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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mistborn: The Final Empire. Reviewed

Mistborn: The Final Empire

            Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, it was first published by Tor Books in 2006. I finished reading it a week ago and the characters and themes still linger in my mind.  The plot can be summed up in one sentence: A group of thieves plan a heist against the Dark Ruler of their land, hoping to cause his downfall.

            A lot has already been said and written about the Mistborn trilogy. When reading the reviews and discussions of this book and Sanderson’s other novels, I find that a lot of what has been said and written is about his books’ magic systems. While Sanderson’s magic systems are indeed well thought out and expertly crafted into something unique and unusual, I think that the people who praise his magic systems without mentioning the other wonderful aspects of his work aren’t seeing the forests for the trees. They are focusing on a tiny aspect of Sanderson’s craft, while missing the brilliant characters that embody and employ his magic and carry out his plots.
            Vin, the main character of Mistborn: The Final Empire, is a perfectly written character, every action she takes, every thought she thinks, every word that she says contributes to her overall character and supports the realistic portrayal of how a young girl in her situation would act. Sanderson writes heartbreaking scenes in which Vin does small innocent things that only a broken hurting person would do. She takes extra food when no one is looking, planning on eating it later, showing that in her life up to that moment she has never had enough to eat. She cringes at another’s touch, shrinks back into shadows away from people. She is distrustful and scared, and she is a perfectly written character.
            The plot of the novel is nothing more than a vehicle for the well-written characters. That is not a negative criticism, not all books need to be plot heavy, some books should be about characters. In a small way the characters in Sanderson’s book remind me of those in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The scale of Mistborn is huge, but the characters have small moments that show who they are and why they do what they do. Like the characters in One Day they seem like real people. They are fully realized characters born out of a keen observation of humanity. In Solzhenitsyn’s case it was his life in a soviet Gulag that prepared him to write an earthshattering novel, and while Mistborn may not be on the level with that classic of world literature, it is a great fantasy novel.
Mistborn is a breath of fresh air in a genre of full of sequels, tropes, anti-tropes and decompression. It is a fantasy novel about characters and life, struggle and triumph. It makes me wonder where Sanderson finds his inspiration; it makes me wonder where he has seen the struggling beaten down, yet ever hopeful, characters he writes about. It makes me wonder how he finds hope where there seems to be so little.
            It wasn’t the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read, it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it was something different, something unique, and something both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I feel compelled to read Sanderson’s other work. Surely it is a daunting task for his novels only get longer from here, but if they contain half the amount of insight and interesting characters then I have no doubt that I will enjoy them as much as I did Mistborn: The Final Empire.
            The bottom line is that Mistborn: The final Empire is a great fantasy novel, and deserves to be read by anyone who loves fantasy or anyone who loves well written characters.

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