Mistborn: The Final Empire Review
Ash falls from the sky and swirling mists dominate the night. Evil has won. This is the Final Empire under the Lord Ruler’s tyrannical bootheel.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson is book 1 in the first Mistborn trilogy published in 2006.
The nobility is the descendants of the Lord Rulers supporters at the beginning of his reign, over 1,000 years ago. Their reward for their loyalty is the gift of Alamancy: the ability to harness different Alamantic powers through the “burning” of specific ingested metals. Not all nobles are born with the ability to harness these powers, however. Some can use one of the 10 basic metals to perform a specific ability, such as using tin to enhance their senses, or puter to strengthen their bodies. These are called Mistings. On very rare occasions from pure bloodlines, an Alamancer is born who can use any of the metals to harness any of the powers available. These rarities are called Mistborn.
The Skaa are the descendants of those who opposed the Lord Ruler after the Ascension. They have been used as slaves of the nobility ever since as their punishment. Brutal subjugation, an instilled fear of the mist, and an unwavering belief that the Lord Ruler is god has kept the Skaa under control. 1,000 years of this has made the Skaa docile.
The church the Lord Ruler: The Steel Ministry, enforces the Lord Ruler’s laws. The laws of the land are the laws of their god. The primary law forbids nobles to reproduce with Skaa to prevent halfbreeds who have a chance at possessing Alamantic power. It still happens, of course. Halfbreed mistings are rare. Halfbreed Mistborn are closer to myth than reality.
One such individual, a Skaa Mistborn named Kelsier, the leader of a notorious thieving crew, is recruiting for a new job. The biggest job of them all: stirring the Skaa to rebel against the Lord Ruler so that he and his crew could loot the reserves of the most valuable alamantic metal from the Lord Ruler’s palace. His recruiting effort brought him to an interesting street urchin: a girl named Vin.
Vin is unaware of her abilities at the beginning of her story, using what she calls “Luck” to manipulate someone’s emotions. Kelsier recognizes that Vin is able to burn two different types of metals, using two different powers. This indicates Vin is a Mistborn, able to burn any of the alamantic metals. Kelsier trains her to use her powers and adds her to his band of Skaa mistings.
I don't want to go too much farther into the story, because I don’t want to spoil anything, so let’s get into the critiques. The biggest critique, for me, was Sanderson’s prose. It might be a small thing, but the book often reads like a young adult novel. This critique can be turned on its head and one could say Sanderson left the flowery language out of his writing to focus on the world and the characters he was creating. The fact that he was able to create such a detailed world full of characters the reader cares about without extravagant pros is a testament to Sanderson’s ability to tell his story.
Another small problem I had, was the use of the forbidden love trope. When this specific subplot came along, I could predict exactly how it would go because I have read it in so many books and watched it in so many movies and TV shows. It’s fine to use a well-known trope as long as you add enough of your own zest to keep it interesting. I think Sanderson added enough of the creative worldbuilding aspects from the unique setting to make this romance subplot bearable. I did roll my eyes a couple of times though. Like I said, not a huge deal overall. Sanderson handled it well but I often wondered why he used the trope at all. It might become more apparent to me as I continue the series.
Now on to the stuff Sanderson did well in The Final Empire. There is so much but I’ll try to keep it to the big things.
The magic system is one of the best I have ever read. Alamancy and Feruchemy are the two systems in book one. I believe there will be another later in the series, but for now, let’s talk about the two. Both are hard magic systems with rigid rules and defined boundaries. Alamancy draws power from the metals an Alamancer swallows in vials of solution. Each specific metal grants a specific power that Alamancer can wield.
The rules of Alamancy are sprinkled throughout the story as the reader needs to know. No major info dumps that I noticed. Where Mistings can only use one of the abilities, Mistborn can use them all at the same time if they want. This makes for fight scenes that read kind of like a superhero fight straight out of a comic book. Mistborn can push and pull metals, allowing them to fly through the streets by dropping coins to push against or pulling on metal fixtures on buildings. They can soothe fear and riot anger in a person to make them act on their emotions. Or they can make a person do nothing. They can gain superhuman strength and senses with pewter and tin. All these very specific details come together in the most satisfying way. New, creative uses of these powers keep coming throughout the story.
Less is known about Feruchemy in book 1. Feruchemists are fewer and further between. From my understanding, the power they wield comes from themselves. They are capable of storing something in metal Items they wear by saving whatever it is. For example, a Feruchemist can be older than normal for a time in order to store youth in a metal bracelet. Then, later on, they can tap into that store and feel and appear younger for a time. They can do this with memories and strength as well. A Feruchemist can weaken themselves, withering away to skin and bone for several hours, storing their strength in an earring, then they can use it all at once to become a muscle-bound hulk and lift a boulder.
The worldbuilding is another strong point. Red sun, red sky, black ash floating down like snow, mists that roll in every night. All of this makes for some foreboding visuals and adds so much to the atmosphere. I can also feel a rich history that Sanderson sprinkled here or there. It gives the world a lived-in feeling that I definitely appreciate.
Several satisfying twists caught me off guard throughout The Final Empire. Some of them subverted my expectations, but a few caught me completely off guard. I didn’t even have a chance to expect the unexpected.
The characters each feel like they have their own voice and their individual personalities are communicated well. Kelsier, Vin, and Elend in particular intrigued me throughout the story. I could feel Kelsier’s thirst for revenge, Vin’s fear of abandonment, and Elend’s need to resist his noble lifestyle even though I never had these feelings in my real life. Sanderson mixes in enough relatable personality traits so the reader can latch onto these characters and sympathize.
I would recommend this book to literally anyone over the age of 12 just because some of the violence and worldbuilding aspects may not be appropriate for a younger child. Anyone who is looking for an entry-level fantasy adventure, I recommend The Final Empire. I can’t think of a better epic fantasy novel for someone to start with. It’s easy to read and, though it is the first book in a trilogy, the ending is cathartic. If you don’t want to continue the series, you can still have that sense of completion without any of that subconscious obligation to continue if you don’t want to.
I, on the other hand, do want to continue. I will be continuing my read through the Mistborn trilogy, for sure. I give The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson 4 out of 5 stars.
Thanks for reading. The winner of The Final Emire: Mistborn book 1 is Katelyn. I'll be sending you an email to collect some info and then I'll send that book out to you. If this is your first time reading my blog, check out some of my other posts. I write short stories and review some of my favorite books every Friday. I will also be hosting a guest poster each month. Next Friday, I have an exciting short story by Kaylun D. Rice for you all. He’s an up and coming fantasy author who is currently working on his debut novel. Also check out my dark fantasy novel, Well of Bones. You can currently download it for free by signing up for my newsletter here. Thanks again for reading.
Until next week,