Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

Mistborn_MMPB2 Mistborn_Simonetti

From Goodreads:

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?

In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage – Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

Note: The complete title of the book is Mistborn: The Final Empire, but TFE is something of a subtitle, and the vast majority call it Mistborn, which is the only title printed on some editions of the book. I follow that convention in this review.

Second Note: I included the Brazillian cover above as well because of the utterly amazing artwork by Marc Simonetti. It’s my favorite cover, though I don’t have a copy of it–yet.

Mistborn was the first Sanderson book I picked up, after hearing that he would be finishing The Wheel of Time, which, at that time, was my favorite fantasy series. I was wondering who this kid was, and if he was really any good at all. Needless to say, this means that I went into Mistborn with very high standards, standards that I was fairly sure wouldn’t be met.

They were.

I don’t think I’ve read a book that has exceeded my expectations by this much since—every new Sanderson I read continues to blow me away, but I already have the highest expectations of those books, and I have decently high expectations of everything else I read too. Perhaps one or two debut novels—The Emperor’s Blades, for instance—have met this mark, but even that is debatable.

But what makes Mistborn so great? Well, what doesn’t?

Sanderson has brought his signature magic system creation to the table, giving us Allomancy, a skill, generally thought to be genetically passed on, which grants the user the ability to ingest and burn certain metals to temporarily gain magical powers. It’s really interesting, as per Sanderson’s second law of magic, because of its limitations: You can only burn as much metal as you have in you, some metals are incredibly rare, and some metals burn much more quickly than others.

Paired with the Allomancy is the world of Scadrial, another brilliant creation. Covered in giant volcanoes (ashmounts), which belch ash into the atmosphere, staining everything with soot and requiring a huge workforce to keep the cities clean, Scadrial is also subject to nightly mists, which cover the entire planet. These mists are the domain of the Allomancers, which gives them—and the book—the name of Mistborn. It’s an incredibly evocative image of a planet, and one that I loved reading about.

And he’s filled the planet with incredibly interesting people. The skaa, the slave class, have been oppressed for centuries, and forbidden from mating with the non-skaa, for fear that Allomantic powers might leak through. But, of course, this restriction hasn’t really worked out all that well for the Lord Ruler, the, uh, ruler of The Final Empire, and there are some among the skaa with magical powers.

But, of course, the world is nothing, the the story is nothing, without interesting characters. And Sanderson has created a cast of them.

There’s Kelsier, a skaa, and yet, somehow, a full Allomancer, with power over all of the metals. He’s survived an incredibly tragic and harsh past, yet he always manages to smile in the face of danger and despair. He wants revenge upon the Lord Ruler, and he is assembling a crew to help him get it. He and his crew are an utterly awesome band with a really cool dynamic—some of my favorite chapters in the book are the planning chapters, where the whole group is in one room, simply talking.

The main character, Vin, is a street urchin skaa who is trying to survive as part of a thieving crew. But when the crew’s latest hit goes awry, she’s in mortal danger—until Kelsier decides to recruit her. Vin’s growth through the story, as she slowly gains the ability to trust others, and her sheer resilience to whatever life throws at her make her an instant favorite, and she is a truly kick-ass heroine.

Elend Venture is the man I would wish to be if I were living on Scadrial. Born to the nobility, he’s not satisfied with the government, and in an empire where such meetings are declared treasonous by the all-power Lord Ruler, he has a close selection of friends who plot ways to better the government—even if it means going against the Lord Ruler’s orders, or overthrowing parts of his system. He also has an incredible love of books, and an utterly disarming attitude that I absolutely love.

The villains, Lord Venture, the Inquisitors, the Lord-Ruler… They are all utterly terrifying, and Sanderson has done them all brilliantly. In a world where GRRM-like books are becoming more and more common, it’s nice to have some villains I can just straight up hate, and some heroes I can cheer for.

Although, as Kelsier says, “There’s always another secret.”

In summary, Mistborn is the brilliant beginning to one of my favorite trilogies of all time, with an utterly unique Sanderson magic system, a dark, ash-covered world, a spunky, yet flawed heroine, and a cool team of thieves who want to pull of the heist of the millennium, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Five of Five stars, and if you’ve not read this book yet, I may have to disown you.

Brandon Sanderson’s Website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

ARC Review: Firefight

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR STEELHEART. IF YOU HAVE NOT READ STEELHEART, STOP AND GO READ IT.

Firefight

From Goodreads:

They told David it was impossible–that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic–Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Dear Megan Firefight,

From the moment I first laid eyes on you, I knew you were as awesome as the last hot-dog salesman in Newcago[1]. The way you took down Fortuity was amazing. You nearly had him trapped with the strength of your charms alone; he was quite beguiled by them. You’re so beautiful even a blind nun would stop to look at you… If she weren’t blind[2], that is. Regardless, when your plans went awry, you had the ability, with my help, to take him down and rid this world of yet another evil Epic.

They say that you are one too of them. You told me that you are one of them. That you infiltrated us like an oatmeal raisin cookie[3]. But I don’t believe them. I think you are a good person. I’ve seen Prof fighting the evil that comes with his powers, blocking it out by not using them. I know it can be done. And I believe you can do it. You’re as strong as an egg you have your whole hand around[4]. You can fight it, you can overcome it. You just have to get away from the Epics, away from the battles, and you need to not use your powers for a while. Trust me on this.

I meant what I said when you were dying, Firefight. I love you. You truly are a potato in a minefield[5]. I have been trying to convince the others of your goodness, but even Prof, who should know that your powers, your evils, can be overcome, will not listen to me. I recommend that if you see me with them that you avoid them at all costs. I wish you no harm, but it will take time to convince them of your goodness.

Our next destination is Babylon Restored. I have heard that you’re already there, and I hope to meet you on more amicable terms than the last time we met.

Yours Truly,

—David Charleston

[1] Read Mitosis.

[2] Pulled directly from Steelheart.

[3] Haven’t you ever grabbed a chocolate chip cookie, taken a bite, and found that it was oatmeal raisin in disguise?

[4] This actually works, surprisingly enough. If you hold the egg in the palm of your hand and wrap your fingers all the way around it, it’s basically impossible to crush.

[5] Go read Firefight.

The actual review:

I had a lot of fun trying to write the above letter in David’s voice, as he might be feeling at the end of Steelheart. I don’t know that I succeeded incredibly well, but I enjoyed it.

And if it wasn’t clear, Firefight was amazing. Steelheart was a really good book for the start of a trilogy. It bucks a lot of tropes, as is typical with Sanderson’s work, and it introduced us to an incredible cast of characters, Tia, Prof, Cody, Abraham, Megan, and, of course, David. Firefight takes us from Newcago to Babylon Restored, the home of Regalia. If you managed to get one of the exclusive editions of Steelheart with her profile in it, you know a little bit about what’s coming; if not, I’ll just say that it’s awesome.

You need to read Steelheart before you read Firefight. The events of the bridging novella, Mitosis, are mentioned a few times, and play a minor, but important role in one of the plot points of the book. You can, however, get away without reading it, and you’ll be fine.

There’s a lot of new characters that we meet, including another Reckoner team and several new epics for them to pit their powers against. I’m not going to spoil any of the introductions, because they’re truly delightful, but I will say that I really, really liked one of the new characters, and the way she was introduced/described.

The plot starts off in a very similar manner to that of Steelheart: There’s a chilling prologue, then a fight with a minor epic, and then the team heads out to start planning their main mission. Like Steelheart, the entire book is a ramping up of the tension, with a really intense pacing that never loses track of the essentials of the plot and the overall goal. But the epics are bigger, the stakes are higher, and the secrets more surprising. When you get to the last 70-100 pages, you have to be able to read it all at once. it’s an incredible experience that you really just have to experience all at once.

As you may have guessed from the letter, I actually ship David and Megan. I’m not usually a shipper type person… In fact, I’m usually the opposite. I want minimal romance and I certainly don’t want it to distract from the plot. This one, though, is just so… Perfectly right. I can’t deny that, at the end of Steelheart, I was so excited that the next book was titled Firefight, and that I had really high hopes for Megan and David. I’m not going to say if these hopes are realized or not, but… Yeah. I ship them. I think it’s largely because David is so adorably nerdy and is trying so hard to do the right thing, but he’s not superhuman or blessed with any incredible powers, and Megan is the perfect foil for him, as well as being a very exciting “grey” character.

And the twists are huge, especially near the end. I thought I was prepared for the Sanderson ending, but no… It was utterly amazing and brilliant. So many moments when I had to stop and put the book down to try to process the epicness (pun intended) of what had just happened.

One last comment to tell you how good it was: I read this book in the middle of the school semester from hell, where I had two 20+ hour projects each week plus standard homework in two other classes, and I barely kept up with all of it. I read Firefight in one sitting the night I received it, finishing around 3 AM after I had been awake at 5:30 AM the previous day and in class essentially 7 AM-7 PM. And I do not regret it. Firefight is the rare book where the author not only matches the first book in the trilogy, but exceeds it. Apparently nobody gave Sanderson the note that second books in trilogies are supposed to be boring bridging material, because Firefight is packed with 100% pure awesome all the way through.

Verdict: 5 of 5 stars, because there aren’t more than five, and GIVE ME CALAMITY!

Brandon Sanderson’s Website (With awesome Firefight theme.).

Goodreads

Amazon

Book Review: Steelheart

steelheart

From Goodreads:

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Most people know Brandon Sanderson as the magic system guy, or as the guy who writes massive, 400,000 page tomes. He’s the Mistborn guy, or the guy who finished the Wheel of Time.

Yes, he has done all of those things in his short (<10 years) career, and he has done so much more. Sanderson, some people seem to forget, has written outside of his Cosmere. He’s written at the very least, YA, Middle Grade, sci-fi, and tech-thrillers. And he’s done all of those things incredibly well. Steelheart is the first book in his second YA series, and I loved it.

Steelheart is a post-apocalyptic YA action-adventure super-villain story. Many people complain about the post-apocalyptic/dystopian market being saturated… but they’re complaining about the copy-cats, the long lists of books that are all essentially the same, often even using the same characters with different names.

Steelheart is not like those books. Steelheart is a breath of fresh air into the field, with all of Sanderson’s trademark elements.

He’s got a brilliant, diverse cast of characters. The Reckoners, Tia, Prof, Abraham, Cody, and Megan, are all fun and unique, each in their own way. My favorite is probably Cody, and his constant insistence on silly things, like the magical little men living inside devices that make them run, and his ever-changing list of claimed inheritances/nationalities.

But that’s not to forget the main character, David. David could easy have become a blank, revenge-coated slate. I mean, it would have been awesome for him to say, “Hello. My name is David Charleston. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But that’s not all of who he is. He is a nerd of the highest order, researching epics and their weaknesses, giving us someone the nerd inside all of us can utterly relate to, and a brilliant way to info-dump without being boring the reader. He’s a gun nut, and has a very personal relationship with his weapons. He also makes the most horrible metaphors. Ever. And they’re so crazy you can’t help but laugh. I love David. He’s not a flawless hunk of man-meat, single-mindedly destroying villains. He’s a real person with all kinds of quirks who wants to see things set right in the world that has collapsed around him. He is the hero I would want to be, if I ever travelled into a book.

Sanderson also has his trademark magic-system feel with the epics, the evil super-villains that David so carefully categorizes and the Reckoners are determined to kill. Sanderson’s invented an impressive set of powers and names—no mean feat in a world already full of comic book superheroes and supervillains. And yet, we don’t quite know how they got their powers, or why only the evil people get them. This is one of the driving forces of the book, and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

And the plot is driven, all the way through. Sanderson’s adult novels are sometimes criticized for being slow and boring. The first one or two, perhaps, are, though I feel in general that the criticism is unfounded. Luckily, there’s no way that anyone could make this criticism about Steelheart. It’s one heck of a ride, stuffed full of adrenaline filled fight scenes and tense moments. But, unlike so many other YA books I have read, it does not get lost in these moments, the drive for a plot that keeps you turning the page. The characters, the real story of the whole thing… That is never lost among the scenes. Ever scene, every action, is integral to the plot and they are all put together in a way that makes perfect sense.

In summary, Steelheart’s a fast, intense, adrenaline-filled read, appropriate for both YA and adult audiences, with an incredibly cast of characters, another trademark Sanderson magic system, and some very bad metaphors. Everyone should go read and enjoy this great book. Five of Five stars.

Before I give links, I’ll conclude this review with a quote from Patrick Rothfuss’ (If you haven’t read Name of the Wind, you… need to fix that.) review of Steelheart.

Why? Well, because Brandon writes so much faster than me. It only seems fair that some of his stuff should be crap. It just doesn’t seem fair that he’s brilliant AND fast….

Unfortunately for my ego, Steelheart is another win for Sanderson, proving that he’s not a brilliant writer of epic fantasy, he’s simply a brilliant writer. Period.

Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart on Amazon

Steelheart on Goodreads

Book Review: Elantris

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Amazon Summary:

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

Many people complain that an author’s first book is, by far, their weakest. I usually agree, and even my hero, Brandon Sanderson, isn’t completely immune to this problem. Elantris was his first published work, and, I feel, the weakest of his novel length publications.

But take that with a grain of salt. It’s still a Sanderson. It has all of the hallmarks, all of the beauty, all of the power, that really make Sanderson worth reading.

It’s also the seventh novel he wrote, and by the time he sold it and edited it for publication, I believe he had written thirteen novels, and it shows. It is, by far, stronger than what you would typically expect to find in a debut novel.

Now, on to talking about the book itself. My biggest issue with any any Sanderson book is how they may not hook non-fans. Elantris, in particular, has an exciting prologue and first few chapters, and then there are several hundred pages where very interesting and important things happen, but you feel like you could put the book down at any point, and you’re not truly hooked until the last part, the last several hundred pages. He has talked about this strategy before, and said that it is necessary for epic fantasy length books. His YA novels have that can-not-put-down feel. I’ve seen epic fantasy done this way, though, notably by Brent Weeks and Brian Staveley, and the strategy has worked for me.

That’s not to say that that the first part of the book is boring—not even remotely. The characters are all going through interesting journeys, and Sanderson is setting them up for some truly spectacular changes and reveals by the end of the book. His character development can, at times, be a little ham-handed—it feels as if he hadn’t completely learned how to show, and not tell, us about some character traits yet.

I love the characters. Hrathen, a gyorn, or high priest of the Shu Dereth religion, has come to Elantris with the mission of converting the city in ninety days. If he fails, the armies of Fjordell will invade. He was my favorite of the main characters, for several reasons. In large part, I think it’s because I see the world the way he does. Things are meant to be calculated and done for a reason. His entire crusade to convert the people is driven heavily by his desire to save them from the destruction he knows would be caused by an invading army. Much of his faith is based on the logic of his religion, and how things seem to simply make sense.

I can’t mention Hrathen without getting Dilaf shivers. Dilaf, who serves under Hrathen, is much lower in standing in the church. Yet, his devotion outstrips Hrathen’s by tenfold, to the point that he occasionally causes Hrathen himself to question his beliefs. He is also about as close as the book comes to pure evil. Reading scenes with him just make me shiver. Hrathen is a grey character who truly believes that he can justify that what he is doing is right. Dilaf is a religious fanatic. Both are, in their own way, a fascinating study of how religion can go tragically wrong.

Raoden, the prince taken by the reod and cast into Elantris, has, perhaps, the most difficult struggle of the book. He must work constantly under unceasing pain to try to save not only himself, but also those around him. He is, in some ways, a bit too perfect. I think Sanderson overdid him a hair, and that his unflagging optimism and perseverance are a bit much. He’s too much of a Mary Sue, a perfect character with no flaws. Regardless, he’s an important and powerful character, and I love his journey as he tries to restore at least a little of Elantris’ former glory.

Saerene is the most often criticized character in the book, I feel, and I do not feel that she deserves it. She’s headstrong and willful, and I’ll admit that personally, she scares me. She’s not someone I would want to spend a lot of time around and count as a friend, because of how unpredictable, sometimes wrong, and incredibly bull-headed she can be. But I think she’s written well. Her sarcasm and attitude, the things that some people have issues with, ring true for me. I feel that she’s a well written, ahead of her time character who wants change and is going to get it, and who cares about the consequences?

Before I finish talking about the characters that I loved, I have to mention a minor character who, I have heard, is going to be one of the main characters in the eventual sequel to Elantris. (Sanderson, 8 ongoing series is a bit much, even for you…) Kiin’s son, Adien, has a special place in my heart. I won’t say too much about why, without spoiling the book, but his obsession with numbers and vital role in the pivotal ending scenes of the book are just perfect.

The plot of the book is nothing incredible for the first several hundred pages. Lots of political intrigue, plenty of twists, and the eventual looming threat of Hrathen’s invasion give it a sense of purpose. With only that, and a satisfying climax that tied up some threads, it would have been a good book. But that’s not how Sanderson does things. I am being completely serious when I say that nothing, ever, in my entire reading experience, can compare to the last 10% of a Sanderson book. It’s called the “Sanderson Avalanche”. Sanderson, with his epic scopes, manages to juggle an incredible number of threads, each complicated and confusing, all sharing a few common elements. Most authors will bring these together in a few interesting ways, and resolve the majority of them. Sanderson… Sanderson mashes them all together in what, in the hands of a less talented author, might turn into a train wreck, but in his books turns into the most awesome avalanche of constant climaxes, twisty reveals, and powerful feels. And then, just when you think it’s over, he yanks the rug out from under you again.

Elantris is no exception to this rule, and once you get to the last part of the book, I promise that you will not be able to put it down. It’s utterly thrilling and crushing, and I’m not doing it justice here. You need to go read one of Sanderson’s novels, and you need to read it through to the end. You’ll see what I mean.

Because of the character issues and generally slower pacing, I’m going to have to give Elantris four stars. That is, perhaps, because I know how much better Sanderson’s books have gotten. Still, giving one of his novels only four stars makes me feel like a traitor, and as if I should revise my opinion down of most of the other books I’ve ever read and given five stars to… Regardless, Elantris has its flaws, but if you push through to the end, you will be rewarded. I promise. I recommend it, though if you’re going to read Sanderson, I’d probably urge you to read Mistborn first; it’s a better, stronger introduction to his style.

Links:

Brandon’s website.

Elantris on Brandon’s website.