Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Your standard high fantasy novel is characterized by a prophecy, hero, quest, Dark Lord, feudalistic empire, good versus evil, and rare magical powers. Toss these tropes into a made-up salad and pour some home-made dressing on it and you have "Mistborn," a story that sounds familiar, yet tastes fresh and original. Add some strong, likable characters, terrific world-building, and you have a delicious tale. While parts of the tale are predictable there is enough that is unpredictable creating waves of drama and action that kept me reading for 7 hours straight on the beach. Beware! This is a long novel that you won't want to put down.

Vin is a maltreated skaa orphan who is abandoned by her brother with a thieving crew. Skaa and noblemen divide the world of Luthadel, except skaa are trying to survive the bottom of the pecking order. Unlike the noblemen, the skaa slaves did not support the Lord Ruler and they are treated like animals. Skaa work for noblemen who treat them as they want, killing them at will.  Noblemen fight amongst each other for power in the government and belong to Great Houses. Some noblemen have magical powers called, Allomancy, that enhances a physical or mental trait. Neither skaa nor noblemen have true power; that is in the hands of the Lord Ruler, a tyrant, who is immortal and claims to be a god. He's lived for a thousand years and has made the land barren with ash falling every day. In a nice twist on the fantasy trope of self-fulfilling prophecies, this story begins after the Terris prophecies have been fulfilled and the hero's quest failing, leaving the Lord Ruler in charge. Lordy, has he done a bang-up job of making life miserable for most everyone, until a gang of half-blood (part noble, part skaa) thieves come up with a daring coup.

Vin is a half-blood who doesn't know it and survives by using her "luck" on people to persuade them to be agreeable. Her "luck" is the use of Allomancy that is only found in noble blood. She meets Kelsier, another half-blood crew leader, as she's being beaten by her "boss" for a scam gone bad. He recognizes not only her magic, but makes her a member of his crew and mentors her on using her magical skills. She and Kelsier are rare for they are Mistborns, Allomancers, who can use 12 metals that enhance their physical and mental senses. A small amount of noblemen are Mistings and have only one magical element; even less are Mistborns. Allomancers must swallow a metal and then they have superhuman strength, can time travel a few seconds, have enhanced hearing and more. The physical magic makes for great action scenes and Sanderson does a fantastic job slowly explaining how this magic works. The magical system created by the author is so well-done it is one of the strengths of the novel.

However, the main driving force is the characters who have endearing traits and grow throughout the novel. This story is mostly Vin's. She must learn to trust people and matures from a frightened waif into a confident woman. Elend was a hoot with his stack of books that he hauls everywhere. He never quite gets the fashion right and is in the shadow of his father. I could relate to him the most, except I didn't hide at parties in a gorgeous castle, just under the bookshelf next to a  heater (what do you expect - I grew up in the Minnesota). Kelsier smiles all the time to show the world he's not been beaten, even though he's been captured, tortured, and his wife killed. He's known as the "Survivor" by skaa. Spook speaks in a dialect no one can understand. Ham has superhuman strength who loves philosophical debates, Sazed is wise and shares knowledge, while Breeze is like his name. He loves wine and shoots-the-breeze with people keeping conversations light and humorous. This is just a short list... there are plenty more endearing characters.

While Kelsier teaches Vin to use her powers she makes mistakes that almost kill her. It makes her more real as a character and she changes as she learns from these mistakes. I like that she is not your bionic woman who can take on a man double her height and weight, even with enhanced powers. I always think its silly when you have a tiny woman knocking out a man. Sorry ladies... it's just a physical thing. I've been creamed by men on the soccer field and gotten some of my worst injuries from those collisions. And this was when I was a fit 19-year-old playing soccer at the University of Minnesota. Sanderson has Vin recognize she can't take on everyone and she has to outsmart the more brawny men, as well as, the Inquisitors. She knows when to run. I appreciate that in a story. Again, it makes the character more real.

Inquisitors are like the Lord Ruler's physically enhanced bodyguard. They have inhuman strength and kill those disobedient or disfavored by the Lord Ruler. Inquisitors hunt half-bloods and kill them because the Lord Ruler doesn't want Allomancy to mix with skaa. They are quite the monsters with steel spikes piecing not only their bodies but each eye, and protruding out the back of their heads (this made me think of Phineas Gage). Their enhanced senses and brutality makes them so fearsome that the suspense of whether or not the heroes will survive when accosted by them adds great tension.

The plot is well done and while everything is not answered, I was satisfied at the end. I believe many of my questions, particularly concerning the Lord Ruler, will be addressed in a sequel. I did want to see more conflicted emotions from the "evil" characters; how oppression negatively effects the noblemen who must carry out the corruption and violence. Some of the nobles were not comfortable with the executions and I would have liked to see that thread developed mor so they weren't so one-dimensional. As is, the villains are kind of flat. I also wanted Vin to be shocked after killing those 4 soldiers. She just brushes it off and becomes a killing machine by the end. Plus, the two heroes push and pull using soldiers that doesn't respect human life and it seemed to contradict the thread that Kelsier's crew and Vin are "good" people. At the end, Vin does talk to some soldiers and shows them as human but it is very late in the story. I needed to see more sensitivity as the story went along. I think the author could have spent a little less time on her inner monologue of betrayal and addressed a conflict with killing people. Most won't notice or care about this inconsistency because it doesn't take away from a great story.

Because this story follows the literary devices found in high fantasies, I found some of the plot predictable, but then other parts surprised the heck out of me. There was enough balance to keep me engrossed and not irritated. While I did guess Kelsier's part, Renoux had me fooled. The romantic subplot was predictable too, but Elend's actions with the prisoners was a fun twist. I did think Vin acted out of character with Elend in that she trusted him so quickly with information that could have killed her. However, she is also presented as somewhat reckless so maybe she would have blabbed to Elend after some wine. It was a "huh" moment for me. But honestly, I didn't have many of those moments and my husband lost me in the world of storytelling for 12 hours. Good thing I don't usually read adult books. Might be hard on my marriage. If you love fantasy, you'll enjoy this novel. I think I'm inspired to make my own salad creation for dinner tonight (and I hate cooking). 

4 Smileys

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