Writer’s Note– Feels good to be back! I have a ton of these review type articles in the pipeline, and I’ve been writing more than ever before with my attempts at both poetry and prose. I can’t wait to share more things with you guys. Today though, we’re gonna continue with ‘Reviews’.
There has been a lot of good fantasy lately and there have been writers who worked for years to reach where they are, in terms of skill and creative showcasing. Some showing up on the mainstage as successful shows with multiple seasons, which is heartwarming since we seem to have come back to swords and dragons in a big way, and to be honest, I’m glad because I never left, in terms of my primary tastes. I’ve been patient about it too, with good fantasy taking a long time to write, sometimes decades, and the idea behind it being that good literature takes a long while to write, particularly something as production heavy as fantasy literature.
Brandon Sanderson is a direct bashing of such ideals, arguing through his work that you don’t need to hold onto good ideas for them to be executed in a way you wouldn’t imagine. Sometimes, a writer is best thinking about which direction their book should head when they are writing it. Not that very moment necessarily, but delegating months toward planning, then structuring and then finally getting around to writing and editing ends up becoming very tedious and disheartening and in my personal experience, even anxiety inducing. Many aspiring writers are too weighed down with their lack of faith in their own ideas and drive to make something “great” without fully understanding that this magic happens in the process, not in the act of sitting and thinking about it. As someone who is used to writing multiple novels of varying themes and size, Brandon has pretty much flexed his creative clout enough for us to wonder what would happen if he stuck to one style as a specialist and attempted to perfect it. While that’s fun to think about, his strengths primarily lie in being able to create a cohesive story through interesting narrative choices and vivid worldbuilding. We can harp on his other work some time in the future but, today we are going to discuss the first three books in what is known as the Mistborn Trilogy. (I shall address the three released ‘Mistborn: Wax & Wayne’ books later, individually.)
The Broadest Strokes
Mistborn is kind of hard to peg down as a series, but I’d say it falls into the realm of epic fantasy and objectively, it is very much the Hero’s (Heroine’s) Journey- just not how you’re used to seeing it. That’s been said to death I know, but this series gave me something that I had not found in years which is a convincing take on “Divine” class entities in a fantasy world. I can go into the details but so much of it is rooted in the plot, I don’t wish to spoil anything so I must construct this review a little carefully from here on out. It has a good deal of action and magic, in the form of Allomancy, that is to say, all magic stems from metals “being burned” inside the user in one form or another. There are a few ways to do it in the world of Scadrial- storage, immediate consumption and use, even used to give certain special traits to the various entities in the world, human or otherwise.
The book’s premise and storytelling is very much rooted in the style in which it showcases major plotpoints, with the biggest revelations of the story coming from how characters experience particular events. One can simply limit themselves to narrating in first person avoid giving away important information, but it takes someone with true technical skill to be able to do it from the prologue without restricting themselves to first-person narration. We follow the life of Vin, an orphan taken in by a local gang until she is discovered by a nation-wide legend named Kelsier who famously broke out of an inescapable, underground internment camp designed to function as a mine run through incarceration and forced labor. Kelsier managed to break out after immense physical and mental trauma following his capture and incarceration, which caused his latent abilities as a Mistborn to reveal itself and establishing himself as “The Survivor” in the eyes of the world. On the topic of enforcement and oppression, the world is wrought with slavery taking an important position in the series and its overarching setting- the world is governed by a totalitarian figure known as the Lord Ruler or The Sliver of Infinity, who has ruled for over a thousand years with complete domination of the people on Scadrial, through his powers and omniscient knowledge of the World.
Acting as a principal figure throughout the series, he serves as the main pivot which guides Vin into the story. Kelsier’s aim is to enact vengeance upon the Lord Ruler and the vassals that owe him allegiance- human or otherwise, and he is single-minded about this purpose, willing to go to any lengths to achieve it and putting himself and others below this objective. An awkward but tough Vin studies under an outspoken, charismatic Kelsier, learning of her rare capabilities as what is known as a ‘Mistborn’, very much in theme with the strange, unknown mists that fill the world every night. Vin aims to be smarter and more powerful for the sake of Kelsier, her loved ones and the world at large, after she realizes what is at stake and under the tutelage of Kelsier and his band of rogues, they form a plan of epic proportions to finally bring down the Lord Ruler and bring about a new age for the people of Scadrial. One that is different from the violence, bloodshed and disparity that exists with the current order, one without strange mists in the night and ashfall raining down from the heavens.
An important question remains unanswered- how do you go about killing God?
The Chessboard Setting
There is an overarching premise of a power imbalance amongst the people of Scadrial, which lets the series discuss discrimination in quite a bit of depth, tackling some believable situations not unknown to our own world where sometimes the urge to just be a good person and as a result, become ineffective may come in the way of something much grander. The series explores a lot of choices being laid bare to its characters and the conflicts they have amongst each other and even within themselves which gives us a deep insight into the understanding of how certain people simply function, and mark those who choose to take a stand, for one side of the situation or another
An interesting parallel between Vin and Kelsier exists in this regard- both of them have similar origins but surprisingly different views on who Kelsier believes should be their natural enemies- the nobles serving the Lord Ruler, said to be directly descended from the bloodline of his allies, centuries ago. It asks some pertinent questions regarding the moral dilemmas faced by people who seek to use espionage, theft, and conflict as a means to bring about huge change and upheaval, and setting apart those who consider it the only option and those who do not. The world requires immense shifts in its structure to ever change, and the same holds true for the characters of the story, most of whom are keenly aware that they might be wrong about the whole situation or not even up to the task. Asking hard-hitting questions along with afew answers is always a must for a solid series, and Mistborn more than delivers.
Might & Magic
When Vin herself describes her innate capabilities in the first few chapters, she calls it Luck which she uses to influence those around her, or perform specific tasks. It’s not some strange reservoir of untapped willpower which influences the outcome of events, and at the start, she knows that she can kind of use it at will but it is severely limited. As a fantasy setting with an established magic system as well as warfare, it seeks to imbibe both into core aspects of the action, conflict and resolution of the tale.
To that end, allomancy exists as a process, and the burning of a particular metal internally in the host acts as the fuel which in turn grants a specific ability to that same host. Different metals give you different powers like Tin, Pewter and Iron which give you enhanced sensory vision, superhuman strength and Kinetic Pull respectively. This goes much deeper of course, but this acts as an important pivot through which Vin is brought into the forefront of the story- this young woman acting as Kelsier’s protege, a Mistborn found in the slums, trained by some of the best Allomancers in their respective areas of operation to create someone truly formidable.
You see, most allomancers cannot burn more than one metal and are called Mistings- some may be gifted with more, and the truly rare ones are Mistborn who can utilize all known metals for their respective purposes. Mistborn are found almost exclusively among the nobility who use them during power struggles, assassinations, succession wars, to keep the peace, maintain bloodlines, security and even theft. Vin and Kelsier both exist as Mistborn outside the status quo, and both seek to bring down the figure that established it in the first place. On that topic, the Lord Ruler’s power in the story is said to be incomparable to ordinary mortals, and they far exceed any known Mistings and Mistborn, alongside knowledge of the other forms of using metals and there is sufficient evidence that he seeks to bridge the gaps between them to sometimes create some entities who function in specific ways to protect his own interests and agendas, and to militarize his control further.
As a series that expands its scope well beyond a high stakes assassination and heist tale, it seeks to bring the pivotal characters of the story to the forefront, with a ton of well-timed reveals about the world and how it was made, and what the powers that be exactly are and how they interact with one another and this world. The ideas that guide the series asks important questions about how conflict, however destructive, often guides factors and puts events into motion that can often be out of our own control, sometimes for better or worse. Mistborn comes down to putting value in how an individual reacts to a world changing event or revelation, as our actions not just define us as people but also guide the manner in which important situations might play out in the present or the future.
On a lighter note, the series has its moments with character dialogue being some of the most well-written core traits. Even the banter rarely seems forced, and the author gives us a vibe that he actually enjoys writing scenes where timed comedic responses are more appropriate than anything else and yet not be over-the-top with the gag. There’s a good deal of romance too, and this aspect ties in with the ending of all three books so for those interested, it’s actually pretty great although I’d argue it could have had a better start than “opposites attract” with Vin and Elend. It has a really wholesome tale by the end though, so as usual, Mr. Sanderson delivers a signature execution on my own bleeding heart. The cast of characters, on both sides, are fantastic and my favourites are Sazed, Marsh, Spook, Elend’s Father and TenSoon, all of whom are really fleshed out by the end of the series. As a story that deals with world-changing events, it goes to great lengths to explain how the magic system ties in with main events of the story, which is always important as the reader must have an accurate guage of the odds to emulate the sentiments of their characters effectively. This is sometimes done with some rough representations of power or even through the voice of a cosmic entity. But, the biggest strength of the story is undoubtedly the ending of the series with a twist I didn’t even spot until it was happening, after which I proceeded to scream at my book.
It’s got it all- if you’re looking for a new series to read, look no further than Mistborn’s original three books and the indirect sequels based around 300 years later, alongside the ‘Secret History’ book, best read right at the end. Thanks to the author for creating this wonderful work, and making 2017’s October one of the most enjoyable months in an otherwise intense, fast-paced year.
Bonus Link– Here are the wonderful people you’ll be spending time with, in this trilogy.