Brandon Sanderson

Final Empire #1
Category: Fantasy
Morality: C+
Writing: C

Every now and then, it’s satisfying to pick up a good ol’ doorstopper. This saga of an underground rebellion against an evil overlord certainly qualifies, and it has a number of things going for it. For one thing, it has a well-developed and plausible system of magic, with specific powers tied to the use of certain metals. Several of the powers are showy, making for some fun action scenes, but Sanderson maintains a good balance between action and plot development. He also has created an interesting character in Kelsier, the leader of the rebellion. Kelsier’s motives for stirring up revolution are varied and, I think, fairly realistic. He wants to help the downtrodden common people, yes, but he also loves attention and adulation – and he nurses a personal and vitriolic grudge against the nobility. He’s confident – sometimes overconfident – and charismatic. I thought he was an interesting and believable leader.

Unfortunately, not all Sanderson’s characters are as developed. His main character, Vin, a sixteen-year-old street urchin, is likable, though she’s less interesting than Kelsier. And the rest of the characters are painted in broad strokes – one or two characteristic traits each, and no complexity. There’s also a rather disappointing lack of complexity in the development of the culture and political system of the society. The society’s politics is important to the plot, but its details remain undeveloped throughout the book. And unfortunately, at its most basic, Sanderson’s writing just isn’t that great. He can put together an acceptable sentence, but there’s nothing vibrant or compelling about his writing. The plot was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I wasn’t thrilled by the prose.

The book was a mixed bag morally as well. It has the basics right, of course – mass enslavement is evil, trust and respect are good. Attempting to overthrow the evil empire and bring freedom to the common people is an admirable goal. There’s a bit of ambiguity about the ‘careers’ of Kelsier’s initial band of recruits – they’re essentially professional robbers (assumedly robbing mostly from the nobility), and not particularly principled. Kelsier starts out the book willing to kill people from the noble houses indiscriminately and in service of his own ends, an attitude that does not seem particularly frowned upon by the author, though by the end Vin has convinced him to reconsider.

There’s a secondary character in the story who is a student of religions and occasionally attempts to introduce the other characters to religions which may appeal to them. When Vin asks him which religion he himself subscribes to, he replies with typical postmodern sentiment that all religions contain truth equally and that he accepts the truth in all of them. The follow-up question is obvious: if all religions contain truth, then what truth is there in the religion invented and imposed by the evil overlord, which falsely claims his own deity and involves the torture and murder of anyone who dares oppose him? But of course Vin doesn’t ask, and Sanderson doesn’t attempt an answer.

Content warning: The book is pretty clean, though there is occasional bad language and a few violent bits.

Posted by Sasha | January 3, 2011

6 Responses to “Mistborn”

  1. I’m glad to see a review of a Sanderson book on this site. I’ve read his stand-alone fantasy Elantris and the first book in his young-adult fantasy parody series Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians. Both of those were very good so I was a little surprised to see the low rating for Mistborn. Of course, I haven’t read it yet. I love the morality/content approach to reviewing fantasy books from a Christian perspective. Please keep it up!

  2. I don’t know that I consider C/C+ a *low* rating, exactly. Just…mediocre. I did enjoy reading the book, but the writing just wasn’t good enough to grab my attention. I do tend to have fairly exacting standards, though, so just because a book rates a C doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read. 🙂

  3. I’m glad for this review, since this is a book (or trilogy, right?) that I’ve been considering reading for a long time. I think I will read it, even if it’s only “mediocre.” I have an uncanny ability to enjoy mediocre high fantasy. 🙂 Thanks you.

    The religious relativism is also a theme in Elantris. Even though I don’t believe it as stated, it’s not all that offensive to me, because I think it has a tiny kernel of truth. All religions are expressions of the human hope and the human need, which has its true fulfillment in Christ alone. That’s how I see it, anyways.

    But what does the “doorstopper” tag mean?

  4. “Doorstopper” means “huge.” As in, you could use the book for a doorstop. 🙂

  5. Just wait until you see what direction Sazed’s character takes in the rest of the trilogy! His early view of religion is definitely not something that continues through to the end. Sanderson never answers it with a Christian worldview, since his world is too far removed from any current human theology (the Greek myths, maybe?). But where reading about his world always threw me off balance for that reason, the ending sets it right in my opinion. I agree about the quality of prose–not the best, but Sanderson sure can tell an exciting tale!

  6. I realize this is an older review,but I hope by now you’ve sought out and read the other two books in the trilogy. I thought Mistborn was delightfully different from other formulaic fantasy, and the direction the series took did not disappoint. It was a fabulous read and completely captured me and took me away to this dark and red planet.

    I think the C/C+ rating sounds a bit harsh, and is unfair if you haven’t read the entire series. All three books go together, and without all three, you’re only reading a piece of the puzzle.

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