Posted on April 9, 2015
Confession: I love young adult fantasy and science fiction. (I said it! I said it!) I’ve been trying to deny it for years, but it’s true. I have a friend who happens to have excellent taste in this area. When he recommended Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I knew I was in for a treat.
Content-wise, Mistborn is a dream, full of fresh details and living characters–not to mention political intrigue, danger, adventure, sacrifice, and supernatural creatures with spikes for eyes. Mechanically, I feel that the editor should have paid more attention. While I professed my love for the author on page one due to proper use of a semicolon, I was forced to take it back on page three because of a comma splice. He overuses ellipsis when he would do well to use a dash. There were numerous occasions on which vital words were omitted from sentences, leaving them grammatically distracting, though still intelligible. It’s a large book, I understand; at over six hundred pages, any editor would have trouble, I’m sure. But these were mistakes that are unforgivable–at least, to a nerd like me. Moving on.
Given my Christian-school background, the beginning of the book set me up to expect a Messiah story. The Lord Ruler stands over the Final Empire as Pharaoh, with the slave race of “skaa” as the Israelites during the exile. Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, becomes the Christ figure–until he single-handedly razes a nobleman’s estate out of derision. True, Kelsier is anything but perfect, but the messianic theme holds its ground throughout the story (and perhaps even the trilogy; I haven’t finished yet).
Each chapter begins with an italicized passage that is clearly meant to be excerpted from another canon text. The first-person narrative of the passages stands in contrast to the third-person of the rest of the book. It’s not until more than halfway through the book that we discover their origin and, even then, their authorship is unclear until its close. The passages hint at a grand event, a betrayal, dark forces, a great power, and the end of the world as it was then known–but it’s all so vague, and we are never given the entire context (dang first book in the series). They’re maddening at times, but gripping despite it.
Kelsier, mentioned before, is only one of the main cast. The narrative switches between his viewpoint and Vin’s, a skaa girl who has grown up on thieving street crews. Her character development might be the most effective thing in the entire book.
Vin starts out suspicious and untrusting, and for good reason: an orphan whose only brother (Reen) left her, Vin has been trained to believe that everybody will betray her. Maybe she comes on a bit strong at the beginning, an almost Angel-like broodiness (any Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans out there?), I found Vin’s slow fall from suspicion to trust refreshing and believable. Reen’s voice in her head is useful, if sometimes overused. While he does give voice to her wariness and outright distrust, those things should be allowed to speak for themselves as well. I also loved that she was allowed to have internal conflict over the mission, the moral standing of the nobility, and her feelings for the high-ranking Elend Venture. In short, Vin begins as an abused child; she ends as a strong woman with a purpose.
How do I begin to discuss Allomancy and Feruchemistry? Broadly speaking, certain metals give gifted individuals extraordinary powers–the power to move metal objects, for example, or the power to soothe or riot another person’s emotions. That’s the oversimplified version of it, at least; I won’t waste your time by trying to explain it more. Setting Kelsier and the other crewmembers as Vin’s teachers gives a platform from which to explain the workings of Allomancy without dry blocks of expository text. Instead, we get to learn with her, Pushing and Pulling and training from her own body. It’s the same with Sazed explaining Feruchemistry: Vin asks the questions that we’re thinking of, and Sazed responds in kind.
While we’re on the topic of Sazed, I actually quite enjoyed his propositioning Kelsier and Vin with defunct religions. They’re all fictional, of course, in keeping with the history of the Final Empire. I especially enjoyed the bit when Kelsier and Sazed discuss what makes a religion resilient, what makes a religion last–and the bit when Sazed tells Vin that belief is most important when things are looking bleak.
You’ve been warned that Mistborn is the first of a trilogy. As such, the ending can only satisfy so much. The major plot points are, with one exception, tied up… but there is clearly more to come. This is only the beginning.
His name is hope.