The Final Empire is the first part of the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Published in 2006, this book kicked off the trilogy and also gave a great boost to Sanderson as a writer.
But is it still good? In this post, we will answer that very question. This post will have mild spoilers so please, don’t tell me that you weren’t warned.
At first glance, the premise of the Final Empire seems similar to many other books in the fantasy genre. There is a Dark Lord (known as the Lord Ruler in this) and this Lord Ruler has basically enslaved a large part of the populations. These slaves are known as skaa and they are ruled over by nobles. These nobles are supposed to the descendants of those who helped the Lord Ruler establish dominance. As you might guess, the goal of the protagonists is to defeat the Lord Ruler and overthrow the Final Empire.
And oh, by the way, the Lord Ruler is immortal. So good luck with that lofty goal!
Pretty typical villainy stuff. Right?
However, the magic in Sanderson’s writing arises from the way he has approached this premise. Rather than following a typical hero’s journey arc where a common farm-boy finds out that he has special powers and he rises against the tyrannical Dark Lord, this book shakes things up. The task of overthrowing the Lord Ruler is run as heist.
And this makes things infinitely exciting. Remember all those great heist movies you might have loved over the years. Imagine that in a fantasy setting where magic also exists and you’ve got the essence of the Final Empire.
The Magic System
Any decent fantasy story needs to have some magic. Whether it be the subtle magic of Game of Thrones or the explicit wand waving of Harry Potter, magic is a staple of the fantasy genre.
There is a hard-magic system in Final Empire. The rules and boundaries of the magic system are so well defined that often times, you feel like you are the protagonist using the rules of the magic to guess what will happen next.
The primary form of magic in this story is known as Allomancy. In a nutshell, it allows users to gain abilities by swallowing and then, burning specific metals. Whether you can or cannot burn metals, however, depends on your genes. The Lord Ruler ensured that such genes only existed in the nobility. However, evil plans don’t always go smoothly, do they?
Due to the nobles engaging in cross-breeding, the Allomancy genes have also leaked into the skaa population. Due to this, skaa children having noble blood can also burn metals and use the abilities.
But unlike many other fantasy books, the magic in Mistborn doesn’t make you automatically invincible. Even a powerful Allomancer is constrained by the rules. Most importantly, the availability of metal itself puts up a hard limit to the amount of magic one can do. This makes the magic fights full of tension, suspense and as a result, quite exhilrating.
In my opinion, the magic system is probably the strongest point of the Final Empire and Mistborn trilogy.
The main protagonist of the Final Empire is a street urchin known by the name of Vin. Needless to say, she has certain powers about which she also doesn’t know. Luckily for her, she catches the eye of a certain powerful Allomancer known as Kelsier.
Kelsier leads a thieving crew that aims to overthrow the Final Empire and basically, he recruits Vin as part of his team. In classic fantasy terms, Vin is the novice protagonist and Kelsier is the wise old wizard who has to teach our hero. However, the twist here lies in the fact that Kelsier is nothing like the wise old wizard.
Kelsier is a good man but driven by hatred toward the Lord Ruler. And often, this clouds his judgement. Vin is even more fallible as she mistrusts everyone within her sight. The story evolves as she learns to trust Kelsier and Kelsier becomes a better man. Theirs is the best character dynamics you would be able to read and at certain points, it is extremely heart-warming.
Vin has a great character arc that is very well-written as she finds her place in this world. Kelsier is also written very nicely, but most of his development has already happened before the story begins and you get to know more about him in flash-backs and talks about his past.
The other characters, however, are a bit of hit-and-miss. There are few that stand out such as Sazed, Marsh and Elend. However, many others on Kelsier’s crew are mainly there to fill positions. Just like any other heist movie.
The villain could also be a bit underwhelming, probably because he isn’t developed quite well after the beginning of the story.
Prose is certainly not the strongest part of the Final Empire. While Sanderson’s writing is definitely competitive and it makes the world come alive before your eyes as you read, the writing can feel a little clumsy at times. There are repetitive character traits such as he frowned, she frowned, he snorted and so on and sometimes, the dialogues do fall a bit flat.
If you have read contemporaries such as Game of Thrones or old fantasy juggernauts such as Lord of the Rings, you’d find the prose in the Final Empire quite limited.
The Final Empire runs like an action movie and even though it might not be beautiful everywhere, it is certainly enjoyable. I have heard that the prose in the series gets stronger in the sequels though I haven’t read them so I can’t comment.
The Final Empire is an amazing beginning to the Mistborn Trilogy.
I definitely think it is a must-read book if you are a fantasy fan because it does so many new things that its hard not to see how it will impact the genre as a whole in the coming years. The magic system alone warrants this book as one of the most important books. Plus, it is easy to get into and enjoy as a whole.