Review: The Mistborn Trilogy
A warning for the wise: if you have an exam coming up, and need to study, do not read this series. Should you be planning what books to pack for a trip away with friends, put this series down; it can wait. Your social life and your trip will thank you. But, if you are like me and perfectly enjoy stabbing yourself in the foot and finding yourself awake at 3 A.M. the night before a big exam, reading what you swear is the last chapter for the day, then please, pick up The Final Empire. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though.
Mistborn follows the story of Vin, an orphaned street thief who finds herself adopted into a band of thieves planning the biggest heist in recorded history, one which, should all go well, would end with a slave uprising, the fall of the nobility, and the coup of the tyrannical, and supposedly immortal Lord Ruler. The series is well balanced with fast paced action, mystery, and a healthy enough dose of classic fantasy trope subversion to keep readers continuously on their toes. To say anything more would be to spoil, but suffice to say, this was all I required to pick up the first book.
Set in a grim world only just entering its industrial age, Mistborn lies squarely within the realm of high fantasy. And in that genre, Sanderson effortlessly marks himself out from his peers. His worldbuilding is exquisite: each city we enter feels alive and different, and the different cultures and religions are all superbly fleshed out. Sanderson knows just how long to spend worldbuilding too. He knows just when we require a cursory glance and the illusion of depth, versus the times we require more detail to make the world seem believable. Unlike many authors, he knows not to bore with information dumps, opting rather instead to weave the lore seamlessly into the narrative, occasionally having the characters asking the same questions as the reader, a situation which in less capable hands would seem garish and annoying, but he manages to keep it intriguing.
What is most outstanding about his worldbuilding however is his magic system. I have heard Allomancy to be described as a Full Metal Alchemist-esque magic system, in the way that there are, to an almost scientific degree, rules that both the readers and the characters know of, and yet still enough mystery and vagueness that it remains magical. The rules also make sure that the magic can never be used as a deus ex machina to get our protagonists out of trouble easy. Allomancy is also unique in how it works - it has the benefit of being an incredibly simple idea done very well. And when we start encountering Allomantic fights, Sanderson never once fails to make you feel the breakneck pace of the combat, or the heightened danger, or the incredible power wielded by the Allomancers; and he never slows it down with unnecessary collateral destruction. Pages of fighting flip by in seconds and leave you standing breathless among the corpses of our hero’s enemies.
Speaking of heroes, the series’ biggest selling point is arguably it’s protagonist. In a genre plagued by the frankly uncomfortable number of male protagonists and underdeveloped female characters, Vin stands squarely apart. She is incredibly well fleshed out: strong, vulnerable, feminine, and badass, with none of the sexist “not like other girls” bullshit. She is her own character, with her own agency, flaws, insecurities, likes and dislikes and is just a very believably written girl, albeit with super powers. The other characters too are never boring or interchangeable, and the character dynamics come across vividly the moment they set foot in the scene. The one gripe I would put forward is that, in concentrating on making Vin a well-rounded character, Sanderson fell victim to the classic blunder of not including many other prominent female roles. While other female characters do exist, it is arguable if all the books pass Bedchel, which although not the best of markers, is still disappointing. Sanderson has, however, expressed his regret at this oversight, and is working to make sure his other books are better. And while this is most definitely a flaw in the series, it is not one I would consider a deal breaker, especially when given how well Vin, and indeed, the rest of the entire series is written.
Another point I would like to touch upon may verge into spoiler territory. I shall be as vague as possible, but if you do not wish your reading experience be tainted at all, I suggest you skip the upcoming paragraph.
One thing Sanderson did well in this series, which I have seen few authors do this well, is deal with an explicitly mentally ill character. At one point in the series, a character falls into depression. They lose all motivation and purpose in their life, and each day becomes a chore for them. Thanks to the writing, you can really feel the sheer slog of depression, the completely lifelessness of the characters’ existence, get into their skin in a way that is eye opening for those who have never experienced it, and comforting for those who have, altogether without drying the narrative flow, or becoming a dead weight. It is something small, but handled well, and for someone like me who deals with depression, a comfort to read.
Overall, The Mistborn Trilogy is a masterclass in high fantasy literature. The worldbuilding is top notch, the characters are flawed, believable and ultimately lovable, the magic inventive and immersive, and the fights pristine. Whether you are a veteran fantasy fan looking for something different from the classic sword-and-sorcery, or a teenager who needs a good female role model in their books, I could not recommend Mistborn enough. It will grab you tight, and take you on an adventure you will not be able to put down, and leave you three books later emotionally compromised in the best of ways.
Mistborn: The Final Empire: 9.5/10
Mistborn: The Well of Ascension: 9.0/10
Mistborn: The Hero of Ages: 8.5/10
(Note: Overall score is not an average, but rather a mark of how well each of the books tie into and enhance each other and how complete the series feels)