Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review - The Final Empire

The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
There are three things that I have heard about Brandon Sanderson before reading him: 1) He is a prolific writer, 2) His magic system is excellent and 3) He is actually a very good story teller.
 His books have sat on my side for ages but it is only now that I have read and enjoyed short story by him that I have persuaded to give him a try.
 The Blurb:
For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler's most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.
Kelsier recruited the underworld's elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.

But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel's plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she's a half-Skaa orphan, but she's lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.
I love the premise of this series. What if the chosen one had failed? It is such a simple idea but sounds so original.  The story follows two main protagonists: Vin and Kelsier.
We spend more time with Vin, a young orphaned girl who has spent her life amongst thieves doing what she must to stay alive. She is mistrustful and skilled. These attributes mean that she is exploited by her master in order to further his limited fortune.
She is easy to identify with as she constantly finds herself out of her depth in a world she doesn’t truly comprehend. Other less skilful writers could have easily mishandled the character and portrayed her as a naive and whinny, but Sanderson makes Vin likeable and the reader automatically roots for her.
By contrast Kelsier is far more arrogant and assured. Rather than a negative attribute this works in his favour as he is good humoured with it. He has power beyond most humans but these also have their limitations making vulnerable at times. Out of all the characters, Kelsier is perhaps the most complex. Sanderson slowly reveals his past to the reader and provides some insight into his motivation for wishing to overthrow the nobility. This is cleverly done as the reader is never entirely sure if they are being told the truth and are constantly second guessing the character.
There are a host of other characters who all feel more fleshed out then your average secondary roles. Elend for example is great as the unique noble out to displease his father and every turn. Then there is Sazed who is charged with looking out for Vin. He is a Yoda-esque type mentor without possessing neither the lofty position nor the same power.
Another clever facet to the plot is the chief antagonist. Sanderson keeps the identity of the supreme ruler a secret. We see very little of the man that everyone wants to overthrow and the idea is effective. The reader is desperate to know more about him and although we see elements of his power and the dominance of his excellent henchmen in the form of the Inquistors we don’t ever meet him until well into the novel.
I mentioned the magic system as something that received a lot of attention in this book. Generally I dislike magic in fantasy if it is the main focus. I especially hate it when individuals are super powered or it is used as a deus ex machine. The Final Empire is an example of where magic is prevalent but handled well. The rules are clearly defined and the reader is aware of the limitations of the characters.
The idea behind the magic system is imaginative and simple. Power is derived from ingesting different types of metals. These metals provide varying properties that enhance the way the body functions. Use too much metal and when the user runs out, their body will not be able to cope.
It is a great idea and explained well. There are no large passages where information is dumped on the reader. Instead it is all explained organically through dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, this is another strong point. Conversations feel natural. Banter between Vin and the other members of her team is genuinely funny and it never fills as if Sanderson is trying too hard to get the message across.
The ending of the novel is brilliant. It has a suitably epic feel. This may be the first book in a quadulogy but it easily stands by itself. All the main plot elements are answered or wrapped up nicely with enough left over to make you excited for the second novel.
Overall, it is my own fault but I feel cheated that I left it this long before reading Sanderson. I loved this book and I will definitely be devouring everything he writes from now on.
My rating: 9.3