Book Review: The Final Empire (Mistborn Book 1)
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
About a year ago, when I first decided it was time to give Brandon Sanderson's work a try, I looked over a bunch of his titles. Now the title of Mistborn, like many of his other books, was very appealing. But when I read a synopsis of the book and looked at the cover, I wasn't overly impressed. They weren't bad or anything, but it just didn't jump out at me in the way that the Stormlight Archives did. So I, admittedly, said maybe later. I'm here to tell you, that I am glad that I didn't wait too much "later".
When I first journeyed to the world of Scadrial, I had a few expectations. I expected that the world would be fully developed in ways that many books aren't. I expected to learn about every part of the culture from the world's economy to the political landscape, which would undoubtedly be complex, dynamic, and fragile. I expected to get to know characters intimately as they slowly developed. I expected a sophisticated magic system, that shaped the aforementioned economics and politics of the world. But I also expected that it would take me a while to warm up to the book, for all the same reasons.
So when I first started the adventure, I knew I would need patience, something that I usually have in shorter supply than Atium (read the book and you'll get it). I knew that for all the reasons that I respect and admire Sanderson's art, are the same reasons that pacing of the books often feel slow. The depth of world building and character building that he puts into his novels take time, and patience. Now anyone who knows me or my writing style, knows that I like to keep the reader on the edge of their seats. The pacing of a book should have many peaks and valleys, but I like to keep the train rolling. Mistborn: The Final Empire doesn't exactly fit that mold, at least not initially. Fortunately, I knew that going in.
While the book was a bit (okay, extremely) light on the action in the early parts of the book, I immediately became intrigued with the characters that I met. First there was Kelsier with his, somehow charming, narcissistic and homicidal tendencies. Then there was Vin, the young girl caught up in a thieving crew, who carries a special gift that even she doesn't understand. Then I got to meet Sazed, Terraceman and Keeper. Everything about him from his culture to his speach patterns fascinated me, I think. ;)
These characters and many others, are the reason that I kept coming back for more, despite the lack of action. Witnessing their interactions and growth alone was worth the price of admission. Watching the "crew" come together, exploring their dynamics was fun, especially when I got to know the characters well enough to anticipate their responses in some situations. It was fun. But don't let me fool you, there was action too.
There is a fair amount of action in The Final Empire too, it just feels a little different at first. The reason is Allomancy. Allomancy is one of the primary magic systems at work in the Mistborn series. It is the art of ingesting metals, to gain specific powers or abilities. The system is wonderfully conceived by Sanderson, but it has many rules. Think positive versus negative, yin and yang, balances and counterbalances. While it is fascinating, it turns every sequence of events, into a long sequence. That isn't a bad thing, it is actually a necessity, because Sanderson has to walk you through every aspect of the sequence. If he didn't, you would either get totally confused or you would think that he just broke his own rules. Instead, he does a great job of putting it all together into complex, marvelously crafted scenes.
During the first half of the book, I really thought that it was going to be the Allomancy and outright warfare that would keep my interest, but I was wrong. As the book continued and the action ramped up, I found that I was so wrapped up in the other aspects of the story, that I was far more interested in "the plan", "the crew", and unwrapping the world's many secrets. Afterall, there is always another secret.
Even though I knew that The Fallen Empire was just the first book in the trilogy, I grew sad as I reached the book's end. I was saddened, because I feared that my journey with some of them might be coming to a close. I didn't cry or throw anything (this time), but I did feel a small lump form in my throat. Yep, for FICTIONAL characters. And to that, once again I say, well done Mr. Sanderson. Bring on book 2, The Well of Ascension!