Should I read… The Final Empire?
|November 29, 2011||Posted by Emma French under should I read...?|
Finished your personal statement? Read loads of ridiculously wordy books that you can quote in case of potential interviews? What do you do when you’ve finished? Give a huge sigh of relief, chuck away the textbooks, and pick up some (semi-trashy) fantasy. (Which, if you’re applying for English, can be a nice breather after a quick blast through the Cannon.)
I’m personally not a big fan of hardcore fantasy (your Trudi Canavans and such like), but the first book of the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson is an exception to this rule. Set in the post-apocalyptic Final Empire, run by the tyrannical Lord Ruler who is immortal and so revered that he is considered a god, the first book, named after its setting, introduces Vin, a young street urchin who joins the underground resistance and, under the tutelage of the enigmatic Kelsier, discovers she has magic powers – that of allomancy.
Perhaps the most interesting parts of the novel are the powers which Sanderson has bequeathed his character, and the means by which they work. Vin, Kelsier and several other characters are allomancers: mages who burn metals to gain special abilities. By swallowing metal pellets and triggering their effects from inside the body, allomancers have the power to control emotions, give themselves heightened strength or senses, and move through the air by means of magnetic fields, depending on which metal they burn. Sounds a bit ridiculous, but makes for an interesting combination of magically-enabled fight scenes and ploys, all of which are of the utmost importance for the Rebels, who begin a plot to overthrow the thousand-year-old Lord Ruler.
The Rebels try to gain an opportunity to kill their dictator, as they follow an intricate plan which involves the manipulation of the aristocratic houses that support the Lord Ruler, building an underground army, and infiltrating the terrifying Steel Ministry. Another rather compelling part of the story is its villains. While the Lord Ruler himself is pretty badass, he is surrounded by Steel Ministers, suitably creepy, powerful Allomancers (or Mistborns, who can burn all metals rather than just one) with massive steel spikes rammed through their heads where their eyes should be. With tendencies for gore and never giving up in a fight, these antagonists are strong and a force to be reckoned with – and the way they are made is just disgustingly intriguing.
The story is clearly fantasy – especially as this is supposed to be a future human society – but it does have some interesting features of dystopia which feed into the its genre quite well. Underlying all of the upper houses’ structure and woven around the criminal underworld is a slave class called the Skaa, humans subjugated to manual labour and the whims of their lords. And Sanderson takes his post-apocalyptic setting to the extreme, for Vin cannot believe that grass or trees were ever green, and for most of the time the Final Empire is veiled underneath a mist said to be the home of ghouls and monsters. These elements make it seem like a medieval 1984 (though with magic, obviously, so the resistance stand a bit more of a chance).
A nice, easy to follow story, with all the staples of a good fantasy book: interesting magical powers, witty dialogue, a band of lovable rogues and an almost impossible task. This book is easy on a brain which has been wrung out by A-levels, UCAS and university respectively, and is recommended for a quick escape from the real, thoroughly unmagical world.