Book Review: Mistborn

The only thing I can say I like about insomnia is the excuse it gives me for going on a cozy, in-bed reading marathon, which is exactly what happened last night. I’ve had the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy Mistborn trilogy, The Final Empire, sitting on my bedside table for a while now. The insomnia hit around 1 AM, and after a few moments of restless tossing, I smiled to myself and thought, “might as well read!”

At 672 pages in paperback, it’s not exactly light, so I was surprised by how much of a quick page-turner it has proven to be. I found the cover art to be quite captivating:

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I think she’s so beautiful – I could just stare at this cover image!

So far I am hooked in the dark world of Luthadel and its surrounding provinces. The prologue sets the tone quite dismal, painting a picture of the lives of the skaa, slaves who are quite literally worked to death — that is, if they aren’t executed prematurely for even the hint of misbehaving.

To be honest, I can’t recall how I got this book (I think at a con, maybe), but I certainly didn’t know beforehand what to expect, so the grisly opening was a bit of a shock. This is certainly an adult fantasy world, one where vivid descriptions of beatings pepper the pages. Poverty abounds in the skaa community, and the depictions of starvation, betrayal, and prostitution are rather grim. Although I would not necessarily recommend this book to sensitive audiences, the violence is by no means excessive.

Violence aside, the magic in the book’s universe is where the fun really comes in. In this world, a rare few are gifted with Allomancy, the practice of internally “burning” various metals to gain supernatural abilities. This isn’t your Harry Potter variety of magic, with its discrete wand flicks and verbal commands. Think more along the lines of a Jedi using the force, mustering intangible powers from deep within his consciousness.

I’m generally not a fan of magical mechanisms that are so esoteric. If there’s not a concrete description of what’s making the magic happen, I generally have a harder time suspending my disbelief. IE, the hand-wavy style of magic where the protagonist just thinks really hard and — ta da! — you’ve got magic! But in this case, I am very impressed with Mr Sanderson’s descriptions of the magic in the Mistborn universe. The characters who can practice Allomancy do so in ways that are logically consistent with each other, and the depictions of the science behind the magic are sufficiently believable.

So far my only criticism is the barrage of new names, places, objects, and people that comes quite early in the book. As in most epic fantasy worlds, the characters don’t have names like Jane and Bob, so keeping up with a dozen names I struggle to pronounce, along with the foreign terminology for the various social classes and places, is rather challenging. Obviously by nature this genre will entail made-up technologies, places, and names, but I do wish the author had paced out their introductions a bit more and spent more time describing all the new people and places, to make them easier to remember as the plot jumps back and forth.

I’ll post an update to this review once I’m finished turning all the pages, but so far I give it two nerdy thumbs up!

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4 comments

  1. I’m in your insomnia club. At the moment I can get to sleep alright but I keep waking too early – about 2hrs before I have to get up. My brain goes into overdrive with ‘work stuff’ and I just can’t switch off and go back to sleep. I’m hoping it will reduce once I get into my new job. I’ve tried various things but not managed to resolve it. In fact it’s got worse, it’s 5.20am in the UK, I’ve been awake since 4am! I think my first post about self care might be on this topic! Good book mid-review. I know what you mean when a story has lots of different characters and places with unfamiliar names. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

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  2. I love those books that you just kind of happen into. Some of my best reads have been books that kind of appeared in my life one day. Looking forward to the full review, but sounds like an alright fantasy novel.

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