My relationship with the fantasy genre is complicated. On one hand, my all-time favorite book is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. From a young age I have loved stories about fairies, elves, magic, different worlds and universes, so it follows that I would love fantasy books. And I do. But the problem with loving The Lord of the Rings so much is that almost every fantasy novel you read afterwards seems like a cheap knock off in comparison. So despite my adoration of the stories, I am always very hesitant to pick up that kind of novel. There are just too many bad fantasy books out there. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, however, came highly recommended by several friends whose taste in literature I esteem, so I decided to give it a whirl. And for the first time in a long time, I fell in love with a fantasy novel.
Mistborn takes place in a fictional world known as the Final Empire, a place that has been ruled by one man, considered a god, called the Lord Ruler. The empire is sharply divided into two classes—the nobility and the skaa. Skaa are treated like slaves, forced to work under harsh circumstances, abused and killed at the whim of their noble masters. The nobility are rich and privileged, many of them born with the power of allomancy, the ability to utilize the energy of different metals as a power force (like the Force in Star Wars or magic in other books). Mistings are people who are capable of burning a specific type of metal to use for power. Mistborns are people who can burn all the types of metal and possess the strongest kind of power. In an attempt to keep this kind of power out of the skaa, laws forbid the interbreeding of the nobility and skaa. This law, however, does not always succeed, which gives way to the main characters of the book.
Kelsier is one of these skaa/noble halfbreeds who inherited the powers of a mistborn. He is the most famous thief in the capitol city of Luthadel. Before the books starts, he and his wife were the best con team in the world until they were caught and sent to the Pits of Hathsin, essentially a death camp. Kelsier’s wife Mare dies in the Pits, but Kelsier survives and returns to Luthadel with a plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler and free the skaa from their thousand-year slavery. In order to do this, Kelsier assembles the best con team ever, the most important of whom is a young girl named Vin.
Vin, like Kelsier, is half skaa/half noble and also a mistborn. Kelsier brings her into his team and begins to teach her about allomancy. Having grown up on the streets, suffering abuse and betrayal left and right, Vin is slow to trust anyone, but the more time she spends with Kelsier and the other members of his team, the more she learns that there’s more to life than she thought possible. Vin is tasked with masquerading as a noblewoman from the country in an attempt to infiltrate the noble circle for spying purposes. It is during this mission that she meets Elend Venture, the heir to the most powerful noble house. From Kelsier and his friends, she has heard only terrible things about the noble class, many that she found to be true. But Elend seems different, good. Now as Kelsier’s ultimate plan unfolds, Vin finds herself falling in love with her supposed enemy.
One of the pitfalls of most fantasy novels is that they are very cliché—female warriors, thief stereotypes, old sages, video game styled battles, etc. Sanderson includes several fantasy expectations in his story, but he avoids the clichés. Kelsier is charismatic and daring, but unlike the sexy thief stereotype, his character flaws of pride and risk-taking get him and his team into serious trouble at times. Vin, unlike most female warriors, is portrayed with her own character flaws. She is more complicated than some badass fighter, her weaknesses showing as well as her strengths, especially her doubt in herself and other people.
Sanderson also pays more attention to the technical aspects of a rebellion than most fantasy authors. The organization doesn’t magically happen. The peasants aren’t magically trained warriors. It isn’t as easy as 1, 2, 3. Sanderson, via Kelsier, lays out a carefully planned rebellion planned out in stages, making the rebellion more realistic and interesting.
Sanderson’s novel isn’t perfect. Some of the supporting characters could have used more development. There could have been more exposition earlier in the book explaining this new world to the reader, and other explanations could have been clearer. Some of the writing about the use of allomancy comes off very textbook-y and an editor could have deleted unnecessary words, paragraphs, and pages. But overall, Mistborn is an original and enjoyable read. The pacing is pretty good for a fantasy novel and it sucks the reader into the story, investing them in the characters, especially Kelsier and Vin. There’s enough of a twist towards the end to make it interesting, and the ending makes the reader jump into the second book to see what comes next.
Mistborn is no Lord of the Rings, but it is by far the best fantasy novel I have read in a long time. For any fan of the genre, I highly recommend it. I just started the second book in the series, The Well of Ascension, and am looking forward to reading more about Brandon Sanderson’s world and it’s many characters.