I’ve been trying to write a quality review for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy for almost two weeks now, but the only thing of true substance that came to mind was a quote by Anton Chekhov:
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
This quote articulates a divide amongst two kinds of creative writers. There are those like George R.R. Martin who are descriptive writers, endlessly scribbling down details to fatten their novels with depth and scenery. And then there are those like Chekhov who strip down their work until only that which is most essential remains. As a reader, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint an author’s style until after you’ve read a few of their books. For me, Brandon Sanderson was one of those authors and that’s why this quote stands out to me so specifically.
Going into the series I had assumed that Sanderson was building a descriptive world, one that was laced and layered with exposition to elevate his trilogy. However I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was wrong. While Sanderson’s work is heavily descriptive, it’s conclusion also seamlessly blended together details from all three novels into one jolting, awe-inspiring ending. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.
With books as detailed and involved as these, it’s difficult to write a general synopsis without giving away spoilers. Every detail is significant, every character important, and I’d hate to spoil anyone accidently, especially since I went into these books nearly blind and liked it that way. But I’ll try because I think it’s important to give a little context to my clearly rave review.
The first book, The Final Empire, introduces the world of The Final Empire. It is a dark land featuring ash falls, mysterious night mist, and an oppressive government lead by an immortal Lord Ruler for a thousand years. He is God to the Empire’s people and the entire society is structured around him, divided into the Ministries, the noble houses, and the skaa slaves. He is all-powerful and seemingly all-knowing, too.
The story is told through a few protagonists, but the primary focus is on a seventeen year old half-skaa girl named Vin. She’s the lucky charm of a small-time gang of street thieves, using what she calls “Luck” to help her boss and stay alive. However Vin’s ability is soon discovered by the other lead protagonist, Kelsier, who is known amongst the skaa as the Survivor of Hathsin, the most infamous crew leader in the Empire. Like Kelsier, Vin is actually a “Mistborn,” meaning she has the ability to ingest and “burn” metals to produce magical effects like increased strength or mental influence over someone else. So in exchange for his mentorship Vin joins Kelsier’s crew in their plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler.
The world building in this series is masterfully done, though the setting is nothing particularly unique. However the magic system developed by Sanderson fits flawlessly into all facets of the story. It is deep, complex, and is absolutely integral to the plotline. As Vin learns more about her powers and the secrets of the Empire, the readers simultaneously unravel the secrets of the magic system and its foundations. Its rules and structure are almost scientific in quality, making it all the more believable to the readers. Without a doubt, it was my favorite part of the series.
Each installment poses as many questions as it answers. Unlike George R.R. Martin’s books, the Mistborn series paced itself over the course of several thousand pages, giving each an equally ample share of drama and exposition. The solution was never as easy as it seemed, the world never as simple. Sanderson pulls his readers along the journey with just right amount of momentum for three books before driving home an epiphany-inducing conclusion so brilliant that it delayed this review for several weeks.
To put it bluntly, the Mistborn series is one of the best high-fantasy series I have ever read and an amazing piece of fantasy literature. It is a credit to its genre and I would recommend it to anyone who is even the slightest bit intrigued by the synopsis. There was nothing that I didn’t like about it and I’m really looking forward to reading more of Sanderson’s work in the future.