Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Book review - Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

Two things, for me, made this book stand out from many other books in the epic fantasy genre. A lot of fantasy stories centre around the premise of a dark lord rising in the east, or the west or wherever. Or a prophesy of a dark lord rising in the east or west… about a hero or group of heroes, overcoming huge odds, to stand against the colossal threat emerging from the shadows. In this book however, the evil overlord has already won. The tagline of the book is ‘what if the Dark Lord won?’ And that in a nutshell is where we start, with an evil, omnipotent emperor, a godlike figure ruling over a thousand year empire inhabited by two very separate classes of people, the Skaa, a downtrodden, oppressed group of people, who are treated as slaves and forced to live in inhuman conditions, with no rights whatsoever. In fact their overlords, the nobles, are actually obliged to kill any Skaa women they sleep with, in order to prevent cross breeding between the classes. The nobles live very different lives, centred around lavish balls and very privileged backgrounds, and rule over the Skaa in a sort of Spartan – Helot way. The landscape is incredibly bleak with plumes of ash constantly spewed over a barren land, devoid of all colour and beauty, and where a mist, thick with wraiths, rises every night… think Mordor on a bad day. Over all this, the Lord Ruler rules.

The other thing that leaps out at me is the magical system. Most fantasy books—though not all—have one. In the Final Empire an elite group, mostly from the noble class, have the power to enhance their attributes by ingesting and then calling on, ‘burning’ a specific metal to access certain supernatural powers. Each metal gives the user a different enhanced power, for example, burning pewter enhances physical abilities, such as strength and endurance etc, burning steel or iron allows the ‘Misting’ to push or pull on nearby metals, allowing them to throw or drag metallic objects or even fly through the air using the metal as a base. Most of the gifted users, called Mistings can only use one metal, and specialise in one particular gift. However there are a small number of Mistings who can use all ten, and these are called Mistborn.

So, the basic premise of the story is about a group of skilled Skaa, with the help of a gifted street urchin who turns out to be a powerful Mistborn, attempt to overthrow the empire… but, in an unusual way. The group attempt to con the nobles into bringing down the empire by instigating a ‘house war’ amongst the elite class. It’s a ‘sting’ and just like the movie ‘The Sting’ it’s slick and suave and, basically, unbelievable. However, it’s a fantasy novel, and suspension of believe is a prerequisite, and it’s a really good, engrossing read. The story and characters develop really well and utterly hook you. I have to admit towards the end there were a couple of instances where I thought, ‘well why didn’t he just do that in the first place? Well, one in particular. But I can forgive that.

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