Sunday, December 11, 2011

Metals, mists, and mind-blowing fantasy

One wouldn't wonder why the estate of Robert Jordan asked Brandon Sanderson to write the final novels of The Wheel of Time after reading Mistborn. Sanderson's magnificent trilogy makes a pleasant assault on your senses. The first novel, Mistborn: The Final Empire, starts off the series on a very high note.

In the science fiction and fantasy genre, world-building becomes of primary importance. A good story would appear weak and diluted if it's not set in a detailed universe where the reader can suspend his or her disbelief in. In the first Mistborn, Sanderson's world-building skills are so fine-tuned; the reader is simply swept away by the story and the fantastic setting.

Sanderson's world is one ruled by a seemingly omnipotent character called the Lord Ruler, populated by noblemen and slaves called skaa, obscured by thick mists during the night-time, and where a select few practice Allomancy. There's a certain "science" behind the principles of Allomancy, where some people can ingest particular metals and then burn them to harness their powers. A few people can burn just one metal, but a very few can burn all 10, and these people are called the Mistborn.

One of these Mistborn is a street urchin named Vin, who is discovered by another Mistborn called Kelsier. Kelsier dreams of a world where the skaa are free from the tyrannical clutches of the noble houses. He gathers a team of Allomancers (including Vin), soldiers, a fake nobleman, and a historian. Kelsier's plan: kill the Lord Ruler, make the noble houses wage war against one another, and train at least 10,000 skaa to be soldiers to fight the garrison. Kelsier's plan is met with harsh criticism from his team, for everyone believes that the Lord Ruler is immortal.

Sanderson's Allomancy is one juicy element in Mistborn that can be milked for all its worth. It's fascinating to read about this form of "magic," or "science" if you may. When Mistborn burn brass, they can alter the emotions of the people around them, burn pewter and Mistborn become several times stronger, burn tin and have their senses enhanced, burn steel and they can push metallic things away from them. Only a gifted world-builder can conjure this kind of fantasy, which is enough motivation for anyone to read the rest of Sanderson's trilogy.

There are stereotypical aspects of the fantasy novel that make their way in Mistborn. Kelsier appears to be the savior, the Lord Ruler the epitome of evil, and Vin the apprentice who would end up with a much larger role in the end. But everything's handled perfectly in the story. Stereotypes they may be, but the reader is sure to enjoy reading about them.

If you're not into trilogies or series or sequences, don't worry -- Mistborn 1: The Final Empire can be a stand-alone novel. Sanderson ties up everything cleanly in the end, albeit too neat for some readers who may want an edgier, non-grit-free ending. Still, I doubt if many would not enjoy themselves in this world where the mist can engulf you and where Allomancers can play on your emotions.

Read this book if:
  1. You love fantastic world-building.
  2. Mists fascinate you.
  3. You're curious to know more about Allomancy.


David Wagner said...

So glad you enjoyed this book. I thought the series was terrific - by far one of the best reading experiences I had last year, when I first read them. Sanderson is a solid writer... not too fancy, or overly well-spoken, but he tells a solid, compelling tale, and he cranks out new books non-stop.

Great review.

Peter S. said...

Hi, David! I can't wait to read his The Way of Kings!