If there was a Unit of Study entitled Fantasy 101 and I was the Course Coordinator, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy would make the required reading list. The trilogy comprises three books – The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages; good, solid fantasy-ey “the blah of blah” type titles to get you in the mood.
So why is this required reading? First off, Branderson (as he shall hereon be referred to) has the kind of writing style I love reading in fantasy – witty with a side of snark, pacey and action-oriented without getting bogged down in chapter-long epic battles, filled with characters you instantly empathise with. It might not be high-brow literary genre-fiction, but gosh, it’s fun. Or, you know, as much fun as it can be when the entire world is lit by a dying sun and covered in ash-fall and the common people are in thrall to an evil overlord appropriately called the Lord Ruler, which, of course, is what the Final Empire is all about.
The second reason this is required reading is that the magic-system (for want of a better word) is just effing brilliant. Branderson gives us three for the price of one, all of them focused around the use of metals: Allomancy – the chemical burning of metals to enhance one or multiple senses based on ability, Feruchemy – the depletive storage of senses in metals for future accelerated or enhanced use and Hemalurgy – the use of metals to bestow sense-enhancement via a combination of acupuncture and zombiefication*. If that isn’t clear enough, don’t worry, Branderson does a much better job than I do of explaining and illustrating them – his magic system is the bedrock of the series, defining the world but also actively driving plot throughout.
Book One: The Final Empire introduces us to the Final Empire (duh) and its denizens, focusing around a group of Allomancer thieves, part of the rebel underground – mostly, we follow Vin, a young skaa thief and alongside her learn the rules and history of this world. Vin is herself an outsider and thus provides the perfect means for us to vicariously experience the world and live out the plot.
Branderson brings Allomancy to life early on in magnificently descriptive fight scenes. Add a dash of vivid characters and a healthy serve of life-and-death heist situations and the book pretty much reads itself. The words just fly off the page and I literally couldn’t stop reading – then, the moment I finished, I ran out to buy the next book. Thankfully, the trilogy is complete and this isn’t one of those annoying WIP he’ll-die-before-he-finishes series (ahem). This brings us to the third reason why The Mistborn Series would be required reading – as a “what not to do” guide. Branderson makes a few critical errors in Books Two and Three which all fantasy writers should learn from. The next paragraph contains spoilers discussing these perceived errors, read at your own discretion.
Note: the following section of this review contains spoilers
As I see it, the first mistake is actually at the end of book one where, à la GRRM, Branderson kills off a major character. Since this character is a plot lynch-pin, we enter Book Two: The Well of Ascension with a sensory cocktail of freedom and apprehension, much as the characters in the book do. Though it is essential to furthering the plot, it kind of makes you not want to go where the plot is going. At the end of Book Two is another noob mistake – a Mary Sue move that, again, takes you into Book Three disliking what is going down in the fantasy world you now feel inexorably sucked into thanks to the brilliance of the first book. I feel really awkward tip-toeing around spoilers in a review so I shall just leave this where it is – happy to get into it in the comments or something if you’re interested.
Right. Now that that’s over… essentially, my problems with this series involve major plot points in Book Two and Three that I feel do an injustice to the quality of plot and writing in Book One. Furthermore, if you read the books back to back, you’re forced through a rehashing of salient character features and plot arcs that authors feel they have to do in an “If you’ve just joined us” recap. I was also disappointed with the decay of character lovability as you progress through books Two and Three.
So, short version of this review would be this: Book One is amazing – buy it now and devour it instantly. Don’t bother with Book Two and Three, they’ll just make you feel bad and wish you hadn’t gone there – it’s the Cheeseburger rule of Fantasy.
Dhati Subramanyam has been a voracious reader ever since she realised a few things - first, that books are fun, interesting and lovable. Second, that the people in them are even more so. Third, that people will generally leave you alone if you have your nose stuck in one - a book that is, not a person. Dhati's other interests include sales and marketing, videogames, experimental cooking, redheads and Texas hold 'em. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia and really really wishes she had a cat.