Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Mistborn Trilogy

Imagine a world where the giant red sun is barely visible through an ash-filled sky. All vegetation is brown, and this is seen as normal, because no one remembers a time when plants were any other color. In fact, no even believes plants were ever anything but brown.

Then, imagine that the world is dying, from the very things that once saved it.

This is the world of The Mistborn Trilogy.

The political entity that encompasses this entire world (or at least as much of the world as we are made aware of in the story) is called the Final Empire.

The people of the Final Empire are divided into two classes, the nobility and the skaa. The latter may roughly be considered feudal serfs, as they are not quite slaves, but they are in no wise free; the former are the mercantile class and the local government.

The imperial government is run by two bodies: the bureaucratic Obligators with their tattoos of rank and the autocratic Steel Inquisitors with the spikes driven through their eyes. Together, they oversee the everyday running of the Empire and enforce its religious orthodoxy.

At the absolute apex is the Lord Ruler, who has held power for a thousand years, ever since he saved the world. Or did he?

Brandon Sanderson's trilogy is nothing less than the best written and most powerful work of American fantasy since the first three volumes of Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series were published in the latter half of the 1980s.

Sanderson is known for creating unique systems of magic; here, the primary magic is allomancy, in which a practitioner -- who must have a noble bloodline -- ingests and "burns" certain metals. This allows the allomancer, depending on what metal is being burned, to push or pull on any metal in the environment, to riot or sooth the emotions of others, to detect another allomancer burning metal, or to hide his own allomancy.

Physics holds true, in that what happens when an allomancer projects force against metal depends on whether the metal is attached to or lying on something that can resist the force. This makes for some extremely interesting action scenes, and accounts for the fact that no one but allomancers carry or wear metal.

Most allomancers can burn only a single metal. They are known as mistings.
A very few allomancers can burn any allomatic metal. They are mistborn. Magicians therefore have one power or all, nothing in between.

Sanderson is also known for asking, and answering, BIG questions. Faith and leadership are constant threads throughout the 2000+ pages of this narrative. As well, there is a single overriding question to each book of the trilogy.

In Mistborn, we are asked, "What happens when the hero of prophecy fails?"

In The Well of Ascension, the question is "What happens when everything we think we know is wrong?"

And in The Hero of Ages, we must find out "How do we save the world?" This question is neither theoretical nor rhetorical, but literal.

Sanderson's characters are vibrantly, exuberantly alive, and they grow throughout the books. And, the series rewards close attention to detail. There are actions and situations in the first hundred pages of book one that pay off in the last fifty pages of book three.

As you may have guessed, I recommend The Mistborn Trilogy without reservation. It is a truly enriching reading experience.

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