01/06/2010. Contributed by Ewan Angus
pub: TOR/Forge. 541 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $37.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31178-Xpub: TOR/Forge. 657 page paperback. Price: $4.99, $ 5.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-6096-0pub: Gollancz. 647 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08991-4.
check out websites: www.tor-forge.com, www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.brandonsanderson.com
When you pick up a fantasy novel there are many things you can expect. You can expect a dark lord so overbearingly powerful and so evil that it makes us almost glad our MPs are merely fraudulent. Then you get the alarmingly powerful hero who is either characteristically flawed and/or so pure he's like something from a Daz advert. Then you get the twist on the above themes. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes it fails hideously. 'Mistborn' is a book that, on first glance, may seem like it's been done before.
Except it hasn't and it is exceptionally well-written.
The story unfolds as such, thousands of years ago, an over-pressurised hero sets out to stop an evil non-entity from taking over the Earth and making it all very bleak and plant life less.
Unlike most novels and, since this is at the start, he fails. The world subsequently goes to hell. In the story's present day, the lower classes or the Skaa people are crushed, beaten and have a really awful time of it. The nobles get it a little bit better, well in that they don't have to live on porridge. They are, however, under the constant scrutiny of the Lord Ruler, a very evil man who is supremely powerful. He is referred to as a god.
He's so evil his name is not spoken, unlike he who shall not be whatever, his name is used as a swear word. So instead of shouting, 'Shit!' when something bad happens, the characters slap their thighs and shout, 'Lord Ruler.'
Not quite as satisfying as saying 'Shit!' but never mind, it works in the context.
Thousands of years on from the hero failing, a little street urchin named Vin garners the attention of the really nasty church like policemen, the Steel Inquisitors. They are nasty, self-mutilated, very powerful and seemingly invincible.
Unwittingly, little Vin is a girl who has been using magic but lucky for her, she is recruited by the enigmatic and self-centred Kelsier. He is also a Mistborn, a human with the ability to use metals as a source of magic. This is where the novel really starts to show its individuality. The magic system is complex, detailed and brilliant.
There are ten known metals and certain people have the ability to ingest and use their metallic abilities in certain ways. For example, if tin is eaten, then it can heighten the senses. People who can 'burn' tin are known as Tineyes. Another example is that ingesting iron will increase strength. This system of magic really sets the novel apart from others with your usual elemental powers. It's a well thought up device. The idea that the Mistborn can jump great distances by pulling themselves on metal objects is pretty awesome.
So, with new-found friends, Vin finds herself in the middle of a burgeoning rebellion. Paraded as a noblewoman in order to gain information, she finds herself maturing and more importantly beginning to trust. The way Sanderson handles all of his characters is deft and smooth. None of them feel forced, their motives are entirely believable.
So, whilst the over-arching plot is one of rebellion, it is one that is handled with a degree of individuality. The whole book seems like a fictional fantasy version of Marx and Engel's Communist Manifesto. The lower classes are smothered and put-down, they are a massive literary high five to the proletariat. Then we have the bourgeois, the oppressors who get their comeuppance inevitably.
Overall, the book is smart, witty and emotional. The characters leave traces on you, the deaths feel horrible and the plot keeps you entwined. You feel yourself applauding the plans, nodding at their ingenuity and feel yourself swept up by the romantic aspects. The dire circumstances are all harrowing and exciting and the best part is that it flies by into an almost too comfortable end. You could view it as a parody or a pastiche or even a clever piece of social and literary satire and the best part is that it's a genre the author clearly loves.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA