The Second Book: Mistborn


Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson: possibly another one of the best series I’ve ever read in my life. (According to what I’ve written they should come in second to NOTW, but I read them too far apart to be completely positive and from the ratings I’ve given this one appears to come out at exactly the same level. I’m not sure why I unconsciously rate NOTW higher; perhaps because it was the first book I’ve ever read to meet this standard, so I sort of forced myself to make it better than anything else.)

Writing a summary for Mistborn won’t be as hard as it was for NOTW, because there’s a concrete plot for Mistborn. However, I think that to describe Mistborn I need only to steal a quote from one of its characters: “There’s always another secret.”

Mistborn is followed by Well of Ascension and then Hero of Ages. In many books, you’ll find small inconsistencies or little questions that are vaguely niggling but don’t imply or suggest anything and don’t come back to you. In fact, because this is so common, you end up ignoring them completely. Okay, so what if clearly people don’t walk around London in cloaks (actually since I’ve never been to London I can’t verify this, but I’m fairly certain of it, as they definitely don’t in America). J. K. Rowling stuck that into Harry Potter for a reason—probably, that she liked it—and we don’t question it. If we do, it’s to acknowledge that this is, in fact, a story, and there is no secret community of wand-waving wizards lurking under (and between) the streets.

But Mistborn is always one step ahead of you: “There is always another secret.”

Imagine a world where the sun is red and ash falls like rain, where nobody ventures outdoors after dark besides the mysterious Mistborn, because of the insidious mists that creep over the planet while the sun’s down, and the soul-sucking monsters that thrive, shrouded in myth, within.

Imagine a world with a supreme dictator and a mass populace of slaves.

Imagine a world of poverty, hunger, cold, and theft, complemented by the mysterious courtly parallel nestled within, of dances, glittering lights, and scandal.

Welcome to Scadrial.

(To ruin the mood for a second, I don’t think you actually find out that’s what the planet’s called until Alloy of Law, which isn’t technically even part of the series and takes place 300 years later. Meanwhile, you dance between thinking this is some twisted dystopian future and that it’s another planet. Even up until the very end of the 3rd book, I was convinced that this took place thousands of years in the future. I’d invented a whole, convoluted filler how-we-got-here involving nuclear mutations and a society that ripped itself to shreds. No, just another planet, which works better.)

Mistborn centers around the girl Vin, who grew up on the streets with her abusive brother Reen, who saved her life from her mother (a woman about to murder her) and then whisked her away. She managed to stay alive by begging, stealing, and worming her way into various thieving crews who tolerated her because of her “Luck,” which seems to be just a strange…well…good fortune that she can draw upon if she’s saved up enough. She doesn’t know that this is abnormal. People in today’s world are superstitious without proof, and maybe that’s just the way this world works.

But nope. There’s always another secret.

Reen’s long gone—he abandoned her, just like he always told her he would—when Vin discovers that, in fact, she is not just lucky; what she is is special. She is an Allomancer, a half-breed. A thousand years ago, when the Lord Ruler rose to his seat of absolute power as dictator and possessor of strange and wondrous magical powers (such as immortality), he granted to his 9 closest friends and supporters powers known as Allomancy. Over time, genetics diluted these powers. Now, many children of nobles—for of course the Lord Ruler’s friends became the nobility in his new kingdom—have one of a certain number of powers (I forget the number). These come from metals, which can be “burned” and used until they run out, at which point more metal needs to be swallowed. People with one metal’s ability are known as Mistings. (There are 2 “races”: the nobility and the skaa, who are less than slaves. Even though it’s illegal to interbreed, sometimes a noble will take a skaa by force and a child will be born. These are half-breeds and, depending on the genetics, often Allomancers.)

However, occasionally one appears who can use all of the metals. Such a person is called Mistborn.

Vin is Mistborn.

She’s discovered by the thieving crew of a man named Kelsier, who also happens to be Mistborn (one of a very, very small number). Kelsier’s dream is to take down the Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler has been in power for a milennia. Rebellions have happened. They have failed.

Kelsier is very probably insane.

Yet, for some reason—promise of money, of life outside of the oppressive dictator’s rule—his crew, including Vin, help him. And they start to see that, just maybe, he isn’t so crazy after all.

The story continues to spiral outwards, from focusing on one girl, to the thieving crew she’s part of, to a larger thieving crew, to the Lord Ruler, to powers unknown and shrouded in uncertainty and mystery, to gods.

There is always another secret.

So, there. I’ve summarized it as best I could. I’ve barely brushed the tip of the iceberg, and that’s only taking into account the things I actually remembered. Mistborn becomes a romance, a tragedy, a theological…wonder. It is dark and cruel and deep and awesome, and sprinkled all the way through with crumbs of humor. It travels by leaps and bounds, as each secret you haven’t thought of, each layer revealed by peeling the previous one away, is so much larger than what came before.

The ending was totally unexpected, and if anybody else had written it it would have been a terrible ending. But somehow, Brandon Sanderson managed to tie everything together to create a conclusion powerful and satisfying. Neither of those words are quite right, but I don’t think there are words for what he wove. Fulfilling. It was fulfilling.

Mistborn is very dark. It’s a lot darker than NOTW, which I think is why it ended up with a lower Je Ne C’est Quois rating originally. But it is beautiful and wonderful and amazing, and it has so many metaphors and morals and layers I can barely even try. I think the brightest one is hope. There is always hope. And there is always another secret.

(That quote, by the way, didn’t even catch my attention until I read a review that observed that this, there always being another secret, was carved out quite masterfully in the book itself.)

Sanderson has been described as “an evil genius.” I would agree. His touch is subtle and glorious.

Writing

Mr. Sanderson doesn’t write with flowery language all of the time. There’s too much action in a lot of places for that. However, he does write with metaphor and poetry, it’s just slightly harder to see than in NOTW. (Great, I thought I’d promised not to compare to that. I guess it’s a bit late now.) He conveys everything beautifully, and the writing is never, ever distracting. The single issue I had with anything in the entire series was this one…quirk-ish thing of his. He uses the word “paused” instead of the word “hesitated.” For example,

“‘I could always eat one of them, if you wish,’ OreSeur said. ‘That might speed things up.’
Vin paused.
OreSeur, however had a strange little smile on his lips. ‘—- [my people’s] humor, Mistress. I apologize. We can be a bit grim.’”

See, you can’t pause if you haven’t been doing anything. (The —- is a spoiler, sorry.)

Anyway, like with Patrick Rothfuss’s capital letters (again!!), I’m only commenting to observe something that won’t bother any but the most grammatically attuned of us. It isn’t even an error, it’s just slightly distracting.

So, 5/5 stars for writing.

Character Depth/Development

This is one series in which the characters were pulled of gorgeously.

I can’t recall a single instance of implausibility in the characters. In fact, I can’t remember one in the series as a whole. There was a good deal of coincidence, yes, but if you play that right (as he did), it comes off wonderfully. After all, you can’t have an all-powerful hero, a flawless hero. It’s got to be the villain who’s flawless—or at least appears as such—or you’ve got a boring story. And if the villain’s near-flawless, and the hero has large flaws, how else is the hero supposed to win but luck? This was something else I noticed about Mr. Sanderson—there are certain guidelines to writing novels. They aren’t rules, per se, but they’re…almost clichés. They’re like the formula to a successful novel, except, of course, that there is no such thing. Brandon Sanderson, in these books, followed these “rules” practically to the letter and did it in a way that made it feel as though he were actually adding rules while he did it. Does that make sense? I sometimes don’t. Anyway, not only did he do this, but he did it in a way where nothing was predictable. Okay, I predicted the main theme of the ending, but, 1. I’m exceptionally good at predicting things (not to brag) and 2. I predicted only the vaguest part of a hugely complex conclusion. It wasn’t really predictable in the sense that it wasn’t obvious. Was it possible to predict if you thought hard enough? Yes. But the other thing about these books was that it felt like they were gum and they’d grabbed my brain. That’s vaguely disturbing imagery, but it was like this: I read, and I vaguely noticed certain clues, but I couldn’t wrench my mind away from reading enough to think about them.

Also, the characters developed, and they developed hugely. From the beginning of the first book to the end of the last book, many of the characters were either dead—most books you can be reassured that certain characters won’t die; not here; don’t have any expectations…or do have expectations, because it’s so much more fun when they’re dashed—or changed so much. They were still recognizable, though. You could tell who they were and how far they’d come, and they kept pieces of their pasts in ways that were believable and at times charming. Nobody was left untouched on this adventure. Most characters that were mentioned became full characters with histories, personalities, and traits, and were brought up again.

I would venture to give 6/5 stars to Mistborn for Character Depth/Development, even though what I meant by going over 5 stars was mostly for Je Ne C’est Quois.

Plot

I can’t even start. Like…I literally can’t start, because I’ll give it away. 6/5 stars for this. And actually, NOTW originally had 5/5 stars for plot, but there are just some books so well thought out you just can’t… I can’t finish that sentence. This was another one of those “What am I doing even trying to be an author??? You’d never in a million billion years be able to write anything one-fourth as good as this!!!!” books.

So yes, 6/5 stars.

Je Ne C’est Quois

This book made me want to cry at the end. Not because of the plot. Not even because it was over. Je Ne C’est Quois, boom, there you go. 7/5 stars.

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