The Final Empire is the first book in the high fantasy series Mistborn which has a dedicated cult-like following and an incredibly high readership. Six full novels are out in the series with a seventh to be published soon. I’ve seen the number of reads and reviews the series boasts on GoodReads and truth be told, that’s why I decided to pick up the first book. I wanted to get lost in this vast new world that so many people have already experienced. And so it begins… Tor | 2007 | Paperback | 655 pp
Taking place in the world of Scadrial, society is driven by class – ‘the haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’. But there’s no real ‘versus’ because the ‘have-nots’ – referred to as the skaa in this case – never fight back against their oppressors. They are slaves in this feudalistic, medieval type of society and to fight back would go against the wishes of their living God, the Lord Ruler, who has been in power for a thousand years. Above the slaves are the taskmasters who beat them, and above them are the lords who run the economy, next are the tattooed obligators who keep careful record of all societal interactions, and next up are the Inquisitors who are blinded by steel spikes but see all through the high art of allomancy. Finally, sitting on high is the Lord Ruler who resides in Luthadel.
Vin is a young street urchin in the city who is part of a thieving crew. Considered a good luck charm by her group’s leader, she comes to the attention of an Inquisitor and at the same time, another thieving crew. Both notice Vin’s ability even though she doesn’t know it herself. She has the power of allomancy. An Inquisitor’s job is to seek out any skaa who can use allomancy and eliminate them, making sure the gift remains only in noble lineage.
Allomancy is the power to burn metals. There are a number of metals that can be burned to reveal extraordinary powers, but each misting can only burn one type of metal. For example, A Smoker misting can burn copper and hide their group from Inquisitors in the area, and a Thug misting can burn pewter and become insanely strong. And there are many more varieties of mistings. But Vin is no ordinary misting. She belongs to a rare group of people called Mistborn and she can burn all of the metals – something which makes her exceedingly dangerous to the regime, and highly desired by those who oppose the status quo.
Vin is found and hidden from the Inquisitors just in time by Kelsier, another fellow skaa Mistborn and part of an elite thieving crew. She is asked to join Kelsier’s group and she tentatively agrees, and the relationship is a boon on both sides. Kelsier’s group is lucky to have another Mistborn, and Vin is treated like a human being for the first time in her life. She’s also taught how to properly use her gifts with regular training sessions with Kelsier and his group of mistings.
Kelsier doesn’t run a normal thieving group. They are all already as rich as can be. They can pretend to be nobles or gossip-spreading informant skaa on a whim. Thieving is not their goal. Kelsier wants to turn a thousand years of rule up on it’s head. He intends to bring down the invincible Lord Ruler, and he has a plan to incite rebellion, destroy the great houses from within, and steal the atium – the most precious metal there is. It’s a suicidal plan, but after years of living in the streets, Vin’s on board.
To be quite frank, I struggled through this book and it was because of the lack of character connection. I was able to find a small connection with Vin, but not much else for the large cast of characters in Kelsier’s group and I think that’s because most were introduced in one sitting with little to differentiate them. Kelsier was obviously removed from that lump, but he did little to inspire me. Actually, he infuriated me. To illustrate, there is one scene where Kelsier decided to gamble on his life, potentially destroying all he had worked for, out of curiosity – to see what is inside a secret room (the same mission that almost got him killed years prior) and he takes Vin along with him. Naturally, both are almost killed and it was all for naught. How can the ring leader be this moronic?
The series reminded me of Sarah Maas’ Throne of Glass series where a young female assassin goes from the mines (an execution sentence) to living in the castle and mingling with the other courtiers. There were so many similarities, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mistborn was the inspiration for the Throne of Glass series. Vin from Mistborn is just like Calaena from Throne of Glass, where she goes from rags to riches and suddenly finds herself wearing gowns and attending balls, not quite recognizing herself in the mirror but liking it. While Calaena was a little irritating (she’s supposed to be a cutthroat assassin but fawns over cute boys at court), Vin stays true to herself for the most part. Sure, she enjoys the new life – but she doesn’t give in to it completely. She’s much more believable.
The action scenes in The Final Empire are amazing and incredibly cinematic – a Matrix-style read. Some of the metals burned allow the Mistborn to push and pull metal, and through that they can soar through the air from rooftop to rooftop, jump off tall buildings without a care, and slam metal into their opponents. And it all leads up to a page-gripping action sequence for the finale, a climax that keeps climbing and makes the last two hundred pages unputdownable. And trust me when I say that the end is worth it. You won’t be throwing the book or cursing the author’s name.
The story was well-crafted and he inserted a number of mechanisms throughout the book that came together at the end. Except for Kelsier. Sure, his gambit was clever – but I wasn’t happy about it. It made me even more irritated. Really, Kelsier – REALLY? Wasn’t the Lord Ruler’s God complex enough? You’ll see what I mean…
The main character is a young teen girl but I wouldn’t classify this as young adult. The Final Empire and the Mistborn series are books that could potentially be classified as YA or NA, but rightfully belong to adult high fantasy. Not because of any sex scenes (there are none) and not because of the violence, but because of the sophistication. Off to the second in the series – ta!