Monday, April 4, 2016

Reading Materials: Mistborn Series (Part 1)

I don't mind reading books recommended to me.  But I do try to
have a list.  Sometimes things get on my list.  Other times I manage to skip along into reading something unexpected not on my list.  Mistborn: the Final Empire is one of those recommended addictive reads.

A friend recommended it to me.  I didn't hesitate out of fear about the series.  But rather out of intimidation of its author, Brandon Sanderson.  Sanderson has a reputation for epic fantasy and complex magic systems.  I'd always heard people praise him.

My hesitation came from intimidation on Sanderson's Rep.  Not negative.  I just worried about getting sucked into a new series, hook line and sinker.  I'm not sure about that.  But Mistborn: the Final Empire and the next books in its series, were excellent reads.  Rather than try to cover the entire series, I'm going to try to cover my opinions and thoughts on the first book.

Mistborn itself is a trilogy that follows the character of Vin.  The classic ragged orphan who ascends to be the hero of the piece.  That isn't a spoiler.  If you didn't see that coming in the first book, you need to bone up on your understanding of hero stories.

Apocalyptic Heist Fantasy.

The worldbuilding in the first book, the Final Empire, drives me to focus on each book.  Rather than cover the whole trilogy, I feel like I need to touch on each one in separate doses.  It is a world already in motion when we get to Vin.  Even Vin's mentor, Kelsier, is kind of at the apex or climax of his own story.  The term apocalyptic heist fantasy fits, because that's what the story is about.

The world of the Final Empire is a dark, ash-ridden place.  Half-way through the novel, I realized that even the plant life in the Final Empire is depressing.  Brown, not green plants.  No flowers.  And the mist is omnipresent every night.

The book itself seems to revolve around a phrase spoken by the character of Kelsier early on.  "There's always another secret."  That sums a good deal of the meta of the story.  Always some deeper twist laid in store.

The heist part of the story feels like a different take for fantasy then I'd presumed.  Maybe I need to expand my list of fantasy reads, but the Final Empire felt as much a crime novel as it did a fantasy one.  It's neater when a story doesn't stay constrained to the preconceived tropes of a genre.

Magic System.

The other part that I'd been certain about seeing had to be the magic systems at play in Mistborn.  There are three, and I'm not going to spoil them here.  Part of the point of reading the novel is learning how the magic works.  Spoiling that kind of ruins the point of reading.

The key thing I noticed about the magic in Mistborn is the precision of the rules for it.  Each specific power in Mistborn isn't radical or powerful.  But they follow rules.  If applied in the proper way, they can alter things in dramatic sense.

It has more in line with super powers than the mysterious.  In other settings, magic tends to be vague and shadowy.  Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has magic, but its cloaked in mystery.  There are rules at play.  Mythology also tends to approach magic that way too.  Mysterious, magic serves as a flexible way to get a story past certain obstacles.

This is an interesting difference.  I don't think Sanderson began it.  There is a more dramatic complexity with magic that is more fractal and emergent.  There is more to magic just being a plot device used to save the eponymous hero of a tale in Mistborn.


I enjoyed the Final Empire.  The main character of Vin put me off a bit, but her arc makes the story worth it by the end.  The worldbuilding is more key to this book than the others in the series.

The heist angle helped a bit.  Vin being a thief, and having to learn how to trust others, makes for a brilliant subtheme to her experiences with the rest of the crew.  The Crew.  That too, makes The Final Empire work.   It's a heist tale.  Heists have crews, specialists who you learn about and identify with.

Vin isn't the main focus of the book, but the Final Empire is about her coming of age.  Her learning to trust while part of a plan to kill and overthrow a god-king, made her journey worth reading.  Kelsier hands things over to her through the story.  He too, is interesting in how even he doesn't know what his real motivations are.

Good start to the story.  Mistborn continues past the Final Empire, starting with a rebellion to overthrow a god.  Maybe I can revisit back to this about the other books in the series when I get a chance.