Top positive review
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A thoughly engaging read, the plots twists and turns have me wishing I could read this for the first time all over again.
on August 30, 2015
The Mistborn Trilogy is the series that got me reading Brandon Sanderson's books. As to how I even heard about it, I think I read it in a blog somewhere promoting it as the story of a fantasy world where the "Dark Lord" who is called the Lord Ruler had won. As a fantasy reader who is so used to the story of fighting the "Dark Lord" it came as a refreshing break to read a story of what comes after if the heroes failed, so I felt that I just had to read this book.
Fast forward 1000 years into the future and we are treated to a world where ash regularly falls from the sky lit by a red sun over a land covered by brown plants. It is not really a very pleasant place. Unlike the places in other stories I've read, this is not one I'd like to visit. What impresses me about it is that it is quite a departure from the usual fantasy setting that essentially boils down to Medieval Europe + Magic = Fantasy World. What's even more impressive is that Sanderson has really made all these unique aspects of his setting fit into the story. No, the world is not just dark and gloomy for the heck of it, there is actually a reason that is revealed in the third book along with a twist that had me shifting my opinion on the Lord Ruler.
The world and the people as portrayed could have easily made this trilogy a dark/grim-dark tale. The lives of the skaa, the common people, have little value and you get to see how they are killed dismissively by the ruling class. There is actually a rule that nobles and skaa cannot interbreed so what the nobles did was that they were actually required to kill the skaa women that they bed. Also, one of the magic systems used involves a ritualistically torturous process to work properly. For all that, this is actually a hopeful story. The dead bodies tend to pile up, but it is never the focus of the story. I guess the difference is that we don't get to look through a cynic's perspective like we do in books like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. For all their personal struggles, the heroes are still heroic.
Looking into our characters, the first two books of the trilogy can actually be seen as a coming-of-age tale for the main protagonist, Vin, who struggles with the idea of trust as she learns to understand what it means to have friends. It is about her empowerment as she learns to wield the powers of a mistborn. And finally, there is also her struggle with identity. Her powers, while making her powerful, also makes her very useful, which creates conflict in that she finds herself wondering if she is simply valued for what she can do as opposed to her being valued as a person. For all the world altering events taking place in the books, what I really like with the books is that it is grounded as a character-driven story.
Sanderson is known for his magic systems. He tends to build them from simple concepts to create some really incredible effects through their varies interactions. The approach is along the lines of "magic as a science" so people who favor the idea of magic being dark and mysterious would dislike his systems. In Mistborn, there are three magic systems all tied to metals. In Allomancy, an Allomancer can use metals to wield powers the simply allow one to push or pull at something. That's it. The other systems are equally simple. What's really interesting is that Sanderson is clever enough to surprise me with the different ways the various magics are used. From a simple push or pull, we have people 'flying' around in the night.
Though the premise of the first book, that of the Dark Lord having triumphed, along with his clever magic system that deviates from the trope of complex spells and mysterious ways would certainly set this trilogy apart from other fantasy, that should not be the reason to pick up this book. You should read this because it is a well-written and well-executed piece of literature. There are those who call Sanderson out on using simple, transparent prose, but I really think it necessary that such a writing style is used to depict the fast-paced, action-packed sequences that are spread around in the books. Fancy wordcraft would just get in the way. In the end, are novels about finely constructed paragraphs or are they about exquisitely crafted stories?