Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson

mistbornIt’s always nice to discover a new fantasy series, and I had high hopes for Mistborn after hearing it recommended by a few people whose taste I trust. It fell into the liked-it-but-didn’t-love-it category. The pages started turning faster as I got near the end and became more engaged in the story.

The set-up here has all the standard fantasy tropes: an empire ruled by an evil overlord, with a downtrodden underclass and a cruel upper class. A small group of rebels with access to mysterious powers decides to take down the overlord, under the leadership of a charismatic bad boy and his newest recruit, a scrappy orphan girl who’s been oppressed her whole life but has now discovered the latent power within her.

The one thing that’s really original here is the system of magic used by the Mistborn. Allomancy is almost more science-fiction than fantasy; Allomancers swallow and internally “burn” small amounts of different metals to power different abilities. Tin enhances your senses; pewter increases your strength, etc., etc. This was an intriguing take on magical abilities.

Along the way there are predictable conflicts with a few unexpected twists and turns. What kept me from being completely caught up in the story was the Sanderson’s extremely pedestrian style of writing. The best way I can explain it is to say that Sanderson writes fantasy in the same way Ken Follett writes historical fiction: certainly not badly, but with a style so resolutely un-literary and flat that there’s no real pleasure to be taken in the language, and no great subtlety to the characterization. People are pretty much what they appear to be, and the story tells you that, in exactly as many words as it takes.

This isn’t by any means a bad thing, and for some readers, who prefer fewer literary flourishes, it will be a point in Sanderson’s favour. For myself, I like a fantasy world where the language itself draws me in and entices me, as it does with Guy Gavriel Kay’s or Robin Hobb’s books, but I certainly didn’t dislike Mistborn. I will probably finish the trilogy eventually, but there are several books ahead of it on my to-read list and I don’t mind waiting.

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