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Mistborn: A Masterpiece in Epic Fantasy

Brandon Sanderson Fantasy Mistborn
Mistborn: A Masterpiece in Epic Fantasy

March is a strange month in Egypt. Elsewhere in the world, winter melts away slowly to pave the road for spring, while here, it often feels like it’s run by a broken thermometer, with one-day bringing summer’s intense sun and the other being all shivering cold. El-Khamsin sandstorm washes Cairo in an abundance of yellow, giving it the feeling of a mythical land. It’s an atmosphere that we find most suitable for fantasy. With this disturbance of the weather, it seems fitting to choose a book with its own strange, nearly mystical atmosphere.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is an epic fantasy set in a world where the sun is a glaring red and ash falls from the sky. It’s a world where the night is engulfed by obscuring mist—not where a chosen one is prophesied to come to save the world. But, in fact, it’s a world where that already happened. A millennium after the prophesied one saves the world and goes to become its ruler who hovers over ruins of slavery and injustice, our story takes place.

The first book of the trilogy, Mistborn: The Final Empire, revolves around a band of thieves who decide to steal the Lord Ruler’s most precious possession and overthrow the final empire. It’s an impossible mission led by the witty, daring, and unrelenting Kelsier, known as The Survivor.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of Vin, a young gifted girl who has a tremendous amount of power but is unaware of it. It’s through her that we’re introduced to the main magic system of the world: Allomancy. Allomancers are people who genetically inherit the ability to ingest and then burn metals to draw different powers from them. For example, those who can consume pewter get enhanced physical strength from it. In Sanderson’s world, Allomancers can either ingest one type of metal or all of them. The latter are the ones who gift the trilogy with its name: Mistborns. However, this system isn’t the only magical system in this world. We’ll avoid spoiling the rest, but one fact to know about is that these systems all have something to do with metals, one way or the other.

However, we’ll say it’s a smart way to also establish the economic and political structures of this universe, where ingestible metals have a central position. And there is a big correlative element between genetic powers and whether powerful Allomancers are born to enslaved peasants or nobility. 

What Sanderson does best as a writer is the worldbuilding. It’s obvious in the Mistborn trilogy, where the world is created with its most precise details in mind, intersecting with a plot that doesn’t leave a single thread, no matter whether you’d previously thought it was important or not, unanswered. Everything that happens in the book leads to the grand finale, where they’re all tied together in the utmost satisfaction. We’ve all been scarred by writers who started incredible stories and didn’t seem to know where to take them after the initial release, but if one thing can be said about the Mistborn author, it’s that it’s guaranteed that every single word and action is planned in advance.

But precise plots and worldbuilding aren’t the only things Sanderson is skilled at. In Mistborn, at least, the books come alive with action scenes. This is greatly helped by Sanderson’s set-up of the magical system; clearly defined, advanced but simply put, flexible but without characters just saving the day and calling it ‘magic!’.

However, the preciseness of the plot and worldbuilding have an undesirable side-effect: It makes the characters who, while complex and interesting, come off as a little stiff—slightly resembling set pieces on a chessboard. The prose itself is similar and has the same function; to get the story told. It’s simple, with little thought given to the language itself, though it manages not to detract—a good thing for a story like this.

Overall, Sanderson gets the job done. And he gets it done well.

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