Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coming into her own

Mistborn: The Final EmpireHaving just turned twenty, I felt a bit unnerved at the prospect of the "teen" section of the library not having anything useful for me. (This awkward feeling perhaps deserves a post of its own.) Fortunately, I remembered that Brandon Sanderson (who took over the Wheel of Time from Robert Jordan) had some original works of his own. Which brought me to Mistborn: The Final Empire.

The first in an eponymous trilogy, Mistborn (aka The Final Empire--the trilogy is a result of a merger of two quite different works with those titles) begins on a slave plantation that's suddenly upset by the arrival of Kelsier, an indignant magician. The setting quickly jumps to Luthadel, capital city of the Final Empire, where the nonchalant Kelsier begins organizing a team of criminals with different magical skills to assemble an army that can overthrow the empire. Adding further complexity, Kelsier offhandedly mentions his plans to assassinate the thousand-year-old Lord Ruler, and each chapter begins with an epigram from the thoughts of the unknown, but apparently important, "Hero of Ages."

Part of the pleasure of the book, then, is realizing that the main character is arguably Vin, a girl from the underworld who Kelsier recognizes as a fellow magician. Vin, with the readers, discovers the laws of magic, or "Allomancy." Allomancers need to literally eat metal (as dissolved in water, which is not written to be as gross as it sounds) before they can call on it and exploit its powers. Vin and Kelsier, as "Mistborns," are not limited to the use of one metal. Instead, they can call upon eight ten eleven all types of powers, each with an associated metal. The necessary info-dump is not particularly overwhelming--one of the benefits of putting so many scenes in Vin's point of view is that we have a reason to sit through it and learn with her. Sanderson also includes a short appendix explaining different types of magic at work here. As he writes in an annotation on his blog (this particular page has no real spoilers for the book but other annotations do):

"There are people who will pick up a book and check to see if it has a map and appendix—and if it has both, they're more likely to read it. (I was actually one of these when I was younger.) I guess the philosophy here, if I analyze my teenage self, was that if an author put so much work into a book—and if the book was so complex—that there had to be an appendix, then that was a book I wanted to read.

Others have the opposite reaction, I've come to learn. I've met people who think that this sort of thing in the back of a book indicates that the author is sloppy, and can't tell a tight story. Or, that the story is going to be too complicated to enjoy."

I think this is a pretty accurate breakdown! My sympathies are a little closer to the latter camp, but I often do appreciate these resources when present. In Mistborn's case, however, they were not very in-depth.

The annotations are overall an enjoyable addition to the work. I wish that the spoilered content labeled what it was spoilering (something later in the section? the book? the trilogy?)...but perhaps that's just a sign of how impatient I am to find copies of 2 and 3.