Friday, June 25, 2010

Zeppelins in the Mist(born)

That's neat, but I'm still not one hundred percent happy with it. Maybe I should move on over to Wordpress or something. Hm...

Anyway, I didn't crack open Blogger today to bitch about the new formats. I did what I did for one purpose and one purpose alone: to write about Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy, which I recently (finally) finished.

I was introduced to Mistborn 1: The Final Empire by one of my colleagues at a school semisecret santa event (he gave me the first book of the Mistborn Trilogy and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, I gave him noise-cancelling headphones to help deal with his new baby). Of course, being a first year teacher, I took the book home and didn't touch it for weeks.

When I finally did crack the cover, I was instantly enchanted. The Final Empire does an excellent job of immediately pulling the reader into the world with compelling characters, an immediately dynamic story, and a unique setting. I finished The Final Empire in about a month. The Abigail picked it up shortly thereafter and devoured it, finishing The Final Empire before I had made much headway in The Well of Ascension, stole it from me, and then went on to finish The Hero of Ages, the last book of the series, while I was still working on book two.

The Abigail is almost as busy as I was, so this is definitely a mark of approval. She's also finished Sanderson's Elantris and is currently working on Warbreaker.

The series gets even better as it goes on. Sanderson is a master of the reveal. He uses no cheap tricks ("and then he told them his plan") and no content-free revelations (*ahem* Lost *ahem*). Every revelation is a moment of perfectly broken tension, advancing the story and challenging the characters and their relationships. Sanderson is also good at creating characters who are very real, very three-dimensional, and nonetheless interact interestingly with larger themes and archetypes. Vin grapples with her role as a knife in the dark while her lover struggles to balance Elend the man with Elend the king.

I also need to praise Sanderson for the most creative use of what Diana Wynne Jones called "Gnomic Utterances" (see The Tough Guide to Fantasyland). Every chapter in the Mistborn Trilogy begins with an in-character writing by someone in the setting. In many fantasy novels (including at least one that I wrote) these chapter headers are mostly a waste of space, but not so in the Mistborn Trilogy. Each chapter header adds something to the story. In some cases, the big reveal of the novel is who, exactly, these writings come from in the first place.

What's most interesting about the Mistborn Trilogy is that we get to see Sanderson developing as a writer. The Final Empire was the first novel he wrote (though not the first he got published), and it suffers in places. After reading the first book, I was willing to class Sanderson as an apt inheritor of Robert Jordan's legacy: a talented writer who crafts good stories and adequate characters. By the time I finished The Hero of Ages I knew Sanderson was something much more: a truly brilliant author I have a lot to learn from, and one of my new favorites.

What's this? All style and no substance? What kind of blog review is this?

The Mistborn Trilogy tells the story of Vin, a thief on the streets of Luthadel, the capital city of the Final Empire, which sits astride a dying world of ash-choked skies and brutal monarchy. The ruler of the world is, aptly enough, the Lord Ruler, an immortal and (apparently) indestructible incarnate god. A class of lords and ladies, descended from the Lord Ruler's allies, hold dominion over the skaa, a slave class descended from the Lord Ruler's enemies. While a significant community of skaa thieves survive in the big cities, only one man dares oppose the Lord Ruler: Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, the only man to ever escape the Lord Ruler's brutal mining operation.

As the plot is an unnatural (but awesome) hybrid of epic fantasy, urban heist, and kung-fu, the setting is a weird mix of Victoriana, epic fantasy, and alchemy. The people of the Final Empire carry pocket-watches and wear waistcoats or gowns. They have an understanding of industry, economy, and political theory that resembles 1800s Europe. At the same time, they carry swords and dueling canes and the Lord Ruler's military, the mysterious koloss, are monsters out of fantasy.

The setting's magic (which I've written of before) is a mix of all the elements above, and then some. Allomancy relies on ingesting and burning metals to produce a set of very specific effects, which combines alchemy and industrialization. Feruchemy, on the other hand... ah, but that would be telling.

In any case, I recommend the Mistborn Trilogy on all cylinders. Go forth and read.

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