Sep 16 2011 10:21am

Firsts in Fantasy: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Firsts in Fantasy: Mistborn by Brandon SandersonI was convinced that I was done with reading epic fantasy when Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn found me. I had checked the book out from the library, curious about the then-recent news that this guy was taking over The Wheel of Time series.

In all honesty, I was expecting Mistborn to fulfill the deadening tropes that had driven me away from the genre: limited character development, overly complex worlds in lieu of actual plotting and momentum, mysteries dependent on characters pointedly not speaking to each other, or just not acting normally, and so on.

What I ended up finding in Mistborn was a direct response to those stereotypes: a brisk, engaging tale with vibrant characters that felt fresh. And ninjas with physics powers!

The world of Mistborn is a brown, ash-strewn place. The sky is always clouded and volcanoes dot the landscape. Keeping order throughout the land is the immortal Lord Ruler and his various stormtroopers and caste-creating laws and so on. It’s a pretty bleak, hardscrabble place. The concept of “fun” can be equated roughly to “I didn’t die today!”

This should already sound familiar to you if you’ve read through George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Westeros, while a land of beauty and plenty, seems insistent on giving its inhabitants the bleakest lives possible, especially if you’re female. What Mistborn does differently, however, is insert a reasonable and highly capable optimist in the midst of this drudgery.

Out of Sanderson’s world come high-class thief Kelsier and street-level thief Vin, the former of which is a Mistborn, and the latter of which finds out she’s a Mistborn through Kelsier’s tutelage. Vin is our viewpoint throughout this book and we see her grow from a skittish, fearful urchin into a confident, revolutionary young woman. Mistborns are intensely powerful users of this series’ magic system, and thus are pretty rare, so it would seem that Kelsier and Vin are bound to shake the roof the world….

So why is Kelsier merely content with heisting the Lord Ruler’s wealth and calling it a day?

The motivations and morality of Vin and Kelsier are extraordinarily grey. Kelsier is here to steal the most valuable element in the world and Vin could care less about saving anyone. (Even herself, at first.) There are no out and out hero journeys here. In fact, any time one of the characters reacts to their world as if they existed in an epic fantasy novel, they end up derailing their plans entirely. (There’s an example of this two-thirds of the way in that is so stunning I couldn’t figure out how the characters would ever recover from it.) This refusal to fit the usual epic fantasy plot structure keeps Mistborn exciting and keeps you exploring the world Sanderson has created.

In contrast to A Game of Thrones, the magic system of Mistborn (Allomancy) is very physically present, detailed without being overwhelming, and fun. The magic fights are very dynamic and immediately bring to mind a childhood glee, the kind that makes you want to rush outside and launch yourself into the air, pretending to be an Allomancer. (If you weren’t 30 years old, that is.)

Even better, Mistborn is a complete experience. Every struggle and nearly every question brought up in the first book is answered in that book. You’ll want to read the whole trilogy just to see what in the heck Sanderson possibly does next, but if you’re a bit over-exhausted by fantasy, you can still stop after the first book and pick up the series later.

Need a good palate cleanser? Or a reminder that epic fantasy can come about in many different shades? Mistborn awaits.

Chris Lough is the production manager of and knows for a fact that Mistborn fans have a very cool surprise awaiting them at the end of The Alloy of Law.

This article is part of Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Rob Munnelly
1. RobMRobM
Mistborn is like Oceans Eleven - a caper movie in which a team with many different personalities and talents seeks to pull off "the big job" against seemingly impossible odds. Very entertaining, especially where Vin (a rough street urchin) has to go get an Eliza Doolittle transformation to join the party scene in the capital undercover to gain intelligence. As alluded to in the write up above, BS also turns a bunch of traditional sci-fi tropes on their head in enjoyable ways. I'm very fond of the book and, probably, will start a re-read shortly.

2. garetjax
I started reading the excerpts from Alloy of Law as my first encounter with the Mistborn saga. I couldn't wait for each new chapter to become available. I burned through them like an allomancer through pewter. Now I'm dying to get my hands on the full book. While I wait, I went to Sanderson's website and found excerpts from the other Mistborn books. I devoured the free chapters of the first book during lunch one day. I was starving for more. So I picked up the first Mistborn book a few days ago. I'm loving it. It is a refreshingly different fantasy.
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger
I love it when a series comes around to breathe new life into fantasy and show that fantasy hasn't been crushed to death under the weight of cliches. Sanderson is one of the best around, I think.
Eigor Maldonado
4. e-mann
I had picked up this book, along with Sanderson’s first fantasy novel Elantris, on a whim. This was after Jordan had passed away but before Sanderson was picked to continue the WoT series. I was devastated that I probably wouldn’t be able to finished reading WoT and had decided to start looking for a new author/book series to read. Sanderson’s books just happened to be on display, indicating that the author had autographed them on a previous visit. As I had never owned a book personally signed by any author, I picked them up just so that I could at least have that on my bookshelf. As I started to read them though, I soon found that I had picked up a gem of an author. I loved that the story was picking up after the wrong side had won and I was intrigued by the way magic was incorporated into the world. Metal was the source of power! Out of all of the fantasy that I had read, I could not have thought that you could make this into a magical element. I was even more delighted to learn that Sanderson was to continue the WoT series and was working to complete a trilogy of Mistborn. I have since thoroughly enjoyed all of Sanderson’s work. Keep up the good work Mr. Sanderson!
John Mann
5. jcmnyu
I believe I have this right, Sanderson was able to complete the entire trilogy before the first book was released. He was therefore able to go back while writing book 3 and change small things in books 1 adn 2 to improve the story. The result is a very tight overall arc that ends with the best 3rd book I've ever read in a trilogy. Mistborn is simply a wonderful adventure and an excellent step forward for the genre.
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
Mistborn was my first foray into epic fantasy. I'd always been turned off by those epic quests and sword and sorcery hooey. It all just seemed so trite and cliched to me. Someone recommended the series to me for help in constructing magical systems, rules, and worlds that felt natural and real (I was struggling with that in something I was writing), and fell hook, line, and sinker into Sanderson. I'm still hesitant to try out other epic fantasies, but if it's got Brandon Sanderson's name on it (hello The Way of Kings) it's mine.
Benjamin Moldovan
7. benpmoldovan
Another author I’ve really enjoyed lately is L. E. Modesitt. I really liked the Imager series. The main Imager character’s dilemma, to me, makes Daes Daemar look like children playing with blocks. A noble isn’t just trying to kill him, but rather to ruin his family and kill everyone he cares about one at a time. Everyone knows it, but there’s no proof, and if he’s caught doing anything about it, he’ll be executed. (There are a lot fewer of them, and no Three Oaths or White Tower to keep them from being wiped out by the mundanes. So they have to be much more subtle.)

I also just finished the Corean series. (People trying to save their world from a parasitic race that drains all the life force from every planet they go to.) Haven’t gotten to read the Magic of Recluse series yet.
Gabrielle Jagoriles
8. Geese5000
.... May I add that the story has awesome action scenes, in the second book you have Vin kicking ass against a group of enemies, and the narrative reads like an old school prose or a manuscript of a grahic novel, when I pick up this book many moons ago I became a fan of Brandon Sanderson .... hope his oncoming works would be fun to read like Mistborn and Elantris
9. orokusaki
Sanderson is probably my favorite author at the moment. Admittedly, WoT went off the rails in my estimation after Lord of Chaos, and Sanderson's doing a good job reining her back in, but when we're talking about stuff from his own imagination from the start, it's absolutely top notch fantasy.

Characters you can understand and invest time getting to understand, an awesome magic system that makes sense while leaving a sense of mystery about it, and terrific action scenes. Let's not allow any confusion: I'm 30-something and I definitely want to launch myself through the air like an Allomancer, consequences be damned!

Sorry about the nitpick, but it's so prevalent nowadays, I'm compelled to comment on it. "... Vin couldn't care less..." Apart from that, good review of the book.
Rhys Chrystie
10. ryzer1
A real epic. Sanderson is my current favorite, and his writing style is actually beautiful. His character development is perfectly timed throughout the book, and I think that having all of the main characters being 'anti-heroes'. Breeze just wants to relax at the expense of everybody else, Vin just doesn't care, Clubs is just interested, Kelsier wants the cash, the ego, and the fighting. Ham is a real Hero, but only for his family. It's an ulterior motive. Spook isn't a main character to start, but he just wants to be a part of the group, and Elend is just after Vin (Valette). ...I realize I went into lots of detail there, but what I'm aying is that by the end of the trilogy, Sazed is the true hero, much like he is the only one willing to fight for freedom. Basically, what I'm getting at, is Sandersons ability to enchant everything.
If you haven't read it thus far, then read it, asswipe!
12. elricprincess
7. benpmoldovan
Yes another Imager fan!!! I Love that series. Though the newer books just bore me.

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