Thursday, February 09, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

I had previously heard about Brandon Sanderson as one of the new big names in fantasy fiction. He is most well-known for taking over the Wheel of Time series from Robert Jordan after the author's untimely death after publishing the 12th novel in that epic 14-volume gigantic series. I really don't have an interest in getting hooked on a story which is something like 11,000 pages long and 4 million words. I'm already screwed because I'm hooked on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin which is now 5 books long and even though it is supposed to end at Book 7 most observers are skeptical of that happening, and of Martin being alive long enough to complete his masterwork. Speculative fiction lovers are burned from our experience with Frank Herbert, who published Chapterhouse: Dune the 6th book in his brilliant Dune series and then died in 1986, leaving his literature legacy in the hands of his son Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson who have abused the privilege by churning out mounds of simplistic unreadable crap set in the complex, compelling universe created by Herbert.

Anyway, most reviews of Sanderson's work point towards the Mistborn series as a good place to start, since it contains a fairly sophisticated system of magic as well as the presence of non-human semi-intelligent species set on a planet with a medieval level of civilization. That puts it pretty firmly in the sweet spot between fantasy and science fiction, which I found interesting.

The most unusual aspect of Sanderson's Mistborn series is that the primary character (i.e. hero) is female. Her name is Vin. Needless to say, this is very unusual in the male-dominated world of swords-and-sorcery books. Vin is a fascinating character, she becomes very powerful but Sanderson keeps her very femininity very much in focus, with detailed descriptions of the dresses and makeup she wears and gives the reader an insider's view at her internal monologue as she navigates her way through the world, loving and learning.

Another fascinating feature of the Mistborn series is the role of religion and the question of destiny. I hadn't thought about it before writing this review, but it is clear that Sanderson must have been influenced heavily by Herbert's Dune series. There are similar contours to the books: most chapters start with an epigram (in Dune they were interesting philosophical ruminations from important characters which added color to the world building, in Mistborn the epigrams are excerpts from an important historical text and constitute a parallel story in themselves), there is a tyrant who has ruled for thousands of years (Leto II in Dune and The Lord Ruler in Mistborn) and there is a race of oppressed peoples who eventually become dominant in society (the fremen in Dune and the skaa in Mistborn).

The themes of religion and destiny are common to both works as well. In Mistborn, there is a prominent character (who would probably get third billing in a movie adaptation of the series) named Sazed who all he does is muse about religion. He "collects" them, sort of like a librarian. He is known as a Keeper. He has access to another version of the magic system, called feruchemy, which is different from the one that Vin uses. That magic system is called allomancy, and is the primary source of power in the world.

Allomancy is based on the ingestion of metals, and they give the rare breeds who possess "allomantic" abilities powers that are reminiscent of some of our favorite superheroes: superstrength (iron), enhanced vision and hearing (tin), influence emotions of nearby people (zinc and brass) and physically attract repel/attract nearby metals (steel). There are many other metals and the system is nicely designed with a pleasant symmetry (some metals counteract the effects of other metals). Throughout the Mistborn series the number of metals grows and even by the end of the 3rd book it is clear there are metals in the system that are yet to be discovered.

The specific plot of the books I don't want to reveal but the writing and plotting are very strong and there are mysteries and puzzles that are only revealed on the way with a huge surprise (who is the Hero of the Ages?) only discovered in the last few pages of the last book.

Here is the blurb from
Brandon Sanderson, fantasy's newest master tale spinner, author of the acclaimed debut Elantris, dares to turn a genre on its head by asking a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails? What kind of world results when the Dark Lord is in charge? The answer will be found in the Mistborn Trilogy, a saga of surprises and magical martial-arts action that begins in Mistborn. 
For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Infinity," reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler's most hellish prison. Kelsier "snapped" and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.  
Kelsier recruited the underworld's elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel's plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she's a half-Skaa orphan, but she's lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.
Another big influence for Sanderson must be Scott Lynch, the creator of the Locke Lamora books, because the "heist/caper" aspect of the books are also lots of fun. There are also lots of thrilling descriptions of hand-to-hand combat as well as conflicts between armies that have all the panache (but not the bloody gore) of Joe Abercrombie.

Sanderson's Mistborn series is the real deal; any lover of the greats of fantasy (Martin, Jordan, Lynch, Abercrombie, Peter Brett) and well-written, political science fiction (Herbert) will enjoy these books.

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Length: 672 pages.
Publisher:  TOR Fantasy .
Published: July 31, 2007.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.91/4.0).


Author: Brandon Sanderson
Length: 816 pages.
Publisher: TOR Fantasy.
Published: June 3, 2008.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


Author: Brandon Sanderson
Length: 784 pages.
Publisher:  TOR Fantasy.
Published: April 28, 2009.

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mistborn is undoubtedly the best series that I have ever read, I'm glad to see that you appreciated it and gave it the grade you did... was there ever any doubt?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin