Even before I went on a spate of re-reads this year, I was planning on re-reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. A new book is scheduled to come out in the fall, the last in the second Mistborn era, and I wanted to make sure that I was fresh on the whole story to maximize my enjoyment when I read it. Plus, I don’t think that I’ve re-read this particular series since we started to get more of a glimpse into the Cosmere.
Note: The exception would be Mistborn: Secret History, a review for which can be found from my re-read of Arcanum Unbounded.
There are so many things that are excellent about this book, and I think that I might enjoy it even more knowing what’s going to happen than I did reading it for the first time (unlike certain other books that I’ve read recently). I could spend this review fawning over the fantastically intricate and thought-out magic systems (because just one magic system isn’t enough – this series has three). I could wax eloquent about all of the little hints and tidbits that seem insignificant in your first read and become beautiful and enormous in their implications on your second. I could describe all of the ways that the history, cultural intricacies, and ecological details are fantastically compelling and cohesive in just the right ways.
Instead, I’m not going to do any of that. We’ve reviewed enough Sanderson books on the site that by now you probably know that with Sanderson books you can expect fantastic world-building, intricate magic systems, and compelling storytelling, and The Final Empire is no exception (it was originally just entitled Mistborn, but I think that it was decided later that having the book have the same title as the series was too confusing). What makes this book really interesting to me is that it might be the most-discussed Sanderson book, in terms of his writing process.
Annotations for the entire book are on his website, and he has discussed repeatedly and at length the things that he thought he did well with this story, the struggles that he had with it, and, of most interest to me, the things that he wishes he had done differently. This is of interest to me not because I am gratified by other people’s mistakes, but because it is something that I have long struggled with in releasing my works out into the wild. See, I know that, even if my writing now is “good,” it will be better in a few more years. A story that I push out today will not be as good as one that I push out after five more years of practice – that’s just the way it works. You can already see this in the Blood Magic revisions.
Mistborn was the second book that Sanderson published, after Elantris (I believe they were part of the same contract). It is an excellent story and an excellent example of the craft, but if you read a lot of Sanderson, you’ll be able to tell that there’s a certain roughness compared to some of his more recent stories. Not in the storytelling itself, but in the writing and the characters. It’s something that is difficult to pin down, but it is well described by his concept of transparent prose. If Sanderson’s writing ideal is transparent prose, then the clarity of his glass has improved with time. Although, in some ways I actually prefer the kind of storytelling he does here.
Of course, I would be thrilled to be able to write half as well as Sanderson does, so I’m woefully unqualified to be offering criticism. Rather, think of this more as an observation, something that got me thinking because of my own writing and my aforementioned worries that what I write today will look terrible to me (and my readers) in five or ten years.
Warbreaker tends to be my go-to, gateway Sanderson, but if you’re looking for a place to get into his longer works, Mistborn is the place to start. For all of our talk about how the writing compares to his later works in this post, it did not detract at all from my enjoyment of the story. If you haven’t read it, you really should. And if you’re looking to gain a better insight into the Cosmere…well, let’s just say that there’s a lot more to learn every time you read these books.
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