Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

There's something about fantasy books that puts them on a whole other level of excitement and wonder. It could be the diverse cast of characters who are heroic yet human, or maybe it's the sheer scale of the world crafted by the author, limited only by his or her imagination. Whatever it is, when I picked up "The Final Empire", book one of the "Mistborn Trilogy", I knew I was in for an undeniably thrilling adventure.

For a thousand years, the ash fell. It fell over the Skaa slaved in misery and fear, over the Lord Ruler who reigns with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. The Lord Ruler is God in the Final Empire, the prophesied hero who conquered the Deepness millennia ago. Yet somehow hope survives. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one that depends on the cunning of Kelsier, a brilliant criminal mastermind, and on the courage of the unlikely heroine Vin, a Skaa street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn. Together, the crew seeks to do what has been impossible for centuries: bring down the Lord Ruler and rid the Final Empire of evil.

What I almost always love the most about any epic fantasy novel are the characters. They are, without fail, always diverse, each with their own distinct personalities and stories. First, you have Kelsier, the legendary Survivor of Hathsin, who never fails to wear his signature smile and jaunty air, but harbours something dark and bitter within. His bravery and single-minded determination to defeat the Lord Ruler, as well as his power as one of the few Mistborn, are what drives him on his plans for the uprising. But he's also more than that. Kelsier is an incredibly complex character with layers upon layers of emotion and vulnerability, which he tries to hide under the facade of a foolhardy, carefree leader. Ms. Sanderson reminds us that ultimately, the greatest of heroes are humans with troubles and flaws like us, and Kelsier is the perfect hero to show us this.

And then you have Vin, a Skaa orphan who's been taught that trust is never real, that everyone, no matter how much you love them, will betray you in the end. As the second protagonist of the novel, Vin undergoes an important change as the story progresses, and it's really interesting to follow her as she grows from a wary, scarred street urchin to a more confident, trusting Mistborn. The relationships in her life play a huge role in her transformation. Kelsier is her mentor who not only teachers her Allomancy, but also teaches her the more important lesson that sometimes, trust and love won't betray you. The crew, with Breeze, Dockson, Ham and Sazed, also help her realize this, and it was really the dynamics between the group that I really enjoyed reading and even almost feeling. And of course, there's Elend Venture, the handsome heir of the most powerful noble house, who, very, very obviously, she finds herself falling for. Being a crazy romantic, I pretty much require that every book has to have some romance in it, and I loved how Mr. Sanderson wove in this thread of love between Vin and Elend.

Another extremely important element of epic fantasy books is the magic. I'm not talking about wand-waving, sparkly, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo magic. No, the magic in "The Final Empire" comes in the form of Allomancy, the power that Mistborns and Mistings possess. I found the concept of each of the metals being connected with a skill incredibly unique and fascinating. For example, burning pewter enhances your physical abilities, while burning iron allows you to Pull on nearby metals. Ms. Sanderson has obviously put in a lot of thought into creating this completely new type of magic (though now the word sounds slightly childish to describe something like Allomancy!), with considerations of the laws of physics and nature. Crafting new, unique powers in fantasy novels is certainly a daunting task for any author, but Mr. Sanderson has definitely done a wonderful job with introducing the world of Allomancy to his readers.

The plot of "The Final Empire" was a journey unto itself. Admittedly, there were some drawn-out, possibly unnecessary parts, as many epic fantasy stories are wont to have, but the novel remained fast-paced and compelling throughout. It also means that there's ample time and space for character development and world building, and I think Mr. Sanderson has taken advantage of this to create an immersive place for the readers to be in. The pace especially picked up towards the end, where so many things happened that I couldn't believe my eyes, and the twists and turns in the plot were just crazy!

Overall, "The Final Empire" is an incredibly exciting, compelling first installment to what promises to be an equally exhilarating trilogy. The camaraderie between the members of the crew and the other relationships in the novel bring human elements to an otherworldly land of Allomancy and Mistborns, and the plot never drops. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good adventure or seeks an escape into a totally immersive, new world. I will definitely be reading the next two books in the "Mistborn Trilogy" to see how everything plays out!

Rating: 5/5

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