Fantasy books have a bad name for overblown storylines, poor writing and shoddy character development, a tag frequently deserved by many of the books categorised as fantasy. However there is good fantasy out there, well-written, well-thought out storylines and characters which stick in your mind for days after finishing the book. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series belongs to the latter category, and if anyone was looking for a good fantasy series, my first recommendation would go to these books.
The Mistborn world is a desperately bleak setting. Not only is the world grey, ash-covered and barren, it also is entrapped in a cruel dictatorship. The Lord Ruler, a demi-god, has been in power for 1000 years, after saving the world from an unknown evil. Society has been divided into skaa, downtrodden peasants, and nobles, people whose ancestors were supposed to have supported the Lord Ruler in his earliest years. These nobles were not just rewarded with economic power, but they were also granted Allomancy, magical abilities triggered by burning specific metal alloys. Some of the nobles, Misting, could only use one power, while a small few Mistborn could use each magical power. It is a complicated system, but Sanderson explains it well and seems to base it on the principle of actions and reactions.
There also are a few half-skaa, half-noble Mistings and Mistborns who are hunted down by the Lord Ruler to eliminate the chance of a rebellion against him, and the story essentially is about a Misting thieving crew who decide that they are going to overthrow the Lord Ruler. Kelsier, their Mistborn leader, is seeking revenge against the Dark Lord, and he convinces his crew and a street child called Vin to assist him. It might seem obvious to use Kelsier as the main protagonist, but most of the story is told from Vin’s perspective as it follows her turning from a bedraggled street urchin to discovering her own Mistborn powers and her role in Kelsier’s plan.
What I love about this book is that the mission is used to move the character development along, rather than being a simple heist story. Each of the crew members is given a back story, strong personalities and their own personal struggle against the empire, and quite often their own differences are used to flesh out the morality of overthrowing the all-powerful figure who saved humanity from the Doom. While there is a tendency in fantasy to explain every little detail, I felt that developing the secondary characters was essential to telling the story of an attempted revolution and why these men would risk their lives for Kelsier. Here is where Sanderson simply being a good writer also comes into play. He holds back certain bits of information and works them into story arcs where you learn more about the characters, tiny pieces at a time, and drags the reader into wanting to know more about them.
I would recommend this to any reader who wants a good introduction to fantasy or even to a fantasy fan who hasn’t read this series yet. The characters and the unexpected twists in the storyline drag you in and I found myself wanting to read more. Of course, The Final Empire finishes on a bit of a cliffhanger which lends itself nicely to the second book in the series.