‘The Final Empire’ is the first book in Sanderson’s original ‘Mistborn’ trilogy and a classic fantasy heist novel. His second published novel after Elantris, it cements Sanderson as one of the best epic fantasy authors alive today.
What if the Dark Lord won? That’s the question posed by this book. For a thousand years, the Lord Ruler has ruled with an iron fist, completely unopposed, forcing the Skaa who make up the majority of the population into slavery. However, a few rebels persist – and one, Kelsier, the famed Survivor of Hathsin, is determined to enact his revenge. Enlisting a crew of foolhardy Skaa – including the reluctant Vin, a street urchin who works for a local crime lord – Kelsier devises a plan to rob the Lord Ruler (and, if possible, to kill him too).
According to Goodreads, I’ve read this book at least ten times. It’s that good. Vin, our reluctant heroine, is a brilliant character – outspoken and talented yet naïve, she trusts no-one and isn’t convinced by this plan of Kelsier’s. However, Kelsier is the only one willing to teach her Allomancy – a mysterious power gained by ingesting metals – and the longer she spends in his presence, the more invested she becomes. Kelsier, for his part, is a brilliant mentor and father figure. The survivor of unspeakable horrors, including being the only man to escape a death sentence at the Pits of Hathsin, Kelsier’s scars run much deeper than those on his skin. His crew will follow him until the end – but Kelsier has secrets within secrets, even from himself, and his desperation to take down the Lord Ruler seems foolhardy even for him.
Every aspect of this book is brilliantly written. The character dynamics – especially within the crew – are sharp, with even the minor characters feeling fully fleshed out. The mythology of the world – the Lord Ruler having seized power after defeating some undefined evil – is gradually revealed to both the reader and the characters, avoiding info-dumping. The structure of the city with its ten ruling noble families is cleverly painted, and Sanderson manages the difficult task of evoking sympathy for both the Skaa peasants and the scheming nobles. After all, no-one thinks of themselves as the villain.
The real strength of Sanderson’s work, beyond his exceptionally complex characters, is his magic systems. The magic in the Mistborn books – Allomancy and Feruchemy – is very clever, with obvious limitations, and has clearly shaped the way that the world works. Introducing powerful magic without making characters too powerful or indestructible is a balancing act, and its always one that Sanderson manages exceptionally well. Overall, The Final Empire is a brilliant book, telling a tense, intriguing heist story alongside more complex epic fantasy worldbuilding. It makes a great introduction to the epic fantasy genre – especially to fans of simpler fantasy heist books such as Six of Crows. Recommended for all fantasy fans or just fans of strong characters and clever, well-told stories.
Originally published 2006 (US) and 2009 (UK)
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this Cosmere Christmas season! Really enjoying seeing Robyn’s reviews alongside Jackie’s.