Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is the first novel in the NY Times bestselling Mistborn trilogy. It is followed by The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages. Recently, Sanderson announced that film rights to the series have been optioned to Paloppa Pictures LLC.

Sanderson's debut novel, the sixth he'd written but the first to gain a publisher, was Elantris, which received enough critical acclaim to land Sanderson a three book deal from Tor to write the Mistborn books. Sanderson records the Writing Excuses podcast along with authors Howard Tayler and Dan Wells. Last, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Sanderson was chosen to complete the late Robert Jordan's celebrated Wheel of Time fantasy series by Jordan's estate. That book is The Gathering Storm.

Mistborn is an ambitiously plotted novel. For time immemorial, the Lord Ruler has held dominion over the empire. Hailed as the "Hero of Ages", he confronted and defeated a dark, ancient force threatening the world long ago, thereby saving humanity from destruction. But something changed in the man following that confrontation: he became immortal and, in doing so, seemingly gave up his humanity. Now, he rules the world as a tyrant. The Final Empire is vast and all-powerful, but it lives under a pallor of perpetual gloom. Ashfalls (presumably from neighboring volcanoes) are a constant and, nightly, mists rise up to embrace the darkness.

Society in the Final Empire is dictated by a class system. At the top are the nobility. Beneath them are the skaa, or slaves. There is nothing in-between. Nobles can treat skaa however they like, including visiting upon them violence, rape, or any other depravity, all without any repercussion. It is a society more than ready for revolution.

Enter Kelsier, once a skaa sent to the Lord Ruler's mines to be worked to death. Right from the beginning we learn that not only did Kelsier survive that ordeal, but that he emerged possessed of allomantic abilities. In short, an allomancer is a sort of sorcerer who "burns" metal to gain certain powers, including vitality, the ability to fly, and even to see a short way into the future. The Lord Ruler has his own allomancers: obligators, who are a sort of priest, and Steel Inquisitors, indestructible arch-allomancers; very powerful and very deadly.

Kelsier returns to the empire's capital city for revenge. More than that, he begins to orchestrate the very downfall of the Lord Ruler and the Final Empire itself by fomenting dissent amongst the noble houses, raising a skaa army, and, finally, ending the Lord Ruler's reign by taking his life.

Amidst Kelsier's grandiose designs he finds Vin, a street skaa who also happens to be a Mistborn, a very special sort of allomancer. Kelsier and Vin form a sort of father/daughter relationship as they both work towards Kelsier's end goal. Much of Mistborn is told from Vin's perspective as she matures from ignorant, fearful street thief to something approaching a noblewoman. All the while she learns allomancy from Kelsier; right from the start she proves a capable pupil, even more powerful than Kelsier.

Sanderson weaves a fairly complex tapestry here; just when you think you've figured something out, you find out you were wrong. Sanderson excels at this, leading the reader down a fairly predictable road only to throw a curveball that changes everything. It keeps the story fresh and the tempo high. To be honest, there are parts of Mistborn that are just plain exhausting.

The story flows well, though I did find some parts dragged slightly. There is what I found to be quite a ridiculous scene where Kelsier and his band of rebels are "white-boarding" their plans to take down the Final Empire. I don't know if Sanderson has ever worked in an office environment (I did some checking: No, he never has), but somehow the idea of rebels from a fantasy world outlining their plans to defeat an ancient evil using a chalk board was just kind of ridiculous. Fortunately, it's a short scene.

There is much carnage in this novel, though it is told in a matter-of-fact way and never really had me genuinely horrified. The obligators, Steel Inquisitors, and Mistborn are all very interesting, and the magic system is both unique and fun to read about as Sanderson's characters work within it's limits.

Last, the final battle between Kelsier and one of the Steel Inquisitors is spectacular and the novel's ending, much like many other parts of the book, was not entirely what I expected. That ending, however, is beleaguered by a sort of trial-and-error approach to defeating the Lord Ruler. Perhaps Sanderson meant to end it this way by deviating from another trope where our hero has discovered the means leaving only the execution or perhaps we are witnessing a writer grasping for a way to end a novel. Not entirely sure.

Mistborn is a long read (541 pages), though at times I had a hard time putting it down as I breezed through chapter after chapter. While the story told in this novel does come to a conclusion, there are definitely matters left unresolved and more than a few things I foresee Sanderson tackling in the subsequent novels in the series.

Brandon Sanderson: Do a WARBREAKER comparison


Brandon Sanderson is offering his novel Warbreaker as a free download.

What I like about this particular freebie is that he's not only making the final version available but previous versions as well. That's kind of a twist. How often do you get to see what pains an established author went through from first draft to polished final?

He starts with Version 1.0, which bears a warning:

this version is very, very rough. It includes characters that I decide to cut halfway through, has some serious lack of foreshadowing for elements at the climax, and contains a lot of typos. Read at your own risk!

You can make your way through versions 2.0, 3.0, 3.5, and, finally, 4.2, the latest and greatest. He's also got a Word doc which compares versions 1 and 2 if you want to see the differences side-by-side.

Sanderson is giving away Warbreaker under a Creative Commons license. The book will be available for purchase in June of this year.

Thoughts from Brandon Sanderson

image I was going through my usual blog reading routine this morning and came across a link to some thoughts from Brandon Sanderson on his history as a writer. Brandon Sanderson was tagged to write the final volumes in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, the first of which is The Gathering Storm. Jordan passed away before he could finish the series. The details of Sanderson's post are significant enough that I thought I would share.

Sanderson's Mistborn was a Tor Free E-book Giveaway back in July. He's also the guy tasked with completing Jordan's final Wheel of Time book after that author's death. There's also a recent video interview with the author that I came across.

The most profound thing I took away from Sanderson's post is that I (and I imagine many writers) found myself empathizing with many of his feelings and thoughts. I saw in his words some of the same questions I ask myself, such as "is this good enough?", "will this stand up to reader scrutiny?", "is anyone going to even want to read this let alone publish it?". It's, in an odd way, comforting.

At one point, Sanderson says this:

Here I was, having written twelve novels, and I seemed to be getting WORSE with each one. I wasn't selling, I was out of school working a wage job graveyard shift, and my social life consisted pretty much of my friends taking pity on me and coming to hang out at the hotel once in a while.

Sounds rather dismal. The thing that really blew me away was his statement that he'd written twelve novels (twelve!) without a publishing credit to his name. That's disheartening and inspiring at the same time. The latter because of his fortitude and perseverance, both obviously of heroic proportions.

Later, he says this:

I was NEVER AGAIN going to write toward the market.

After some initial failures, Sanderson changed tactics, trying to write what he thought publishers wanted. The results were sub-standard work simply because his heart was not in the material. The above statement marks a turning point, whereupon he decides to write for himself. He finds success not too long after that.

On that last point, I've seen it go the other way, too. I know of one writer in particular who also faced some small amount of defeat in getting published before he also decided to change tactics—study the market, see what publishers were buying (and what people were reading)—then take that information and write. The result was his first sale of many.

In light of that, it would seem there's no foolproof approach. What works for some may not work for others. It's both inspiring and sobering to read such posts as Sanderson's, though. Go check it out.