Friday, November 29, 2013

One Misty Moisty Morning

There's nothing like getting into a new Epic Fantasy Series.  There is nothing so consuming, nothing quite so satisfying, and--to my mind--nothing quite so intimidating.  I mean, this is a thousand page book with a cast of zillions.  Maybe there's a pronunciation guide or six pages of maps, or the dreaded family tree.  And even if you're ready to read it, you know there are two more in the trilogy, and then a few other equally ponderous trilogies set in this world.  It's a lot to ask of a reader.

It's a lot to ask of a writer, too, which is one of the reasons I'm always so reluctant to invest in one.  When you pick up a thousand page book by an author you've never read, you are making a commitment that could bring you to readerly grief--wasted time! accidentally getting invested in events that are poorly written and being forced to suffer through more of the book to find out how they turn out!  The humanity!

So the good news--the great news--is that Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire (which sounds like the name of a video game, right?) is definitely worth my time.  Once you break the seal on a new author like this, tons more pages pour out, and I'm going to be reading Brandon Sanderson's universe for probably years--and that's just to catch up to where things are today.

So here we have some cool worldbuilding--the Lord Ruler is in charge of the Final Empire, which is to say the whole world, and he's just the despot you'd expect.  It's all anyone's known for a thousand years--nobles killing skaa, brown plants that barely produce enough food for the population, misty nights you can't go out in.  We've got rich spoiled nobles and poor downtrodden serfs, plus those people who lurk on the fringes of things--the thieves and beggars.

You've got some very interesting characters, most notably Vin, a street urchin clinging to the edges of  crew of thieves, no friends and no connections.  When she meets Kelsier and his band of specialized criminals, she finds herself caught up in a plan to overthrow the Final Empire.  Her participation leads to her first close-up view of the lives of the nobles, and she examines her own understanding of the world and those of her new friends.

Okay, there's a summary.  And the characters are really engrossing, though describing them wouldn't do much good. (God, don't read the back covers of epics till you're done with them.  Long explanations of intricate power plays are what the actual text is for, not the back cover!) The parallels between Kelsier and his singleminded desire to destroy the Empire and everything we learn about the Lord Ruler at the time when he created the Empire centuries ago are really great. 

There's a but; how big a but depends on how you feel about this sort of thing.  First, Vin is the only female within miles of this book for the full first half.  Around the middle, a nasty, snooty noblewoman tries to involve Vin in her political maneuverings.  I'm 2/3 of the way through, and this is literally every female speaking character in the book.  A big point is made of how women in particular are abused by nobles (half-blood babies cannot be permitted to exist, so if a nobleman sleeps with a skaa woman, they have to kill her after), and how most women in the criminal world end up being prostitutes.  The particular oppression of women is not counteracted by any examples of female characters at all--to the point where it's freaking conspicuous.

There's also a lot of talk about boring and vapid court ladies, which comes off as femmephobia when you look at the fact that everyone at court seems kind of vapid, but only the women are described as such.  It's not like most of the men are leading lives of the mind or anything.  Everyone's gossiping, but Vin complains about having to listen to women gossip.  Oh, and on a more plotted level, Vin falls clunkily in love very early on.  I mean, okay, you need her to fall for this guy, but you've set her up as this incredibly guarded, experienced criminal, and then she turns into a Blushing Teenaged Girl in front of the Cute and Maybe Not So Bad Enemy?  Please.

Plus, the machinations are AWKWARD.  The snooty noble lady says things like "you should be grateful to be used by your betters."  It made me long for the intricate levels of courtly intrigue in a book like Dune

Oh, man, Dune.  Now THERE'S an epic.  I wish the sequels weren't so unabashedly weird.

Anyway, I'm listening to The Final Empire as an audiobook, and I had my doubts about the reader at first--he has a harsh voice and it too him a while to really get the voices of some of the characters.  But I'm totally into it now, and I'm really glad I'm listening to it.  I feel the sweep of it a bit with the distance of the book.

And I have a guess that one of our trusted crew members is a traitor.  I won't tell you who, but I think Kelsier ended up at Hath Sin because of one of their crew, and that his wife was framed.  I am waiting for the betrayal.  No spoilers!

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