The Final Empire is the first of the Mistborn trilogy, whose premise is an intriguing one for anyone who has enjoyed fantasy fiction: What if the “dark lord” had won? Imagine if Voldemort, Sauron, or Darth Vader had not been defeated. What would have become of the world under their evil thumbs? (This also makes me think of Berlin’s German History Museum where there is a scale model based on the plans for the capital building that Adolph Hitler planned to build after the Nazis had taken over the world.) Set in the capital city of Luthadel, the people are ruled by an immortal, invincible tyrant called The Lord Ruler who controls the society and minds of all his subjects. The society itself is composed of peasants, known as “skaa” (who are basically slaves to the upper class and are used as such) and the nobility (who serve the Lord Ruler out of loyalty and fear). Out of these oppressive conditions comes Kelsier, a skaa and former slave of the Lord Ruler’s mines, who wants to lead a revolution to overthrow and kill him. The advantage that Kelsier has over other would-be rebels is that he’s Mistborn, which means that he has the ability to swallow pure metals and use them to fuel superhuman, magical abilities. This is known as allomancy. As part of his team, Kelsier finds another young Mistborn named Vin. Vin had grown up on the streets and had pretty much been a slave to various thieving crews all her life, but until Kelsier rescued her, she had no idea that she was an allomancer.
Brandon Sanderson only came into my reading list after taking over the Wheel of Time series when its creator, Robert Jordan, passed away. However, he easily became one of my favourite authors after I read Steelheart. The impressive thing about Sanderson is that he seems to have a full and bottomless well of inspiration when it comes to clever, interesting, and creative ideas for fantasy and sci-fi world-building. In this book (which is definitely not short), through Kelsier’s training of Vin, we get to learn all about this system of magic that Sanderson’s invented. Allomancy is really more like superhuman powers rather than the sorcery of spells. I found it fascinating how allomancy had specific rules that almost seem like chemistry or science.
Another main element of this story is the noble society. Part of Kelsier’s plan involves Vin posing as a young noblewoman in order to gather intelligence about the upper class. The nobility of this world kind of resemble our 18th century Europe where noble houses would vie for power within a royal court and oppress a working class who were essentially slaves. While the skaa (including Vin and Kelsier) all start off believing that the nobles are as corrupt and evil as the Lord Ruler, as Vin gets to know them (and one named Eland Venture in particular), she starts to understand them more and even becomes attracted by them (and again, it’s mainly Eland Venture who falls into that category). I enjoyed that the novel really combined three kinds of stories. There was the thieving crew implementing its plan (which had a kind of Ocean’s Eleven feel to it); the romance and courtly intrigue of Vin’s arc; and then there’s the tale of magical people and creatures battling it out with superhuman powers (the fight scenes are pretty cool, and of course you know there’s going to be a showdown with the Lord Ruler himself!). On top of this all, Sanderson has created a new world, with its histories, beliefs, cultures, geography, politics, etc.
While Sanderson is skilled at plot and story ideas, there is definitely less of a focus on characterization and character development. The characters are alright, and enjoyable; some are even quite interesting actually (in particular, a servant named Sazid is an extremely fascinating character with a backstory). However, this is no Game of Thrones, where the characters’ inner selves and psychology are much more developed and complex. For the most part, the motives here are pretty straightforward. I also didn’t find that I related closely to any of them (but if I had to pick, I would likely choose the main character, Vin). Even though this is not what I’d consider an “epic” fantasy novel, a lot of things happen and the story takes place over some time and the characters do go through emotional growth. By the end, a lot of big things have happened in the world of the book, and I found myself interested in how things would continue in the second novel. (4 out of 5)