After finishing the second installment of The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, I desperately needed a new fast-paced fantasy epic to fill the void. Boy did I find a good one when I decided to pick up the first book of the Mistborn series. Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire follows the story of Vin, a poor thief turned rebel who joins a group of freedom fighters bent on upending the Lord Ruler, a god-like tyrant who enslaves the Skaa people.
This Story Sounds Familiar…
The Final Empire follows a well-trodden formula that many fantasy series utilize. The protagonist, Vin, lives a rough life as a thief. Her leader beats her frequently, she hardly has enough to eat, she contends with violence from every direction, but she still manages to survive.
One day, she discovers that she’s special and that she has a magical ability that makes her capable of saving her people from the oppression of the Empire. With this new knowledge, her life changes forever. Naturally, she has only nascent skills, but more than the average novice. Over the course of the book, she becomes the most skilled Mistborn in the city. By book’s end, she takes her rightful mantle as the hero of the novel.
Although I’m rolling my eyes a bit at the story structure, Sanderson manages to work within the confines of his genre to produce an exceptional book. The Final Empire works because of the world building and the well-organized powers of a Mistborn, along with a few standout characters who drive the novel.
Mistings and Mistborns
Sanderson creates a magical system that allows for out-of-the-box, exciting action scenes. Allomancy sits at the heart of the trilogy. Essentially, Allomancers can consume and “burn” metals, which each offer special powers or insights to the user. Allomancers can push and pull objects, influence people’s emotions, slow down time, or even see a few seconds into the future. To see the full list, check out Fandom’s in-depth page on what each metal does when burned.
Mistings are Allomancers who can burn a single metal. As far as anyone knows, only those of noble blood can become Allomancers, which contributes to the destitution and oppression of the Skaa. Being a Misting is extremely rare and gives a person both psychological and physical advantages over normal people (depending on which type of metal s/he can burn).
Kelsier in The Final Empire
Kelsier is a confident, smooth, good-looking Mistborn who rises from leading a small group of thieves to becoming the driving force and cult-like leader of the resistance. He is the only person known to have escaped the Pits of Hathsin, where the Empire harvests Atium. He uses this story and the “discovery” of an 11th metal that he claims can kill the Lord Ruler to build a following he hopes can free the Skaa people.
Kelsier finds Vin early in the book and believes she can grow into one of the most powerful Mistborns in the world. He mentors and trains her, but Vin also tries to avoid his radical ideology and violent nature towards those of noble blood.
Kelsier Rocks a Bit Too Much
As can be expected with the fantasy genre, Kelsier is a bit too smooth and smart. Sure he carries a few flaws—a tendency towards violence, an inability to grant mercy, a troubled past—but these get overwhelmed by his cleverness and intelligence. He’s funny, too. He also always seems to know the right thing to say in order to lead his men.
His plans almost always work out perfectly because he stays a step ahead of the authorities. His talent as a Mistborn allows him to escape from situations where his bravado and confidence should have instead gotten him in trouble. At the end of the novel, he emerges as the puppet master of a conspiracy even outside of what Vin and the others understood.
But getting over his exceptionalism, he adds enough value to the novel to let it slide a bit. His imprint on the Mistborn series makes him more th main character than Vin at times, and he is still felt (and missed) in the 2nd and 3rd installments of the series.
The Big Plan Works
As one might expect, Kelsier’s rag tag team of bandits manages to beat all the odds stacked against them and defeat the Lord Ruler. Their new secret weapon, Vin, plays a critical role in unearthing the Lord Ruler’s secrets that expose him as a human being, rather than a living god.
I don’t feel bad about giving up the ending of this book because it follows a clear formula that we’ve all read before. For me, this book is not about the destination, but rather the journey. The plot might not be unique, but it’s how Sanderson works within his structure that makes the book an enjoyable read.
When reading the first book, I was surprised that Sanderson chose to advance through the entire “chosen one defeats evil dark lord” formula in a single book. When I started the book, I assumed the Lord Ruler would be the antagonist for the entire trilogy. For better and worse (because it is both), Sanderson removes the Lord Ruler from the picture, leaving him the opportunity and task to write outside the formula in books two and three.