Book Review – The Final Empire

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rating – 2.5 stars.

This is one of those books I was expecting a great deal from but failed to impress me on a grand scale. Sure, it was fun and the magic systems were interesting, but you would think a 600 page book would actually have something happen. I’m fairly certain I finished this book so fast only because nothing in particular happened most of the time, so there wasn’t anything to absorb. 

In summary this book is about an alleged criminal mastermind who has everyone else do the thinking for him, wanting to overthrow a mysterious unkillable tyrant who is apparently made of Teflon for all we know, with the help of an orphaned teenager with a major phobia of trusting people.

It’s very exciting.

The plot consists mostly of Kelsier (the aforesaid mastermind) planning, being called insane for those plans and failing to execute anything except random unsuspecting noblemen. In the meantime, Vin (the aforesaid teen heroine) is being extremely useful by partying in pretty dresses, poking her nose where she shouldn’t and falling in love with random unsuspecting noblemen. As usual, like in any major operation, the real work is done by…somebody else (the not aforementioned crew members.)

Perhaps I better make a list.

The Highs:

The magic systems –

In the world of the Final Empire, magic is not something that just pops out of wands and turns things sparkly. It is a rare ability that comes with a cost. Think Yin and Yang theory. Here, the people with Allomantic power do out-of-the-ordinary things by “burning” metals in their bodies. There is a slightly complex system to this where out of the ten known metals that can be burned, some “Pull” and some “Push” depending on whether they act on internal or external objects. This is really the best feature of the book, where Sanderson has cleverly managed to create a kind of magic that has practical applications in this world and requires ingenuity to use. Kelsier’s and Vin’s acrobatics with Allomancy are absorbing to say the least.

Vin

When I started the book, I immediately took a liking to Vin. She had been abused brutally by almost everyone around her, but she never gives in to their attempts to break her.

“In a way, the beatings were self-defeating. Bruises and welts mended, but each new lashing left Vin more hardened. Stronger.”

She is also quick-thinking and her first priority is her survival, so she does not, sensibly, trust anyone including Kelsier.

Vin eyed the vial.

Kelsier shrugged. “You’ll have to drink it if you want to know any more about this Luck of yours.”

“You drink half first,” Vin said.”

Happily, she never lets go completely of her suspicious side, though she learns to adapt without much complaint (another plus) to acting like a noblewoman in order to spy. She also accepts advice when it is given and never dismisses any knowledge as trivial. But then, somewhere along the way, Vin goes from this

to this

When she’s fighting as a Mistborn or planning something with the crew, she’s level-headed. When she’s thinking of balls, pretty dresses, Elend (the misunderstood rebel rich boy) or all three, she’s not very awe-inspiring. Granted, she is a young girl who suddenly gets a taste of luxury, but her willingness to just jump ship and trust a noble heir she’s never met before seems too out of character. It’s hypocritical for her to stalk Kelsier every he goes because he keeps secrets and then to just believe whatever Elend says because he’s so earnest.

Regardless, Vin is still a likeable character and she doesn’t moon over Elend very much in comparison to most YA heroines. She tries, at least, to keep herself on track.

Attention to detail

Once you read the book, it is obvious a lot of loving care has gone into building this world. Sanderson doesn’t leave anything to chance. He thinks of everything you could possibly question and then some. I certainly wouldn’t have remembered that the ash which is constantly falling from the sky would need to be swept off the roads and houses. He uses this constant ash fall to delineate the class differences between the nobility and the skaa (the peasants.)

“Beyond that, ash was surprisingly easy to get out of clothing. With proper washing, and some expensive soaps, even a white garment could be rendered clean of ash. That was why the nobility could always have new-looking clothing. It was such an easy, simple thing to divide the skaa and the aristocracy.”

There are, interestingly, no green plants anymore and flowers are an unheard of concept. This completes the image of a grey, bleak land where oppression and cruelty are the bee’s knees. (Horrible pun, I know.)

An odd thing that stood out to me was the lack of animals. Other than a brief mention of horses and a reference to pigs being killed, there are no animals domestic or wild, doing anything anywhere. Maybe it’s to illustrate that the skas are treated so badly, they’re used in the place of animals. I’m not sure. It’s up to the reader to decide. Anyway, this is a minor thing that doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the book. Great care is also taken to describe clothing, architecture and of course, action sequences (read: violence).

The Lows:

Kelsier and the crew

These guys scream cliche. Kelsier is easy to like, but I could never connect with him and most of the characters. They are a standard heist team – the eccentric genius leader (Kelsier), the sensible right hand (Dockson), the suave talker (Breeze), the loveable big lug (Ham) and the grudging expert (Clubs). They are all nice people, but watching lichen grow is more exciting than watching their personalities.

In fact, throughout the whole book I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading the screenplay for an anime. The world and the characters felt like flat cardboard cut-outs that I couldn’t really relate to, so the whole thing left me emotionally detached. For example, Kelsier went through some seriously horrifying experiences in the Pits, but all he does when he sees caves again is shiver. He is also prone to grandiose thinking, which doesn’t help his case since his real intention is not revealed until the very end. I was just left with an overwhelming desire to slap him.

“He had intentionally spoken loud enough for them to hear.

Let them see my weakness, and let them see me overcome it.”

In short, nothing felt real.

The plot

As I said before, nothing happens. Sure, there is something or the other going on all the time, but none of it advances towards the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Lord Ruler. Vin repeatedly goes to balls and learns a teeny bit of information that we could have been told about in reported speech. Kelsier reportedly causes chaos and suspicion in the Great Houses but they do not break out into a war until the last few pages. He is obviously not doing much of a job if all the hostility he can rouse is in the form of females sniping at each other at parties. And the antagonist, the Lord Ruler? He just sits there, occasionally coming out to execute a random hundred skaa. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tyrant who is so disinterested in everything. It makes it difficult to see what everyone is so afraid of.

The romance

A completely unnecessary element, in my opinion. A lot of time is wasted on developing a relationship between Elend and Vin and I still don’t know what they see in each other. Possibly this will be more important in the next book. Still, these two take ridiculous risks in the name of love. It might have been more interesting to see something develop between Kelsier and Vin, the mentor and student. It would have been less abrupt, at least. I still don’t really understand why the author insisted on stuffing this into this book. In addition, the romance comes at the cost of Vin’s strong personality. ME NO LIKE.

So, all in all, not really a bad book, but not an earthshaking one either. I am left wondering why one would read a book of this length, though it is a whole story in itself, since it is unsatisfying. The Final Empire doesn’t do anything new for any genre but is a decent read nonetheless.

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