Title: The Final Empire
Series Title: Mistborn
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Date Added: April 28, 2013
Date Started: May 4, 2013
Date Completed: September 4, 2013
“Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.
For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.
Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.”
Content Warning: Discussions of rape as it pertains to the narrative.
I read and reviewed this book a few years ago, but my prior review was an absolute mess. It was too descriptive, drawn out, and long winded. I usually just attempt to update the draft, but there was too much chaff and not enough wheat, and a fresh start in my typical format seemed the better option.
Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Series does something I’ve never seen a novel do (though I’ve seen it in video games e.g. Final Fantasy VI): show what would happen if the villain won. The descendants of the people who supported him enjoy the life of the nobility, while those of the people who opposed him, known as the skaa, are treated as slaves.
The novel starts out with a strong prologue, a feat in and of itself. Kelsier, a man known as the Survivor, visits some of the more wretched skaa on a plantation after he dispatches the lord there, an act that sets the story into a mien of vengeance, but in the main portion that tone switches to introduce Vin, an abused street urchin who works for a thieving crew in Luthadel, the largest city in the Final Empire and where the Lord Ruler resides. Vin has the power to calm people’s emotions, a useful trick when one is trying to scam the nobility. She also uses it to save her own skin and forestall physical abuse from the captain of the crew, though the girl learned long ago that the power is in limited supply.
Once Kelsier comes back into the picture, though, he makes her a part of his crew, recognizing that she’s Mistborn like him, able to use metals to craft magic in a system known as Allomancy.
Kelsier’s troupe consists of a bunch of various characters known as Mistings, people with the ability to use one of the Allomantic metals (Mistborn as a comparison can use all). Their leader’s ultimate goal is to take down the Lord Ruler and destroy the Final Empire that has cruelly withstood for ages, toppling the long held establishment, and freeing the skaa from the oppressive regime. A lofty ideal that I can certainly see paralleled in social justice of today.
The obstacles barring the way are momentous as many believe the Lord Ruler is no less than God and therefore as unbeatable (think of Satan’s futile efforts in Milton’s Paradise Lost), but Kelsier vehemently disagrees, proposing that the emperor is merely a charlatan, powerful, but a fraud nevertheless.
The character of Vin is your essential orphan/foundling/street urchin with mystical powers who’s going to save/change the world. Sanderson does a decent job showing her growth from cowed and abused to comfortable in her own powers and skin. She’s tasked to play the part of a young noblewoman to spy on the aristocracy as part of Kelsier’s grand plan.
Allomancy is a fascinating magic system, but I had to consistently refer back to the explanation of individual metals or the Mistborn Wiki to remember the details. It was difficult to recall what each metal did and the name of the Misting who controlled said metal. This caused a great deal of glossary hopping, which disrupts the flow of a story. Sanderson could’ve done better with that by working descriptions of each into the narrative when they’re mentioned in the beginning.
Similarly, much of Kelsier’s crew is forgettable, and I had to force myself to remember how they fit into the narrative. Breeze stands out due to his aristocratic speech since he has numerous dealings with the nobility, and Sazed is memorable since he’s a Terrisman (spoilers in the link), which I’m guessing is another race like elves/dwarves especially owing to Sazed’s description. Sanderson actually starts explaining certain aspects of some of these and other characters almost three-quarters of the way through the book. He brought up the term “kandra” (spoilers in this link, too) in respect to some random noble’s servant, and I wondered what the hell he was talking about. About fifty or so pages later the term is mentioned again in front of Vin and she questions it, which I found to be poor use of exposition. It would’ve been far better to bring up the term initially in front of a character who could be used as the foil to explain it. My guess is he wanted to introduce it and leave it mysterious, but it came off as sloppy.
The dialogue in this novel is far too simplistic for what the story is about. Besides a few (and one character whose accent is written out, which I just recently discovered is a major editing faux pas that I, myself, have been guilty of) there didn’t seem to be much individualization in how each character speaks. Nothing really sets them apart much in mannerisms either (unless we’re told it does..more on that in the next paragraph). The nobility is the same. I can’t count how many times Sanderson mentioned something was said in an aristocratic way instead of just saying it in an aristocratic way. Even the Lord Ruler has this very generic speech pattern. He does call Vin a child, a lot, which I’m guessing is Sanderson’s attempt to make him seem condescending. We’re more told what a character’s personality is rather than shown, which leads into my next point.
Sanderson is a huge perpetrator of telling instead of showing. He’ll often have a character think something along the lines of He’s so strong! in the midst of a fight and then he’ll go into showing how this is so where he could’ve easily dropped the thought bubble. This telling over showing takes away from some of the more brutal parts of the book, too. There’s one scene where Kelsier has the entire crew attend a public execution so that they can be reminded what they’re fighting against. He then makes a speech while in between paragraphs Sanderson reminds us that four more skaa have been killed, and that’s literally what he says, “Four more people died.” It’s so amazingly drab and doesn’t begin to explain the horror of what they’re experiencing. We’re told throughout the novel that skaa women are consistently raped and then murdered by noble lords so that no halfbreeds are (supposedly) born, but the only time this is really ever seen is in the prologue, which is what drew me to the book in the first place. Graphic rape scenes don’t need to be constantly shown (we learned that from Game of Thrones), but Sanderson seems to work on a system of narration where we hear people mentioning it to characters instead of having it shown within the work.
What kept me reading was the idea behind the Lord Ruler being a god usurper. Unentitled apotheosis has always been an interest of mine, and The Final Empire showed its Gnostic leanings in Kelsier’s belief that the emperor was a fraud who’d deceived the world into believing he was God. Gnostic ideology insists that the being we believe to be God is actually not and rather just an entity who claimed the title known as the demiurge, fashioner and creator of this material universe as the Lord Ruler is to theirs. Whether Sanderson has studied this mode of thought or not I don’t know, but you can definitely see its influence in his novel.
The beginning of every chapter had a blurb that appeared to be the hero’s story about how he defeated something known as The Deepness *shivers* and that definitely interested me. I really wanted to know what this Deepness was and what he had to do to defeat it. I also began to believe that the hero of legend was actually the Lord Ruler, but something had gotten into him and changed him into the emperor/tyrant god that he became. Maybe he didn’t defeat the Deepness…maybe the Deepness took over him. This had a bit of a Cthulhu vibe and I’m a sucker for anything Lovecraftian.
Despite its flaws Sanderson’s The Final Empire did manage to intrigue me and make me want to know more about this Deepness and what the Lord Ruler was really protecting mankind from even if I do have to take it along with the mostly generic characters, overly verbose dialogue, telling vs. showing, and uninteresting fight scenes. The novel also gave me some ideas about supreme rulership, though I intend to use them in the exact opposite way. It was still worth my time in reading it, and if you can get past the foibles I mentioned (or if these things don’t bother you), it’s worth your time, too.