Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.
For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.
Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.
Although I have read both of his young adult titles (Steelheart and The Rithmatist) I’ve never gotten around to reading what made Sanderson famous in the first place: his adult fantasy. It isn’t necessarily for a lack of trying. Twice now I have started The Way of Kings. Twice now I haven’t been able to make much progress. I decided that maybe I just needed to give one of his other series a chance. Elantris seemed like it might be promising, but I’ve seen some suggest that because it was his first major work (and therefore not necessarily his best work) that it wasn’t the best place to begin. Then a strange thing started happening on Twitter:
YA bloggers started going crazy for this book.
Bloggers whom, to my knowledge at least, pretty much never read adult fantasy and yet were gushing over it and recommending it to whomever they could. I’ve even see copies turn up in some of the book-related Secret Santa giveaways floating around. To say I was surprised was a bit of an understand. It started to make more sense when I discovered the publisher did a relaunch with a cover intended specifically for the YA crowd. Still, just because you give it a YA-friendly cover isn’t enough to win them over, so I decided to give this one a shot.
And ultimately, I come to this review mixed.
On the one hand, I absolutely understand why the YA crowd loves this: it fills what I feel is a very real void in YA fantasy. It manages to combine both a well-crafted novel, an interesting magic system and likable characters with the YA tropes of Plucky Young Heroine with a dash of romance and yet no dreaded love triangle. While I’m not entirely sold on the romance, it’s still miles above what you see in most YA books and I can say with certainty that this better than most of anything put out in the last year in the fantasy YA genre – and proof that YA is just a moniker and that a good fantasy title can easily crossover.
On the other hand, I feel like this tweet, written about a third of the way through my reading is still the most accurate reflection of how I feel about this book:
Mistborn is not bad, it is objectively good. But in a year when City of Stairs showed us what fantasy can be, it decidedly feels stale.—
OG Billith (@gilded_lady) December 16, 2014
And there’s a reason my reaction didn’t change: if you’ve read any decent amount of epic fantasy, you’ve read this book before. If you take out the Allomancy you’re left with a pretty basic story of Plucky Rebels Look to Dethrone Evil Against All Odds. This basic story has been told a million times over – Star Wars anyone? And even with Allomancy, Sanderson doesn’t do anything new with this story. The magic just gives the story an extra bit of gloss.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to recommend this book and I’m going to recommend this book – to YA fans, to fans dipping their toes into fantasy for the first time or fans of more traditional fare. And there will always be room for these kinds of books on our shelves, and if you’re going to read something traditional you should read something this good. And yet, But when books like City of Stairs or Goblin Emperor or The Waking Engine or even The Mirror Empire dare to push boundaries and try and do something different with a genre that hasn’t changed all that much since Lord of the Rings it makes me want to see more authors do the same.
Mistborn helped establish Sanderson, and clearly has helped give him the freedom to let his creativity fly (seriously, check out The Rithmatist. It’s still one of my top three all time favorite magic systems I’ve read). Of his many projects, the fifth book in this series (it’s actually a two trilogy series) is next up on his to-do. I just hope that one day soon we can see him take that creativity he’s displayed in his YA titles and create something just as special for adults. In the mean time, this is a good read, and it’s an accessible read. If you’re looking for a good place to start with Sanderson, this is probably as good as any.
Verdict: Buy it
Available: Now (Note: As of 12/17 the Kindle version of the first trilogy is on sale for $5.75. You’re not going to find a better deal than that. Grab it if you’ve wanted to check it out