Book review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

The Final Empire by Brandon SandersonThe Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – 3/5 stars

I’ve been trying to decide how to review this book for months. Having listened to me going on about my love for epic fantasy novels, Emma at MabisMab won this in a Hive competition on Twitter for me last November (thanks Emma!) I was so excited when it arrived. I love the cover art. It’s so spare and minimalist, a refreshing change from the overdramatic fantasy covers you often see that look like they’ve been drawn by frustrated Conan fans. But dare I say it, I found the story itself a bit of an anticlimax.

For a thousand years, the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years, the Lord Ruler reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible… What if the prophesied hero had failed to defeat the Dark Lord?

Before I get deluged with a flurry of angry comments from Brandon Sanderson fans, let me say that this is not a badly written book at all. The quality of the writing, the descriptions and dialogue are pretty good, if not quite to my personal tastes. The system of magic that’s outlined in the opening few chapters, Allomancy, is very plausible within the confines of the world Sanderson has built and there are no implausibly heroic moments to jar your sensibilities (Aragorn falling off the cliff and most of the siege at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers movie, I’m looking at you here!)

Aragorn in The Two Towers - strangely invincible, unlike the heroes in The Final EmpireI can appreciate that the intention with the Mistborn series is to consciously break away from the hackneyed stereotypical plots often found in epic fantasy, where the young (usually) man follows the formula of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey to win the day with barely a scratch to return victorious. I can see that Sanderson is deliberately going for a grittier, less cheerful, George RR Martin approach. But am I the only one who thinks he goes just a bit overboard with it?

By the time I finished The Final Empire, I was frankly too depressed to think about reading the second book in the series. Even though the story continued on, it felt like the heart and soul had been ripped out and it was hard for me to imagine how the characters would carry on after the last set piece. Maybe I’m just too tenderhearted, having been raised on series like The Belgariad and the Deverry Cycle which pre-date this new trend towards darkness?

I have to say as well, that I really didn’t take to Kelsier, one of the pivotal characters in the book. He’s supposed to play the guide/leader, but he came across as so smug and sanctimonious that he really got under my skin! Take the way that he criticises Vin, arguably the protagonist of the book, when she shows affection for a secondary character. When we readers know that part of the reason the heroes find themselves in their current situation is his own emotion-driven behaviour in the past! This is of course, deliberate, as Kelsier himself later says:

“Ah, but being an annoyance is something that I am very good at. In fact, I’m far more than just a ‘mild’ annoyance–people tell me I can be downright frustrating. Might as well use this talent for the cause of good, eh?”

But that’s the problem – he’s so annoying that it distracts me from the whole story!

Am I the only person who doesn’t quite get this book? Or am I completely in the wrong on this one?

Recommended for

YA and fantasy readers who like their stories on the dark and gritty side. Although the main character is female, this book feels like it might be better suited to male readers, but if you’re a girl, don’t let that put you off – I may have got it wrong this time.

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I love all things fantasy, from fiction to films to games. Mostly books though. I also love cooking and plus size fashion. Find recommendations for great fantasy reads and general fangirling here! If you want to get in touch with me, the quickest way is by Twitter @dorristheloris

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