Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ash And Mist

Tough month this month, some amazing things, some not so amazing things and some straight up super crappy things.  This is a month where I am so grateful for the ability to read and the means to feed my addiction, I think it is the only thing that got me through it all.  So let's ramble about one of the books that got read this month of chaos shall we?  Today we shall ramble about Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, the first book in the Mistborn series.  I have read a couple other books by this author and really enjoyed them and decided to pick this one up based soley on that premise.  This book enchanted me, frustrated me, intrigued me, made me think, made me scream, made me roll my eyes, but mostly made me want to read the next book.  Let's get on with it shall we?  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
I'm not even going to pretend to cover this whole book, it is insanely complicated and in depth so I will just go with a quick bare bones summation.  Our book is set in a world of haves and have nots.  We have the nobles, a high class that is beloved by virtue of having ancestors who supported the current immortal ruler (more on that later) and we have the skaa, a peasant/slave class who are doomed to a life of servitude and destitution due to their ancestors opposing the current immortal ruler (talk about sins of the father...).   The world has become a place of falling ash chocking off most living things and a supernatural mist permeating the night.  In this strange and dreary world a man named Kelsier bursts with his unnatural optimism and a talent for Allomancy, which a kind of complicated magical use of metal alloys to produce various results...and as one reader put it a bit of a video game way to fight...it's hard to describe...just read the book.  Anyways our boy Kel decides to get a band of his buddies together to pull of the greatest caper ever, to overthrow the Final Empire.  To this end he gathers a motley crew that includes Breeze: known as a Soother he burns brass and is able to calm peoples emotions; Hammond a pewter burning Thug who enhances his physical prowess; Dockson, who does not burn metal, but can organize a group like nobody else; Marsh, Kels brother who burns bronze to reveal other Allomancers; Sazed a Terrisman (who is apparently different from a skaa and a noble) who possess the unique ability to internalize his own strengths into metals on his body and call upon them later, he is also a Keeper, a person who searches out and remembers an astounding amount of information in a specific area, religion in Sazeds case; and Vin,
a girl who like Kelsier himself is what is called a Mistborn a rare person who can burn all the metals and have all the powers.  With this motley crew of half breed ska (only noble born...or people with noble born blood aka half breeds can be Allomancers) Kelsier comes up with a multi point plan to overthrow the Final Empire.  Vin's part of the plan is two-fold, the first part is to learn to use and control her substantial powers and two to infiltrate the nobility as a young country noble relation of an up and coming house.  Vin of course falls in love with the heir to the most powerful house of the nobility, Eland Venture who of course is secretly sympathetic to the cause.  As one can imagine all kinds of chaos and craziness ensues as the merry band tries to accomplish their gargantuan goals.  Through out the book we find out snippets of the history of this world.  The immortal ruler that has been in charge for close to 1000 years, according to vague stories was a normal guy who went on a quest to defeat the Deepness, and unexplained terror that threatened the world.  The hero defeated the Deepness at the Well of Ascension and then became the immortal ruler.  He then divided the population into the nobles and the skaa, rewarding the people who helped him and punishing those who defied him.  We learn that nobody actually knows what happened, that the world was a different place before the mists and ash and that the Lord Ruler is assumed to be an insanely talented Allomancer.  The story culminates in Kelsier being killed by the Lord Ruler and by doing so becomes a martyr who sparks a new type of religion.  Vin takes the opportunity to infiltrate the Lord Rulers castle and after more madness an mayhem guesses the Lord Rulers secret.  He is not the Hero everybody thought he was, he was a Terrisman who felt that the Hero was the wrong man for the job and took his place some how.  Using this information Vin pulls out his embedded metal and the Lord Ruler dies.  Vin's love interest takes over as ruler (in a good way) and we end the book with much contemplatives.

World Building - This world is a mix of a very complete medieval style fantasy world with a complicated government and a magic based on metal and a whole lot of confusing details.  I feel like the world itself is fairly complete, but the author threw in a ton of stuff that was never really explained.  This led to a world that worked, but had gaps...not sure if it was successful or not...yes on some points, no on others...but yes...I felt that there were a lot of contradictions that were never satisfactorily resolved and I admit that it took me out of the world on occasion.  That being said the parts that were complete, were very complete and I felt I got a good grasp on the feel of the parts we were shown at the very least.
Story - This was very complicated story, not in a bad way necessarily, just a lot to take in.  I very much appreciated how the author understood that most societies are not based on "good" and "bad" but on various nuances, individuals, and groups.  The author also made sure to have a mix of broad world scope stories and small personal stories.  I love it when stories are told like this, I feel it gives perspective and realism to the who thing.  The only part of the story that I really had a hard time with was the history.  The whole of the story is based on the idea that their was an epic event in this worlds history that led to this point.  The history is never really made clear which leads to frustration and confusion...that being said the author made sure that to get the point across that the reason WE don't know the history, is because the inhabitants of this world don't know it either.  This at least gives a plausibility, but it is still frustrating.

Character - I loved the characters in this book.  They were all varied and individual with stories, families, histories and just enough of a twist to make them all interesting.  Kelsier has every right to be a depressive, morose, violent leader, but he makes a point to be as positive as possible...at least in public.  I love watching his struggle to maintain an optimistic outlook despite the myriads of things against him.  He is never unrealistically cheerful as we get to see the struggle behind the smile.  Vin is the character who has to essentially reassess her whole life, she is thrust into a whole new world and her views on all kinds of things have to slowly change and the journey is both realistic and fascinating, also for once, a character who doesn't LOVE to read :-).  Sazed is the type of character I love because of his extensive history and his different outlook on life.  His views on religion and belief especially intrigue me.

Editing - Overall the editing of this book was pretty good.  For the most part it flowed and made sense, I kept reading it and didn't realize how quickly I was turning the pages...always a good sign.  The format was a little skippy with the view point switching with no warning, making it a bit jarring when I had to wrench my brain to a different character.  Also a couple of times things were mentioned without any explanation, like since the characters knew what was going on, we should too.  This made me flip back and forth a couple times 'cause I thought I may have missed something...not cool dude.  I did however love the bits of journal entry at the top of each chapter, it gave a cool history vibe to follow along with, especially with the twist at the end of the book.  I also like that the journal was talked about in the book, a bit of meta editing.

Allomancy - So much to say about this central magic of the book.  First off I found it a bit weird that the metals used in this fantasy world were all Earth metals...kind of made me pause and wonder if their was a connection.  I liked the idea of Allomancy better then I liked the execution of it in the book.  The use of it was fairly consistent which was good, every element assigned to a certain action that when used did a certain thing. I like the idea that most people with Allomancy were only able to use a single metal with the rare few being able to use more then that.  I also really appreciated that Vin saw the wisdom in learning from Allomancers who specialized in one metal to truly fully appreciate the full potential use of each metal.  I still don't understand how/why only nobles could use Allomancy.  Are the nobles and skaa two different races?  Was the Lord Ruler able to "gift" Allomancy to certain people?  How many generations removed could Allomancy be genetically viable?  Like I noted earlier, another reader stated that a lot of the Allomancy sequences read like a video game, which is a very accurate description.  I think the bigger problem was that the fight sequences were numerous and all felt the same.  Obviously Allomancy is a central part to the books, I just wish it was better explained and more streamlined.

Religion - I think one of the best things about the fantasy genre is the ability to explore sticky topics like religion with out offending to many people.  I absolutely LOVED the questions of religion posed in this book.  Let's star with Sazed and his Keeper memory.  In this world, the only "acceptable" religion is the one where the Lord Ruler is considered the Sliver of Divinity.  During the...whatever it is that happened, religions were the last organizations to fall to the Lord Ruler.  According to Sazed it wasn't because of the religion, but because of the belief that people had.  Sazed as a Keeper has over 300 religions in his head and is working on discovering more.  As he interacts with people, he tries to find a belief that fits them, to give them something to fight for.  I like the idea that belief...in whatever..is the true important part.  This inspires Kelsier, who figures out how to turn himself into a religion, knowing that his death will spark the rebellion needed to win the fight.  This brings up uncomfortable comparisons with the Lord Ruler who essentially did the same thing.  I  just love love love when a book makes me think, and this aspect send my brain reeling in a million directions.

Genetics - One of the things that was never really clear to me was the genetics of this world.  I can't tell if the world is made up of genetically different races, or if the Lord Ruler made different races, or there were some differences before the Lord Ruler and more after...I don't know, it's all really confusing.  It seems that maybe the Terrismen were a separate race from...I don't know what they were called originally and then the Lord Ruler did his Well of Ascension thing and then maybe turned everybody else into two races, noble/skaa.  Also what are the nobles called?  Is there race just called the nobles?  Are there more races/people we haven't seen yet?  Are the mist wraiths and kanda (which we also get very little explanation for) of the same stock? Animal? Alien? Demon?  SOMEBODY JUST TELL ME?!?

Overall Impression - Many aspects of this book intrigued me, made me thing and kept me turning the pages.  Many aspects of this book drove me crazy, made me flip back and forth and just generally made me scream.  It is complicated, full, and overall pretty good.  I want to keep reading, I want to know more, and I have a feeling that I will like the series as a whole better then I will any individual book...which is not a bad thing per se, I just have to read the books with the whole series in mind.  I give this book 7 out of 10 metal coins and will continue the series and see where it takes me.
Happy Reading Everybody!

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