We all have those moments of regret, when we wonder why we didn’t do something earlier. Perhaps it’s a hole-in-the-wall restaurant a few blocks from your apartment, or a band/artist you finally give into listening after your friends badger you for months, or that TV show everyone on your social media has been watching and upon giving into peer pressure, you binge the previous seasons before the new one airs.
I had a moment like this with a book. A book that I acquired during my high school years. (For reference, I graduated in 2012 when the world was seemingly normal.) Thanks to the recent pandemic, I finally decided to get around to reading The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.
Well, the book is technically called The Final Empire, but it’s become rather commonplace to refer to the book by the name of its series — Mistborn.
The world presented in Mistborn is a repressive, serfdom-styled world with a controlling religious body and nobles allowed to play games as long as they never dare to challenge the Lord Ruler, who has dominated the world with little more than meager and failed opposition for a thousand years. Magic in this world is possessed (or so the powers that be wish other to believe) by the nobility through Mistings – and more valuable, Mistborns.
Enter Kelsier. He’s a thief and a conman, shipped off years ago to the worst slave work camp imaginable. But unlike everyone else, he survived. More so, he seeks to initiate a con greater than any of his past thefts of the nobility — one where the Lord Ruler himself is the mark. He also happens to be a Mistborn, the rare type of magic user able to use all forms of allomancy (more later), despite not being to the nobility.
And while preparing for this great heist, he discovers Vin, an orphan girl with truth issues and the same powers as him. Her abilities makes her the prime candidate to infiltrate the nobility and bring Kelsier’s plot one step closer to fulfillment.
The heart of Mistborn is Vin’s journey and how the disruption of being inducted into Kelsier’s team leads to character change and development. Her life is split into three aspects: her training outside of the city she grew up in, bonding with other members of the team while within the city, and her infiltration of the nobility as Lady Valette Renoux. And what makes all of this work is how they inform each other. Her training, both as a Mistborn and as a noble aid in her efforts within the main city, which both in turn influence her character and spark growth through the six hundred pages the narrative makes great use of. And where some of these aspects allow her to be true to her past, others promote radical change that leads her to make her fateful choices. Personally, I found her time as Valette to be the most compelling, both in how it drives her growth and in how it challenges her past self.
An element of Sanderon’s work that is praised from here to the Moon and back is the magic system. The way he goes about crafting the means by which magic operates leads to clear, simple systems capable of complexity that works into his (if I say so myself) intriguing storytelling. The main form of magic is allomancy, where Mistings and Mistborns burn metals within their bodies to accomplish a number of specific feats. It’s a nifty system with clear rules that makes understanding situations easy and is fully introduced and described in a rather fun moment of mentor and mentee bonding. (This animatic by Charles Tan is absolutely fantastic and provides insight into a fraction of the system’s potential.)
In my title, I dare to compare this novel to The Fellowship of the Ring. Though Mistborn doesn’t have blatant clones emerging in the market, its touch can be felt throughout the fantasy genre, the same as how Tolkien’s work influenced a generation of fantasy writers. Frankly, there’s many books that make for solid introductions to the genre, but few are both perfect for new readers and possess heart, daring, and pure reading enjoyment like Mistborn: The Final Empire.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson was published on July 17, 2006 by Tor Books.