The first book set in the Mistborn world, Mistborn: The Final Empire was the second published work by Brandon Sanderson. Yeah, Sanderson, the guy that now tells us from the covers of various fantasy novels whether it’s worth reading them. The same guy who finally managed to finish the never-ending Jordan’s series The Wheel of Time. A very popular and influential author who now has his own creative writing school.
It should tell you something about Sanderson’s style, that when appointed to conclude Jordan’s series in one book, he wrote THREE instead.
I’ve read his Mistborn trilogy soon after the last installment was published. Sanderson hasn’t become such a head honcho in fantasy then – he still had yet to write the Wheel of Time novels, and the days of topping the bestseller lists and making Laws In Fantasy were still ahead of him. In short – it was a long time ago.
So why do I bring him up? For all the aforementioned reasons: he has become one of the most popular and influential fantasy writers, he’s close to becoming an institution, and he writes more and more novels. And last but not least – after reading the Mistborn trilogy I haven’t touched a single book written by Brandon Sanderson. And I’m not planning to.
Sanderson writes with surety; his prose is simple and imaginative, even if at moments repetitive (character are “frowning” and giving each other “flat stares” almost all the time). The worst part of it are dialogues: very generic and predictable. On the other hand, the world that Sanderson had created in the first book Mistborn: The Final Empire, was deeply thought through, coherent and captivating, even if somewhat recycled. I mean, how many ruling Dark Lords and revolts of the oppressed masses will we have to endure? But still, the old and worn was nicely mixed with something new – starting with the idea of Allomancy and Sanderson’s unique approach to magic. Magic in the world of Mistborn is an additional human ability – possessed by few – to enhance one’s senses and physical abilities through the process of ingesting and “burning” different types of metals. Typical Allomancers can “burn” one type of metal to gain one supernatural ability. But, once in a while, there comes a Mistborn – an Allomancer able to “burn” all types of metals and, as a result, to get access to every potential supernatural ability.
The world is a grim place, covered in ash and mists. The defenseless and poor masses are cruelly used by the nobility, and the nobility serves in turn the all-powerful, tyrannical Lord Ruler. In this setting we meet Kelsier – a thief and escaped slave, who became a Mistborn. His bold plan is to overthrow the Lord Ruler, holding the Final Empire in his tight grip for a thousand years, through a heist. Yup, a heist. Which should, in time, bring a collapse to economy and undermine the Dark Lord’s rule. I won’t spoil the plot, so I won’t even start to comment on that plan. Suffice to say that “things are not what they seem”. Anyway, Kelsier, who’s a modern-thinking guy, apparently reading Marx ;), forms a crew of cutthroats, nobles, thieves and ne’er-do-wells. Among them is Vin – a young, abused girl who, what a surprise, has the Mistborn powers too.
Through the novel we learn a lot about the world, and it’s all to the advantage of the book. The world created by Sanderson is intriguing, captivating and original, and the necessary information is put forth to the readers in such a way that doesn’t stop or slow the action. The world-building bits are adequately informative while still letting the novel keep the air of mystery and hidden depths. A pity, then, that the next two books do such a poor job on expanding and deepening that. The world so carefully laid for us in the first novel is simply stamped on and shaken till various bits fly out. Have you ever seen the kaleidoscope? That was my impression of what Sanderson did to his world in the next two novels. The pieces are mostly the same, but he rearranged them and played with them so long, that by the third novel – The Hero of Ages – they don’t resemble their own origins anymore. Many people say that in the third tome all things “click” together. With the mystery kept as tight as in the first installment, there were really many ways those things could have been played out. And I was irritated by Sanderson’s choices in this matter. In the end they seemed to contradict the ideas that Mistborn: The Final Empire was founded on.
Why only irritated? I confess that on those almost 2000 pages of the trilogy I found only two characters that I genuinely liked. Kelsier and TenSoon. The rest was… tepid. Lukewarm. With the depth of a cardboard-cut figure. Underdeveloped, maybe with the exception of Vin, and even her development was marked only in the first book. Another one of the main characters, Elend, for the three books remained only a poster boy, whose evolution from an idealistic scholar to a full-fledged warrior and ruler seemed completely improbable and was not psychologically grounded. His relationship with Vin is something we are told about constantly, probably because otherwise we would find it hard to believe in. The preacher, Sazed, for almost 800 pages of the last installment is moored in a theological quagmire that’s totally inconsequential, illogical and, frankly, simply boring. The main big badass of the trilogy was a total disappointment, even bigger than Ultron 😉 But the development of the characters is really a separate issue in Mistborn trilogy. It’s just so… underwhelming. I know several twelve-year-olds who have better understanding of human nature.
There’s also a lot of “tell, don’t show” here, especially in the second and third installment. I know, it’s easy to say, but I’m only comparing them with the first book, not with works of other authors. In the third installment each chapter starts with spoilers. We learn about important things from a short encyclopedic excerpt, much before the characters have a chance – in the course of the plot – to obtain that information. Why in the gods’ name would anyone do something like this?! Maybe someone thought the readers need some serious help in understanding the convoluted action, but in fact it just killed whatever suspense remained. And there wasn’t much of suspense even at the beginning – The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages could easily be cut in half and remodeled into a single decent book, so much filling they have. As it is now, they are mediocre, a painful disappointment, especially because the first book was good.
P.S. On the bright(er) side – look what nice covers the Mistborn trilogy has in the UK edition 🙂
Score: I 8/10, II 5/10, III 4/10