Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

Science fiction is often seen as a spectrum ranging from hard science fiction to soft science fiction. Material at the hard science fiction end of the spectrum often adheres to the real laws of the universe and when it doesn't it defines technologies that make it possible to overcome those laws. This technology is usually an essential plot point without which the story would fall apart.[1] Examples would include the television series Star Trek [2], the novel Ender's Game, or most of the writings of Isaac Asimov. Soft science fiction, on the other hand, is more character-driven, considers the impact of technology rather than making it a plot point, and can incorporate patently unscientific elements.[3] Examples would include the Star Wars movies, just about everything else written by Orson Scott Card, or most of the writings of Ray Bradbury. Brandon Sanderson, the author of the Mistborn trilogy, has made the case that a similar spectrum exists in fantasy.[4] Hard fantasy has a magic system with definite (and inviolate) rules, consequences, and limitations while soft fantasy has a magic system that is poorly defined and seemingly limitless (even to the point of being used as a deus ex machina). Examples of hard fantasy would be Sanderson's own Mistborn series or David Farland's Runelords series; examples of soft fantasy would be Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series [5], Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth series [6], or Terry Brooks' Shannara series [7].

My verdict: This book was fabulous. I wish I already owned the sequels so I could keep reading. Sanderson's prose is engaging and the magic system (termed allomancy [8]) is interesting. As long as it wasn't raining or snowing (this was a Valentine's Day present), I would read this on my way to and from campus—no matter how cold it was. There are several good plot twists (don't read the back cover of the paperback!—it partially gives away one of them), most of which I didn't foresee. The characters are interesting and vibrant, though some of the things people did seemed implausible human behavior. My only concern is that I felt like Sanderson introduced a spectacular battle early on which may require him to escalate the future fights in order to keep them interesting.


[1] See sci-fi.

[2] Even these definitions are contested and some would classify Star Trek as soft science fiction because it uses impossible technologies (such as faster-than-light travel) or seemingly fantastical elements (e.g. the powers of the Q Continuum).

[3] See science fiction.

[4] This can be summarized in his 'laws'. See's First Law and's Second Law.

[5] Read my review of Towers of Midnight (also written by Brandon Sanderson because Robert Jordan passed away before the series was finished) here.

[6] Read my review of Phantom here.

[7] Read my review of The Gypsy Morph here.

[8] Those with the ability to use allomancy, termed mistings or mistborn (depending on the extent of their ability) ingest different metals (e.g. tin) and 'burn' them to extract abilities from them.

Image attributions:

Molten Tin Droplet is by Jurii, available at 

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