Sanderson opens The Final Empire with a brilliant hook: “Ash fell from the sky.” This single sentence does more to set the tone than anything else in the novel. It primes the reader for the bleak, ashen city of Luthadel on the world of Scadriel where the oppressive atmosphere fits hand in hand with the oppression of the lower classes. The skaa are essentially slaves to their class, forced into squalor and cutoff from the magic of this world. The skaa who have the lineage for magic are often found by the nobility or the Inquisitors and locked up, or worse. The Steel Inquisitors make an excellent group of secondary villains. They are Allomancers who have several steel spikes driven into them to put them under control, and there are implications that future books will delve more into what exactly they are. The scummy streets create such a vivid picture that when Sanderson introduces Vin, the main character of the novel, the reader is ready to believe that she is at rock bottom. Vin is a young girl, left on the streets and part of a thieving team who it turns out is a Mistborn, meaning she is able to utilize all ten metals for magic. Allomancy is Sanderson’s magic system: burning specific metals to have a specific magical effect. Magic in this world is genetic and Vin’s Mistborn status makes her valuable to Kelsier, a figure attempting to overthrow the Lord Ruler and free the skaa. Vin is already a damaged character, overcoming life experiences which has left her untrusting due to abuse, yet her personality shines through.
Vin’s part in the plan involves her tapping into her own feminine side and attending several balls to gain information. Sazed, a Terrisman, acts as her servant to help guide her with a dry wit and helping hand, and a creature impersonating a lord acts as her uncle. The ruse and ball scenes provide a nice juxtaposition between the action of taking down the Lord Ruler and the nice espionage. The balls do fall into the young adult trap of bringing in a romance, however, Sanderson does apply this with a deft hand. Elend Venture who is the son of the lord of the most powerful house, is Vin’s love interest, but they are allowed to have a naturally growing relationship with its own twists and turns. Both care for each other and it isn’t love at first sight which makes for a nice change. The romance isn’t perfect, but it is more developed than some of the romances out there. Kelsier is also a character who act as the mentor figure for Vin, which is where Sanderson perhaps follows tropes to too close of a standard beat. He’s a fine character and there are glimpses of a damaged person here, but his story arc throughout the novel is one that follows the standard mentor story arc. It doesn’t hurt the novel much, as The Final Empire is still an excellent novel where even the supporting cast is all unique, though like many fantasy novels, too many to count here. Each serves a purpose in Vin’s story, but there is enough depth for them to have their own stories in future novels. Overall, The Final Empire is just a fascinating read that I’d highly recommend if you’re looking for a gateway into modern adult fantasy, with a nice mix of tropes, tones, and characters to really have something for everyone. 9/10.