Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll

Best SFF Novels of the Decade: An Appreciation of Mistborn: The Final Empire

Mistborn: The Final Empire (more commonly referred to as simply, Mistborn) is the first novel in an epic trilogy written by fantasy superstar Brandon Sanderson. Originally published in 2006, the novel was the beginning of Sanderson’s first attempt at publishing a multi-volume series. It is also, in my little ol’ opinion, his best solo-written work to date. And yes, I’ve read all his books, and yes, that includes the colossal The Way of Kings.

Sanderson’s meteoric rise to fame is practically the stuff of legend now, but I’ll admit that I was pretty skeptical when I read Mistborn. Let me explain what happened.

In late 2007, I was given a courtesy call by a Tor representative who informed me that Sanderson—an author I’d never heard of at the time—would be finishing the Wheel of Time series and that they would be announcing it in the coming days. I was told that Harriet McDougal—the late Robert Jordan’s editor—had selected Sanderson to finish her husband’s magnum opus. Upon learning this, I immediately asked for a list of his prior works, and dashed out to the bookstore that very night to pick up a copy of whatever they had. It turned out that my local bookstore only had Mistborn in stock, and so that very night I began reading.

Popular tradition within the WoT community has it that Harriet knew she had found the right author to finish the series after just reading the first fifty pages of this book. If this seems strange to you, then you’ve not read Mistborn. From the first sentence (“Ash fell from the sky.”) onward, Sanderson evokes a dark world in which a lowly street rat learns she has the rarest of magical abilities. As an author, he’s known for his clever magic systems, but with this book, I think he reveals his real secret to success. It’s the same one that Robert Jordan had: he crafts outstanding characters. Allomancy—the ability to metabolize metals in your body for magical powers—is neat, but Vin, the 16-year-old female protagonist learning to trust and love for the first time is far more compelling. Her mentor Kelsier is a complex mixture of revenge and genuine compassion. And the Lord Ruler is simply one of the best and most interesting antagonists I’ve read in a long time.

Mistborn was a shining example to me of what a fantasy novel could be. As celebrated as the sequels were, the original felt complete and perfect just on its own. When I finally had a chance to talk to Brandon a few days after reading the book, I nearly forgot to ask about WoT! All I wanted to tell him was how much I loved Mistborn. His later books, particularly The Way of Kings, might blow you away for their sheer scale and ambition, but for me, this first Mistborn novel had so much heart that it tops my chart as his best effort to date.

In the end, the highest compliment I can offer this book is that I came to it looking for Robert Jordan, but I left it wanting more of Brandon Sanderson.


Jason Denzel is a writer & filmmaker, as well as the webmaster of Dragonmount.com, the central hub of all things Wheel of Time. Contrary to popular myth, he has defeated Brandon in at least one game of Magic: The Gathering. Check him out on Twitter.

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