the ability to burn certain ingested metals, which grant him magical abilities.  For example, burning pewter makes him stronger and faster, burning iron or steel allows him to push or pull on surrounding metals in the environment, and burning brass and zinc lets him manipulate people's emotions.  There are other metals that can be burned too, but you get the idea.  It is quite rare that someone is a "Misting", or has the ability to burn just one type of metal, and it is extremely rare that someone is an allomancer and can burn all the metals.

For some reason, the ability to burn metals only occurs in a person with noble blood.  Which for the most part is why the Skaa are oppressed.  However, there are a few skaa, with misting or allomantic powers due to some mixed breeding.

In his younger days, before he discovered his abilities, Kelsier was a top-level thief.  However, his biggest and most ambitious job got him captured by the Lord Ruler and sent to the mines of Hathsin, a place from which no one returns.  Except Kelsier.  Now he's back in the capital city, Luthadel, and he's got his old thieving gang back together for one last glorious job:  Toppling the Lord Ruler and his government.  This job puts Kelsier in contact with the Skaa rebel faction and another thief, a young girl name Vin.  It turns out Vin is also an allomancer, and has a rather important part to play in the upcoming job. 

Mistborn had a very Ocean's 11 meets Star Wars feel to it for me.  The crime/caper story aspect of this book was well done, as was the rebels fighting evil oppressors and folks with sweet ninja/magic powers aspect.

The elaborate caper was a big part of Mistborn.  It was fun getting to know Kelsier's crew, and their distinct abilities, and I felt like there were a lot of twists and turns along the way to make me feel like the plot wasn't following a tried and true course.  Brandon Sanderson, via Kelsier, did a solid job of keeping his cards well hidden, and revealing them slowly, at the right moment.

The strongest aspect of Mistborn however, was Sanderson's well designed, easy to follow, dare I say genius, magic system.  Though the powers that people achieved from burning various metals was pretty astounding, and a full-on allomancer was a lethal weapon, those with the ability to burn metal, never seemed to be extremely over-powered characters.  I feel like magic users in fantasy are too often all-powerful and destructive, and it was nice to see a slightly toned down magic system.  Also, any scene where an allomancer battled another allomancer was pretty epic and jedi-tastic. 

As I mentioned earlier, the plot of Mistborn was filled with twists and turns aplenty.  The pacing was also well handled, and I though the book is a fairly lengthy 642 pages, I never felt bogged down or mired in dull stretches.  Despite some good twists regarding the caper aspect, and strong pacing, I never really felt like there was much tension in this novel.  I never had the feeling that the ending was up in the air, or the outcome I expected was ever not going to happen.  The main characters, despite engaging in some highly risky business,  never seemed in that much danger, (though I was proven wrong on a couple accounts).

Though Mistborn is a very solid fantasy and well written, Sanderson didn't exactly reinvent the wheel.  For the most part I always sort of felt like I was reading a well plotted, albeit a bit generic opening to a fantasy trilogy.  Maybe my expectations for Sanderson were too high given his popularity, but I wasn't overly impressed and I didn't feel like I was reading something that had that extra-special, hard to put my finger on quality I look for in a great fantasy novel.  I can see this novel being very accessible to nearly any genre reader, but for me, a guy who needs his fantasy to feel fresh and different, Mistborn fails to stand out from the pack. 

Grade: C


Samantha said...

I started Mistborn in hopes to review it on my blog but I just couldn't make it past the halfway point. I found the magic system interesting enough but I felt Sanderson got so deeply involved in it that the other plot elements occasionally fell by the wayside. I put it down and picked up Kushiel's Dart and haven't looked back. Maybe I'll return to it another time.

Ryan said...

Hey Samantha- I can see you point about the magic system taking over the story at times. Sanderson definitely spent some time laying out just how the whole thing worked, and that did take away from the narrative flow at times.

I'm glad you found something good to read in it's place!