“The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson

One of my 2016 resolutions should probably be to try and stick to my reviewing schedule a little better, but alas, life often gets in the way of that — and I don’t see the point in making resolutions I know I won’t be able to keep. Even so, I’m pleased to be here with my first review of the year.

I’d heard a lot about Brandon Sanderson online — a lot of my friends were very keen on his books. But while the Mistborn series appealed to me, the Kindle editions were too expensive for me, they were very long so I was unsure about buying them until I knew if I’d like them, and I was intimidated by their length.

When I came across The Final Empire in my local library, I decided I might as well give it a go. Nothing to lose, right? And while the length — nearly 650 pages of relatively small print — was a bit daunting, I gave it a go.

the final empireI ended up really enjoying the book, although it took me a while to get into it. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen to all those fantasy worlds where a Chosen One is destined to save the world and doesn’t quite manage it, this is a series for you. It’s effectively a world in which the bad guy won. That’s overly simplistic — all the characters are more complex than that — but it’s an intriguing premise.

The world-building generally is fascinating, although occasionally it’s hard to wade through. Sanderson works on all the bits and pieces that often get missed out of epic fantasy novels, like how the economy actually works, and all the nitty-gritty of running a kingdom (though this is more in evidence in book two, The Well of Ascension). As for the magic system, that’s unlike anything I’ve read before.

The series title, Mistborn, refers to characters who are, for want of a better term, magically gifted. They swallow specific metals, and then can ‘burn’ these, which gives them particular attributes. Pewter, for example, gives strength. There are also Mistings, who can use only one metal; true Mistborn are rarer.

In The Final Empire we’ve got two Mistborn characters, Kelsier and Vin. Vin is young and has had a traumatic upbringing; a lot of the book looks at her learning to trust and to care about people after growing up thinking everyone would inevitably betray her. Kelsier has had his fair share of trauma too, and survived stuff that nobody should have to survive, but he responds to it differently. He doesn’t lose his ability to trust, but he’s hard, and in some ways cruel.

I got really invested in both of these two characters (there’s a wonderful supporting ensemble too, but they’re the main ones), and really enjoyed the character development. The main thing I loved about the book was how utterly unlike anything I’d read before it was, mostly just through the worldbuilding. I like that the magic system had a tangible cost — metal — and very real limitations.

My one criticism would be that Sanderson goes into a lot of detail in places, particularly when the Mistborn are fighting. He describes exactly what metals they’re using and how, and while I applaud the consistency of these descriptions and whatnot, it was a little hard to wade through in places. Particularly at the beginning of the book, I was finding it hard to get a grip on what the Mistborn were and how the metals worked, so that level of detail was a bit too much and I found myself skimming it.

The book was long, but I actually stopped noticing quite how long as it went on, and got really invested towards the end. I went on to read book two, which does a really good job of exploring the aftermath of overthrowing a tyrant and how that affects people.

I’m in awe of Sanderson’s worldbuilding and the way he explores politics — it’s not my strength at all, and I’d never be able to write something like this. The plot’s sold, the characters compelling, and the most emotional scenes are always linked firmly to the events, rather than played for shock value.

If it weren’t for those somewhat overwhelming descriptions and the fact that I almost gave up on the early chapters, it might have got five stars, but I’m giving it four. Nevertheless, I do recommend this series if you can cope with the extreme length of the books.

Rating: ****

Find ‘The Final Empire’ on Amazon (UK)

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