Monday, April 20, 2009

[Lisa’s Take] Mistborn Trilogy Book 1 (Brandon Sanderson)

Praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster: the fantasy genre is still good! I have to admit that I was having doubts this year – since Tigana, which I finished in January, I haven’t read a single fantasy (or extended/related genre) novel that really blew my socks off. There have been a few good things, but nothing that really drew me in, made me believe, and felt obligated to deliver the occasional sucker-punch to the gut.

Before I get too far into this review, let me issue a preemptive apology for the number of times that I compare the book to Lies of Locke Lamora – I’ll try to keep the number less than 5, but no hard promises here. Sorry.

So, the world of Misborn. If you’re feeling a little sci-fi, you could call the world post-apocalyptic: some event in the past caused huge volcanic eruptions that turned the sky permanently grey and ensured that ash falls like snow when the wind is blowing right. If you’re leaning in a steam-punk direction, you’ll note that the men and women nobles in the book wear complicated dresses and vests and carry pocket watches. If you’re feeling straight up fantasy, no ifs-ands-or-buts… you won’t be disappointed, either. The world is filled with magic, monsters, and evil overlords. The fantasy-tropes are definitely the strongest, but there are some cool genre-crossover points that spice the world up from the standard fantasy setting.

Next, politics and magic! The political system in Mistborn is pretty standard fantasy-fare: Immortal, God-Like Overlord reigns with an Iron Fist ™. Nobles live a life of luxury, filled with balls and riches and intrigue. The poor folks (called skaa, in this particular case) work as the slaves of the nobles, constantly beaten down and subjugated. As for the magic – Mistborn might have the most interesting magical system I’ve ever read about. I’d love to play a video game based upon this magic system: it’s just that awesome. I’m not going to go into it in this review, as finding out about it in the story is part of the fun, but I will say that it’s awesome, intriguing, and thought provoking.

Right – we have this awesome world and magic system, so what’s the plot? Remember how Lies of Locke Lamora was kind of a fantasy-heist? And how there weren’t really many other books that fell into the same genre? Mistborn definitely qualifies as another fantasy-heist, which is the most wonderful news I’ve ever heard. I could read fantasy-heist novels all day and never get bored, I think. The plot of the story follows a group of thieves and con-men as they plan to… well, I could tell you, but like the magic system I think I’ll let you read for yourself. Suffice to say that much like Lies, the plot doesn’t fall out quite how you expect it to, and there are plenty of twists and roadblocks along the way.

This review is getting long already, but I feel the need to put a word out there about Sanderson’s characterizations. They’re good – kind of standard, but with some of the generic archetypes shaken up a bit to keep them interesting. What Sanderson really excels at are the conversations and interactions between the full crew of characters (think the scene in Lies where they discuss why they steal). The interplay is spot-on, and the camaraderie is genuine and compelling.

The one negative I’ll dish about is that I didn’t always like how the action scenes read. Especially when you got two magical badasses fighting each other, Sanderson would often wax poetic about the fight scene – which is cool, because the magic system allows for that in a big way – but in a lot of cases I felt like he had a really clear picture of every movement and action that was supposed to occur in the scene, but when he described it I was missing something, or all the pieces didn’t fit together. It was a small thing, but I figured I have to mention something critical in this praise-fest if I’m to maintain any credibility.

One final note on the plot: Sanderson managed to put a couple of big old twists into the story that I didn’t see coming, which is always impressive. There was perhaps one item that I think might be a little plot hole, but I’m reading the book annotations now (which he has on his website, along with deleted/revised chapters – so cool!) and I’ll see if they clear up the problem. I do appreciate a story that manages to pull the wool over my eyes. Also, I managed to keep to my promise of mentioning Lies of Locke Lamora fewer than 5 times in this review, but let me be clear on one thing: while the genre and level of awesomeness in Mistborn are similar to Lies, they are very different books, especially in the scope of implications and world. Don’t let my comparisons make you think that they are in any way clones.

I finished Mistborn around 2:00 on Sunday afternoon. By 4:00 I had gone to the bookstore and bought the sequel, and I chewed out 100 pages of it amid my other Sunday evening festivities. This is the first time in a while that I immediately picked up Book 2 in a trilogy without needing a breather – I very much hope that the rest of the trilogy delivers.

The bottom line: get this book. Read it now. I was late to the party on this one, but it’s definitely a staple of new fantasy releases that you need to read. Is my recommendation resounding enough?


gjacoby said...

Sanderson's even more clever/sneaky than you think. But I'll let you find out how on your own as you read Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages...

The Wheel of Time is in very good hands.

ediFanoB said...

I'm reading MISTBORN and it's awsome.