There is only so long you can go on being a fantasy book fan without reading Brandon Sanderson. I got the Mistborn box set for Christmas a few years ago and have been guiltily staring at it since then. When, a few weeks ago, I started watching Brandon’s lectures on writing, I reached the point where I couldn’t wait any longer to read his books. Recommended by masses of people as “that guy with the cool magic systems”, I have always been intrigued. Yet it is hard to live up to a hype this massive. Well, what can I say, the book did live up to it and Mr. Sanderson has one more fan.
Published by: Tor, 2006
Paperback: 657 pages
Series: Mistborn #1
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: Sometimes, I worry that I’m not the hero everyone thinks I am.
Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.
For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably. Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.
What a book! Based on the premise that, a thousand years ago, that generic fantasy hero failed to save the world and the bad guy won and is now ruling as an immortal over the entire empire, the book had its hooks in me before I even started. Because that is a cool premise, you have to admit it. In the beginning, I found myself analysing Sanderson’s writing to see how he implemented all his tips and writing advice. But soon there came the point when I could no longer concentrate on his craft and was just so deep in the story that I just needed to get to the next page. There is so much going on and I came to really love the characters and needed to know that they would make it, that they could pull off their heist and overthrow the empire.
But let’s start at the beginning. It took me a while to warm to Vin, the protagonist. She seemed overly passive to me in the beginning, and although that passivity (and silence) is explained and makes sense, my interest rested firmly with Kelsier. I like my heroes a bit cocky and full of themselves. As the story progresses, Vin’s character becomes more dominant and her development more interesting. At a certain point, I didn’t know what my favorite bit was anymore. The characters, the mystery – There is always another secret – or the fantastic action scenes with ninja-like fights in the mist.
Which leads me to an important aspect – we have to talk about the magic system. At first, it seemed merely interesting. Allomancy, metabolizing metals in the human body to manipulate other people’s emotions, that’s a cool idea. But there is a moment early on in the book where Allomancy is used an a way that put a huge smile on my face and made me shout “This is AWESOME!”. It evoked the same kind of excitement in me that I felt when I first watched a Spiderman cartoon on TV as a child. It’s not an easy magic, it has its costs, and it needs to be practiced to be mastered. But when I read about Kelsier basically flying through the city of Luthadel (it is not actual flying), I was giddy with glee. And the magic enhanced any fight scene and turned it into a frenzy of awesome. It goes to show how good a writer Sanderson really is that these scenes played out in my head as a movie would – I hope that movie will be made.
There were things I disliked. I would have loved more description of the world Vin lives in. Not just the politics or the history – I am sure the author held back on those for a reason and I’m fine with that – but just plain description of the surroundings. It takes a long time for the author to establish certain truths about this world that changed my imagination of the setting in retrospect. I don’t like having to do that. We know from the very start that ash falls from the sky, we get some of the architecture but often I had no sense at all of what things looked like. I realise that the book is large enough as it is and descriptions aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very minor point and didn’t really diminish my reading pleasure.
The quote you find over and over in the book – There is always another secret – sums up this story pretty well. Everything has another layer that you didn’t expect, the ending offers a few nice surprises and show off Sanderson’s talent for building up suspense even more. I was completely satisfied with the ending, but only because I knew there were more books to come. If this had been a standalone novel, I would have been disappointed. The main story gets wrapped up nicely although it doesn’t end happy for everyone. It also did something that a great first part of a series should do – it made me want to go back immediately and read the next book. Which is why you’ll be seeing a review of The Well of Ascension here very soon.
THE GOOD: Great characters, a brilliant magic system and a world full of mystery and riddles and suspense.
THE BAD: Slowish build-up and too little description of surroundings for my taste.
THE VERDICT: Brandon Sanderson deserves every bit of the hype that surrounds him. He knows how to write a gripping story that will make you go “just one more chapter, then I’ll go sleep” until it’s morning. Impossible to put down.
MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent
The Mistborn Series: