Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson


Published by Tor

May 2006

ISBN 0-765-1178-X

541 Pages



With an impressive debut novel under his belt (Elantris), Brandon Sanderson launched the Mistborn trilogy in 2006 with Mistborn: The Final Empire. The primary plot of the novel involves a group of rebels who are trying to overthrow the God-like Lord Ruler of the Final Empire.  One might say the story has a caper-like quality to it, but that would be underselling Sanderson’s expertly crafted story far too much. He populates this fantastical, red-skied, ash-falling, mist-rising world with believable characters in a fascinatingly detailed world.


The novel follows three primary characters, the third character whose presence is felt just as much as the other two, despite sharing very little “on camera” time in the novel.  Kelsier holds down the role as primary male protagonist; he is leading the rebellion against the Final Empire.  Kelsier is also known as the Survivor, the only person known to return alive from the dreaded prison pits of the Lord Ruler. Though he may seem an outwardly familiar character type, the layers of Kelsier’s character are revealed very nicely over the course of the novel. Upon his escape, Kelsier discovers his Mistborn abilities; he is an allomancer.  In Sanderson’s intricately imagined world, Allomancers ingest and burn metals to affect magical/supernatural powers. 


Sanderson’s second focus character is the young street urchin Vin, whose life prior to the novel consisted of roaming the streets with her brother.  Upon the opening of The Final Empire, Kelsier invites her to be part of his crew, part of the rebellion.  Kelsier sensed something special about the girl, specifically her abilities as an allomancer; he takes it upon himself to train her in the ways of Allomancy.  The magic here is thoroughly detailed and well-thought out; one could say the rules dictating its practice are rigid enough to resemble a science.  For all the details that inform Sanderson’s magic system, he revealed the inner workings of it slowly.  It was an effective, yet simple method for Sanderson to inform, through Kelsier, both Vin and the reader about how the magic works.


The third character is not seen quite as often as Vin and Kelsier, but his role is just as, if not more important.  Each chapter opens with an entry from the diary of the Hero of the Ages, the boy who was prophesized to come into great power, hold a darkness at bay, and rule the world.  While the journal entries from the boy who was the Lord Ruler provide insight to the reader of Mistborn, the characters stumble upon the book themselves.  Throughout the course of the novel, the characters, specifically Vin, attempt to read into the character of the person who wrote the journal.  She tries to make sense of how such a hopeful youth with so much promise and eagerness to do good, a young man who doubts himself, could become the hated dictator.


Many threads of story are carried throughout the novel on the backs of these primary characters. One of Vin’s roles in Kelsier’s crew is to pose as the scion of a newly arrived noble. Part of the impetus behind Kelsier’s rebellion is his hatred of the noble and the rich.  The only hate stronger is his hate for the Lord Ruler, who killed his wife in front of his own eyes. What Vin learns at the various society balls is (not too surprisingly) that not all the nobles should be as hated as Kelsier would have her think. Part of this is because of the attention she gives and receives to young noble, Elend Venture. 


Kelsier spends much of his time scattered throughout the Final Empire.  At times he ignites the sparks of the rebellion, others he trains Vin, and in the rarest of episodes, he visits with his estranged brother. Sanderson’s novel and its world don’t rest solely on the three protagonists’ shoulders.  He builds up a supporting cast who help to fully flesh out the seeds of rebellion and inform, particularly through the scholarly Sazed, the reader of the great backstory of the his world. 


While I liked the novel a great deal, and my enjoyment truly progressed with each page, Mistborn: The Final Empire, like all novels, is not without faults, even if they are minor.  Perhaps my largest stumbling-block was Vin’s name.  This is a name I normally associate with males, so it took a while for me to come to grips, for lack of a better term, with the fact that Vin was actually a girl.  I also thought that the first few chapters following the prologue moved a bit slow.   These are only minor problems I found with the novel, fortunately.


Sanderson had been on my radar since the release of his debut novel Elantris, though I unfortunately haven’t gotten around to reading it just yet. Mistborn: The Final Empire has convinced me I need to go back and remedy that fact.  In this opening novel of the trilogy, Sanderson pulled me into a phantasmagorical world I wasn’t sure about at first.  By novel’s end, I felt fully entrenched in The Final Empire, I felt very much in tune with the characters and am glad I have the second book, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, by my side to start reading.  Readers who enjoy Greg Keyes, Robin Hobb, Gary Wassner would enjoy Mistborn.


© 2007 Rob H. Bedford

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