The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

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This book and I have history. It’s been recommended to me numerous times in recent years. I’ve come across it in libraries and bookshops and never quite made it to the counter with it. Then a work friend of mine, R, told me of her husband’s deep and abiding love for Brandon Sanderson and that same day I picked up Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians while shelving. I read it over a weekend, laughed my ass off and decided I should pull my finger out regarding this Sanderson gent. So I request The Final Empire from the library, but get a message back that it’s MIA. I wander into Waterstones one afternoon and see it there, but I don’t have enough money on me. Finally, later that week while mooching around in a charity shop, I see it on a shelf labelled ‘50p Books’ and I’m all like, ‘Jackpot! You’re mine now book!’ and I pounce on it.

So, you’d think I’d read it right away. But no. I have library books to read, and it always feels frivolous to read my own books when I have a stack of borrowed books with a time limit on them. My problem being that I always have masses of library books at home, because I overestimate my reading speed and allotment of spare time (because I’m an optimist).

What eventually got me reading it was R bringing in the second book in the trilogy for me to borrow from her husband after I gave her the false impression that I had already read book one (I hate to see people’s faces fall when you say you still haven’t read that thing that they told you was awesome months ago – I know, I know, lying is a terrible character trait – this is what you’re going to be dealing with, an optimistic liar).

Do I regret not reading it earlier? Do I ever. This book was a blast. Sanderson has created a world with depth and history and a distinctive vibe, and a very cool brand of magic called Allomancy. Allomancy gives the characters that use it SUPER POWERS. I was initially sceptical about this because it wasn’t magic as I knew it, but Sanderson has clearly thought it all through very carefully – he maybe even explains it a little too completely – and … well … SUPER POWERS! In the most exciting, most beautiful bits of this book characters chase one another around a mist-shrouded city in Matrix-esque stylie, like knife-wielding acrobats. And the author can write the crap out of a fight scene – as my late dad-in-law would have said ‘I was full of holes’ by the end of the book; I’d been stabbed, thrown against walls, beaten, and shot with coins (which is a thing in the world of the Mistborn) – I was totally there.

I have two mild reservations. Number one, the writing sometimes gives the impression that this is a YA novel. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is – it could be that the vocabulary doesn’t feel particularly broad, (there are certainly a few favourite and oft-repeated descriptive words, like ‘maladroit’, that start to jar after 200 pages or so); it could also be that in following a young teenage girl in her discovery and development of her magical powers the plot feels conventionally YA. But every time I started to question again who the target audience was, a character would die horribly and I’d sigh with relief and read on. Not that I have anything against YA fiction, I just like to know that that’s who it’s aimed at before I start to read a book – then I know where to level my expectations.

Number two, (which may actually just be an extension of reservation number one), the conversations between characters was sporadically clunky. While banter between the various crew members was wonderful and gave me a warm, fluffy sense of camaraderie, occasionally the plot would need to be advanced, or something would need to be revealed, and the author would use dialogue to do it. This was done in such a way that it would jolt me out of the groove I was in. It didn’t feel like natural conversation, it would remind me that I was reading, my mental TV screen would falter, and, just for a moment, I’d get thrown out of the story.

Having said that, this is a world I want to get back to. It had a satisfying ending, but there’s so much I want to know more about. The Final Empire begins long after Evil has won, the Hero has been conquered and the people subjugated. This is a world where, for a thousand years, the big bad Lord Ruler has ruled and there is no prophesied champion to get everyone out of the doo doo. At the beginning of each chapter is a snippet of the story that came before – of the Hero’s journey towards his destiny as humanity’s guardian a thousand years ago, and what happened to him to prevent good triumphing, but the story is by no means complete, there are so many unanswered questions – what is the Deepness, and where did it go? What truly happened to the Hero? Why was he betrayed by the man who claimed he was the saviour of mankind? Where does Allomancy fit into all this? And what the heck is a kandra? So many questions.

It is a good feeling, getting to the end of a book and feeling that you’ve yet to really see everything that the author has to show you; especially when you already have the next book to hand. The Final Empire left me with the wonderful impression of a story that was only just beginning, and I can’t wait to see what Vin and Elend and the crew will do next.

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