✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Mistborn (The Final Empire, Book #1)
Publication year: 2020
Content warnings: Abuse, murder, violence, major character death, slavery.
The Final Empire is set in a dystopian world characterised by a red sun, showers of ash and rolling mists. Kelsier recruits a ragtag crew of allomancers to undertake the greatest heist in history to overthrow the Lord Ruler and free the oppressed peoples, Skaa.
What I liked
- Vin’s character
- Setting and world building
- Unique magic system
What I disliked
- Writing style
- Slow pacing
- Poor/slow character development
- Complicated magic system
- Too much exposition
Plot and Structure
The plot was a fairly standard fantasy heist plot – what you expect is what you get. A group of individuals are brought together and work to overthrow the Big Bad – the Lord Ruler – by using their allomancy and a cunning plot. There were some surprises along the way but overall it delivered on the premise very well. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it; it was good but not necessarily to my tastes. There were a lot of pacing issues until around the 70% mark, at which point the plot went into over-drive and the action soared. I really enjoyed the last 30%, but unfortunately, the first three quarters were very slow and dragged in parts.
There were two main POV characters – Kelsier and Vin – and chapters alternated between the two of them, with snippets from history books at the start of each chapter to familarise the reader with the historical context of the present. Kelsier takes Vin under his wing and mentors her, teaching her how to wield and understand her allomancy. Throughout the story the two develop a father/daughter type relationship which was very endearing, but more about that later on in the review. Generally, the structure was clean, despite the slow pacing and served the plot well.
World Building and Magic
Sanderson is most well known for his world building and magic systems, and generally, he delivered. Despite being introduced to the world Scadrial (which is not explicity named in the book), I developed a keen sense of the world and felt very immersed in it. The descriptions of the setting enabled me to build up an intricate and detailed image of the world, to such an extent that I felt like I was walking through that world with the characters. I also really enjoyed the dysopian setting which added tension throughout. The history of the world was well established and sprinkled throughout adding to the authenticity of the world and firmly grounding me in the world. It’s through the history that the reader is able to understand what is happening in the present and why. It was an interesting world and one I’d be eager to learn more about.
The magic system – Allomancy – is central to the world and consists of groupings of metals which are used in a multitude of ways by Mistings or Mistborns to enhance and unlock certain abilities. I found the magic to be very polarising. On the one hand, it was a unique and interesting concept unlike anything else I’ve come across in fantasy. On the other hand, it was overly detailed, complex and technical. This comes down to personal preference, but I’d generally prefer a softer magic system in fantasy and this was a very hard magic system. The rules, effects, boundaries and laws involved with the magic were clearly established and reinforced throughout. It became a tad repetitive and was sometimes confusing, particularly in the beginning, due to the number of different metals there are and the different abilities they unlocked. Generally, I appreciated the uniqueness of the magic and how much time went into developing it, but on a personal level, it simply wasn’t for me and there was too much exposition around it which constantly pulled me out of the story.
My largest critcism of this book is by far the writing style. Sanderson’s language use was simplistic and written like it’s targeted at young teenagers rather than adults. The prose was plain and dry and prevented me from being able to get into the flow of the story. It was also very expository, reading like a mechanical process, which created a disconnect between myself, the characters and the story. I was constantly pulled out of scenes by the clunky writing, especially during action scenes which were so clumsily written that I had no idea what was going on. They read like an instructon manual of, “He did X, and then he did Y and in response, she did Z. Next, he did X again until Y happened and finally did Z.” It was tedious and completely unimmersive. This really comes down to a creative choice by Sanderson to invest his time and energy into world building and magic systems at the detriment of his prose, tone and overall writing style.
Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope.
Characters and Relationships
Like most other aspects of the book, the characters and relationships have mixed results from me. Generally, I liked the relationships and character dynamics more than the characters individually, except for Vin. Vin was the highlight of this book for me. Although her character draws on a lot of typical fantasy archetypes, her growth throughout this book was incredible. She’s a lovable character; sympathetic, brave and talented. A chosen one, but still real enough that she felt relatable. I also really enjoyed Elend – Vin’s love interest (who weirdly gave me Draco Malfoy Vibes) – for his charisma, intrigue and wit. He brought a freshness to the story that I enjoyed as one of the only other young main characters besides Rin.
Unfortunately, the other characters fell rather flat for me. Kelsier’s character was very underwhelming and I found it impossible to connect to him. I couldn’t even get a read on his character for at least the first quarter of the book, if not more. He seemed inconsistent and shady. The rest of the crew were all indistinguishable. I know their names, but that’s pretty much all I know about them.
Fortunately, I loved the character dynamics. I really liked seeing Vin and Kelsier’s relationship blossom. Kelsier acted as her mentor, teacher, friend and parental figure, and although I found it difficult to connect to him as a character in the moments he shared with Vin, he felt much more human. It was refreshing for the main female/male dynamic to be one of mentor and mentee rather than lovers. I appreciated not having the romantic entanglements between Vin and Kelsier. Speaking of romance, I adored Vin’s dynamic with Elend. Their relationship was well-built and the chapters featuring Elend were some of my favourites. Generally, I also enjoyed the dynamics between the crew, despite not vibing with them individually. The friendships felt authentic and I liked the way they bounced off one another.
The Final Empire is a book I went into with high expectations because of how highly regarded Sanderson and Mistborn are in the fantasy world. In terms of plot, it was satisfyng and built to a fast-paced fun last quarter and epic conclusion. The world building met those expectations and was completely immersive, vivid and encapturing. The magic system was intricate, unique, well developed and central to the world. Although the hard magic system and general emphasis on magic was not to my tastes, I was impressed and intruiged by the allomantic magic. Sanderson’s writing was a rather significant hinderance to the story due to its exposition and clunkiness. My favourite aspect of the book excluding the world building, was Vin. I adored Vin as a protagonist and despite finding it difficult to connect to the other chracters, I enjoyed their character dynamics. Overall, The Final Empire was an entertaining read with lots of promise but fell short of meeting my expectations based on the hype surrounding it. My issues with the writing and magic system are personal preferences, but have led me to the decision to not continue with the Mistborn series.
I’d recommend The Final Empire if:
You’re looking for a smooth transition into epic fantasy with complex world-building, an intricate magic system and entertaining heist plot.
Have you read The Final Empire or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.