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To be frank, I did not know Brandon Sanderson before I read his book, "The Final Empire", and now I know how much I have missed over the years. His book, as well as the remainder of the Mistborn series, is absolutely amazing both to me and many of my friends. Now, I will refrain from subjective feelings (as much as I can, that is), and I will give you the most objective review possible.
The book starts with a very thrilling first chapter. I was literally there--in the houses that were surrounded by mists where the subjugated skaa (the enslaved population of the book) were living-- and I could easily feel the emotions that the author intended me to. I have to admit, I have been reading such fantasy/adventure books for quite a while now, and this is perhaps one of the strongest beginnings I have ever read. I could not let go of the book until I got a good idea of what was going on, which was maybe at about page 40-50. Then, however, it became even harder to let go...
The superpower in this book is something you would not have imagined... When we think of superpowers, we always consider super-human strength, speed, agility, senses, etc; however, this is not the case here as the author has created a really innovative superpower- in short, the heroes of the book get powers from the burning of metals in their bodies (it is a lot cooler than it might seem at first!). I was a bit anxious at first, but my fears quickly dissipated as I was submerged into a very adventure/action-packed story, where you could see small and large twists every 50 pages or so!
The author has definitely outdone himself when it comes to the story: I read from the book, and I always wanted to read more, as I was anxious to know how the story progresses. The heroes make you like, even love, them even with their flaws and significant character disparities (well, I have to say that this was a plus since every hero, nowadays, has committed no sin, crime nor though of anything bad). I won't go into spoilers, but the story is very strong and it is not the linear good-kills-evil you can see in every other book.
He has done a very good job as the narrative is well written and thoroughly explained. There are very few weak spots in the story, writing and detailing. You will have the feeling of actually being in the world of the mistborn as you read the book thanks to the graphic explanation of the surroundings. The somewhat bleak world will evoke darker feelings in most, but that will only make you more sympathetic with the heroes and their journey to create a better world. Since this book, I have branched out into Brandon Sanderson's other books as he has proven he is a true master of the adventure fantasy!
Rating and Opinion:
I would have to say that the book is definitely worth is, whether you have something to read or not. It will fill your days with adventure and your nights with dreams of a different world. I would recommend it to everyone who is into action-packed adventure books that have quite a bit of fantasy in them. In addition, the non-linear story, the innovative powers, interesting characters will definitely bring a change into your life!
Score: 9.5/10 - I am giving a near perfect on this book as it offers so much; the lack of points is mainly due to the little flaws that might be noticed or entirely skipped. "The Final Empire" by Brandon Sanderson is a definite read, if you ask me!
For a thousand years he has ruled the world; having saved it from some cataclysmic evil it is now his to control as he wishes. Immortal and all-powerful in the 'Allomatic' arts - those using metal to grant enhanced abilities to gifted people - no one can dare to stand against him. And so life in the Final Empire is hard. Hard for the nobility, reliant on the whims of the god-emperor and constantly playing games of politics with other Great Houses - games that include assassinations, with the most powerful allomancers nigh-on unstoppable. And on the flip side, those not born to nobility have it even harder: skaa are property, beaten without cause, killed for little more. The skaa are downtrodden serfs, a millennia of conditioning all but breeding the fight out of them.
And then... from the swirling mists of the night, mists that no sane person dares to enter, comes something that should be impossible: a skaa with Mistborn abilities - and a mind to start a revolution!
I've been reading fantasy fiction for rather a long time now and I do have to admit that the bulk of it falls into some fairly well-worn (i.e. predictable!) ruts. That's not always a bad thing: hearing a familiar story retold well can still be enjoyable. However, it gets harder and harder to really get excited about any genre after a while, so anything that makes me sit up hours past bedtime (I'm usually too sensible!) hanging on every word to find out what happens - well, wow! :)
That's not to say The Final Empire is 100%, shockingly original - it still fits into the genre, still follows a few template patterns. But there are more than enough original elements, plus a gift for storytelling, combining to leave me enthralled.
What worked best for me was the pre-chapter excerpts from... something! This is itself a rather well-used device these days, but these little snippets first hint and then start to reveal just a little about a back story, another element and depth to what I was reading in the main narrative. The eventual revelation only heightened the need to keep reading and find out not just what was coming next, but *what the heck HAPPENED?* in this world's history!!
Of course, you do need that main narrative to be pretty gripping, too. This is where the more familiar elements come in: Vin is a young skaa girl, working as part of a thieving team (so, some skaa aren't quite as downtrodden as the rest, I guess?!). Like many a fictional young hero before her, she turns out to be a bit more special than anyone ever thought and we get to follow her training as she discovers her abilities in the Allomatic arts: a set of skills each requiring the 'burning' (via consumption plus inborn skill) of a specific metal or alloy, granting the practitioner enhanced strength, senses, or the ability to near-fly by 'pushing' or 'pulling' on external metal sources. Then there are the Mistborn - allomancers who can burn any of the metals, not just one. And, of course, there's the most audacious plan to overthrow a god!
However, along with a familiar theme Sanderson has created a strong world and set of characters, plus a 'logic' that remains consistent throughout. You can look up 'Sanderson's first law', which is about ensuring your system of magic doesn't suddenly become (deus ex machina) an excuse to fix unfixable problems! True to that law, the Allomancy system of magic does have its limitations and takes its toll on users. It's a very good premise to ensure that you aren't suddenly jolted out of the suspension of disbelief required for such reading!
The magical abilities are explored via the setting up of a 'crew' requiring one each of the Allomatic skills. Other than the main few, the characters are fairly loosely sketched, I feel: likeable, not too two-dimensional, but left relatively on the sidelines. Then there's the grim setting: in this world ash falls constantly - at least on the bits of it, mainly the main city, that we glimpse. Plants are brown not green, although there is some near-mythical knowledge that this isn't how it's always been. And that - that sense that things changed at some point in the world's history, but so long ago few have any knowledge of it at all - is something that provides tantalising hints that this book is all just part of a bigger story.
I think Sanderson balances very well the needs of characterisation, setting and plot, with a sense of casual flair for storytelling than I can only envy. It is perhaps my own preferences for world-building that throws that facet to the forefront for me, and makes me pay more attention to that element to the point that I am slightly less interested in the characters than wanting to explore more about the bigger imagining going on than just this one book.
Fortunately, The Final Empire is the opening of a trilogy (and a sequel is now available, too). I'm already looking forward to picking up the story and finding out more about this strange, intriguing world - and, I hope, that revelation about what did happen!
My rating: it's not quite perfect, but it just stands out so much for me compared to anything I've read recently in the genre that I have to give it a sleep-depriving 5 stars! :)
Paperback: 643 (story) pages (Gollancz fantasy 2009)
First published in 2006
(Review title totally stolen from the cover by-line!)
I hadn't heard of Brandon Sanderson until I was lent some his of books recently, and I've since read a couple. If you're an avid Wheel of Time reader, which I confess I'm not, you might recognise him as the man chosen to finish the last book in the late Robert Jordan's stead, but when I started reading The Final Empire he was still an unknown entity to me. This is the author's second book and the first book in the Mistborn trilogy, followed by The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages. It usually costs around £8.99, but is available on Amazon for far less, and you can even buy the whole trilogy in a box set.
I was deeply sceptical when I first picked up The Final Empire. I love fantasy, but the amount of over-long, generic tat is horrendous, and enough to put me off taking a chance on new series. The book's 600+ pages didn't look promising, and even the names on the cover made me purse my lips a bit. An arch-villain called the "Lord Ruler" may as well be called "The Completely Evil Shadow Overlord of the East" or "The Really Really Dark One - Yes, He's Totally Dark, He'll Eat Your Children". However, I also love a bit of fantasy fluff as pure comfort reading, and hoped this would fulfil that need if nothing else.
The author sets his scene early: the city of Luthadel, capital of the Final Empire, seat of the immortal (and bad and evil) Lord Ruler. The sky constantly rains volcanic ash, mortals lock their doors in fear of the mists at night, and the oppressed "skaa" people live to perform manual drudgery for the upper classes. Add a young skaa girl full of latent magical potential, an economy governed by backstabbing wealthy families, and a motley crew with a scheme to overthrow the Lord Ruler, and you have an epic fantasy plot that's good to go.
Our skaa heroine, Vin, finds herself plucked from a life of poverty and violence in the gutter, and thrown into a world of magic, intrigue, and untrustworthy aristrocrats. She takes it all in her stride, making friends and enemies, attempting diplomacy and espionage, and even finding a spot of romance on the way. The characters are likable despite being fairly flat and generic, and having some daft names even by fantasy standards - Breeze and Ham, anyone? It's the ambitious concepts that kept my attention instead.
Sanderson's magical system of "Allomancy" is the jewel in the crown of this book. It's something fresh and different in fantasy fiction: a magic whose users, known as "Allomancers", can augment mental or physical powers by ingesting and "burning" quantities of metal. There are four pure Allomantic metals, each with an alloy that produces an opposite effect. Most Allomancers can only burn one metal and are called "Mistings", with their own nicknames in the community: thugs burn pewter to increase their strength, making great soldiers; tineyes burn tin to amplify their senses, making good scouts or spies; lurchers burn iron to "Pull" nearby metal objects towards them, while coinshots burn steel to "Push" metal away from them; rioters burn zinc to provoke people into a frenzy, while soothers burn brass to calm the emotions of others, making them powerful diplomats; seekers burn bronze to detect other Allomancers nearby, while smokers burn copper to conceal the giveaway signs of Allomantic manipulation.
As we soon find out, there are some Allomancers who can burn every metal, making them powerful and formidable opponents. They can even fly through the city streets, after a fashion, by Pushing and Pulling on metals. They are known as the "Mistborn" of the title, and make Mistings seem like weaklings in comparison. There are also rumours of atium, the half-mythical, most valuable metal, which gives its user powers as yet unknown and can only be burned by a Mistborn.
It sounds complicated at first, but Sanderson implements his concepts well, and the teamwork and rivalry between Allomancers makes for good reading. Anyone who's idly daydreamed of being Magneto can guess what a lot of potential the system has, with the ubiquity of different metals around and inside us every day. Allomancy has interesting repercussions for the world that Sanderson has made. Soldiers rush to throw off their armour if they realise they're fighting an Allomancer. There are even specific guards, "hazekillers", trained to fight against Mistings - they wear no armour, and fight with wooden weapons. Wearing metal is a symbol of great conceit reserved for the very rich and well-protected. Everything's clearly worked out, in fine technical detail, and Allomancy provides a much-needed solid backbone to Sanderson's adventure.
It's not all easy sailing for a Mistborn, as our protagonists find out, when they end up pitted against enemy Allomancers and the terrifyingly inhuman, unstoppable Steel Inquisitors in their quest to reach the Lord Ruler himself. It's a long, tough mission, not without casualties, and there are some impressive Allomantic battles and duels along the way.
Sanderson's prose isn't brilliant, and was my main reservation with the book. It's awkward at best and woeful at worst, full of wooden dialogue, exposition, and clunking attempts at banter. The characters' speech is littered with modern Americanisms that grate with the otherwise traditional fantasy setting - people "figure" a lot, rather than "think", "deduce" or any of a dozen better words that wouldn't kill the tone. Sanderson doesn't seem to know how to show rather than tell, so a lot of the book is repetitious spoonfeeding. His complex magical concepts and court-intrigue subplots almost seem beyond his ability to express; I got the feeling the book would've been a couple of hundred pages shorter if only he was a more fluent and concise writer. The most adventurous word in his arsenal is "maladroitly", and he makes sure to use it often. That said, his simplicity makes the book an easy read despite its scale and length, and once you're accustomed to his style - or lack thereof - it's easier to ignore.
Despite its shortcomings, I did enjoy the book. I was intrigued by its ideas, and think Sanderson has the potential to be great rather than just good. His strength isn't in character or prose, but in plot and concept. I do wish his writing wasn't so stiff and bloated, but he has a flair for magic that makes him stand out from the crowd. I just hope he doesn't waste that potential in the face of his current success and hype - the next two books are even longer than the first, which doesn't bode very well for his improvement. If you fancy some lengthy but unchallenging fantasy with interesting ideas, The Final Empire is a safe choice; but unless he improves dramatically, "safe" is the best I can say about Sanderson.
I first came across The Final Empire in Waterstone's. It was the cover that caught my eye, the brilliant grey and blue on white. It's a very fitting cover for the content in all honesty.
It's available in paper copy and also as a digital copy.
For those new to the fantasy genre, old fans of fantasy or those looking for something a bit different, give this book a go. It deals with fresh ideas and Sanderson has created a believable world that, if put into practice, would work. There is a food supply, economics, a judical system, everything a society needs to run.
The writing -
My favourite thing about this book are the characters. They are fully fleshed out, believable, have emotions and human reactions to events. They all have their own quirks which do influence the story in little ways. It's like you could walk down the street and meet them, they're crafted so well.
My favourite is Breeze, the self-styled gentleman who always has a quip ready for any comment made.
The story itself is brilliant and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and wanting to read on. The ending was well put together and not at all lacking.
Sanderson writes beautiful descriptions that are neither over the top or lacking in detail. If he wants you to hate or distrust a character, he will give you ample reason to. He is a master of the word and it was a joy to keep the pages turning.
The only problem I had were the five groups of metals to remember. Although he does go over them and their effects frequently, I had to keep flicking to the back of the book to find out what each metal did. However, you will learn them all and recognise each with little trouble soon enough. Sanderson has created a different magic system that does not involve fireballs or lightening and it is refreshing. If you're sick of magic from fingertips, this is for you.
I recommend this book completely. It's a page turner. Although 672 pages, don't let this put you off.
Sanderson's writing transports you to another world that is similiar enough to ours to be comforting but also different enough to be interesting. I believe it would also be suitable for teenagers looking for something a little more challenging to read or something different.
Five stars all the way!
Good news! The Mistborn series is a trilogy!
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