I tend to be very chatty, so please skip ahead to each book for the individual reviews if you do not want TMI about my life. 🙂
So clearly, I have lived under a rock for the past 10 years or so. There is no other explanation for why it took a pandemic for me to realize people actually made videos about books and posted them online. I’ve been reading reviews on Goodreads and blogs and Amazon/Audible before buying books for years, but never did I think to look into any particular reviewers.
Anyway. Cue 2020 and my partially self-imposed quarantine, where I freaked out and did not leave my apartment for anything in over 2 months. And through a long, convoluted way, I finally discovered the marvel that is Booktube. And a handful of Booktubers that I really enjoy watching, even if I don’t necessarily love the same books they do. And the one thing they all seem to have in common: they all LOVE Brandon Sanderson.
Brandon who? You might ask. I certainly did.
I spent the past 3-years or so reading very few physical books, mainly choosing my books from the selection available in the Audible Daily Deal. There was no rhyme or reason. I tended to choose memoirs, and pop-sciencey non-fiction sprinkled now and then with a random crime procedural fiction book if the cover looked nice. And all of a sudden half-a-dozen strangers were telling me this guy can do no wrong. So I decided to give it a try even though I am quite new to fantasy.
Brandon Sanderson is an extremely prolific author, who writes both adult and young adult novels, mostly fantasy with some science fiction sprinkled in between. And most reviewers agreed that Mistborn was a good place to start. So I had a small breakdown when I couldn’t find a book called Mistborn in my library. I eventually bought it from Amazon to discover that none of the books is called that (at least in the UK), but I am now kind of glad I own a pretty boxset (and the UK covers are so much prettier than the American ones).
So on with the reviews:
Book 1 – The Final Empire
Mistborn’s concept is a fascinating one: what would happen if the bad guy won and had been ruling the world for the past 1000 years?
This book is often cited as one that makes the transition from YA to adult fantasy easy, and though I am in no way an expert, I tend to agree. For a period in my youth, I was really into YA dystopias, and there are quite a few things in this book that felt familiar while opening up a whole new world to me.
Here we have a third-person narration where Vin, a 16-year-old street urchin recently abandoned by her not-so-loving brother, tries to disappear into the background of the crew for whom she works to avoid beatings and other violence. She manages it through a mixture of subservience and using the “luck” she gathers to influence the people around her. However, the world is a lot bigger than that. We also follow Kelsier, crew leader extraordinaire who has a larger-than-life personality and an insane plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler and cause the final empire’s collapse. And with him a ragtag of very special thieves who ostensibly want money but are deep down looking out for the skaa, the portion of the population who are de facto slaves who keep the nobility rich.
And the world Sanderson has built is fantastic. We have an immortal ruler; we have a somewhat complex social structure; we have a depressing landscape where ash constantly falls from the sky and the nights are overtaken by mist; we have a fascinating magic system that is at the same time freeing and limited. And we also have balls and intrigue and a bit of romance and infiltration and pretty dresses. Somehow none of it takes over the narrative, and everything seems to flow together seamlessly. Sanderson’s prose is also very straightforward and easy to read, though the fight scenes took me a while to get into.
All in all, I thought this was a great book. It took me a while, but once it hooked me, it was interesting, it kept me guessing, and I definitely did not see the twists coming—a great introduction to the series and probably to the author.
I rate it 4 stars.
Book 2 – The Well of Ascension
The Well of Ascension picks up the story exactly 1 year after the Collapse of the Final Empire. After the death of the Lord Ruler, the Empire has broken down into kingdoms. Luthadel is now the Central Dominance capital, where scholarly King Elend Venture has installed a democratic government, including an Assembly with the power even to depose him if they so wish. The city is under siege as his father holds about 50 thousand soldiers and threatens to invade. Another king sends allomancer assassins in an attempt to destabilize and find the Lord Ruler’s elusive atium reserves. In the midst of it all, Vin is there protecting Elend and trying to deal with her unwanted place as the Lady Heir of the Church of the Survivor.
Again, Sanderson ups the stakes as we follow Sazed through the south, and discover that the mist is now killing people. We get plenty of action and loads of information and development on both Allomancy and Feruchemy, which I really enjoyed. I felt like it expanded the magic system in a way that mostly complied with the rules but still felt new and exciting. We again had politics, intrigue, betrayal. Some things were brutal, but I kept my faith in the characters. Mostly.
Reading this book, I learned two things.
Firstly, I realised that I don’t yet trust Brandon Sanderson as an author, which sounds crazy even to my ears. But a little over halfway through there was this one scene that seemed like a herring for a trope I really don’t like: miscommunications and the fabled “I don’t deserve him / I don’t deserve her”. And I get that it is not unwarranted given the personality and hang-ups of the characters involved, but I’m not too fond of this trope, which made me pause and wonder if I should continue reading.
The second thing I learned was boy, was I wrong to ever doubt him. He didn’t drag it on, or fall into the cliché, and delivered a beautiful and believable portrayal of the character dealing with the situation. So yes, Sanderson, I may learn to trust you yet.
The only thing I didn’t like was the use of Marsh in this instalment. He showed up out of nowhere at the start, then again at the end, and I hope we get some background on what is going on there on book three. The whole thing just seemed too convenient, and I expect a story behind it, which we’ll hear soon.
All in all, I’d rate this 4.5 stars.
Book 3 – The Hero of Ages
Well yes, clearly I was right that I should trust Brandon Sanderson because what the hell did I just read? Just, wow. I mean, I seriously do not want to spoil this for anyone (I was slightly spoiled and wish I hadn’t been – and even then the book managed to catch me by surprise), but let me try and somehow review this.
This book picks up a couple of years after the end of book 2, and basically, the world is ending. The mists are killing; the ash is falling more and more; koloss armies are attacking villages; TenSoon has been arrested in the Homeland for breaking his contract; March is being controlled by Ruin; and Vin, Elend (now a Mistborn) & the crew have left Luthadel behind to protect villages / diplomatically threaten cities and play scavenger hunt with the large puzzle the Lord Ruler’s left behind.
I’ll be honest: I really enjoyed this. Right in the beginning, there is a quote in the opening of a chapter that spins everything on its head, and all of a sudden I felt like I was not reading fantasy at all, this was all just an extremely well-disguised dystopian. Which of course is not the case, but it could really be – it just makes sense scientifically speaking, and it blew my mind. The entire book felt like an extremely enjoyable marathon, but I want to take a moment to talk about the ending.
I mean, this might have been the most satisfying ending to a series I have ever read. I don’t know how to explain it. It was not what I expected (even though I knew one important detail). It was also not a happily ever after but I felt like it tied everything up nicely in a pretty little bow. Maybe that is not the right expression, it’s just that I hate open-ended books, and sometimes authors like to leave a lot to the imagination. Sanderson finished this series. We know exactly what happened. It did not feel cliched. It did not feel unearned. It had a cost. It had consequences. But it was still hopeful. And it was the right place to stop.
Not gonna lie, I now want to read more by him.