The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson 2006)

51nIafKiQ8LIt was only a matter of time before one of Brandon Sanderson’s works made it onto this blog. As an avid fan of fantasy, I felt  this would be an appropriate work for the blog’s first fantasy review. The Final Empire revolves around one simple concept, what if the Dark Lord won? The work revolves around the dystopian Final Empire, ruled by the tyrannical Lord Ruler. The plot follows the street urchin Vin as she is drawn  into a rebellion against the Lord Ruler, lead by the charismatic Kelsier.

The book is unusual in that the work is confined mostly to the city of Luthadel, the capital of the Final Empire. The focus is mostly on city politics, and at times the work feels like a fantasy version of a heist movie. As someone who is tired of seeing the same style of plot over and over again, this came as a huge breath of fresh air to me. The planning that goes into breaking into the Lord Ruler’s palace takes up a significant portion of the book.

However the flaw of this is that the book contradicts itself against its main question. It asks what would happen if the dark lord won, but in truth as the book progresses one learns that the Lord Ruler is not a dark lord in the traditional sense. Instead as far as his role in the plot goes, he is like the big bad character in the heist movie, he’s powerful and in charge but still human. By the climax it becomes apparent that the Lord Ruler is little more than an extremely powerful human. This bugged me a bit since it toned down the conflict a bit from the main reveal onwards the conflict felt lessened.

The characters are decent but nothing to shake a stick at. Kelsier, the charismatic mentor, is the one with the most personality but dies towards the end of the book and leaves the other characters to fend for themselves. Vin is a decent if a bit generic of a heroine. Her love interest Elend, is a bit underdeveloped. Same goes for the members of the members of Kelsier’s crew. While many of these problems are rectified in later books, going by this book alone the characters are a functional when they need to be but are otherwise a bit underdeveloped.

The magic in the setting is the main draw of the novel and is the primary reason I read the Mistborn trilogy to begin with. Central to the setting is Allomancy, a rule based magic which involves using metals to gain supernatural abilities. Most Allomancers in the setting can “burn” one specific power, with a rare subset called Mistborn, which can burn any metal. Vin is one such character, as is Kelsier. While I criticise the idea of the protagonist having ability, I liked having another character within the cast having the same ability. This reinforces the fact that the ability is just rare, not unique. Since I’ve seen so many works where the protagonist has a unique, overpowered ability this was a relief to me.

Overall, The Final Empire, was enjoyable and a unique take on the admittedly stale high fantasy genre. I read works in the fantasy genre, particularly those marketed as high fantasy, and frequently find myself by the mindless drivel I find. The Final Empire was different enough to hold my interest, and re-sparked my interest in what I believed was a dying genre. For those interested in magical settings with complex rules, I cannot recommend this book enough.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: FRESH

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