The Kind of Book I Want to Write: Gushing Over Mistborn

I read a lot of good books, and I’m fortunate to have people in my life with great taste. Sometimes I pick a book up at random, without any prior knowledge. I got lucky with my latest grab, though as usual, I’m the last to the party. It’s rare that I finish a book I like so much that I want to give it as a Christmas present, but I just finished Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, and I’m really anxious to open volume two. Mistborn is epic in scale, with the requisite world-threatening plot, magic, monsters, and some good action. There’s a nice balance of coming of age and political manipulations thrown against a relatively small setting. There’s also a romance plot that stays safely, sweetly, on the PG side. This is a long book, not quite at the eye-rending size of George R. R. Martin, but the paperback weighs in at 675 pages. Yet she’s a page turner. I was never bored with Mistborn. While there are points of view in Martin that I wish would just hurry along so I can get back to someone I care about more, the POV switches in Mistborn are just long enough.

Though there are relatively few points of view, the book does have more than one. It’s a nice change from my reading in urban fantasy or young adult, where a single point of view is the norm. I didn’t mind the switches in Mistborn: they’re well-timed, which brings me to the point that this book is well edited. Transitions are handled very well. Smooth breaks are achieved throughout, and I didn’t spot a single typo or spelling error.

Sanderson uses some techniques that really set the book apart for me. First, the narrative within a narrative works very well. These are journal vignettes, short paragraphs that start every chapter. They quickly come to have grave importance to the book’s plot as well as tie the reader into the characters’ lives: they’re reading the journal with you, and even more anxious for it to make sense as their lives depend on it. Generally these sorts of insertions into fantasy just serve to build the world and ultimately detract from the action. They don’t often reflect the plot so tightly.

The book has been praised for its magic system, though I must admit, despite its originality, that aspect never really grabbed me. How the magic is used works great, but the actual mechanics are a bit too cleanly defined for my taste. Things got a bit matrix-y in the action sequences, but I still enjoyed them. The characters get pushed to the limits of their power reserves, and often risk running out of fuel at the critical moment.

Epic fantasy is a genre that I often worry about. Does it have a future when urban fantasy has become so popular and fewer agents seem to be representing the epic side? I love epic fantasy, yet two of the three books I’ve put down in the last few years have been epic fantasies that were boring me to death. Mistborn renews my faith in the genre. It’s ultimately an underdog tale. I’ve never so clearly felt that the heroes are badly outmatched. They doubt their chance of success openly, yet as good heroes should, they keep climbing that hill. Sanderson gives his characters heart. Whereas Martin maintains a distance, letting you know that anyone can bite it anytime, Sanderson isn’t afraid to show us the charisma of the doomed. Great power doesn’t equal invincibility if you want your readers to stay hooked.

Go read Mistborn if you haven’t yet. I recommend just picking up the trilogy. You’re going to want to open book two the moment you put the first one down.

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