Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed I have been spending less time reading. In an attempt to combat that, I’m setting myself this challenge. Fifty books by January 1st, 2014. I don’t have concrete rules in place, but it will be fifty full length novels, I won’t be cheating by reading a 100 page graphic novel (which I can do in less than 2 hours). I’m not setting any genre limits, and I’m not shying away from tie in fiction if that’s what I happen to be in the mood to read.
As I recently discovered, I own nearly forty books I haven’t actually dug into yet, so I will try to read fifty new books, rather than falling back on old books. That said, I don’t have a list set or anything, so if you want to recommend something you think I might like, please feel free.
Date started: January 1st.
Date finished: January 6th.
And so, here it is, the first of fifty. I’m happy to say I started on a high note. I had never read a single word by Brandon Sanderson before picking up The Final Empire, and if I’m being honest, I only asked for them for Christmas from my sister because the box set was fairly cheap on Amazon, I had no idea what I wanted, and I know she hates just giving me money.
As I turned out, I made a good choice. Or a third of a good choice, at least. The first Mistborn book was a fun tale of adventure about a band of plucky rebels hoping to stage a revolution among the slave classes and upstage the Lord Ruler, who may or may not be immortal.
While the plot itself is a fairly generic fantasy story, the true magic lies in the execution. The characters all have their own charm, from the roguish Kelsier through to the street smart thief girl, Vin. My personal favourite however, was Elend Venture, an heir to his Noble father’s House with a rebellious streak. He’d show up at parties and prefer to read in the solitude of a dark corner, only briefly exchanging witty repartee with others, but preferring to be left alone. In short, a character I could easily identify with.
It’s not all parties and nobility though. Vin is also a Mistborn. There’s a clever magic system in place where ingesting different types of metal and ‘burning’ them produces different effects. For example, iron allows the user to pull metal towards them, and steel allows them to push metal away from them. This is all based in a world where weight and physics apply however. Try to pull something too heavy, and the user will pull themselves towards it. This leads to various exciting sequences where characters will do things such as dropping coins on the ground and pushing themselves into the air for exciting airborne battles. Quite a large portion of the book is dedicated to Kelsier training Vin in the different arts of Allomancy, but it is never boring and works as a clever means of handling the exposition. It explains the magic system to the reader without ever stopping the flow of the story and breaking it down like a Dungeons and Dragons handbook.
Epic fantasy often falls into the trap of becoming bloated, with over-described settings (looking at you, J.R.R Tolkien) or too many characters to reasonably keep track of (hello George R.R Martin). The Final Empire dodges this bullet entirely. Most of the action is centred on two cities that are close together, and follows a small number of characters. The prose does enough to set a scene, but gets straight to the point, and tells the story well. It’s efficient without ever being lean.
At this point, it should go without saying that I recommend The Final Empire to fans of either epic or urban fantasy. The tale itself might be an old one, but the details make it stand out, and Sanderson is a writer I’m interested to read more by.