See that shadowed form in the night mists? Could it be…a good story?

I just finished reading a most amazing book: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (using Caribousmon’s Random Reading Challenge to attack my bookshelf). Get ready for a long review of it… 😛

Days to read it: So, I started off slow, reading on and off and being easily distracted. As I made my way through the story, my fingers began flipping faster through the pages of their own accord. My eyes burned holes through chapters. Next to me, the clock blinked silently, keeping track of hours I wasn’t aware of. I ended up going to bed at 5 o’clock this morning, after some long, and most absorbing, questing. In other words – about 2-3 days.

Genre: Epic, Fantasy

Synopsis

Mistborn took a little getting used to, that’s why it was such slow reading at the beginning. But the world – once you get to know it – is mysterious and fantastical. How do I begin to describe it? Well, imagine a world that is dark and smoggy, full of falling flakes of ash… always falling and building up and having to be cleared away. There is no green in the city, there is no flicker of life, especially in the eyes of the skaa who are the peasants of the city. The Lord Ruler, one who rarely appears outside of his palace, controls even the amount of hope his peasants can feel. When he does appear in public – it is obvious he could easily and dismissively destroy it and its people. At night, everyone barricades themselves inside their homes, fearing the mists for reasons they’ve forgotten. At night, all is muffled and silent. But, night time is when the most interesting things happen for Kelsier, a first and only survivor of the terrifying mining pits where the condemned are sent to work to their deaths. At night, Kelsier can move freely and undetected through the mists, up and down sheer walls, spinning from spire to spire. Why does he dare brave the Lord Ruler’s wrath? He is a mistborn. And one seeking vengeance.

Mistborn use up the energy of certain metals and alloys to gain access to latent powers. By swallowing small flakes of pewter, for example, mistborn can enhance their physical endurance and strength, something which comes in handy when you want to survive a fatal blow from an opponent…or wrench yourself free from the dungeons. Such people are rare, and are usually found in the ranks of the nobility. Kelsier himself is an exception. He was born among the skaa people, the dirt and sweat of the city. It is the skaa people who toil in the fields and fulfill all the menial labour – all great nations need something to enslave, after all, don’t they? But, something is abnormal about the skaa people. Why don’t they rebel? The sheer size of their population should easily be able to overwhelm any corrupt ruler. There is something more sinister at work in the streets of the Lord Ruler’s city, something a mistborn can detect. The Lord Ruler, O immortal one, keeps his secrets well hidden. Who are the Inquisitors, those skeletal beings with spikes driven through their eyes and horrifying skills at rendering bodies apart? They were once familiar men but now have become creatures with uncanny abilities, seemingly much stronger than even a mistborn. Kelsier is determined to help the skaa rebel against the Lord Ruler and this oppressive force that lies over his city. But he can’t do it alone.

Enter the crewmembers: Breeze, Ham, Clubs, Marsh, Spook, Dockson and Vin. Together they’ll form the grunt work for the secret rebellion, pitting their intelligence and skills towards a task that for thousands of years people have attempted and failed – kill the Lord Ruler and reclaim their city.

Vin herself is a mistborn, but she never knew it until the day Kelsier found her and saved her from a potentially torturous death at the hands of an inquisitor. She is a slight wisp of a girl who prides herself in mistrusting others and keeping to the shadows. It will take a lot of trusting and getting used to newfound powers before this young beaten down skaa can transform into someone whose cleverness and instincts can very well determine the fate of the entire skaa rebellion.

So there’s my synopsis of the story, with a few tantalizing bits thrown in.

Impressions:

It’s ridiculously easy to lose yourself in the story. That’s just how Brandon Sanderson writes. Intensely, philosophically, emotionally – it’s all there.

Whenever you read about someone who’s agile and quick-thinking, descriptions get interesting. By burning steel and iron in their bellies, these mistborn can practically fly through the air. By burning copper or tin, they can detect or protect themselves from detection by other Allomancers (or people like them who can access powers using metals). Brandon Sanderson describes the antics of a mistborn with satisfying detail, like no other fight scene I’ve read yet. Just, for example, imagine someone having to describe a scene where Jackie Chan has to fight a whole mob of yakuza using trickery and acrobatics. To me, that’s daunting. But I relish reading about how Vin uses her brains and what available metals she has, exploiting their strengths and weaknesses with such intuition and ingeniousness that she always comes up with something to surprise her opponents.

The way the story is set up, there are secrets within secrets to be discovered. It kind of becomes a theme in the story. As you read, you uncover layers of them as Vin and Kelsier put two and two together, and gain a new realization about the world they live in and some potential tidbits about how to defeat the Lord Ruler. But – you’ll still be surprised! At least, I was. The idea that there are still secrets to be discovered about the Lord Ruler keeps Kelsier hopeful that he will find a way to defeat him.

The Lord Ruler himself is a cryptic character. You hardly ever meet him. Most of the information you get about him comes from all those rumours and legends that people spread about the thing they fear. He also has some interesting history, so he’s more than just the evil villain stock character.

There are some noble themes threaded into the story too, notably of the immortality of hope. Kelsier, a ‘prince of thieves’ in his city, gets everything he knows and loves torn away from him and he is sent to the cruel pits to mine for a precious metal. Out of this hell, he discovered his powers, and he vowed to no longer be beaten down by the whips of the obligators and inquisitors, or the formless oppressiveness of the Lord Ruler himself. Even when his plans begin to fall apart, he keeps it together, because the common people look towards him as their leader, and he fiercely believes he and his crew can make that extra difference that will change the way things have been for thousands of years. Kelsier is determined to prove that hope is one thing that the Lord Ruler cannot completely wipe out. On the topic of the politics of leadership, Brandon Sanderson has lots of say.

Another interesting theme: the fine line between heroism and tyranny. Throughout the book, there are excerpts from an interesting logbook detailing the thoughts of a hero from the past….a hero who was prophesied to end some abstract force of darkness and evil, back during the time when the Lord Ruler appeared and came into power. In his logbook he often questions his motives, questions his leadership, questions whether or not he deserves the looks of hope that the common people give him. It all forms an interesting philosophical backdrop to the story. It also nicely parallels Kelsier’s own doubts and the doubts of his crewmembers.

Geez, what an awesome book. I cried, I gripped the pages, I bit my lip, I tripped around the house with my eyes attached to the pages. In other words, this is one of those books that have an ‘epic’ feel to them that I allowed myself to enjoy. Normally, I hate epics, because they’re too grandiose, and I can just hear the trumpets and horns announcing each epic moment. But this one was different, kind of like how The Lies of Locke Lamora was epic but not epic. Okay, ahem, need to clarify – I guess I mean that (though the plot is epic in scope) because I felt very attached to one or two characters in particular, understanding their worries and hopes, the story felt more private and less matyr-istic. Yes, I am one of those people who’ve tried and failed to finish reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I associate the epic-but-private feeling with the likes of Abhorsen, Shade’s Children, Book of a Thousand Days among others. I can only achieve that epic-but-private-world feeling if I’ve been more than sufficiently attached to the characters, if I really and truly care about how they turn out. And, maybe it’s because I didn’t read that far into LOTR, but I didn’t care about them. The movie did it for me, though.

Anyway, aside from a few annoying typos (and obvious grammatical errors…:P), I very very much enjoyed thinking about some of the concepts and ideas integrated into this book, and moreover, just enjoying some good story telling.

Excerpt:

“Overthrow the …[Lord Ruler?]” Mennis looked up, frowning. “You really expected to do something like that??”

“Of course,” Kelsier said. “Why else would I gather an army like this”?

“To resist,” Mennis said. “To fight. That’s why those lads came to the caves. It wasn’t a matter of winning or losing, it was a matter of doing something – anything – to struggle against the Lord Ruler.”

Kelsier turned, frowning. “You expected the army to lose from the beginning?”

“What other end was there?” Mennis asked. He stood, shaking his head. “Some may have begun to dream otherwise lad, but the Lord Ruler can’t be defeated. Once, I gave you some advice – I told you to be careful which battles you chose to fight. Well, I’ve realized that this battle was worth fighting.

“Now, let me give you another piece of advice, Kelsier, Surivivor of [the pits of] Hathsin. Know when to quit. You’ve done well, better than any would have expected. Those skaa of yours killed an entire garrison’s worth of soldiers before they were caught and destroyed. This is the greatest victory the skaa have known for decades, perhaps centuries. Now it’s time to walk away.”

With that, the old man nodded his head in respect, then began to shuffle back toward the center of the camp.

Kelsier stood, dumbfounded. The greatest victory the skaa have known in decades…

That was what he fought against. Not just the Lord Ruler, not just the nobility. He fought against a thousand years of conditioning, a thousand years of life in a society that would label the deaths of five thousand men as a “great victory.” Life was so hopeless for the skaa that they’d been reduced to finding comfort in expected defeats.

“That wasn’t a victory, Mennis,” Kelsier whispered. “I’ll show you a victory.”

He forced himself to smile – not out of pleasure, and not out of satisfaction. He smiled despite the grief he felt at the deaths of his men; he smiled because that was what he did. That was how he proved to the Lord Ruler – and to himself – that he wasn’t beaten.

No, he wasn’t going to walk away. He wasn’t finished yet. Not by far.

Quote from Brandon Sanderson:

Mistborn is an epic fantasy series that came from two ideas, one of which was, what if the dark lord won? I’ve read a lot of fantasy. I love epic fantasy, but a lot of it deals with the concept of the hero’s journey against this great dark evil. I wanted to say, what if the hero didn’t lose? What if Frodo kept the ring? What if Harry got to the end and Voldemort killed him? Then I asked, why haven’t I seen a good fantasy book that does the heist genre with characters that have different magical powers that combine together to accomplish a great goal as magical specialists?

So those two ideas came together to become Mistborn, a world where a thousand years ago, evil won. A gang gets together and says, the prophecy wasn’t true and the hero didn’t save us. It’s really the background for the story of a young woman who is recruited into a team because they need somebody who can be their mole among the nobility. Their faces are too well known so this girl named Vin is brought into the team, trained to use the magic in the world and the backdrop is that it’s this team trying to overthrow the empire. It’s her story.

Brandon Sanderson seems very enthusiastic.  How adorable… 😛

Other Reviews:

Bookdaze – “This is a heist-style story set in a fantasy world with lots of political intrigue. I loved the creative magical system in this book – magic is based on metals, and Mr Sanderson has an almost scientific approach to it (in a good way!). Well-developed characters and great action scenes as well. I didn’t like the random POVs he started introducing towards the end of the book, but according to his annotations (excellent btw – I read them after I finished the book, and thought it was a fantastic behind-the-scenes type bonus), he used them purposefully to introduce a sense of climax and chaos”

Kristen from Fantasy Cafe – “Mistborn: The Final Empire was a strong and fun sophomore effort. It was nothing extraordinary, but it is certainly worth the time of epic fantasy fans.”

Fyrefly from Fyrefly’s Book Blog – “Other people have referred to the “Sanderson avalanche” – where the book starts out slow, but halfway through it’s like rolling down a mountain, and you can’t stop reading. That wasn’t my experience with this book at all – it pulled me in right from the get-go and didn’t let me go until it spit me out at the end. Original story, likable and realistic characters, well-written dialogue, description, and action scenes, a detailed magical system, and an unpredictable end with a few good surprises thrown in along the way – I can’t ask much more out of fantasy than that. 5 out of 5 stars.”

Graeme from Graeme’s Fantasy – “‘Mistborn’ was an infuriating read where I always knew that something amazing was just round the corner but I had to slog through mindless detail to get to it. Luckily the intrigue, cool concepts and strong characterisation made up for it enough for me to want to give the next book a go. I just hope the next one is a bit more streamlined…”

Kay from the Infinite Shelf – “I finally did it; after looking at it with a suspicious eye, I finally bit the hook and read Mistborn. And I loved it!”

Thea from The Book Smugglers – “Holy burning metals, Batman! Mistborn is flipping fantastic. Though it had a bit of a slow start, I soon became fully immersed in this new, dark world of ash and mist, where Allomancers “burn” certain metals to work magic, and a cruel tyrant rules with an iron fist (pardon the pun). At 700 pages long, I was scared that I might not be able to finish Mistborn in time to review it this week, but I needn’t have worried. I devoured this book. From the superb worldbuilding to the wonderful leading characters to the action-packed plot and overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere, I loved Mistborn. A brilliant start to what looks to be an incredible trilogy.”

Onefinemess – “So, I was quite surprised when this book turned out to kick some major fantasy ass. It’s sort ofTolkien-esque in the sense of “odds stacked massively against the heroes”, and it starts in an even darker place than Tolkien did, but that’s a good thing. I genuinely felt like the “heroes” might not pull it off…right up until the end I was still thinking that, in the vein of the rest of the book, and the excellent atmosphere Mr. Sanderson built up, I was still expecting the worst. Sure, bad things happen, but they could have been worse. Of course, the sense of impending dread is still there. He built up a really interesting universe that is not quite like one I’ve seen yet.”

Yet there are statues – “What the trilogy does really well, however, has to do with the plot and backstory. Because I’ve already said that I found Mistborn decent but not amazing in the areas we traditionally grade fiction (characters, world-building), this is going to sound like faint praise. But the fact is, there are tons of sprawling fantasy series being written these days and hardly any of them come together in a reasonably satisfying way. Either the author loses control of the story, or the ending makes no sense, or the whole thing is brutally predictable. Sanderson, displaying perhaps the same rigor he used in developing his magic system, has done a superlative job laying out a backstory and plot that never are hard to understand but also steadily dole out surprising revelations.”

A nice mix of reviews for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn! This book is a good stand alone and I’m satisfied with it. But… maybe I’ll read a little more into the trilogy. Oooo and special thanks to Kay from the Infinite shelf! It looks like I finished all the books I mooched from her “5 star reads list” and other places and put onto my wishlist. And I liked them all! Yay for bookblogging communities. What would I do without you guys..

My Rating: 5/5 Vials of atium

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10 comments

  1. Jonas – Yes! In my opinion, it is. I’m glad I came across this one 🙂
    Aimee – Haha I don’t even bother making a list of books I want to read, I’ll probably end up deviating from the list so badly…Too many tantalizing reviews to tempt me into reading off my list.
    Nishita – Yes! I like this one because it’s a stand-alone epic. So easily impatient persons such as myself will be assured that the story will have a proper ending 😛
    Bookdaze – Some of the fan art out there captures the book’s feeling so well, I just had to put them on!

  2. Okay, Why have I not picked up this one yet? I keep hearing so many good things about it and am just kicking myself because it sounds so good. Thanks for the heads up!!

  3. Michelle– No prob! I know I steal read ideas from your blog!
    Nishita-Wishing you a belated happy holidays, too!
    Darla– Yes, do try it! I definitely don’t regret reading it… hence my effort into writing an awesome review for it!
    Allegra– Don’t I know it! I’ve stopped buying books because I now feel like I’m no longer buying books to read but just to heap them in a corner to rot 😛

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