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Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Book One

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Book One
3.5
Book Name: Mistborn - Book One
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher(s): Gollancz (UK), Tor (USA)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 31, 2007

Fantasy Faction’s first ever book club read was chosen unanimously. Out of our voting members – every single one of them chose Mistborn – Book 1. This review is going to feature Overlord’s review of the book and also quotes from forum members who contributed during the book club’s first few weeks.

– – –

Brandon Sanderson has quickly risen from fantasy writer to fantasy superstar within the space of about two or three years. When it was announced that he would be finishing the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, those who had not heard of him before of course dived into his previous work to see what this guy could offer.

Now, let me quickly say that Mistborn was not his first series, nor is it his last. Mistborn was published after a very good book of his, Elantris, and before his now renowned Way of the Kings, which has been named as one of the best fantasy books of the decade.

To start with, Sanderson himself said that after writing Elantris (which was popular), he needed to really make a statement with his next book. He needed to play it ‘safe’ in some respects but also to ‘push the boat out’ in others. The way he did this was to create a relatively typical fantasy story but freshen it up with a unique set of characters and an absolutely fantastic magic system.

Firstly, the setting. Mistborn is set in a medieval style world that has pretty much died. People still live on it, but the world as we know it is a wasteland. Both day and night ash falls from the sky, caking the city in darkness. Cities still exist, there are still the rich and the poor but since the taking over of the world by the immortal ‘Lord Ruler’ nothing really grows and people don’t really prosper. Since before anyone can remember Mist has covered the world at night and to venture outside of the cities or even outside of your home past sunset is simply not done. We do not know exactly what hides within the Mists but the presence of Mistwraiths alone is good enough cause.

The world is split into two groups, the Nobles and the Skaa. The Nobles live a life of luxury, attending nightly balls and owning large mansion like keeps. The Skaa on the other hand are slaves, forced to work and provide the nobles with resources. The story goes that the Nobles are the descendants of people who were early supporters of the Lord Ruler. The Skaa are the descendants of people who did not support the Lord Ruler when he first came to power. In addition to their wealth, a number of Nobles have the power of Allomancy, a type of magic that allows them skills – they must however draw power from consumed metals to use them. The Allomantic metals come in four groupings of two metals: Each metal produces an Internal or an External effect. Just some include: Moving Metals, Enhanced Senses, Manipulating Emotion, Increased Strength and so on. Originally, every Nobel would have had ability to access all 8 metals – known as ‘mistborns’, now however after generations it is rare. Most tend to have the ability only to use one metal – they are known as ‘mistings’.

It might sound a little complicated at first, but it is explained very well, very early on and one of the best additions to the book for me was the inclusion of a glossary at the back, which explains all the uses of metal and so on. Anyone who has read Black Prism will wish Brent Weeks had included something similar for his complicated magic system.

The story opens with the young female gang member Vin. Vin has lived with an all male gang now ever since her brother abandoned her. He left her with much advice, all along the lines of, “Everyone will betray you, trust no one.” The paranoid and un-trusting Vin has spent her last few years trying to live unnoticed and batting off the attention of the males looking for a quick thrill in the bedroom.

Vin holds the gang back in many ways, she has very little use to them, however the gang’s leader has noticed that whenever he takes her on a mission it seems to turn out well. He supposes it is just luck but Vin knows otherwise. She has a skill that she refers to as ‘luck’. It seems that she can will a person’s response just by encouraging them or pushing them against an idea or suggestion. Vin uses the skill whenever the gang leader takes her on a job. And it is in fact upon doing so that she is first noticed by Kelsier.

Kelsier is an interesting character. Once captured by the Lord Ruler for reasons that are quickly revealed to be a traitorous plot, he managed to escape – something that has never been done before. Something happened to Kelsier during this time that caused him to ‘snap’, it allowed him to pick up the skills that prior to now have only been used by the favoured nobility. He decided a long time ago that he was going to use these skills to overthrow the dark ruler and offer the Skaa a chance for a real life.

To achieve this though Kelsier needs to convince the Skaa that there is more out there for them than the life of slaves, living purely to service the needs of the nobility. How can he convince them that overthrowing an immortal Lord Ruler is a possibility for the lowest of the low? The way the Skaa live it is going to be difficult – they accept their role…their place in society…the beatings, the slavery, the belittlement – for them it is just…life.

Kelsier needs to do something drastic and he knows he can’t do it alone. He calls in some friends, all specialist Mistings with an individual skill. Together they must overthrow the Lord Ruler and bring power back to the Skaa or at least take away the huge divide.

This is where Vin’s story begins to get interesting. Kelsier realises after first seeing her use her powers that she is recruit-able. Once he has recruited her – Vin begins to show she has more abilities than just ‘luck’. She is in fact one of the very rare Mistborn. In fact even for a Mistborn, Kelsier quickly realises she is especially powerful. He asks her to join his team, but with her ‘trust no one’ attitude she is resistant and is constantly looking for a catch.

This story is a relatively typical one. We have Vin with a great power that she needs to master in order to play part in bringing down the evil Lord Ruler. Because the magic system is so unique though, it doesn’t feel like something you have seen before and the journey that she takes to master these powers and to play her part in Kelsier’s plan is pretty well told. Her interactions with the other members of the team are also rather enjoyable.

So after that rather lengthy explanation, what is it actually like?

My personal opinion of the book first? I think the biggest star of this book by far is Brandon Sanderson. You can certainly see his skill as a writer. The man takes perhaps one of the most complex magic systems I have read in a good few years and has it pretty much explained and locked into your memory far before the end of even part one. His descriptions of setting are spot on, you get a place’s appearance and atmosphere in the absolute minimum amount – so much so in fact that you begin to enjoy descriptions rather than dread them like so many other fantasy novels.

The story itself is pretty standard, as I have said. The characters, their development and the history really make the story in my opinion. You won’t find anything new in terms of story when it comes to Mistborn (book 1 anyway) but you will find the repeated stuff done just as well as any before it. The Lord Ruler is very mysterious and as we see more of him, he is perhaps one of the most intriguing ideas in modern times. He appears to be a human with God like powers and the fact he is so accessible was something I really liked.

Weaknesses…there were a few and they were pretty big. As you will see from the book club reviews shortly – Not many of us liked Vin. Vin was almost too cautious and too reluctant to trust anyone. We all got within a chapter she was damaged and neglected and therefore had trust issues…but…it really, really did drag on for a few of us. Secondly, the fight scenes were a little bit vague for me. I enjoyed them, but I think that if Brandon has one weakness in his writing (at this point) it is the fight scenes.

These were relatively minor details for me. Although the main character being annoying may sound as though it would ruin the story – it actually doesn’t affect it too much. Brandon Sanderson has certainly put together a book here that ticks all the right boxes for fantasy fans – it also reads very, very smoothly and yet at the same time gives you enough in terms of twists and uniqueness to make it exciting.

What I would say is that almost every Sanderson fan has said that this is probably his least enjoyable book…and seeing as I am giving this book 3.75 stars, that’s quite an exciting prospect. Another great thing about Sanderson is that he actively takes part in the online community – discussing his books over forums, his writing on twitter…I really liked that aspect.

A number of our forum members actually said that perhaps trying Way of Kings or Elantris first and then going back to Mistborn would be a good idea. This way you will see a bit more of what Sanderson can do and won’t be too put off by Mistborn book 1, because the series does apparently get a whole lot better and Sanderson apparently too has a lot more to offer.

Handing over to the book club now. They certainly had VERY mixed feelings about Mistborn as a whole.

Bryndled1
I love the magic system, I’m continually amazed how easy and fluid he seems to create these systems and in such an identifiable way. Brandon doesn’t go too in depth with the rest of the crew, which I think was just about everyone’s complaint.

Hawthorne
I’m nearly at the end of chapter 5, and I have to admit I’m not totally into it yet. The writing style is immersive, but there have been one or two (very minor) editorial inconsistencies that have left me feeling not entirely comfortable while I’m reading. (I should probably point out that I’m a freelance editor in one of my many incarnations, so this type of stuff bothers me a lot more than the average reader.)

However – great magic system (wish I’d invented it), intriguing characters, nice start to the grand heist storyline, and I’m enjoying the chapter notes at brandonsanderson.com. I like Kelsier (he reminds me a bit of Locke Lamora), and I totally get Vin’s paranoia (nicely done, although laid on a bit thick at times).

Sharpy
The characters are very linear; there is no real history or depth to them (apart from Kell and Vin). Vin I find nothing but annoying, although this may be intentional. The read is an easy one and I can see how people would like this, but after reading Steven Erikson and Scott Lynch last year, I’m finding this run of the mill.

Maybe I have just read too much fantasy and generalise books/stories too much. Sorry to be the ONLY ONE to slate this book, but I think in this day and age we need something better.

The magic system is ok but very similar to using elemental type magic or even lay lines, maybe I’m just being too cynical or maybe I’m just a miserable old git, either way not impressed so far.

The Beat Poetic
Just finished The Final Empire and I have mixed feelings about it. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good book and I probably have most of the same compliments/complaints as most people. I’ve read The Way of Kings, but none of Brandon Sanderson’s other works (I’m currently re-reading Wheel of Time in order to get to the newer books), so while I have detected an ‘evolution’ of sorts in Sanderson’s writing I don’t know if my next statement will generalize towards his other books or not.

I felt like The Final Empire almost has a Young Adult style to it. Does anyone else feel that way? It’s not intended as a complaint really, because I still thought the book was pretty good. It’s hard to put into words, but despite some of the gory-ish scenes, his writing felt kind of…simple to me. I felt slightly different reading The Way of Kings, but for me The Final Empire lacked some of the subtleties and complexities found in other fantasy novels. But don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it! It was a first time read for me and I finished it in about 2 days, so obviously something had hooked me.

Alex Eats Books
I really enjoyed it. I can understand a lot of what others have said about the almost ‘simplistic’ writing style but I think it helped in getting me right into the world and the magic. I really do want to keep reading the series because I think it can only get better!

Ann Marie Ager
Really liking it so far enjoying the writing style and how easy it is to read. I’ll add more once I have read more.

Overlord
Really enjoyed it. It took a while to get going in all honesty. It started off really well and then things went a big dull with the whole ball thing and Kelsier visiting certain places doing the same things, but overall I think it worked very well as a first novel.

One thing I am not so keen on is the ‘fighting’, Sanderson doesn’t seem a natural when it comes to describing a fight. He is brilliant at everything else, but the fight scenes were by far the weakest part of his writing. To me they seemed very, very vague.

ChristinaJL
I was ok with the fight scenes, I thought the weakest part of his book was the characterisation of Vin; maybe he’s just not as good at writing from a female perspective, as the male characters were alright.

You can see the whole discussion in the book club section of our forums here. And you can read more on the Mistborn series on Brandon Sanderson’s website here.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson - Book One, 9.8 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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11 Comments

  1. Andre says:

    Hunh..wats wrong with vivid?

  2. Thaxll says:

    I find the comment about ‘vague’ and weak fighting scenes a bit strange, since the fighting scenes are commenly (as in most other reviews I’ve read) regarded to be one of Mistborn’s and Sanderson’s strong points. And I agree with that.

    Personally I think Vin is one of my favourite female characters in fantasy. Her being ‘damaged’ is handled really well and naturally imo. There are plenty of other books where the ‘damaged’ main character seems to just get over his or her traumas overnight and suddenly is a shining beacon of leadership and stability. You just don’t shake off a life of abuse and mistrust like that.

    Imo Mistborn: The Final Empire is far from the mediocre book you seem to find it, but I agree that the series really shines once you have read the complete trilogy. You will notice a lot of things that are being foreshadowed throughout Mistborn that seem like insignificant details at first but really take on great importance in the overal story. You will see that Sanderson really put a lot of planning and thought into the development of the overarcing story and the world it takes place in. This is why, even over the awesome magic systems and kick ass fighting scenes, Sanderson is quickly rising to the top of my favourite author list.

    • Overlord says:

      I really don’t think they were that strong. The best fight scene was the first, which Sanderson called his weakest (in his comments on http://www.BrandonSanderson.com). Maybe I just like different fighting styles than he wrote…

      Fair enough, but as you can see from the book club comments, I was not the only person who thought it about Vin. In fact, I probably rated the book higher than the majority of the book club… a couple stopped reading it and others said they would not continue with the series.

      I don’t think it is so much mediocre as ‘safe’. It is a book that sticks to typical fantasy and does it well. It is promising for sure, but to give it 5/5 would be wrong and 4/5 would be wrong too. 3.75 seemed fair to me personally and I think if I averaged the book clubs score it would be about the same too.

      P.S. I appreciate the spelling corrections 🙂

  3. Alex says:

    Great review – you pretty much covered it all!
    And the image you chose is gorgeous – I love the mistcloak very much!

  4. A good magic system is a super extra plus in my books, and I’ve been wanting an excuse to splash out on Sanderson’s books (The Way of Kings is never available in the shops, it’ll have to be Kindle for me) but I think I’ll give Mistborn a try too. Thanks, an excellent first book club review 😀

  5. Ayros says:

    I’ll have to agree with Thaxll on every word he nailed it. It caught me when I was getting tired of the fantasy cliches and rescued everything I love about fantasy. It was a refreshing and smart book. I too finished the series and it stands out as one of the best trilogies I have ever read. I’d recommend everyone to finish it.

    • Overlord says:

      Good to hear… I have read that ‘as a trilogy’ it is fantastic – I am judging this a a singular novel and I guess it is worth remembering I have another 2/3 of the story to go. Actually, there is another Mistborn based novel out this year too – so 1/4 way through the story 🙂 My opinion may very well change as I read more into this world over the next year.

  6. Ayros says:

    I’ll have to agree with Thaxll on every word he nailed it. It caught me when I was getting tired of the fantasy cliches and rescued everything I love about fantasy. It was a refreshing and smart book. I too finished the series and it stands out as one of the best trilogies I have ever read. I’d recommend everyone finishes it.

  7. […] Frodor’s Travel Guide: The “Bad Economy” Issue Sunday, March 11, 2012 This month’s travel guide is based on Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. More information on the series can be found at brandonsanderson.com. You can also read Fantasy-Faction’s review of the first Mistborn novel here. […]

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