Mar 6 2011 1:00pm

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

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon SandersonMistborn: 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, 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.

Eigor Maldonado
1. e-mann
I am in total agreement with Jason on this topic. I too went looking for Sanderson books upon hearing of his succession to Jordan’s work and, unlike poor Jason, found several books for sale at my local bookstore; two of which were autographed by Sanderson (SCORE). I did not, however, start reading looking for Jordan but too see if Sanderson was a capable enough writer to continue his works. The first book of his I read was Elantris. I found it to be quite enjoyable, with my favorite part being the political intrigue of the book and the way he established the magic in the world. I also enjoyed that this story took place in a small section of a much larger world that you got small glimpses into which, for me, made it a much more believable world.
The second book I picked was Mistborn. After just the first chapter I knew that I would have very little sleep for the next week until I finished it. It grabbed my attention and imagination; only a few other books and/or authors had managed to do so with me, one of which was Jordan. His understanding of character development importance and of hearing that he himself was a fan of Jordan and his work convinced me that he indeed was the correct man for the job.
If you want to know why Sanderson was chosen to complete the WoT series I would read both Elantris and more importantly Mistborn. They are truly exceptional books and have made me into a Sanderson fan as well.
Sydo Zandstra
2. Fiddler
This will not make me popular in the WoT community.

Sorry, Jason. I have been reading WoT for at least as long as you have, and I really think that a big part of Brandon's fanbase comes from the fact that he is finishing WoT.

I find Brandon's writing boring. I bought the Mistborn trilogy, and stopped reading somewhere early in book 2. Yes, I know everybody says you have to go through that to get to the big ending. But I just don't care about what that ending is about. Most characters are one-dimensional and the only character that is interesting dies in the first book. And the whole magic system reminded me of a tool shed, especially with those bad guys having spikes in their eye sockets.

I think Brandon Sanderson is a good choice to finish WoT. Because RJ left enough stuff for him to point the way. He is doing well there.

But I'm not really interested in his other works. I put him on the same level as Feist, post Serpentwar books. And certainly not in the top ten where he ended here.
Brandon Demerath
3. Demeb
Brandon Sanderson is the reason I'm on I had never considered myself a fan of fantasy, but on a whim I picked up a copy of Mistborn to read over the summer. It totally blew me away, and it opened my eyes to an genre of fiction I had long ignored. After burning through the rest of the Mistborn books, I looked into Sanderson's other works, and while they are all excelent, they can't quite top Mistborn for me. After seeing that he was going to be finishing the WoT series, I finally looked into it, and I am now enjoying those books.

Mistborn: The Final Empire has become one of my favorite books, and I am glad to see that it ranks among the top ten.
4. tallulahc
I had the same experience as well; I was sleptical of this no-name author usurping Jordan's legacy. After I heard that he was taking over, I grabbed Elantris and was blown away. I did not sleep after I read it and grabbed Mistborn after and fell in love with how wonderful he paints his world. I have everybook he has written now and I can't wait for the next Book of the Chronicles. I was completely surprised when I read him and I'm happy I looked him up. :)
Claire de Trafford
5. Booksnhorses
I tried Sanderson before I heard the news about WOT. I've got all the Mistborn books but I have to say that they haven't really gripped me - I've read half of each one and skimmed through to the end. I loved the system of allomancy but the characters and world building just didn't grip me for some reason. For this reason Way of Kings is still sat unread on my bookshelves. I've enjoyed the WOT work, even the first incarnation of Mat so I won't give up on Sanderson, I've just got other books to read at the moment.
Rob Munnelly
6. RobMRobM
Fiddler - ease up on old Brandon, eh (and old Jason too). It's clear from your posts in the various re-reads that you value more layered, baroque work, a la classic RJ and Erickson. Perfectly understandable that Sanderson's more linear style isn't your cup of tea.

I generally like Brandon's work. with Mistborn I and the Alcatraz YA books being my favorites. I agree he's done a fine job with WoT although I really would have appreciated a work that combined the best parts of RJ's and Brandon's styles (more layered and subtle than Brandon, more linear and less indulgent than RJ). I'm also quite hopeful of the potential of the Stormlight Chronicles. Way of Kings was fun, if suffering somewhat from first volum-itis. I have no problem with him being on a top ten list.

Rob Munnelly
7. RobMRobM
Jason - by the way, loved your post re the Maester's Box from HBO's Game of Thrones but please read the gosh-darned books. Or at least the first one, so you can see what the hubbub is about. Very different from WoT but highly enjoyable.

Samantha Brandt
8. Talia
Claire: Way of Kings I found to be quite a different animal from 'Mistborn,' give it a shot!

I too first heard about Sanderson from his involvement with WoT, but at that time I'd lost interest in the series so it wasn't like "ooh, the successor, must check him out." I finally got around to reading his stuff after hearing how good the 'Mistborn' trilogy was. I was not disappointed at all - totally gripping (if some of his choices in concluding the trilogy were.. not ones oft utilized..). The Inquisitors remain one of the creepiest types of bad guys I've ever come across in any fantasy novel.
9. madscientistnz
I discovered Brandon Sanderson though his short story on It completely blew me away and I went out and brought Elantris the next day.

I'm not a fan of WoT so I'm waiting for him to finish the series so he can go back to writing his own stuff full time. But as productive as he is, I might not be able to keep up with his output then!
Nathan Martin
10. lerris
I also picked up Brandon Sanderson's books after hearing he had been selected to finish WoT. I thoroughly enjoyed Elantris, but still noticed a substantial maturation of his writing with Mistborn.
I think Brandon's faster pacing is what WoT needed at this point ( I don't believe RJ could have finished it in a mere 3 books in spite of his promise of 1 ).
11. Fenric25
Brandon Sanderson has easily become one of my favorite authors over the past few years- hadn't heard of him until Robert Jordan's passing, like so many of us, glad I did, though. If he has a new book out, I simply must have it and am quite upset if I can't get it right away (it took me a couple months to be able to spare the cash for The Way of Kings, and the local library still has a waiting list for it-it's always checked out it. Glad I bought it when I could). When it comes to WOT I am, of course, quite glad he was the one chosen to finish the series-I really can't think of anyone else who could write the ending with the care, skill and love of the series the way he has (other than the Master himself, of course.) However, I do have to agree with Mr. Denzel-Mistborn is my favorite of all his works, the trilogy as a whole and the first book in particular. Can't wait for the Alloy of Law and the next Stormlight Archive book. :)
Paige Vest
12. paigevest
I also grabbed what Sanderson books I could find after I got the news shortly before Christmas of '07. I had the same haughty idea of seeing if this guy was worthy, if he had it in him to finish The Wheel of Time series.
Wow, was I ever humbled. First Elantris, as it was a stand-alone, and I was hooked. Then I read Mistborn and it was official: I approved. I was excited. I had been turned onto a fantastic new author!
In the years since, I've read everything Brandon has written and his books -along with his great relationship with his fans and his dedication to The Wheel of Time, that's taken up far more of his time than he had expected or imagined- have moved him straight to the top of my favorite author list.
My eternal thanks to Harriet for choosing such a great author to finish her husband's opus... we're grateful not only for the chance to finish reading Mr. Jordan's incredible series, but also at the chance to get to know Mr. Sanderson and his works in the process.
Paul Weimer
13. PrinceJvstin
I remember seeing Elantris in a bookstore a few years ago,but demured buying it, despite the cover. It was just a matter of having hit my quota already.
I forgot about Sanderson until I got a chance to read an ARC of Warbreaker, which I enjoyed immensely. I look forward to "backfilling" in on his earlier work, and one day sitting down to the Way of Kings.
john mullen
14. johntheirishmongol
I was in the same boat as many of you, picking up Brandon after hearing of the assignment to finish WOT. I had glanced at his books a few times and been intrigued but didn't really want to get into another fantasy series. But then I read Elantris and Mistborn in rapid secession and was quite please with them. I have since read pretty much everthing but the last couple of the Alcatraz books, mostly because they aren't that easy to find. I look forward very much to TWOK sequels.

@2 I do not require all my writers to write in the same style, and perhaps you don't care for Brandon's, but I dont know how you can think that Mistborn was in any way boring.
15. ghostforms
I think that Brandon Sanderson is a bit overrated and would place him in the same company as R.A. Salvatore.
I have read Elantris and am in the middle of reading the last book in the Mistborn series .One of the most irritating things in these books is the way he writes the 'romantically linked', and the biggest glaring example of this is the character 'Sazed'. I don't want to put in any potential spoilers for people that have not read the novels, but for people that have read the book's, do you know where I am coming from? It just seems that he is writing for teens and not grown ups, which would be fine if that is who these books are intended for.
Risha Jorgensen
16. RishaBree
Firstborn remains my favorite of all the short stories I've read on this site.
William Fettes
17. Wolfmage
I’m in the same boat as many posters above in not knowing anything about Brandon until I found out he was finishing WoT. Then I started to read his blog to check up on his bona fides to continue the WoT legacy and find out whatever I could about him. There, I found myself becoming rather impressed with his simple unpretentious eloquence, his amazing transparency about the craft and production of writing, and his consistent and prolific output.

After seeing a lot of praise for the Mistborn series, I finally got hold of the trilogy in audiobook-form and I loved them. Really compelling stuff and certainly deep enough for me.

RobMRobM @ 6
"although I really would have appreciated a work that combined the best parts of RJ's and Brandon's styles (more layered and subtle than Brandon, more linear and less indulgent than RJ).

Well said. I agree they both have strengths that would benefit the other.
18. Ramenth
Oh man, Mistborn? Really? But the ending of that series is so terrible. The First two and a half books are some of the better epic fantasy I've encountered, true, but...

I dunno. Warbreaker and Elantris have the same sort of totally unsatisfying ending too. Wrapping up the main plotline isn't even remotely enough when you've written in a hundered side plots. Especially when you kill off half the characters in the process.
19. xian101
The first book of the Mistborn series is indeed very good and the character Vin is a complete success, along with the very clever idea of Alomancy (presumably related with Sanderson's degree in chemisty). The second and the third novels are much less successful because the main characters turn much more conventional and the romantic aspects of the plot are poor. I agree with everyone that Sanderson's taking of WoT is highly successful, though!
James Hogan
20. Sonofthunder
Mistborn!! Along with many others, I also bought it when I heard Brandon had been commissioned to finish WoT. I figured I'd see what his writing style was like - so I bought Mistborn and Elantris off Amazon, but read Mistborn first. And it still remains my favorite of Brandon's works(not counting TGS or ToM) - I like it better than even WoK. Mistborn is just amazing in its elegance, style and novelty. The characters are fun, the world is suitably depressing and the story is delightful!! I'm not as big of a fan in the next two in the series...but in my mind(maybe a bit silly), Mistborn is an outstanding stand-alone. Also, a certain death near the end was one of the few times I've been reading and been simultaneously shocked, angry and in awe. Couldn't believe he was dead...but it was done in such style that I couldn't help but applaud. Also, his action scenes are amazing(and this coming from someone who struggles mightily writing action) soon as I read his first Allomancer battle, I thought, "This HAS to be made into a movie." Great, great book.
21. trench
I for one think Brandon is an outstanding author. His stories have a fresh feel in an already stale genre. His work with WOT have cemented him a fan base, but in some ways he is being limtited by the WOT. He is proving himself to be a prolific and engaging writer. But with WOT he has to put his own writings on the back burner. Once he finishes the last book he will be free to explore his own works and I think he will eventually surpass RJ in his own right.
22. boros1124
I read in one book. I loved it. I am looking forward to this book is to reach the country. This is my favorite book.
23. JohnFrost
Like everyone else so far, I heard of Sanderson the first time because of WoT. I must have been more skeptical than most, because I didn't even buy his books first; I started reading his free copy of WARBREAKER on his site. Two chapters in and I bought it.

My wife, who likes to read but hasn't taken the time to do so in years, has been re-introduced to reading thanks to him. I practically forced her to read WARBREAKER, and she then went on to devour the MISTBORN trilogy before I could even finish it!
He is definitely my current favorite author, and even though I'd lost interest in WoT a long time ago, I'm tempted to reread and get caught up just so I can see how he handles the franchise.
Samantha Brandt
24. Talia

Having read both a good deal of R.A. Salvatore and Sanderson, I could not disagree with you more. Sanderson's a far superior writer. They're nowhere near the same league.

I also don't get what you're saying about him "writing for teens." I'm afraid I disagree - none of the stuff I've read of his seems geared towards youth (have not read the Alcatraz books).
Chuk Goodin
25. Chuk
Loved Sanderson before I ever heard he'd be doing the WoT books and thought he was an excellent choice as soon as I heard. The two books so far have absolutely confirmed that -- I know Jordan started the series & has outlined a lot of what's going to happen, but I'm much more satisfied by the more recent books.

I am not sure what my favourite Sanderson book is. Not Elantris -- I liked that one but his later stuff is better, to me. I love his magic systems of course, but his actual prose is good too. And my teenage son and I both love the Alcatraz books, although as a library staff member I am scandalized that Alcatraz is revealing all of our secrets.

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