In the beginning, there was Adonalsium, who exploded. Sixteen shards of his power fell into the hands of other people, who used them to make different worlds singly and together. Since each shard was different, the worlds they created had different magical systems, with a few common themes. Then, because With Great Power Comes Great Insanity, the shard bearers were corrupted by their shards and eventually became caricatures of their own power. So it goes.
And the best part is? You don’t need to know any of that to enjoy any of the books in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.
Yeah, like this one.
I read fantasy because I enjoy good world-building. And very few writers have doubled-down on their world-building quite so hard as Mr. Sanderson. He has written (and intends to write) books set on many different worlds, as I touched upon above. Each world is unique unto itself, with the biggest differentiation being the magic system granted them. But wait, there’s more!
Each magic system, no matter how fantastical, is very limited. There are no wizards simply waving a staff and creating any effect the plot demands. (Unless the wizard knew exactly how to wave the staff, I guess.) There are always very specific rules that must be followed. Take, for instance, the world Scadrial, upon which the Mistborn books are set. Magic there is called “Allomancy”, and it is activated by ingesting trace amounts of metal and “burning” them. Specific metals, that is; not any old metal can be used. These metals usually come in pairs, one as a pure element, and one as an alloy of that element. For instance, iron pulls metal to the user, while steel (and it must be a specific mixture of steel) pushes metal away. Tin increases senses, while pewter increase physical strength. And so on.
And then, after establishing these deceptively complex systems, Brandon integrates them deeply into his setting, and shows how the magic affects and shapes people, society, and culture. In the end, though, he isn’t writing about the magic itself, but the people using it. His stories are still about people being people, and even those without access to the various magics of their world can be crucial to the plot. And at all times, his characters are interesting and likeable (or dislikeable, where appropriate).
In a lot of ways, the Mistborn books are something of a flagship series for Brandon Sanderson. Of all the worlds he has envisioned for his “cosmere”, he has published the most books about Scadrial (five, to date). He has thus demonstrated the development of Allomancy, with its idiosyncrasies and limitations, far more than any other system he has conceived for his ‘verse. Even better, the books develop the art further, both on a societal level and by characters. The first trilogy of books are set in a medieval-esqe time period; the next two books are set in an Age of Discovery sort of setting, with development both of conventional technology and magical knowledge compared to the first three. Sanderson is deliberately rejecting medieval stasis, in other words, and encouraging his world to grow.
It’s at this point that my review grinds to an abrupt halt. See, when I’m writing these reviews I don’t want to spoil the series — especially this series — but if I were to explain the setting any further, I’d have to start giving some serious spoilers. For instance, the existence of <REDACTED> and <REDACTED> give away a great deal of mystery from the original trilogy, while in the sequel books the former is well known and studied. (The latter isn’t, very deliberately.) So at this point, I can only recommend one thing.
It’s worth it, believe me. (I didn’t realize how many different variants of the covers there were until I went looking. These aren’t even the best, really.)
What? Oh, it’s you. I’m not reviewing your book right now, so…
Book Spirit: I just had a question.
…Fine. What do you want?
Book Spirit: So, you really like this guy, right?
Yeah, you could say that. Frankly, the man is either a genius or the hardest worker I’ve ever seen, or both.
Book Spirit: So you have nothing bad to say about his work?
Book Spirit: I just don’t think you’re being fai– Wait, you do?
Er. It’s not so much a problem, but… Well. Remember how I was talking about Adonalsium earlier? That isn’t actually in any of his books. Brandon reveals a lot about the shared universe of his books in interviews and on his website. There are a few shared elements between his worlds, and there are people who travel between them — but unless you already know what and who they are, the clues are way too subtle to actually pick out.
Now, this is apparently going to change. Sanderson is currently writing a major epic, The Stormlight Archives, which are going to make a lot of things more explicit. Apparently. Two of the books are out, and while they are made of awesome (and incidentally, the size of small nations) they are not really spelling out the greater universe to me. For the moment, the only reason I know the worlds are linked, is because I was told that they were. There is a fan forum, the 17th Shard, where such things are discussed, so it’s possible to find out a great deal, but its difficult with just the books. I mean, it’s still cool…but it would be nice to get the true story as a story, you know? It is still some of the most interesting world building I’ve seen, though.
By the by, Sanderson’s other two published novel-length works set in his cosmere, Elantris and Warbreaker, are also well crafted and well worth the read. Warbreaker is even available to read for free on his website, here.
Book Spirit: Ok. It seems he’s your favorite author, right?
I can’t think of one I like more, though there are several I like just as much.
Book Spirit: And this is your favorite instance of world building?
Um. Not my favorite, no. Objectively better, maybe, but as for my favorite… Ok. Well, it wasn’t my initial plan, but let’s talk about her next time.
Book Spirit: ‘Her’ who?
Her. See you in two weeks!
Book Spirit: What? What about my review?
I was speaking to my reader, not you.
Book Spirit: You actually have one?
I…think so? Judging by the WordPress stats?
Book Spirit: …poor soul.
Well, as long as I can bring amusement to someone, I guess. Wait, were you talking about me, or the reader?
Book Spirit: Bye!