No one will ever read all of the great books out there, so it was with some trepidation that I dived into the Mistborn trilogy knowing I could use that time to explore some genuinely great fiction.
That was a callous start, yes, but I definitely weighed my pros and cons before dedicating myself to over two thousand pages of paperback fantasy that I wasn’t really given reason to suspect would redefine my conceptions of what the genre could achieve.
I began this series because the initial (misleadingly-presented) premise sounded unique and I’d caught wind of Brandon Sanderson’s name a few too many times to ignore. There were occasions where I thought I had made a mistake and that it wasn’t worth the time investment, but I eventually got through it and liked what the books offered well enough not to regret the experience. I realize that my endorsement there didn’t quite ring as what one might call “stirring” so I’ll start again:
For a thousand years an immortal overlord has ruled the world. The peasant “skaa” population are brutally subjugated while the nobility plays meaningless political games. A small percentage of people are “allomancers,” able to do something cool by consuming one of eight pieces of metal, each granting a different power. Ash falls from the sky, mists churn during the night, and everyone is pretty miserable.
Enter Kelsier: A charismatic skaa thief who’s escaped the Lord Ruler’s labor mines with a plan to overthrow the deified bastard once and for all. To that end he enlists a ragtag crew of his own selection, the most important and newest place on the team held by Vin, a street urchin who, like Kelsier, is an extremely rare “mistborn” with the ability to use all eight of the metals.
It’s a great world and a good set-up, which nicely highlights right away that Sanderson’s two best talents are world building and plotting. His magic system is superbly constructed, and every beat of the story that develops over the next three books is meticulously hammered out, minor details resurfacing to great effect with a lot of semi-expected turns and skillfully-handled reveals.
The trade off: The writing itself is really nothing special and only a handful of characters (Kelsier and Sazed the clear favorites) earn a third dimension.
Yet Sanderson is an earnest storyteller, and his enthusiasm for the world he created does manage to shine through. That goes for a lot, and he manages to imbue an innocence and a truth that makes up for some of the simplicity. Most importantly, I got invested, and my complaints stem mostly from wishing for pure greatness from a story that doesn’t quite get there.
But if you love fantasy, can forgive some of the shortcomings, and appreciate setting and narrative, this trilogy might be worth your time…
…but if you haven’t read the works of George R.R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie, well, no need to settle.