Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mistborn

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Original Pub. Date: 2006

Enough with the decent, enjoyable books I've been reviewing lately. Bring on the hopelessly muddled garbage!

Today's useless trash is Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, a fantasy novel that has all the crystal clarity of Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, the fast-paced action of Robert's Rules of Order, and appealing characters right out of Teen Beat magazine.

As anyone who pays attention to fantasy publishing already knows, the late Robert Jordan's family and editors chose Sanderson to finish Jordan's ponderous, creaking edifice: The Wheel of Time series. I applaud their judgment. I can't imagine anyone whose skills make him more suitable to pick up the torch and finish Jordan's epically mediocre, incoherent, minor-character-plagued tour de force.*

Mistborn scores over The Eye of the World, the first book in The Wheel of Time series, in two important ways: first, it is not a The Fellowship of the Ring rewrite, and second, it introduces only a mercifully limited trilogy plus one extra book, rather than Jordan's ever-extending monstrosity. It scores significantly below almost everything else ever written, however.

While most of the characters in this book are so featureless as to be interchangeable, I suppose I'm obligated to say a word or two about the main protagonists. Vin is your typical fantasy-novel waif, skinny and starved, poor and downtrodden, please-sir-I-want-some-more only with extra plucky kick-ass-babe on top. She's also the only final true eternal hope of all mankind and whatever too, natch.

Magic in this world is based on the magicians consuming solutions of suspended metal particles, which they then "burn" to produce various parlor tricks. Most allomancers can only burn one metal, but there are a few who can burn all of them; Vin's one of the latter.** The book's other somewhat original idea is that many years before, the heroes of old failed in their quest to unseat the lord who ruled over them, Sauron the White Witch Shai'tan the Goa'uld System Lord Ra the imaginatively named Lord Ruler. Along with a wacky crew of metal-burners and other crazy kids, Vin sets out to free her people from the chains of oppression, overthrow the ultimate evil of the world, and presumably get everyone a coupon for a free sandwich from Subway. Along the way, she falls for some douchey lord. Predictable "oh, you're an aristocrat, and I'm an ash-covered urchin with no bust," "I'm a lord, and while I feast, the people suffer, oh I'm so evil" angst ensues.

All of this may sound pleasantly familiar to anyone who's ever walked through a bookstore or watched a Lifetime original movie, so allow me to get to Sanderson's unique talents, if I may. First, there's his gift for non-stop action and intricate spy plotting. The plan to defeat the Lord Ruler resembles nothing more than a marketing committee meeting without a Powerpoint presentation to keep it on track, and it goes a little something like this:

Four to eight paragraphs of the assembled plotters saying "Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"

Six to ten paragraphs of "We need to overthrow the Lord Ruler." (Chorus of agreement from the assembled plotters.)

Eight to twelve paragraphs of "The city guard is going to make that difficult." (Chorus.)

Nine to eleven paragraphs of "Our master plan, Pinky: we will distract the city guard." (Chorus.)

Assorted number of pages of "That's a good plan, Brain!"

Two to three pages of "So to sum up, we're going to distract the city guard and overthrow the Lord Ruler." (Chorus: Turkey sandwiches for all!!!!!)

Rinse, repeat.

Eventually, this brilliant plot goes into action, along with whatever part of the nervous system causes uncontrollable yawning.

Sanderson's second claim to literary glory is his gift for phrasing. Consider this gem, from page 416***:

Vin followed, following him as he rushed up a nearby hill.

Usually I'm all in favor of authors eschewing thesaurus abuse in favor of simple language. Apparently, there's an exception to every rule.

Mistborn: one and a half stars.

* With all respect to Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace. The man might not have been able to write noticeably, but he sure could type.

** Surprise.

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