While Mistborn is not the best fantasy book I have ever read, I think the world building and magic descriptions are definitely some of the best ever written and for that I bump this up to 5 stars. The author has done such an amazing job creating a world where nothing is a surprise. Oh it is to the reader, but I was confident the author had planned every single last detail of the plot, magic use, and world building. This is definitely not a world where the author gets backed into a corner or didn’t prepare for the outcome. It’s a stunning creation that is actually better than the characters and story itself. I’d recommend this for fantasy fans or anyone that enjoys meaty world building and magic. There’s definitely a little bit of every genre thrown in – mystery, political intrigue, science fiction, some love story. I actually listened to the audiobook (so any spelling/naming mistakes are mine since I don’t have the book for reference) and the narrator is very good, which helps because the pacing is quite uneven. Overall I was impressed and blown away by the author’s level of detail and imagination so I’ll easily continue with the series.
The plot is both straightforward and seriously convoluted, as any great fantasy story is wont to be. Kelsier, a mistborn, is planning to overthrow the final empire and evil Lord Ruler with the help of his thieving crew. Together Clubs, Breeze, Spooks, Hamm, Sazed, and Kelsier’s new apprentice Vin, will bring down the city of Lutherdale and free the ska from oppression. That in a nutshell is the entire point of the book. However, it’s not that easy and thus a long, winding story will introduce the characters, the setting, the use of magic, and exactly why the Lord Ruler is so evil and must be overthrown and killed. Not to mention the plan to do so keeps changing and evolving.
First and best is the world building. The Final Empire is in many ways a classic fantasy setting but it also has a level of detail that is not often employed. This in tandem with the magic system is what’s impressive. It’s not just a post-apocalyptic world with ash falling from the sky, a weird mist coming out at night, and an oppressive darkness waiting to consume the land. It’s tethered tightly to the use of magic, but not in all people and not necessarily in the leaders and high nobility. Mistborns, those born with the ability to use Allomancy in all its forms, are rare and they end to skulk around in shadows instead of using their magic for financial or political gain. The author, through Kelsier, explains the basic tenants of the magic early on with all the benefits and drawbacks. This isn’t a process slowly offered over the course of the book but instead told upfront then employed in numerous ways to further the plot.
The magic system is original, unique, and interesting. The author spends quite a bit of time on this and I personally didn’t mind since I thought it was one of the best attributes to the book. The action scenes tended to utilize magic heavily so I felt the additional time on its use and framework was beneficial. I thought the same with the world building. There are extensive passages talking about the world as it came to be but the overreaching reasoning – the hero failed – takes longer to understand as it’s told in the quotes and journal passages. This is a great detail and keeps reminding the reader of the link to the original hero and how the world came to be the way it is while still keeping some essential answers a mystery.
While these two aspects are simply stunning and so well crafted that I could read Sanderson’s books all the time, the story also excels in several other ways. The characterization is thorough and full of interesting and attention-stealing characters. Kelsier is by far my favorite, which makes me sad, but almost everyone on his thieving crew is offered some skeleton of depth, some more than others. The real hero, Vin, is a complex but predictable character. I struggled a lot with her because she’s such a classic character, the abused and abandoned waif that trusts no one but has special powers to save the world. She’s relatable to many readers but I found her annoying and overly frustrating. Her instant attraction and connection to Eland, who is a sympathetic, strong, and very likable character, felt too easy and she constantly ignored or downplayed the efforts of others to help her. For example Eland and Sezad attempt to save Vin late in the book and although Sezad let himself be beaten severely to try to help Vin, Vin hugs Eland and cries because “you came back for me. No one has ever done that before” Well, Kelsier and Sezad did many, many, many times but I guess none of that matters.
Beyond Vin’s frustrating existence, because really she is the star of the book and her progression and maturity is well handed, the pacing is uneven unfortunately. Sometimes the book will lag with very little action and plot progression only to speed up considerably for chapters at a time before slowing down again. Listening to the story I found it easier to get over these slow moments as the narrator’s voice helped give an illusion of a more even pace but I could feel my attention and interest spiking and lagging in fits and bursts. Another issue is the dialogue sometimes felt totally out of place and not fitting with the characters or their personalities. A cross between simplistic and overly verbose made for an odd mixture and somewhat stilted presentation.
However, these flaws are few and far between in comparison to the storytelling mastery displayed here. While I don’t think Mistborn turns the genre on its head, I do think this is one of the best fantasy has to offer. It’s highly entertaining, absorbing, and unique. There are so many more questions I have after reading the first book and some I realize won’t ever be answered – such as the explanation of what the Lord Ruler was has more holes than substantial reasoning – but I’m fully immersed in the world and magic this author has created. I’m impressed and for once can feel totally confident that the author has planned every single detail and plot twist. I eagerly look forward to the next installment, even if it’s all about Vin.