Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn
Mistborn has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently, and came highly recommended to me by a close friend who has recommended other gems in the past such as Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. With Brandon Sanderson co-authoring the final novels in the Wheel of Time series due to the passing of Robert Jordan, its no wonder his earlier works would fall under scrutiny. While not his first fantasy novel, Mistborn: The Last Empire, commonly referred to as just Mistborn, is the first novel in a trilogy of novels titled the Mistborn Trilogy. The subsequent books are The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. I feel this needs a little clarification, as from reading the book jacket and inside covers, it can be rather confusing as to the order of the novels. For instance, the inside cover of my paperback edition lists three books: Elantris, Mistborn and The Well of Ascension, making it look like Mistborn is the middle book in a trilogy. Also, the preview chapter at the end of the book is from The Hero of Ages, book three in the series, leading to more confusion. Maybe Tor should reevaluate for subsequent editions.
The novel takes place mainly in the city of Luthtadel and the lands surrounding it. Luthtadel is a city harshly divided into an upper and lower class; a government rules with an iron fist over the nobility and the lower class “skaa”. Sanderson deals masterfully with the theme of ruling governmental bodies, the politics both within that ruling body and their relationships with external parties. Mirroring this are the novel’s main themes of belief, trust, and hope that live in the spirit of the lower class. We find these themes recurring frequently throughout the novel. Here are a few samples:
“Belief isn’t simply a thing for fair times and bright days, I think. What is belief – what is faith – if you don’t continue in it after failure?”
“Once, maybe I would have thought you a fool, but…well, that’s kind of what trust is, isn’t it? A willful self-delusion? You have to shut out that voice that whispers about betrayal, and just hope that your friends aren’t going to hurt you.”
A good portion of the action in the novel takes place in the houses of the nobility, throwing balls which are attended by the nobility and overseen by the royal “obligators”. Other scenes include the palace of the Lord Ruler, the hideouts of the rebel skaa located throughout the city, and at night, when the entire city stays indoors and mist blankets the city.
The characters that make up Mistborn’s band of rebel skaa are unforgettable. Vin and Kelsier take center stage, with Marsh, Kelsier’s brother, and Kelsier’s assembled crew fleshing out the rest of the group. When the rest of Kelsier’s group is first introduced, I felt like I was reading a fantasy novel spiced with great characters from the world of comic books, each having their own special power. The difference with Sanderson’s Mistborn characters, and many of the characters I read about in my childhood in comics, are that Sanderson’s are believable. The system of magic created in Mistborn is unsurpassed in its impressive originality and astounding authenticity. It makes you feel like the 40-foot-high jumps and acrobatic maneuvers from games like Assassin’s Creed are real; they have real consequenses if the user of the magic does not know enough about it, or miscalculates to a small degree. It also has limits. If the user of the magic “burns” up his or her resource, they have no more. I won’t get into too much more detail, of which there is plenty, but suffice to say the magic system in Mistborn is a true gem.
Sanderson moves the plot of Mistborn along at a pace perfect for the unfolding story. While there are a lot of scenes that recur in a similar setting (the balls), there is always enough new story, whether its the character Vin learning about the politics taking place, or just plain action, the time spent in these pages is well worth it. The plot idea of a band of underground thieves working against the nobility brings Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora to mind, and the overarching theme of overthrowing an all-powerful being has definitely been done before.
Mistborn is an extremely satisfying stand-alone novel, even though its only the first in a trilogy. If you haven’t read any of Sanderson’s work, I would highly recommend you go out and pick up Mistborn. Action-packed, with great underlying themes and a rowdy bunch of characters with truly original powers, this is certainly not one to miss.
You can pick up Mistborn over at Amazon.com.
Great review. I very much enjoyed Mistborn though I couldn’t get into the second book in the series. I just finished Warbreaker and if you haven’t read it, you should read that next. Its definitely Sanderson’s best work so far.