Dale Cooper's Reviews > The Final Empire

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
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's review
Oct 23, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, series

** spoiler alert ** Approximately 22% of my youth was spent reading fantasy fiction. Like many young people, my introduction to fantasy was Tolkien’s ubiquitous “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. After that I moved on to Raymond E. Feist and the (still active) adventures in Midkemia and Kelewan. Then the next several years of my life was paved (or not) with the static world mainstays (Dragonlance & Forgotten Realms) and its various offshoots. It was not until I started reading Robert Jordan’s overrated but still superb The Wheel of Time series that I realized that all fantasy does not have to be diluted Tolkien knockoffs or recycled stories in the established Hero’s Quest archetype (although touching on the archetype itself is impossible to avoid)

Of course throughout the years I discovered that there were other authors that pushed the envelope. Ursula K Le Guin, George RR Martin, and others can write a traditional trilogy or epic cycles and bring something new to the genre.

The best fantasy book that I have read since Tolkien is The Name of he Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. When I have a few hours to write my master 10,000 word essay on why “The Name of the Wind” is the best modern fantasy book, you that subscribe to this blog will be the first to know. Possibly the second best fantasy book – and the start to a brilliant trilogy – that I have read since Tolkien is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn as the introduction to “The Final Empire” trilogy. The entire trilogy must be read. There is not a weak book in the series. Typically the second book of a trilogy is its weakest link as the stage is set for the finale. However, Sanderson magnificently produces a second book that builds on the first and becomes transforming instead of transitional. And then, remarkably, does it again with the third and final book.

Published by Tor Fantasy
Written by Brandon Sanderson

Although this series, starting with “Mistborn,” came highly recommended, there were two things that almost kept me from buying it. Those two things are the cover that I have showing here (earlier covers are much better) and a blurb review by Romantic Times. The cover is hazy pink and purple, as one can see, and does not look that removed from covers in the romantic fantasy genre. The blurb from Romantic Times – which one has to assume is a service that deals primarily in romances (I wouldn’t know) and that cover was a mite bit suspicious to me. The last thing that I’m going to read is romantic fantasy (well, the last thing next to paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and historical romance – but you get the drift). Luckily I sent my friend who recommended it to me an email which read, “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU IF THIS IS A ROMANCE. AND KILL YOU AGAIN IF IT MENTIONS ANYTHING TO DO WITH A SHAFT OR BEING MOIST.” He wrote me back to tell me to chill out – that there is nary even the hint of sex and the only romance is quite a believable one involving the protagonist. And that relationship is needed for subsequent books and is quite the fulcrum for the remaining story. Whew. Ok, so that is out of the way.

So far one knows that “Mistborn” is not romance, but what is it? It is a richly conceived world with amazingly developed primary characters and a unique “magic” system that is exhilarating to read in action. “Mistborn” is written in a professionally steady prose that allows the events to develop naturally with no distraction. The story is amazingly plotted so that each word leading to each event is the natural evolution of the narrative. Absolutely nothing is contrived. It’s like an excellent director and cinematographer for a movie. When those two work together well the viewer is allowed absorption into the story. That is the talent of Sanderson’s writing. It does not stand in the way of the story and is always just as complex or as simple as it needs to be. That is a rare talent.

The trilogy tells the story of Vin whose cliche description as a poor abused street urchin girl just trying to survive but then is swept up in a world changing adventure is transcended by Sanderson as he creates a uniquely real character where emotions, decisions, and reactions are smoothly transcribed to the page like organic occurrences. The strength of the Vin character is her growth and development which leads to transcendental realism. It’s the perfect character to build a series around.

The Final Empire is bleakly plagued with giant ash pits which cause ash to fall from the sky like snow and the sun to be filtered to a sickly, pale light. Plants struggle to survive and many Skaa slaves spend their lives cleaning water supplies and shoveling ash off of city streets and trade routes. There is also an ever-present mist that comes at sundown. The Skaa are fearful of the mist, but nobles walk at night boldly. There something about the mist; legendary things or old wives tales.

Vin’s world is dominated by The Lord Ruler – an eon old God-King who rules The Final Empire with an iron fist. Nobles in The Final Empire are descendants of those that helped The Lord Ruler ascend to the throne and save the world a thousand years ago. Only those with noble blood can be gifted with the skill of Allomancy. Allomancy allows the Allomancer to “burn” (or use) ingested metals, thereby enhancing various physical and mental capacities. For an additional burst of power, an Allomancer may burn their metal(s) especially quickly, consuming them at an accelerated rate, but gaining greater benefits from them; this is referred to as “flaring” metals. A person who is only able to burn one of the metals listed below is known as a Misting. Anyone capable of burning more than one metal is capable of burning all of them; these people are known as Mistborn.** Allomancers of any kind are rare, though the existence of half breed noble bastards with some allomaic talent are more numerous in the peasant ranks than the Lord Ruler believes. The Great Houses and land owners of the Final Empire live like typical royalty. Those that are not of noble blood are of a proletarian slave class called Skaa. Very few Skaa raise above being a poverty stricken and enslaved work force.

**from wikipedia

Each chapter of all the books are accompanied by entries from various journals from a different perspective of the world near The Lord Ruler’s age old climb to power. These entries are crucial to the development of the story as they contain clues (and possibly red herrings) that are elemental to The Lord Ruler, all the Lands, and the prophetical hero who is destined to save it all.

The journal entries and discoveries in the narrative itself combine to provide an in-depth mystery to the land, the hero, and the rise of the Lord Ruler to a god. Seeds are planted throughout with great care. Sanderson’s mastery of his own world becomes startlingly evident as small details and threads from early in the series become paramount revelations and clues to solve the mystery by the end of the third book.

Such painstaking planning and detail is impressive and its conclusions jaw dropping.
Book 1: Mistborn

Vin is rescued from her street life by Kelsier and his crew of thieves. There is something special about Vin as one of Kelsier’s crew discovers that sets her apart from most street Skaa. This is not a typical thieving nest as one is likely to find in most fantasy writing, but rather a specialized group with varying areas of talent that is known for great strikes and con operations. Think of Kelsier’s crew as something along the lines of “Ocean’s 11″ or “The Sting.” And that is where some of the originality of “Mistborn” comes in to play.

Kelsier’s crew includes a brilliant Keeper of the Terris People called Sazed. The Terris are an indentured race of humans who serve as the ultimate man servant, but secretly cultivate lost and dying knowledge through leaders called Keepers. Sazed’s specialty is archaic religions. His character is charmingly similar to the PG Wodehouse character Jeeves from the loved series of stories with a dash of Nessus the Puppeteer from Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Some Terris people are possessed of a power similar to allomancy but primarily used to record and maintain knowledge that spans the history of the Land – even prior to the Lord Ruler’s Final Empire.

Rounding out Kelsier’s crew of mostly half-breed allomancer mistings are Breeze, an outwardly selfish soother with a heart of gold; Clubbs who has the ability to screen allomancers from being detected and provides safe houses; Ham, a Thug warrior and inquisitive philosopher; Dockson, a non allomancer but Kelsier’s right hand man and organizer; Marsh, Kelsier’s severe brother; and Spook, Clubbs’ shy and awkward young nephew whose allomaic enhanced ability to see and hear is perfect for his role of look out and informant.

“The Final Empire” trilogy is not a standard sword and magic fantasy tale. Instead Kelsier, Vin, and the crew are pulling off a great con job – the grift of the ages – the greatest heist of history – they want to bankrupt, subvert, rebel against, and topple The Final Empire. The plot focusing on The Job streaks along with humor, intrigue, and tension while carrying the brunt of character development. It’s mesmerizing. Some of my favorite movies are con and heist movies where the a group of suave players scam the system and the bad guys while staying a step ahead – even if no one knows it. Sanderson captures that spirit cleanly and with panache.

Kelsier was once the most feared crew leader in the Imperial city of Luthadel. Just as he was about to strike a blow and retire rich with his wife and crew-mate, he was betrayed, caught by The Lord Ruler himself, and sent to a work camp to die. Kelsier, a rare Skaa-Noble halfbreed, escapes the work camp when tragedy strikes and his allomantic talent “breaks” (allomantic talent only surfaces after trauma). Kelsier discovers that not only is he a Allomancer, but he is one of the few that are able to use all metal enhancements, known as Mistborn.

If Kelsier was feared by the nobles and held in awe by the Skaa before escaping and becoming an Mistborn, then afterward he is a ruthlessly serious threat to the nobles (though they are unaware) and ascending to near divine reputation with the Skaa. Kelsier’s crew walks the line between daring and reckless which lead even his most loyal crew-mates to question his sanity and ego. A major set back nearly destroys the crews plan and its lead rebellion and Kelsier’s leadership is questioned even more as he pushes forward.

What are Kelsier’s motives? Is there always another secret? Is he a step ahead like any master con man?

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