I started reading this series after hearing praise for Sanderson and his works as modern fantasy classics. I really believe if you can stick through the first 50% of book 1, then the original trilogy (The Final Empire, Well of Ascension, Hero of Ages) will blow your socks off. Alternatively, if you're not a fan of long books, you may find a better introduction to the fantasy genre in the absolute classic A Wizard of Earthsea (Goodreads link). If you enjoy even longer introductions to magical systems and less action-heavy reads, you may enjoy the The Wheel of Time series.
Mistborn was always pitched as a continuum of three trilogies spanning the growth of a feudal world into a technological faster-than-light spacefaring story. At the time of publication, Sanderson has published the first of these three trilogies, with books four to seven growing out of an interesting "in-between" exploration.
Whilst the first trilogy is the best bet for classic fantasy, I whole-heartedly recommend the second (to-be-completed) quadrilogy which moves the setting forward into the industrial age as a follow-up.
Jump to sections below (this is the definite reading order):
#1 The Final Empire
Originally reviewed: 1st February, 2021
Ash fell from the sky.
Well, this book had a perfect opening Prologue and Sanderson definitely drew me into the ash-covered world of Scadrial. While the dual-protagonist perspective of Kelsier and Vin was intriguing, both on different sides of the same coin, it was the plot's sense of build-up and combination of many of my favourite things that excited me - the LOTR fellowship/ heist-style team, a metal-based magic system that is surprisingly and logically laid out early, and a class-based system with near-invincible scary villains.
As the book went on, there were definitely twists and turns that forced some great emotional development, and I was surprised at how I barely noticed the characters were growing because it felt so natural during the plot's events. However, in addition I felt Sanderson's writing style become a bit simplistic and repetitive, and knowing that this was one of his early works I couldn't rate it as a perfect 5/5. I am definitely returning to the Cosmere however and will read the sequel soon, as this first book teased a lot more of the world than just Luthadel and I can't wait to explore it!
#2 The Well of Ascension
Originally reviewed: 22nd February, 2021
“It's easy to believe in something when you win all the time...The losses are what define a man's faith.”
The siege of Luthadel. What a slow-moving, grand and investigative second chapter in this trilogy. 763 pages is undoubtedly a lot, but it seemed to just fly by. After what I thought was a rushed conclusion to The Final Empire, Well of Ascension picks up almost a year later and we find our team of heroes facing a wealth of new problems.
The A-plot regarding the capitol's seige by the various noble factions filling the void left by the Lord Ruler did not have much action, but there was a lot of political intrigue and interesting isolated battle moments. The B-plot follows the more magical side of things with the book's namesake, and its ending in particular left me shocked and amazed at Sanderson's subversion of genre tropes.
This book is definitely carried by its characters, Vin's doubts, Elend's growth into a king, the new Mistborn Zane and trusted kandra Oreseur. There are definitely some powerful moments in the conclusion and I was left extremely satisfied, but also wanting to take a break before tackling the huge final book. And the tragic action in that conclusion, my goodness. I was hooked.
#3 The Hero of Ages
Originally reviewed: 9th April, 2021
“Somehow, we'll find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be. But for now, we simply have to be satisfied with who we are.”
Wow wow wow wow wow. I realised that Sanderson for fantasy novels is like Nolan for films in his passion, plotting, satisfying conclusions to setups and moderate theme exploration. I also understood a different reviewer's comment that he writes his characters like super heroes, albeit in this dying and destructive world.
Man, this was epic from start to finish - I loved that we were introduced to every character with a small time jump, with Elend and Spook in particular being really well-represented. In these desperate times, the remaining members of the original crew are split between two cities with very different problems, and the story juggles these alongside the tales of kandra-on-trial Tensoon and puppet-victim-to-Ruin Marsh. Like previous entries, chapters open with intriguing epigraphs that smack you in the face with clarity towards the book's conclusion.
While some twists were obvious, the logic, planning and execution behind every single turn in this story just left me shaking my head in amazement. And then there was the emotionally powerful conclusion - this book was the closest thing to LOTR: Return of the King I've felt in a long time in its epic scope and powerful character-focused perspective. Hats off to Sanderson, I've been obsessing over the dude since and will be reading many more of his books in the near-future.
#0.5 The Eleventh Metal
Originally reviewed: 13th May, 2021
Short and highly fun! This 1-chapter story goes back to see Kelsier before the events of the Mistborn trilogy, and despite its length the plot gives insight to his inner struggles as he adopts the legendary image of the Survivor of Hathsin. The fluid magical action and writing style is an enjoyable return to the first Mistborn trilogy, and the setting carves out an unexplored town in the Western Dominance. Loved Gemmel and the other supporting characters as well (side note: there was a cool art preface).
#4 The Alloy of Law
Originally reviewed: 15th May, 2021
“Wayne's a little attached to that hat," Waxillium said. "He thinks it's lucky."
"It is lucky. I ain't never died while wearing that hat."
So much fun. In doing something rare in the fantasy genre, Sanderson has revealed the much bigger picture of where the Cosmere could be going. Set about 300 years after the dark (ash-filled) ages of the Final Empire/ Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is evolving through scientific progress, much like late 1800s-early 1900s America in our world. There are skyscrapers, electricity and returning to the city as a noble house lord is Waxillium Ladrian, who has spent 20 years out in the frontier Roughs acting as lawman and investigator.
Our original heroes and their story has become history for the current crew, which involves Wax's partner eccentric slider Wayne and the wide-eyed but shyly intelligent Marasi. This time around, Mistborns are extremely rare (if they exist at all), but feruchemy has become more prevalent in the population and there are a few updated metals in allomancy meaning each character has a very interesting combination or subset of skills, especially our heroic Sherlock/ Watson style duo. The villain was certainly interesting and a foil, and a lot of the mystery beats were like a Western in a city emerging from the industrial age, but I'm amazed and keen to see where Sanderson takes this next.
#5 Shadows of Self
Originally reviewed: May 21st, 2021
“The law is not something holy, son. It’s just a reflection of the ideals of those lucky enough to be in charge.”
Now this was more like it. After the fun but self-contained Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self becomes a city-based crime thriller with the stakes of Elendel hanging in the balance.
There are definite personal threads running through this story as well, this time Sanderson rotates naturally between the trio of Wax, Wayne and Marasi as they hunt a murder causing chaos amongst various class factions. This also greatly increases the depth of worldbuilding this time around, as we see these various groups and their thoughts, concerns and personalities (although over a short time span). Loved the return of the broadsheets and the sense of constant building tension throughout the first two-thirds of the book, which led to an almost inversion of the Final Empire's events (which I thought was very smart).
Unfortunately, the conclusion and all its reveals were amazing but felt a bit convenient for me, although undoubtedly setting up the next entry in the series. There was a lot more religious pondering in here, a few more references to the original trilogy and honestly Wax was like a superhero in The Dark Knight with how much political thrilling and chaos was being caused by Bleeder. Very cool and very fun.
#6 The Bands of Mourning
Originally reviewed: 31st May, 2021
“A man found himself when he was alone. You only had one person to chat with, one person to blame.”
In a bit of a left-turn, W&W takes a dive into adventure movie material taking cues from stories like Indiana Jones, with the Macguffin being the Lord Ruler's feruchemical bands and the return of the (honestly weakest part of the book) Nazi-like villains the Set. Whilst this direction initially interested me, there was more explanation about Cosmere mechanics than the actual logic of what had led to these events, and I found myself having more questions than answers at the end of the book.
The action was fluid, despite arguably slowing the story down at times in spectacle-filled, film-like sequences, and the characters have all developed considerably - Wax wrestles with some internal conflict, Wayne showcases more of himself and society, Marasi has become tougher and situationally-smarter and Steris goes through some really sweet growth.
There was an exciting second-half revelation, and I loved the emotion of the ending. I can sense where Sanderson wants to take Era 3, but before that there's definitely a lot of room left to explore in Scadrial's near-future, and a secret history to fulfil in it's recent past... Looking forward to the Lost Metal (aka Mistborn 7)!
#3.5 Secret History
Originally reviewed: 1st June, 2021
So so so so so good. We are back with Kelsier's perspective and from page 1, it is so refreshing and interesting as we actually witness some dark character questions and hope-inspiring growth. The novella sped by, touching upon certain events in the Mistborn trilogy whilst also deeply unravelling some Cosmere mysteries and connections. I particularly enjoyed the surprise crossover with some other Cosmere work, and appreciated how much emotion some of Secret History's sequences brought out in me. There were some long-time unanswered questions resolved, and many new ones opened up, but I felt this was a satisfying return for the beloved character and can't wait for future Mistborn instalments.
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