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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

Currently reading

A Book of Spirits and Thieves
Morgan Rhodes
The Sparrow
Mary Doria Russell

Mistborn, the Final Empire / Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn: The Final Empire  - Brandon Sanderson
In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?
In Brandon Sanderson's intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage - Allomancy, a magic of the metals.
I chose this book because the author will be at a conference that I'm attending in August and I wanted to be semi-conversant with his writing beforehand.  It was the perfect book to read while travelling—lots of action, easy to remember what had happened before the last plane flight ended, nothing too complex—taking place in a well-realized fantasy world.  I could easily see the surroundings in my mind’s eye.  
In so many ways, this was typical fantasy.  The evil Lord Ruler who has been in control for 1000 years, enforcing a cruel system.  The down-trodden skaa, so persecuted that they barely dare to raise their heads.  The nobles, trotting about in horse-drawn carriages from fancy luncheon to evening ball, considering their skaa servants to rank somewhere just above horses, but well below themselves.  And the conspiracy of “good people” that decides to change all of that.
Thankfully, the whole good vs. evil situation gets a little more complex, shades of gray appropriate to an ash-covered world.  It turns out that not all of the nobility are thoughtless dilettantes who are more concerned with their purses and entertainments than with justice.  The crew of “good people” who are plotting to overthrow the empire have been involved in crime for many years and some of them are actually focused solely on the money.  And the main female character, Vin, seems to be constantly on the edge of abandoning ship and fleeing with the financial resources that she has accumulated.
Vin was a bit of a problem for me.  I liked her, but she annoyed the snot out of me.  Yes, she had a difficult childhood and had been betrayed by her brother—not likely to produce a trusting soul—but at what point do you say to yourself, this is a different situation?  She was a bit angst-y to me, over thinking everything and agonizing about it all.  None of the male characters exhibited the same pattern, making me feel like Vin was a comment on all women somehow, and not in the most flattering way.  The only other women we meet are noble women that Vin interacts with at various balls and events—and they seem to be complete bitches, also not a flattering stereotype of women.  [Bechdel test failure, BTW].  By contrast, I loved her focus on learning Allomancy plus her competence at it and her fearlessness and determination to do the best job she possibly could.  [Allomancy, to me, feels less like a magical system and more like a skill set—the rules are so cut-and-dried that it’s not very mysterious, it consists of talents that improve with practice].
Although I was delighted with the Vin & Elend romance, I could see it coming far too soon and far too obviously.  A little more subtlety would have been preferable, for me at least.  And poor old Elend ended up being a stereotypical absent-minded professor sort, charming in a completely predictable way.  Vin’s semi-obsession with ball gowns, once they finally got her changed into one, was also a bit out of character, in my opinion.  However, despite these quibbles, I did enjoy the story enough to finish it fairly quickly.
I very much enjoyed the whole caper being like a rather intricate heist—a transfer of criminal skills to a new kind of project.  It put me in mind of bank robbery or great escape tales, rather than many of the fantasy novels that I have read in the past.  And Sanderson left just enough unanswered questions and situations with potential to ensure that I will definitely read the sequel.