I do not read high fantasy. Ever. Most of my blog readers know that. For those of you who may have only stumbled on my blog in the last three months, you may think that I read a lot of fantasy. However, I’ve just had a mini-obsession with Diana Wynne Jones ever since reading Howl’s Moving Castle back in January. Normally, I don’t read a whole lot of fantasy at all, and I never read high fantasy. I don’t have anything against it – it’s just not my thing. I have a hard time getting into it, and I haven’t really engaged with it when I’ve tried. It’s completely out of my comfort zone. So why, you might ask, did I decide to read Mistborn?
Well, back in November, during NaNoWriMo, various authors sent out pep talks to us lowly writers. Some of those pep talks were fun, some were boring, some irked me, and one in particular stood out as absolutely fantastic, by far the best one I’ve read in three years of doing NaNoWriMo. Brandon Sanderson was the author of that talk. He discussed writing processes, a not uncommon thing to discuss in these pep talks. Every writer has their own way of thinking about writing, their own style of how they gather inspiration, of how they process a story, of how they develop plots and themes and characters, etc. Sometimes, I read a writer’s process, and it sounds absolutely foreign to me. The way Sanderson wrote about the process, though, was more akin to mine than I’ve ever heard from any other author, and this is why it stood out for me. Not that I imagine our processes are exactly the same or anything. It’s just that his talk got me excited. Writers – or at least, some of us writers – like to discuss the way we work. We like to connect with other writers, and we like to know that someone else understands how our brains process. Yeah, it’s silly, but reading that pep talk made me decide to look Brandon Sanderson up. I wanted to read something he’d written.
So I linked off to his website, and found high fantasy. Cripes.
I admit, I chose Mistborn because it sounded the least high fantasy of the books listed on his website. It scared me the least. I went into the book with trepidation. Honestly, I thought I would give it a fair try and then abandon it not all that far in. But I didn’t. While at first I had difficult time learning about the Mistborn world and engaging with the characters, Sanderson did what other high fantasy writers have failed to do for me in the past: he kept me entertained until I was far enough along that I could engage.
I really enjoyed Mistborn. There were a few quibble-like things I could point out if I wanted to, but they were minor in comparison to the whole. Overall, I enjoyed the book immensely, enough that once I finally engaged, I basically didn’t stop listening to the audiobook for three days straight, until I finished it. I loved the characters, I loved the concepts, and I loved the progression of the story over time. It went in ways I didn’t expect, with an arc that was far more complex than I first thought. There were some things that I was able to predict, and others that took me by complete surprise, with enough of a balance between the two to satisfy me.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed was how everything started off seeming completely black and white, but slowly got greyer and greyer as lines got blurred. Characters were like this, for one. Many of them began almost as caricatures or stereotypes, but as I got to know them, they became far more complicated and multifaceted. At the end, I felt like I knew each of them far better than I know characters after most books (and from a reader who loves character, that’s important!). Each of them grew, both in positive and negative ways, so that it was realistic. Then there was the war – noblemen against the slave masses – a very us-vs-them, straightforward, divisive line. Those lines all got blurred as well, until there were good and bad people everywhere, in every category. Even the book’s concepts followed this pattern. From the beginning, betrayal was a huge motif, and I kept wondering where the major betrayal would come from. The answer to that, however, was far more complex than I expected.
I could talk about more. I could spend pages talking about the characters, and the magic, and the interesting position of being stuck in between two parts of society, and the malleable concept of family, and the religious aspects, and and and. Yeah. There’s a lot in this book, and I lot that I loved. But I don’t need this review to become epic itself, so I’ll go ahead and quit now. Or almost now. I do want to first say that while I don’t think I’m a complete high fantasy convert by any stretch of the imagination, I have ordered the next couple audiobooks in this series from my library. I’m looking forward to further installments of the story.
Note: Mistborn is the first book in a trilogy, but it’s not a trilogy that bothers me like most do. It is a full, complete story, with a satisfying (very satisfying!! and happy-making!!) end, while also leaving a few threads to play with in the next book. I wish more authors worked their series this way, rather than leaving on cliffhangers!
Performance: I chose to listen to this book rather than read it because I tend to be far more tolerant towards books out of my comfort zone in audio format. The narrator, Michael Kramer, was not my favorite reader in the world, but he wasn’t bad either. There were certain characters (especially Sazed) whose voices I didn’t like at all, but for the most part, the performance was fine. I liked it well enough that I will continue to listen to the series on audio, rather than switching to print.