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Reflections on Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Natasha Coyle argues for Brandon Sanderson being this centuries’ Dickens.

Brandon Sanderson’s first book in the Mistborn trilogy, The Final Empire, is one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time. With its various twists and turns, talks of revolution and uprising against the tyrannical Lord Ruler, and fantastic character and plot development, The Final Empire is a brilliant entryway into the fantasy genre. Sanderson is the great world builder of modern fantasy.

Although The Final Empire is adult fantasy, it reads more like young adult fantasy. The story follows the teenage protagonist Vin, who is a wary and abused street urchin. She meets Kelsier, who discovered he was a Mistborn when he was captured in a brutal prison camp after being caught as a thief. After escaping the camp, Kelsier returned to Luthadel – the capital of the Final Empire and where the novel is set – to round up his old thieving crew to steal the Lord Ruler’s treasurers. This would then lead to the financial collapse of the Final Empire’s economy.

The magic discipline in Mistborn is Allomancy. Allomancy works when users swallow and ‘burn’ specific metals which give them supernatural powers. The magic system focuses on Allomantic potential: a genetic trait that is concentrated in the aristocratic class but has been passed down to other classes over generations. A normal Allomancer has an affinity for one type of metal – copper, pewter, aluminium, for example – which they ingest to give them this supernatural ability. 

But a rare subset of Allomancers are called Mistborn, who can ingest any metal and have access to every Allomantic power. The non-descript Vin, who is small in stature but has managed to survive on the streets of Luthadel, is a Mistborn. Kelsier is notified by someone in his thieving crew of Vin’s potential, so Kelsier offers to train her to develop her Allomantic skills.

The novel follows Vin’s skill and relationship development between her and Kelsier, and her meeting with Elend Venture: heir to House Venture, one of the most powerful families in Luthadel, with a dream to create a better society for all. 

This novel engages in excellent worldbuilding, mystery, and has many plot twists, one which had me on the edge of my seat when I first read this book. Sanderson uses a hard magic system in this trilogy, which means that the rules of the magic system are explicitly laid out for the reader. This means that the magic itself is a character, adding to the twists and turns throughout the novel.

Mistborn: The Final Empire can be read as a stand alone novel or, ideally, in relation to the rest of the trilogy (although the first book is my personal favourite out of the three). Mistborn can also be read within Sanderson’s wider epic fantasy world, The Cosmere, and the series provides crucial insight to how Sanderson’s world operates and some important information that is relevant to Sanderson’s later works, including all the novels published within The Stormlight Archive. Mistborn: The Final Empire is a fantasy novel about revolution, magical developments, love, friendship, and resilience. It could be called a fantasy version of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities – just as Dickens was one of the best storytellers of his time, with his detailed plots and nuanced characters, Sanderson is the same for 21st Century fantasy. It is quite a bulky novel (about 600 pages), but it is so worth it. The prose style is simple, but the depth of the secondary world is incredible and as much or as little can be read into when it comes to Sanderson’s epic narrative and world building.

I could not recommend this novel enough, and if you’ve never given fantasy books a try, I highly recommend this one as an entry point into the genre. When I found this trilogy sat discarded on a shelf somewhere and I picked it up, the beautiful cover and the intriguing blurb enticed me to read the first twenty pages. Since then, I have been hooked on Sanderson’s works. 

If you’re also a little confused by some of the systems and worldbuilding within Sanderson’s books, his website and Goodreads is a good place to start to clarify any information about his secondary worlds. Sanderson has brilliant engagement with his readership via his website and social media presence, which is another reason why he is one of my favourite authors. 

Mistborn, in my opinion, should be considered one of the 21st century’s greatest works of fantasy. Sanderson is one of the best fantasy worldbuilders, not just of our time, but of all time.

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