Now this is impressive epic fantasy!
Sanderson has created a very intriguing secondary world. The world’s sun has gone red and the sky rains ash almost every day. The population has been divided into two highly segregated groups: the nobles and the skaa. The skaa are a totally oppressed slaves who do all of the work in the Final Empire. The world and the people are the way they are because a thousand years ago the Lord Ruler fought the Deepness in the Well of Ascension and came back as the god-like ruler of the world. Most people, especially those taught by the Lord Ruler’s theocratic Ministry, think that the Lord Ruler is the rightful ruler of the world and he’s perfectly within his rights to reward his former allies by making them the nobility and punishing all the others by forcing them into slavery. Or rather, since the Lord Ruler is immortal and has ruled over a thousand years, their distant descendants by this time. However, the characters in the story are rebels who don’t agree.
The nobility has the inborn and hereditary talent for magic. Even though there are strict rules against half-breed kids (noblemen can have sex with skaa women but the women must be killed quickly after wards) some still manage to be born and survive. Magic in this world is done by swallowing certain metals and then “burning” the power gotten from them. There are specific metals that will cause specific effects. For example, burning tin enhances the person’s senses and burning pewter makes the body supernaturally strong, fast, and durable. The talent for magic is uncommon so majority of the nobles doesn’t have it and the user has to go through a traumatic event which causes the talent to surface. The huge majority of these “magic-users”, if you will, can burn only one metal and they are called Mistings. However, in some very rare cases a person can use all of the ten metals. They are called Mistborn and not surprisingly the nobility prizes them.
The two main characters in the book are both Mistborn half-breed skaa. Kelsier is the older one. He’s was a rebel and a thief long before the book starts, and he was caught and sentenced to the most brutal prison and labour camp in the Empire. While he and his wife, who was also a thief, were there she died and Kelsier found out the he was a Mistborn. He killed all of the guards and escaped – the only one to escape as fas as anyone can remember. He’s become a legend among the skaa. Now he has the most ambitious plan ever: to overthrow the god-king, to topple the nobility, and to free the skaa from their servitude. A frustrated rebel leader has hired Kelsier to take on the job and to hire all of the men he needs to. Kelsier heads a very experienced and dedicated group of men: skaa who work as various craftsmen at day and as thieves,infiltrators, or thugs at night. Almost all of them are Mistings.
The other main character is Vin, a street urhcin and a thief who can instictively use “Luck” to influence people’s emotions the way that she wants to. Her abusive brother has left her and at start of the book she’s working for the almost equally abusive thief master to pay off her brother’s debts. Kelsier and his crew notice her using her talent and promptly replace the thief master with a more suitable leader. Kelsier also starts to teach Vin to use her Mistborn talents and later she has to infiltrate the nobility in order to spy on them but also to create chaos among them.
Although the book is over 600 pages long, it feels very compact. Scenes are short and events follow rapidly. Vin’s growth from a scared street urhcin to a confident Mistborn and beyond is an interesting and convicing journey. She learns to trust people even though she comes from a history of betrayals and mistrust. And yet, in the world of thieves and spies, how sensible is it to trust others? Kelsier’s past contains also a bitter betrayal and yet he manages to live on, and to look stubbornly to a brighter future for all skaa. However, he can’t help but to be affected by the awe that the common skaa feel for him.
There is quite a large cast of secondary characters who are almost all male. Some other reviewers have complained that these characters are shallow. However, I have to disagree. In contrast to the darkness of the world the camaraderie and trust between Kelsier’s crew was striking. Kelsier and Vin are also the only point-of-view characters so they can’t have insight into the other characters’ minds. It would have been nice to see more of the other characters, but the book is long enough and I’m not entirely convinced that additional viewpoints really give much to a book. Marsh was really the only one who I would have been really interested to see more of, perhaps even as a POV character.
Each chapter starts with a small excerpt about a man who was appointed the Hero of the Ages and who is traveling to the Well of Ascension in order to destroy the Deepness. He’s and his companions’ struggles are also an interesting read.
There is another species in the book: the Terrismen who were mercilessly hunted by the Lord Ruler to near extinction. Now the remnants of the race serve the nobility as stewards and yet they manage to keep a few secrets and surprises.
The world of Mistborn is very dark, violent, depressing, and oppressive place. Yet the writing emphasizes the excitement and dangers in a way that doesn’t make the mood too depressing. The world is also very patriarchal: the only female characters aside from Vin in the book are either servants or noblewomen and they are very much in the background.
I got the next book in the series as a review book and I’m already eager to continue the tale. Alas, it seems that it will be quite a while until Sanderson starts to write the third book.