The Final Empire is set in a fantasy world with a twist: the Dark Lord has already won. The immortal Lord Ruler has ruled over The Final Empire – a dark, dystopian world of falling ash and mist – for 1000 years, as both a God and an evil tyrant. But now a new uprising is gathering, led by a charismatic criminal mastermind and aided by an uncommonly gifted Skaa street urchin called Vin…
Even though I loved this book in the end, I will admit that I nearly gave up on it after Part One. Whilst I liked the book’s magic system (the magic is called Allomancy and is dependent upon the magic users eating and then burning metals – those who can burn one metal are called ‘Mistings’ whilst those who can burn all of them are called ‘Mistborns’), the amount of explanation of all the metals and different things they did seemed really long-winded and I got a bit bored of Vin’s Mistborn training. I was starting to feel really disappointed, as I had been meaning to read a Brandon Sanderson book for ages and it just wasn’t living up to it’s expected amazing-ness. But then it all changed. The book suddenly got good. Really, really good.
Once the crazy metal-magic system had been fully established and the action actually started, the book completely turned around for me, and I found that my lukewarm feelings towards the characters changed too. I ended up absolutely loving them, and the incredible dynamics between them all.
Vin in particular was an interesting character as she developed a massive amount throughout the novel. When she first meets Kelsier (the aforementioned charismatic criminal mastermind) and his crew (Ham, Breeze, Dockson and Clubs), she is baffled by their easy banter and unequivocal trust in one another – having grown up amongst various thieving crews she knows only betrayal and has never had ‘friends’. She is quiet and suspicious and refuses to let her guard down, but as the novel progresses this changes entirely. She falls into an almost father-daughter relationship with her Kelsier, which I loved, and becomes close friends with the others, and with Sazed, who is introduced later on in the novel.
Kelsier, however was my favourite character. Whilst he could be said to be the ‘life and soul of the party’ amongst the crew, his jovial façade hides a dark past, and he certainly has his flaws, his ego being the foremost of them. I also liked that there continued to be more and more depths to him revealed, with his final plan for how the crew would defeat the Lord Ruler only becoming apparent right near the end, when it had seemed like it had been obvious all along.
I also liked how each member of Kelsier’s crew was so distinctly different, making a pretty incredible set of supporting characters. Dockson for example is the reliable ‘everyman’, whilst Breeze is a haughty yet humorous snob and Ham is obsessed by obscure theological questions.
Elend Venture, the ‘love interest’, was also a great character in my opinion, having his own share of ‘quirks’, namely reading at balls (which is totally what I’d do too if I had to go to balls!). However, there were a few things about him and his love story with Vin that kind of irked me. Firstly was how fast and suddenly they seemed to fall for each other. You could see it coming as soon as she met him, and it was pretty predictable. I also feel like some of the things Kelsier and the others said at points to Vin about him were true; he seems like an ‘all talk, but no action’ kind of a character. Whilst he is fervent in his discussions of how in a perfect world the skaa and nobility would be no different, I couldn’t really see him actually doing anything about it, and the events of the end kind of prove it. He only seemed to pop back up after all the action had taken place!
There were also some really great (and pretty terrifying!) villains in The Final Empire. Whilst a lot of the nobility were minor league villains – snobbish, prejudiced and cruel – the really frightening ones were the Steel Inquisitors. Gifted with very powerful magic, and with steel spikes protruding from their eyes (so creepy!), they seemed to be all knowing and formidable opponents in a fight, as they prove when Vin and Kelsier attempt to infiltrate the Lord Ruler’s fortress, Kredik Shaw. The Lord Ruler himself, however, remains a pretty elusive figure throughout the book, apart from the short excerpts from his travel logs included at the start of each chapter.
However, my favourite thing about The Final Empire was undoubtedly the world in which it’s set as it was so different from any other fantasy world I’ve ever read about. Whilst most fantasies seem to be set in either a fantastical, mythical world, or a medieval-esque setting, the world of The Final Empire is bleak and dystopian and largely devoid of all colour. The hierarchy of society was also incredibly bleak in the world of The Final Empire. Whilst there always seems to be the noblemen and the peasants in fantasy, the two different classes are even further apart than usual in The Final Empire, with the skaa (peasants) being so accustomed to being downtrodden and abused by the nobility that they simply accept it and refuse to rebel, and in some cases seem almost zombie-like. Whilst I felt really sorry for them, I did start to feel frustrated throughout the book that they wouldn’t just rise up and rebel!
The plot of the novel seemed kind of meandering at times (like at the start where it was a little boring!), and it was sometimes hard to see where it was going. However, the many twists and turns kept it interesting (aside from Part One!), and I don’t feel like I could have second-guessed the way the ending plays out from the start.
I don’t actually think I’ve ever had such a huge turn-around with a book before. I literally went from considering not finishing it, to absolutely loving it, which was pretty bizarre. I feel like some of the world-building at the start was a bit heavy, but at the same time the world of the story is so complex I can understand the need for it. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the next book in the series anyway, where I’ll already know about the world and magic-system from the start, and can get straight to the action. It seems like I’m officially a Brandon Sanderson convert!