643 pages, fantasy
Mistborn (Amazon link to the boxed trilogy set, of which this is book I) is a deeply engaging fantasy novel. It’s not the best fantasy I’ve ever read, but it shines where a lot of fantasy writing is formulaic, lackluster, and trashy (obviously these are generalizations, but even a fantasy junkie has to admit there’s a lot of swill out there. See my review of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy for what is probably my favorite fantasy romp; and notice that on the cover of this novel that Robin Hobb recommends Mistborn to “anyone hungry for a good read.” I agree).
I want to zero in on one way that Mistborn stands out from a lot of fantasy—it avoids the trap of including overt (or even subtle) references to characters’ sexual activity, focusing instead on the events of the world and the heroes’ actions. There is love, but it’s couched in a wholesome tone, and therefore this fantasy series (and all of Sanderson’s work that I’ve read) is an easy recommendation for younger readers, though its category is not “young adult.”
The premise is engaging—swallowing and “burning” certain metals and alloys allows gifted individuals (some are powerful “Allomancers,” or “Mistborn”; others are lesser-skilled “Mistings”) to manipulate their own strength, alertness, and mental capacity, as well as manipulate any metal around them. Book I of the trilogy focuses on the repressed people rising up in an attempt to overthrow their “god”—the Lord Ruler, a king who is said to be both the savior and oppressor of man, immortal.
Even deep in the midst of a unique fantasy realm, Sanderson weaves a story that is ultimately about people, trust, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption. As I noted with the Hunger Games Trilogy, the power is in the characters and their humanity, not in the novelty of the fantasy world. It’s a reminder that for human existence, we’ve been relying on stories to teach us truth and beauty—most religions’ histories and scriptures are ultimately stories; Jesus himself taught through parables and hypotheticals; the Old English Beowulf is fantasy epic at its finest, long before “fantasy” was a writing market—and these stories (the ones that stay with us) are powerful because they teach us about what it is to be human, to search, and to find.
I will say that some of the dialogue in Mistborn could be a bit more polished—some of the exchanges sound a bit unnatural to me, a bit forced. The end of this novel also feels a little rushed after the 600-page build to its climax. It’s still a good read, and still leaves you (well, in this case, me) eager to pick up the next volume.