Review of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
The odds of one reading a good fantasy novel today are slim. Even if the novel has a unique plotline, one still has to hope it is well-written, interesting, and keeps the gratuitous sex and gore to a minimum. On the other hand, the plotline cannot be too unique, for readers of fantasy do want to relate to the book in some way, and they usually compare the book to the “fantasy template,” which can often be tweaked but never discarded.
I found Sanderson’s novel for .25 cents at a library book sale. I had heard that he was the one who was finishing the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I assumed he must have some competence to undertake so monumental a task. I also heard that Sanderson was a Mormon. While I have tremendous problems with the LDS theology, it must be admitted that Mormons are “moral” if nothing else. Therefore, I could rest assured I wouldn’t be treated to a wide array of wanton sex and debauchery. So Sanderson I bought.
Sanderson strikes new ground both with the plotline and the way his characters use “magic” (I am using terms like magic, wizardry, and sorcery as synonymous). The plotline has at least two huge twists, so I won’t ruin them here. It makes us ask the question, “What if the hero did not kill the bad guy and save the world?” The fact that Sanderson was able to write his book around that supposition and write it successfully, ensures his status in the fantasy guild.
Regarding magic, instead of wizards casting spells, the magic-users, or Allomancers, drink a vial of liquid that has different metal shavings in it (copper, tin, steel, etc). Different metals have different abilities, and the Allomancer “burns” the metals inwardly to unlock those abilities. Odd, perhaps, but certainly a new line in fantasy writing.
Sanderson’s greatest feat, though, is neither his plotline nor his magical template, but his characters. The ringleader, Kelsier, is perhaps the type of hero modern-day Americans need. He is not the typical knight in shining armor, but neither is he the jaded postmodern philosopher (who is the savior of American academia and the Infotaiment industry).
The supreme evil lord or bad guy rules the world with an iron fist. It is quite similar to the coming New World Order that Western Europe and America will soon face. Kelsier’s group is the resistance, and Kelsier acts similar to George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven and Michael Westen in Burn Notice. While uniquely skilled and intelligent, Kelsier’s main trait is humor. In the face of evil world domination, he is the only one who truly does not give in to despair.
The other main character is the street urchin, Vin. In probably the best character formation I have seen, Sanderson transforms Vin in numerous ways. Vin is…realistic. Her dialogues with both good and bad characters are the kind of dialogues familiar to modern Americans. Numerous reviewers have praised Sanderson particularly on this point.
I need to temper my praise, though. This book kept me reading and Sanderson did all the right things correctly. The numerous twists in the end put semi-literates like Dan Brown to shame. That said, the book is not good enough to keep me reading in the series. While I appreciate the new thoughts and designs, there is still something in the soul that yearns for the hero to slay the dragon, charge the castle in wild fury, rescue the princess, and live in a castle in a beautiful countryside. To be fair, Sanderson’s characters do many things similar to this, yet the very world Sanderson created will likely be jarring to many readers, allowing one to suspend disbelief for only so long.
On the other had, Sanderson is a gifted writer and is probably better than 99% of the hack fantasy writers glutting the bookstores today. Even if structurally flawed in some areas, Mistborn does represent a high level of writing.