Review: Mistborn

Posted 4 January, 2012 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

By: Brandon Sanderson

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

I’ll be honest: this book has been in my radar since it first came out back around 2006. I’ve looked at the book up many times whenever I was in the bookstore but for some reason never got around to actually purchasing it and reading it. I recently bought the trilogy boxset (for a super sweet deal!) on Amazon and thanks to my brother reading the books first (I’ve been saying how awesome Brandon Sanderson is for ages around my house, I’m surprised my brother picked up the book first), I’ve finally read it. Some spoilers ahead!

Once again, Brandon Sanderson has crafted an intricate, intriguing and fully-realised world with the Final Empire. Although the novel is set primarily in the capital of Luthadel and a bit in the countryside, you get a sense of what the world is like, populated with different peoples, all suffering under the Lord Ruler in different ways. Although the story is restricted to two places, you do get a sense of what the world is like through Spook’s slang, Sazed’s histories of different religions and peoples, including his own, etc. What’s also fantastic about this book is how well-developed the socio-political situation is, with the nobility doing one thing and the skaa doing another and you have the obligators as a special sort of socio-political group in society. There’s mention of the Canton of Orthodoxy as some kind of church, though you do not see them much in the book. The landscape itself is also unique: a red sky, ash constantly falling and choking the world, a land void of wildlife and flora. And there’s the mist that envelops the world during the night.

The characters certainly make up the heart of this story. Vin is an interesting protagonist with a curious strength and survival skills amidst her hard live as a street urchin. Although there had been a number of books released in recent years about thieves in a fantasy setting, I find Vin unique and refreshing because of the psychological hardships that she had to overcome. Her brother Reen, who disappeared years earlier, certainly did a number on her; aside from beating her, he also left some emotional abuse (maybe his way of toughening her up for a life on the streets?) that continues to haunt her over the course of the novel. The first part was especially difficult because she was mistrustful of Kelsier and his crew and Reen’s voice was constantly whispering to her, making me paranoid in the process! But her character development was wonderful to read as the story developed; she slowly grew out of her scrawny, suspicious persona as she became more integrated with the crew and developed confidence in herself and her role in said group. Her relationship with Kelsier also helped her overcome her personal demons over the course of the novel. Her abilities were also interesting and Sanderson definitely left things open-ended to explore her heritage further in later books.

Kelsier was another fully-realised character that I greatly enjoyed reading; he’s smart, daring, friendly and has that healthy dose of crazy that you can’t help but laugh along with. He’s not your typical mentor character in a fantasy series and his patience with Vin was quite nice to see, even if she didn’t trust him from the very start. By the end of the novel, it really became this sort of father-daughter relationship in a way, especially with the way he was protecting her (in his own way) from heartbreak with Elend. But I also like that amidst his talents as a Mistborn and his role as head of the crew and mentor to Vin, he’s got his own personal demons concerning his time in the Pits and about the woman he loved. It’s not as prominently displayed as Vin’s personal demons but it’s subtle, providing another angle to the character.

The secondary characters were also great–Breeze and his witty remarks, Ham and his philosophical musings, Dox and his dependability, Smoke and his crazy slang, Clubs being Clubs. The crew dynamic was great and I loved their scenes together; it’s like watching your favourite ensemble cast together just interacting and having fun (the only comparison I could come up with is the series 3 cast of Misfits). Elend was also a fun character to read about, he kind of reminds me of one of those characters from Heyer’s Regency novels (yeah, I’ve clearly been reading too many of those lately).

The story behind the Lord Ruler was also interesting and not what I expected at all; again, kudos to Sanderson for adding an interesting twist to the typical trope. All the hints were there and the explanation at the end made complete sense. The magic system is also fully realised and another unique system that I’ve never come across before in other books. I like that it was explained in a detailed manner because it provides a logic behind how they can do the things that they do. Also, the concept behind the Steel Inquisitors were absolutely chilling; I shuddered every time they were mentioned!

Overall, Mistborn was a satisfying and wonderous read. Until now I’m still amazed at how Sanderson is able to ram so much plot into one volume. There’s never a dull moment in the story, with all of its twists and turns, advancements and setbacks, character development and interaction, revelations and socio-political issues thrown in there. It also works as a standalone, something you rarely see in fantasy these days. I’m absolutely psyched to read the next volume in the trilogy, I highly recommend this novel if you’re into the fantasy genre; in fact, I’d say it’s a must-read ^_~

Rating: ★★★★★

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4 Responses to “Review: Mistborn”

  1. I have to ask someone whose book opinions I trust (that means you!): Is this book at all appropriate for a middle school age kid? I’m looking for options for my kid — he enjoys fantasy, steampunk, adventure, but at the younger end of the YA spectrum usually. I’m trying to expand his horizons a bit. Any thoughts?

    • Sorry for the late response but thanks for the question! (aww, and thanks, you’re too kind–and ditto, I trust your book opinions too!) Pondered a bit on it and I don’t think it’s an appropriate book for a middle school age kid (middle school is around…9-11, right? I can never remember :3); it’s not especially graphic a la GRRM or Steven Erikson and doesn’t contain particular adult content as I recall, but there’s some really dark bits here and there (got some serious chills reading those elements). I’d recommend holding off on Mistborn for a few years, methinks.

      Have you read The Rithmatist/introduced it your kid? That was a lot of fun 🙂 I sadly haven’t read much steampunk so I can’t give very many recommendations…Have either of you read any of Garth Nix’s books/series? I’ve only read the Sabriel trilogy but I remember reading the first book when I was around 11/12 and loved it loads (realised my reading was a little all over the place that latter half of elementary, lol). Will have to give this a bit more thought 😉

      Random thought: what about Terry Pratchett? I haven’t read any of the young adult titles he released set in Discworld but Guards! Guards! comes to mind; thought it was pretty fantastical and hilarious (can’t recall if any of the hilarity was especially British, but I remembered cracking up a bit as I was reading some of the absurd situations the characters got themselves into…)

      • Thanks for the recommendations! I was thinking about The Rithmastist – glad to hear you liked it! Maybe I’ll try the Garth Nix books too. We’ve just started Eragon, and so far we’re both liking it. I still havent’ read any Discworld books and feel so intimidated by the idea of jumping in, but I’ll look for the one you mention. 🙂

        • Hmm, methinks I may feature Terry Pratchett in a future “So You Want to Read…” post 😉 I understand, the Discworld novels are a pretty lengthy bibliography on their own…

          How about Diana Wynne Jones’ books? (<3 Howl’s Moving Castle) I’m reading The Dark Lord of Dernholm right now and it’s pretty wacky with creatures and a large cast of characters trying to evade a, erm, corporate responsibility 😛

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