CRUISING THE COSMERE: The Final Empire (BOOK REVIEW)
I’m back with my Cruising the Cosmere feature! Now that I’ve completed all the published Stormlight Archives novels until Brandon Sanderson releases book five, I’m moving on to The Mistborn saga. This is a series which is split into two different eras with the first era consisting of The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages, and the second era consisting of The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, The Bands of Mourning and an upcoming fourth novel, set to be released in 2022.
My journey through the Mistborn novels therefore begins with The Final Empire which I’ll be reviewing here. I’ve decided to split this review into sections where I’ll discuss the plot, the characters, the worldbuilding and my overall thoughts.
Please note that these reviews will contain spoilers.
The Final Empire begins with a prologue that effectively sets the scene for the entire book. Right from the beginning Sanderson presents to us a dark, dying world, where we meet Lord Tresting as he sceptically watches over the skaa people. We learn that the skaa are the peasant race, mostly used as farmers, and by their bowed heads, the whips they receive from their Lords, and the general feeling of an enslaved life, we know they are an oppressed people forced into hard labour. Immediately from this I had the feeling the book would entail some sort of rebellion, that the notion of privilege would be scrutinised, and seeing how badly the skaa were treated, I was a hundred percent invested.
I have to say this prologue was probably one of the best ones I’ve ever read. Where a lot of prologues can be quite obscure—and I absolutely love reading prologues so I don’t mind the obscure ones—-however this one immediately immersed me into Sanderson’s world. The falling ash, the red sun, the rotten earth, the general bleakness, I could thoroughly feel the sense of hopelessness the people within this world faced. Unless of course, you were the nobility.
As the story progresses and we meet our two main protagonists, Kelsier and Vin, we soon discover what the overall plot of the book will entail, and let me tell you right now, I loved how mad it was! To sum the narrative up, the premise of The Final Empire is to overthrow the Lord Ruler, the emperor, the dark lord if you will. As Kelsier bands together a crew, including Vin, and formulates a plan, their aim becomes to cause friction and conflict between the Great noble Houses, attack the Pits of Hathsin where the precious Atium metal is mined, then lead an army into the capital city Luthadel and seize Kredik Shaw, the Lord Ruler’s palace.
The plot sounds highly impossible, absolutely ridiculous, but oh my did I absolutely love watching it unfold!
”We’re thieves, gentlemen –– and we’re extraordinarily good ones. We can rob the unrobbable and fool the unfoolable. We know how to take an incredibly large task and break it down to manageable pieces, then deal with each of those pieces. We know how to get what we want.”
Throughout the course of the novel there is also a coming of age subplot surrounding Vin, as she transforms from a frightened street urchin, to a fully capable Mistborn, and a woman passing as nobility. I adore coming of age narratives, and found families, therefore watching Vin’s relationship with Kelsier and the rest of the crew grow was endearing to see.
Whenever I read a Sanderson novel there are always so many characters I become attached to, and The Final Empire was no exception. Yet this time around there was even a character I wish I hadn’t become so fond of because by the end of the novel their ending broke my heart. You all know who I mean!
Kelsier, once a crewleader, caught by The Lord Ruler and sent to the Pits of Hathsin with his wife Mare, becomes an infamous figure to the skaa people as he is the only one to have survived the pits. Knowing Kelsier’s backstory we realise why he is so invested in igniting this rebellion. Yet Kelsier is far from a somber character, he’s mischievous, cheeky and a rather reckless Mistborn! I knew instantly he was a character who wanted to do better for the people, who wanted to end the oppression, no matter the personal cost.
We then meet further members of Kelsier’s crew, Dockson, Yeden, Ham, Breeze and Clubs. Each member is a Misting, meaning they can ingest metals to wield Allomancy for various purposes. For example Breeze is a Soother and can manipulate emotions, Ham is a Thug and can burn pewter to make himself stronger, and Clubs is a Smoker and can hide other Mistings powers so that Inquisitors can’t sense them. Each of them play a vital role, but what I loved about them the most was the humour and banter they bring. They are endearing characters who form a family, and amongst so much darkness, they brought a sense of lightness.
“With everything they’ve done to us—the deaths, the tortures, the agonies—you’d think that we would just give up on things like hope and love. But we don’t. Skaa still fall in love.”
Then there’s Vin, and oh my heart felt for her. From the beginning we know that Vin has been abused by her brother, and is still being abused by Canon, the Thiefmaster, until Kelsier and Dockson intervene. Vin’s journey throughout this book was wonderful to see progress. She’s clearly vulnerable and that never truly leaves her, but she slowly becomes a powerful Mistborn, she becomes comfortable within the crew, she forms friendships with them, even learns to somewhat trust them. They become the family she never had.
A few more of my other favourite characters were the eclectic and often quirky Spook, Elend. and Sazed. I loved Spook’s heavily accented speech, and his innocent crush on Vin.
“Spook frowned. “Niceing the not on the playing without.”
“ I have no idea what you just said, child,” Breeze said. “So I’m simply going to pretend it was coherent, then move on.”
Kelsier rolled his eyes.”
I also found Elend to be such a wholesome character, one who appears aloof, but also shares a passion for books and knowledge and change within the empire. Lastly, Sazed was such a fascinating character; from his humble nature to his wealth of knowledge and his mysterious Terrisman (a race of people who even the Lord Ruler fears) abilities of memory and Feruchemy, I always enjoyed discovering more about his character, even though his race’s backstory was hard to hear.
One of my favourite aspects of Brandon Sanderson’s books is his attention to detail when it comes to worldbuilding. I’ve touched briefly upon the magic system, but as I expected of Sanderson there are many layers to explore.
Mistings and Mistborns ingest flakes of metals mixed in vials and burn metals such as iron, tin, pewter, copper, bronze, zinc and gold to give them various abilities. Both Kelsier and Vin are Mistborns, meaning they can burn and use more than one metal. The scenes where Kelsier trains Vin to use these powers were my favourite. I really loved the way both Mistborns could use metals to Push and Pull which for example gave them the ability to leap from the rooftops almost like they were able to fly. How cool was that? I always admire Sanderson‘s magic systems, not only are they well detailed but I really like the way he, always without fail, brings in consequences. We see more of this when Kelsier and Vin are practising and Vin learns the dangers of ingesting non-allomantic metals or what happens if she were to burn too much metal.
“Vin pushed against the coin and threw herself up into the mist. She flew away from Earth and stone, soaring through the dark currents of the sky, wind fluttering her cloak.
This is freedom, she thought, breathing deeply of the cool, damp air. She closed her eyes, feeling the passing wind. This was what I was always missing, yet never knew it.”
Sanderson’s world building goes beyond just the magic system as he creates an almost dystopian world. This is a world filled with the enslaved skaa people, dominated by The Lord Ruler. The Obligators, Inquisitors and Steel Inquisitors, enforce his control, brutally. The skaa never have justice, and whilst I certainly felt for their cause, I began to also realise that for all the privilege the nobility receive, they are also controlled by the Lord Ruler’s will.
“I worry about what they will say of me. Historians can make what they wish of the past. In a thousand years’ time, will I be remembered as the man who protected mankind from a powerful evil? Or, will I be remembered as a tyrant who arrogantly tried to make himself a legend?”
We also touch upon the concepts of The Deepening, Mistwraiths, and the Terrismen’s Feruchemy abilities, but I feel we have so much more to learn in further books. Sanderson’s worldbuilding always takes quite a few twists and turns as the characters discover new notions.
When I first started The Final Empire I was surprised by how quickly I became invested in both the world and its characters. Kelsier and Vin both hold painful pasts, and their future wasn’t looking too bright either. Yet they both evolve, they both hope and strive for the betterment of the skaa people, together, along with Dockson, Ham, Breeze, Sazed, Clubs and Spook they fight to end the Lord Ruler’s reign of tyranny, they fight for a fairer life. This good vs evil quest will always be an aspect of the fantasy genre I never tire of, it is a fight I will root for all the way. Then with Sanderson’s added philosophy, his intricate, well-written Allomantic magic system, coupled with his easily immersive prose, made for yet another book I wholeheartedly loved by this prolific writer. Yes, my heart was left broken, but I’m ready for more in the next two books…
“But you can’t kill me, Lord Tyrant. I represent that thing you’ve never been able to kill, no matter how hard you try. I am hope.”