Monday, 13 October 2008

‘Mistborn’ – Brandon Sanderson (Tor)


The last couple of times that I’ve wondered what to read next people have invariably mentioned ‘Mistborn’ as a book that I need to try. I wasn’t too keen on Brandon Sanderson’s debut ‘Elantris’, not only did the story have a tendency to meander (as far as I was concerned) but the ink also had a tendency to come straight off the page and onto my fingers! I’ve heard lots of good things about ‘Mistborn’ though so decided to give it a go anyway. I’m glad I did but more on that in a little bit. I still managed to get ink on my fingers though...

The world of the Final Empire came about when a young hero failed in his challenge to stop darkness from choking the land. Ever since that day, the immortal Lord Ruler has governed a land smothered in mist and ash. Not only is the Lord Ruler apparently invulnerable but so are the fearsome Steel Inquisition, a thousand year rule has cowed the population and rebellion is unthinkable. Or is it?
A plan is brewing on the streets of the capital, a plan so audacious that people are starting to feel hope again that the Lord Ruler’s reign may finally end. A criminal mastermind is putting the plan into action but everything will ride on an unlikely heroine who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn...

‘Mistborn’ is a novel that starts where most other fantasy novels would end (the showdown between good and evil) and then shows us what happens next. While it has a refreshing spin, in that the hero failed and tyranny rules, I was left wondering how effective this was given that the only way the Lord Ruler could be defeated was by... another hero... Not only another hero though but a heroine with a mysterious past, kind of like the original hero who screwed up in the first place... I guess that there isn’t much of an alternative if you want to get rid of a Dark Lord!
This approach left me stumbling a bit as it felt a little lazy to me. Evil threatens the land? Get a hero on the case. Has your hero failed and the land is now cowering under the Lord Ruler? Get a hero on the case. Luckily though, ‘Mistborn’ makes up for this in a number of other ways and became a book that I had to finish.

‘Mistborn’ is a book with plenty going on as rival thieving crews, elements of the rebellion and the nobility all seek prominence, in the city of Luthadel, while the Lord Ruler manipulates them all for his own ends. Warfare (both covert and overt) is rife and the urgency of this is skilfully complemented by a post-apocalyptic landscape where the constant emphasis on ash and mist gives the reader a chilling picture of what it must be like to live in these times. Sanderson is not afraid to lend heavy emphasis to the plight of the slave workers (the Skaa) either and the end result is a downbeat tale that is cleverly bought to life through the introduction of the plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler.

This is where things get a little stodgy again. Sanderson introduces us to the main players and that’s fine; he spares no expense in getting us inside their heads and clearly laying out what makes them tick. This is especially true of Vin, the heroine of the piece who has a long journey ahead of her before she can learn to trust people again. Sanderson takes things really slowly here which means we get a real in depth look at how Vin’s character changes over time and why she does certain things. While I appreciated this, regarding what I was able to learn about Vin, I was less keen when I realised that Sanderson was taking the same approach with the rest of the book and it was dragging as a result...

Sanderson leaves no stone unturned during the course of the book and goes into everything at great detail. Unfortunately he’s indiscriminate about what he elaborates on, meaning that we get pages and pages where much is said but nothing seems to actually happen. This is balanced out, to a point, by major events (such as the finale) and some very cool fight scenes but the pace of the story felt constantly interrupted and I found myself getting the urge to skim the odd page or three...

Where ‘Mistborn’ really redeemed itself was the idea of ‘Allomancy’, a form of magic that involves ingesting certain metals and then ‘burning’ them to release their powers either in combat or covert missions. Not only was this a concept that I hadn’t come across before but it made for fight scenes that looked as if they had come straight out of ‘The Matrix’! These were the highlight of the book for me, fights where anything was possible and the smallest piece of metal suddenly became a deadly weapon! I’m looking forward to seeing more of this in future episodes.

‘Mistborn’ was an infuriating read where I always knew that something amazing was just round the corner but I had to slog through mindless detail to get to it. Luckily the intrigue, cool concepts and strong characterisation made up for it enough for me to want to give the next book a go. I just hope the next one is a bit more streamlined...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

2 comments:

Hagelrat said...

hahahaha, just read your about me. What it is it about transport that lures us to fantasy? ;)
I am a sustainable transport officer for a city council. My closest freinds in the profession are all Larpers or re enactors or obsessed with Joss Whedon.

ediFanoB said...

Graeme, first of all thank you for this excellent review.

My wife and I had a discussion about this years Christmas gifts.

From my point of view we made a wise decision. We will present each other books!

So I started to write down my book wishlist for Christmas.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is definitely a candidate for my list.