Title: The Final Empire (Mistborn #1)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publication Date: 1 October 2009 (First published 17 July 2006 by Tor Books)
Genre: High Fantasy
Before reading The Final Empire, I seriously struggled to get into the high fantasy genre. I found the immense amount of detail highly intimidating and the political, religious, and magical systems that accompanied these worlds difficult to understand. I mostly attribute this to The Lord of the Rings, which I never finished and swore to never attempt reading again. However, when it came to the Mistborn trilogy, I was hearing words like “easy to read” and “epic” being used in the same sentence, and I simply could not believe that such a high fantasy novel existed. Yet, after seeing just how fervent the hype surrounding the Mistborn trilogy was, I decided to give it a try. I was so surprised to see that I not only loved The Final Empire – but it even became one of my favourite books of all time. Whilst I do feel the hype for this novel is valid, I still had one small problem with it and it is for this reason that I gave The Final Empire a 4-star rating!
The Lord Ruler has held absolute power over Scadrial for thousands of years, leaving nothing but violence and poverty in his wake. Kelsier wants to bring an end to the dictatorship that destroyed his life, but he cannot do it alone. He needs a fellow mistborn – an allomancer who can wield the powers of all metals – to help him and his ragtag team take the Lord Ruler down once and for all. Vin is a young street urchin who agrees to join Kelsier’s team not only to escape squallor and abuse, but also to master her mistborn abilities. The fate of the uprising lies in the hands of a rebel and his apprentice – will they be able to pull it off?
When I think of high fantasy, a number of things come to mind – an original world, a unique magic system, and other-worldly creatures. This novel has all of these and more! But what I loved most, and what is probably my favourite aspect of The Final Empire, is the magic. In this world, beings with supernatural abilities come in two forms – allomancers and feruchemists – and they harness their powers by consuming or manipulating metals. Allomancy and feruchemy are extremely complex systems and yet Sanderson does a great job at explaining them clearly and succinctly. However, above and beyond that, he makes learning about these systems highly interesting. In my experience, it’s quite rare to come across magic that is simultaneously original and interesting. The author often relies heavily on the reader’s general understanding of magic and builds it up from there. Yet, Sanderson completely redefines the foundations of magic in The Final Empire and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it put into action.
The two characters that perhaps make use of their abilities the most are Kelsier and Vin who are, without a doubt, two of my favourite characters owing to their fiery personalities and humanity. The master and his apprentice balance each other out what with Kelsier’s distant yet caring leadership style and Vin’s shy and awkward yet powerful nature. The rest of the characters, especially the other members of Kelsier’s crew, are so much less complicated and clear-cut than the main characters yet have distinct and quirky personalities of their own which allow them to stand out and refuse to be swept under the carpet. Their entire dynamic rests on a mutual desire to do good in the world whilst staying loyal to their friendships with one another, which I loved to read about as this painted their team is a positive light.
From the very first page, I wanted to love The Final Empire in its entirety. I truly wanted to give it a 5-star rating, however, there was a tiny detail that stopped me from doing just that – the action (or should I say lack thereof?). When there were action scenes in this novel they were epic and heartstopping, keeping me up until the late hours of the night. It’s simply quite unfortunate that there were too few moments like these. I was glad to see that the novel ended with an intense yet devastating conflict but I am slightly disappointed that I had to wait so long for this to come about. For a 643-page book, one would think that there would be a bit more combat than there was. However, I do understand that being the first book in a series, The Final Empire is laying the foundations for the rest of the novels by introducing us to the world and its politics and magic systems, so I do still consider it a favourite because it absolutely blew me away in those regards.
Overall, this was a truly phenomenal novel. The politics, magic system, society, and setting all wove together to create a detailed, expansive, and gripping high fantasy novel that has left its mark on me. There may not have been enough action for my liking, but everything else in this book completely made up for that. Whilst The Final Empire is the first high fantasy novel I have read and I do not have much to compare it to, my idea and expectation of the genre as intimidating and inaccessible has been completely reshaped by it. What I expected versus what I read are completely different and I am so grateful for that! The Final Empire is outstanding and a great place to start if you are afraid to venture into high fantasy.