Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

A young woman faces to the right, wearing black clothes and a fluttery grey cape holds a knife in each hand looking determinedly ahead, with a shadowy urban landscape full of towers behind her.
The cover of Mistborn: The Final Empire.

by Ben H.

What happens if the chosen one fails? What if the hero fails to defeat the dark lord? 

Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn trilogy imagines what that could look like.  

Full disclosure, I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, but I love the first two books so much (The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension) that I can’t resist writing a review. I’ll write a retraction if the third book is garbage (but it won’t be). 

A thousand years ago, someone gained access to a source of power, defeated something called the Deepness, and… remade the world into a dull, cruel, lifeless, ash-strewn place. He is now the Lord Ruler and has ruled over the world for a thousand years in what he ominously calls the Final Empire.  

The nobility live in finery in castles and vast manors, and the skaa are their hopeless and ragged servants. There is no middle class. Skaa are treated as subhuman.  

Vin is our protagonist. She is a half-skaa street urchin, thief, and con-artist. A mysterious thief named Kelsier rounds up a thieving crew for one huge job. He collects those with magical abilities and Vin rounds out his team.  

The magical systems are Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy. Allomancy is the most common and the most relevant for this review. Magic users ingest tiny amounts of metals (like copper, steel, or gold) and “burn” them in order to gain abilities. Some metals make you powerfully strong, some metals allow you to pull and push against other metals, basically giving you the ability to fly or hover, and some metals allow you to influence people’s emotions. 

The books mostly take place in Luthadel, a city that feels like Dickensian London seen through an Orwellian lens. There are elements that feel steampunky to me (Yes, I do think steampunky is a totally acceptable adjective). The main thrust of the plot for The Final Empire is the preparation for Kelsier’s big heist. À la Ocean’s Eleven, we slowly get introduced to each character and each character’s ability. 

Once the crew is assembled, Kelsier reveals that the scope of the heist is grand beyond imagining. Sanderson does a phenomenal job writing action sequences using his magic systems. They are a blast to read with real page-turning action.

If you read Mistborn, pay attention to the theme of disguise and appearance. I’d argue that clothing and dissimulation are major themes. Can the clothes you wear change how you feel? Change your personality? Change your characteristics? Are you a fraud if you look like something you don’t feel you are? What happens when you start to feel like the thing you’ve been pretending to be? Vin and company wrestle with a lot of these questions as the story unfolds. 

Speaking of epic-fantasy (smooth segue and recommendation alert), Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series is incredible (and set in the same extended universe as Mistborn). 

He is also the man responsible for finishing Robert Jordan’s sprawling The Wheel of Time series. Sanderson wrote the last three books of the 14-book series, and he wrapped up the epic story beautifully. Although it took me about 10 years to finish, you might be able to finish the books before the series premieres on Amazon on November 19.  

If you have the fantasy itch, try Sanderson’s Mistborn books. You won’t be disappointed. If you are, come talk to me at the Central Branch and I’ll try to convince you that you’re wrong. 

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

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