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THE FINAL EMPIRE

A novel by Brandon Sanderson
(2006, TOR Books)
 
 

A young woman is brought into a scheme to overthrow the oppressive empire, and learns she has magical powers to keep her alive, while growing to trust people for the first time.

 
 
 
   

-- First reading (ebook)
March 5th to 26th, 2023

 
   

I was in this book for the long haul, and enjoyed all of it. Admittedly, there were times when I thought my rating would go lower, but by the end it had sprang up a notch, surprising me. The scientific way magic is described in this book was unexpected and quite absorbing. The author repeats many of the abilities and their associated metal often enough that I didn’t forget what each could do, though there was the risk during some of the less action-packed scenes. I felt Vin’s wonder as she learned Allomancy, leaping walls and influencing people as she gains control over her magical powers. The balls were a little tiring, and maybe went on for too long, but we did finally get something out of them –friendship and maybe even love. The best part of the book is probably the characterizations, as the big thieving crew all have their own personalities and add to the story. But none grow the way that Vin and Kelsier do, even to the end. The climax of the book had me reading straight through, as I wondered how it would end, and if anybody would survive. This wasn’t one of those books that gripped me from the first pages. I liked it, then liked it some more, and then a little less, then finally loved it. Part of it was the early writing style, I think. I can’t quite grasp what felt off about it, but there were times when it seemed like it was dipping into something less mature. But then the feeling would pass, and we would get a great sequence. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

Spoiler review:

This book started off very interesting, but I wasn’t expecting it to get to five-star status, all the way through the three-quarter mark. I even thought of dropping the rating at one point, as the book slowed down. But there are other five-star books out there with similar problems, such as the Fellowship of the Ring, which goes through the endless Tom Bombadil and the very long Council of Elrond before picking up. Like that book, The Final Empire rises to the challenge with unique ideas and excellent execution in its last quarter.

First and foremost, I loved how the magic in this book was treated scientifically. There is no explanation of how things work, but when it does, it follows strict rules. Better yet, our main characters don’t know everything about these rules. Kelsier teaches what he knows, and Vin challenges that when she senses things he does not. Pushing, Pulling, Soothing, Rioting, Strengthening, and more, all give Kelsier and Vin a way to do things ordinary people can’t.

I love the way Vin starts out the book knowing that she can influence people with her “Luck”, soothing them using only the trace metals in the water she drinks, the stuff that wears off steel mugs or utensils. She’s an essential part of a thieving guild, who manages to ward off many beatings and attempted rapes because of her internal Luck. When she tries to soothe an Obligator, she’s hunted by an Inquisitor and most of her crew is later killed because of it.

Kelsier, on the other hand, knows all about Allomancy, which is what part of Vin’s Luck is. He’s been practicing Allomancy for three years, and was lovers with an Allomancer before that. He is the Survivor of the Pits where they mine Atium, a metal that allows Allomancers to see slightly into the future, and which the Lord Ruler hoards.

The world is divided up into skaa, or peasants, and the nobility, but there are many variants, like the Terrismen who can store up energies for use later, or the kandra, who can shapeshift into other forms. As the nobility oppress the skaa and kill them at random, and any nobleman who takes a skaa woman to his bed has to kill the woman later, it’s ripe for rebellion.

The book is very long, but I enjoyed coming back to it every day, learning as Vin learned, plotting the rebellion with Kelsier. At some points the book moved very slowly, but that, too, allowed us to learn more about the world. I think too much time was spent at the balls, but it showed some variety to the characters and plots. I felt like I was entering Bridgerton world at times, as it took on the quality of a cheap romance, which was what tempted me to drop the overall score.

But then we would be given a new nugget of information, like the awesome Sazed’s powers of strength or memory, using metal bracelets to store up strength by becoming weak for a while, growing young by being old for a few days, and so on. Or Kelsier would go on one of his raiding trips to a nobleman’s keep, where he would rob them and kill them, for what they were doing to the skaa.

But the best part of the book was Vin, who grew from the insecure girl into a woman who took security from the night, and finally gained the confidence to confront the Lord Ruler himself. I think I had two favorite action sequences. My top scene was when Vin decides to save Elend’s life, and takes on Shan and her assassins above his skylight. The battle between the two women was amazing, and I loved the way Vin manages to get the upper hand. It takes a street urchin to trick her, making her think all Vin’s atium was used up, then flaring it again. The second was the way Vin actually made a plan to kill the Lord Ruler. At first she goes to confront him head-to-head, which was stupid, but makes sense for the character. But burning the eleventh metal allowed her to see a younger version of the Lord Ruler, so she theorizes that she could kill that version, which would cascade into the present –but as she executes her strategy, well thought out, she fails because her theory is wrong! Terrific plotting!

Most of the story weaves around Kelsier’s teaching the stubborn but sponge-like Vin, and learning what the thieving crew (or in this case revolutionary crew) could do. All of Dockson, Breeze, Ham, Spook and the others had a role to play, even if they were small ones. The army that they create and train goes rogue because of an inspirational speech by Kelsier, leading to a shift in plans. His brother Marsh is apparently killed, leading to a bold attack by Kelsier on the very atium pits where he lost his lover –but Marsh appears as an Inquisitor at the end to save Vin as she battles the Lord Ruler. Even the Lord Ruler isn’t who he seems, but the enemy of the one who was supposed to save the world –who ended up enslaving it, but to what purpose? Is he still battling the Deepness with the atium?

Many of the little things introduced have concluding elements, such as Vin’s brother, who left her so she feels abandoned –I kept wondering when he’d appear to some role, but it turns out he protected her after being captured by Inquisitors.

There are still so many unanswered questions, too, which is obviously why there are more books in this series. What happened a thousand years ago? If there is an eleventh metal, is there a matching twelfth? What do the Inquisitors and Obligators know about Allomancy that regular Allonmancers don’t? There are so many hints, and I hope they can be properly explained.

I was confused at one point by the term Steel Inquisitors, as I thought they would only be able to Pull metals, but they were Pushing and Pulling all the time, which led me to believe there was more to the process, and I was right. Based on Marsh’s experience, I wonder if the Inquisitors can steal other people’s magic, which could make them so powerful.

Then there’s the romance between Vin and Elend, which was allowed to simmer for a long time. I thought Elend was very funny, especially in the way he ignored Vin for most of their romance, and she was so incensed. But when he’s absent, she misses his presence, and even though she passes her time gathering gossip for the House Wars, she’s always looking for Elend. Elend himself is interested in the skaa, and when he inevitably finds out she’s a skaa, he’s not angered as his friend is, but intrigued. It shows him as a potentially just ruler, even if he doesn’t have the skills to become King because he’s ignored his lessons.

If there is anything that might bring the book down a bit, it was the writing style. I noticed it near the start of the book, and it grew more pronounced during the endless balls. I would forget about it during action sequences, and only noticed that when we returned to the balls. Vin is written as a na´ve girl, which she is, but I thought Kelsier could have been written a little more complex. I have trouble labeling what I felt was missing from the writing, but it only got noticeable occasionally. Not to mention that the ending was so good that the book ended with the great style of writing. In the last couple of hundred pages, as Kelsier is killed by the Lord Ruler, becoming a martyr and engaging the skaa rebellion, then Vin confronts the Lord Ruler twice, my rating skyrocketed, as all the small pieces that were laid out before came together.

In this way, the length of the book helped. While I think the author could have cut many sequences and brought the length down, the character development was strong because of it, as things moved slowly, but the characters grew slowly as well.

I hope the author can keep up this level of character development, now that the charismatic Kelsier is gone. I look forward to the next step.

 
   

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