Finding a good epic fantasy series to read can sometimes be a troublesome thing.
There are a number of them out there that go on for a number of books, ranging from the trilogies to five-book series to ten-book series and beyond.
I’ve tried a number of them myself, and it can be hard to assess whether any of them stand up to say the holy trinity trilogy of The Lord of the Rings.
A number of them start out strong, and then eventually devolve into redundancy and boredom, such as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, while others just lose their way after the first three books; Song of Ice and Fire, I’m looking at you. Now, these are just my opinions, and I know there are many many readers who would disagree with me, but there is one particular trilogy I know most epic fantasy fans can agree is excellent from start to finish, and that is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.
The series has in fact continues sell very well and is so popular that an RPG is now in development for it. And while the trilogy is complete with The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages, Sanderson has announced that he’s not done with the world by any means and has plans to write two further trilogies set within this world, though further in the future, a good example of which is his recently released Alloy of Law.
What can be best said about the series, other than the fascinating world, the interesting and complex characters, and the riveting plots, is that the magic system is simply mind-blowing.
And perhaps what makes the magic system so impressive is that it strongly adheres to what has colloquially become known as Sanderson’s Law: “An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.”
The Final Empire:
Vin is a sixteen year-old skaa, a peasant girl who has never really known her parents, abandoned by an abusive brother, and spends her days working in a field with no hope of change. That is until a tall and imposing stranger by the name of Kelsier shows up, dismisses her abusive boss like he is garbage and pays attention to her for the first time. He tells her she possesses powers she is unaware of and then takes her away from her life of slavery, for she is mistborn.
The mistborn are very few in number, but the powers they possess are to be feared by many throughout the realm. By ingesting small amounts of metals, a mistborn is able to “burn” a particular metal and exert a certain kind of power with it, also known as an allomancer. Different metals that are burned result in different powers. Steel allows one to push on metal objects such as railings, doors, coins, belt buckles, wherever there is metal nearby to be used, allowing one to push themselves into the air to great heights. Iron allows one to pull on metals in one’s surroundings, pulling them up walls and across open spaces. Zinc allows the mistborn to inflame emotions in others, to make them angrier or sadder, or more fearful. Brass is a soothing metal, allowing the user to calm and dampen other’s emotions. Bronze allows the mistborn to detect whether allomancy is being used by others nearby. Copper allows mistborn to hide their use of allomancy. Pewter, one of the most useful of the metals for an allomancer, allows them to greatly enhance their physical abilities, so they can be stronger, have faster reflexes, and move exceedingly fast. Pewter also allows them to sustain injuries and barely notice the pain and not be hindered when under attack. Tin enhances one’s senses, allowing them to detect sounds, sights, and smells better than any human. These are the basic metals that all mistborn can use. But when the small supply of ingested metal is extinguished, the allomancer must find more, or find themselves with simple, ordinary human abilities.
Then there is the metal atium. A very rare metal that can only be found in small amounts within the crystalline caves of the Pits of Hathsin. It is here that prisoners are put to work to search for the metal and suffer constant wounds from crawling through the narrow tunnels. If the prisoner does not find a piece of atium, he or she is executed. Atium serves as the most expensive metal in the realm, which everyone hungers for. The Lord Ruler gives out small amounts to his nobles and keeps the rest for himself. But when a mistborn swallows and uses atium, they have the ability to see future actions, choices made by an opponent during a fight, making it the most important and useful metal for an allomancer.
As Vin begins training with Kelsier, who is also a mistborn, she discovers she is to be part of a group plotting to overthrow the Lord Ruler, who has controlled the world for over a millennium, subjugating all to his tyrannical and merciless power. With the help of the religious group, the Steel Ministry, which is controlled by the Inquisitors: a trained and bred group of people with giant spikes hammered into their eyes; they are feared by all for their terrifying appearance, as well as for their allomantic abilities.
But there are those – Pewterarms, Seekers, Soothers, Rioters, Lurchers, and Coinshots – who are able to use only one of the metals, and Kelsier has chosen the gang carefully, selecting specific people with specific talents and powers, and fully believes he can kill the Lord Ruler and make the world better.
The Well of Ascension:
Before the dust even has time to settle, King Elend faces problems from various fronts: there is dissension in his democratically elected cabinet who wish to return to the old ways; then there are three armies marching toward Luthadel. Before our main characters can decide what to do, they find themselves under siege from two massive fronts. One is controlled by Lord Straff Venture, Elend’s father who wants his son to hand over his kingdom to him, no questions asked. Then there is Lord Cett looking to seize control of Luthadel with his own substantial army. Elend finds himself in a unique position where he can ally with one army and therefore be able to overthrow the other. The question is who to ally with?
As he contemplates this a third army arrives, of koloss. These are tall 9-15 feet creatures that vary in size but are terrifying to humans. Originally created by Lord Ruler for his army, their skin is extremely wrinkled and hangs off them in places like loose clothing while there are great tears in the skin and yet the koloss ignore this. But their red, blood-rimmed eyes strike terror in all who view them. They may seem dumb and slow, but in battle they are fierce and destructive, and it’s unknown whether they may lose control at any second and begin rampaging into the city of Luthadel.
Then there is Sazed, a loyal member of the group who is a Terrisman, a special person with the ability to store thoughts, memories, and knowledge in metal that is worn in the form of rings or armbands. Stored in these armbands are also other abilities such as great strength and speed. But in Sanderson’s world, it’s all about balance, as the energy stored in each armband is finite, and in some cases can take many years to be stored up, but can be used and extinguished in a matter of minutes. Sazed is a scholar and knows much is not right with the world. Somehow the mists that are feared by many for a long time throughout the realm begin killing people and even wiping out whole villages. There is the Deepness, a mythological force that was supposedly stopped when the Lord Ruler came to power, but is not fully understood and may bring terrible things to pass. Sazed must also find the correct location for The Well of Ascension, for it is here that the Hero of Ages – who he believes Vin to be – will release the power and save the world.
Then there is the OreSeur, a kandra, an ancient race who are able to absorb the bones of a dead person or animal and take that form and appear almost identical to them. OreSeur is Lord Straff’s kandra, and is sent to spy on Vin, but it’s also discovered that there’s another kandra somewhere within Luthadel who, with the kandra abilities, could literally be anybody.
Finally there is the supposed Hero of Ages, Vin, who isn’t sure what she is, but knows she is one of the most powerful people in existence, but must use her power wisely and not kill recklessly. She befriends another allomancer, Zane, who seems very familiar, and she becomes close to him, for they have so much in common, and yet he is the allomancer for Lord Straff and therefore an enemy.
The Hero of Ages:
The Well of Ascension has been found by the supposed Hero of Ages, Vin, and the power has been released, except it is an evil spirit, Ruin, who seeks to end the world with the help of its deadly inquisitors. The ash from the ashmount is falling thicker and stronger, choking the lands, preventing life from growing or surviving, while the great volcanoes are beginning to thunder to life, and the mists continue to terrify everyone, leaving some dead, others deathly ill, perpetuating the mystery.
Elend Venture, now emperor of the realm has two kingdoms to ally with in preparation for the end and the oncoming battle. Leaving with Vin, he heads to Fadrex City which was formerly Cett’s kingdom, but is now under the control of the obligator Lord Yomen, along with his army of koloss. Spook, Ham, Breeze and others head for Urteau under the control of the maniacal Quellion. But Ruin is somehow able to control both Yomen and Quellion, as well as stealing control over the koloss, outweighing the odds against Emperor Venture and his people.
Then there are the mysterious kandra race who are in a crisis of faith, for their sole existence is based upon the Contract which was written by the Lord Ruler, who is no longer: does the Contract therefore no longer apply? There is the trial of TenSoon who has slain one of their own. The First Generation of kandra sit silent and undecided, while the later generations are anxious and impatient, unsure whether to adhere to the Contract or rebel.
Finally there is the great Sazed, the scholar who has lost his faith, having researched every religion but one and finding nothing but lies and obfuscation. It is with this last religion, the religion of his Terris people that is somehow tied to that of the kandra, that he holds on with a sliver of hope, seeking some final answers to the meaning behind the world, its gods, its peoples.
In The Hero of Ages, Sanderson ratchets everything up to its highest point, with the end times approaching and all hope dwindling.
The reader is hooked to the very last page, unsure of what will happen, who will survive, and wondering if this might really be the end of everything?
Originally published on Forces of Geek.