The Final Empire, book one in the Mistborn trilogy, follows the long-term aftermath of the much asked question in fantasy – what if the hero failed to defeat the Dark Lord? The evil one? The villain? What if Harry Potter had failed in defeating Voldemort, or Frodo had failed to defeat Sauron?
1000 years after the victory of the Dark Lord, people are divided into nobility and their Skaa slaves. Ash falls from a red sky, and the idea of green grass is hardly entertained. The Skaa are beaten down, in no way fit for a revolution. And every one that has preceded has failed. Yet, with the help of a criminal mastermind, an out-of-the-ordinary thieving crew, and a cunning heist, things may be set to change.
The story follows two main characters: Kelsier – The survivor of Hathsin, and Vin – a member of a Skaa thieving crew, and also, like Kelsier, a Mistborn. Both characters are very well-crafted, with prominent backstories and incredible development, particularly Vin. My favourite character kept changing, as both are so interesting and intriguing. While I think Vin was the character I felt more of a connection to, Kelsier carries the story through. I liked the dynamic between Kelsier and Vin too – the father-daughter-type relationship. I really appreciated a prominent relationship that was not a romantic one, at the heart of the story. Some of their scenes made me feel so warm and smiley – I loved it!
Both are Mistborn – having access to all of the metals of Allomancy (the magic of this book). This is the most interesting, unique magic system I have ever read, (and I read a lot of fantasy books). Metals can be burned to grant certain powers. For instance, a Soother can burn brass to soothe emotions, a Pewterarm can burn pewter to enhance physical abilities, etc. A Mistborn has access to all of these metals, and as such, all of the powers. Brandon Sanderson explains it so well throughout the book, using well-sized, understandable chunks. Lots of the description is through dialogue and training, and so it never feels boring because it is always demonstrated whilst being explained. It maintains that balance of giving lots of information at once, while never feeling like an info dump. The book is quite a slow-burner, but I think that is the reason the world, magic and characters felt so familiar and clear by the end.
However, while the magic is often the most-talked about aspect of this book, it doesn’t overrule the characters. There is such a great cast of characters in this book and, for most, their interaction with magic feels more important than simply the magic itself. The side characters are also all different and unique, and through their different metals, all bring new characteristics and importance to the group. No character has a lack of purpose, and each has a worthwhile place in the group, and the story.
A lot of fantasy books feel very historical in time setting, but this one kind of felt futuristic. With the red sky and the brown leaves, and the discussions about how crazy it is that leaves used to be green and the sky blue, it felt like this could be set way, way into the future.
The theme of religion is interwoven into the story really well too. It’s not something I see in books very prominently or often, but Sanderson includes very interesting ideas on religion, its purpose to some people, and creates a very realistic world through them. I loved the character, Sazed’s, remark…
“Belief isn’t simply a thing for fair times and bright days, I think. What is belief – what is faith – if you don’t continue in it after failure?”
Every chapter begins with a section from who we assume to be ‘the Hero’ or ‘the Dark Lord’. I thought this added a lot of mystery to the story, and it was interesting to see how the accounts evolved throughout the story. I thought it was clever how comparisons could be drawn between this character and others. It made me question what a hero and what a villain really is – and whether there is actually such a thing. Sometimes a hero to some, is a villain to others. Sometimes a hero does things that are questionable. And sometimes the villain is a hero too – at least in their own heads they truly believe they are doing the right thing!
Overall, the book was a brilliant assessment of heroes, villains, religion, rebellion, the class divide, and much more, along with a really tense, yet fun, political intrigue story about 2 survivors, about learning to trust, and about inspiring hope.