18 February 2016

The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson

Image from Goodreads
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 colour 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.

The Final Empire is the first book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy and a book I'd been toying with picking up for a while. When I needed a new audio book to listen to on the approximately 12 hour car journey to our French holiday destination last summer I took the plunge and downloaded The Final Empire. I actually didn't start listening to The Final Empire until halfway through our holiday, the point in time at which severe storms kept the whole family shut in the Gite we'd rented for 2-3 days. Once I did there was no going back and on our return home the story ended just before we crossed the channel, and just before my battery died.

The Final Empire takes a slightly different stance to both a lot of classic fantasy novels and a lot of recently written fantasy novels in its introduction managing to combine the two approaches. Classic fantasy novels have a habit of starting with some kind of quote from a myth or legend or text. Modern fantasy novels have a habit of jumping right in to show the central character in action. The Final Empire starts by showing Kelsier, mentor to the central character Vin, in action, Kelsier who just so happens to be a living legend. It really worked, I was caught completely by the end of the first scene, so much so I questioned what had happened when the plot moved on to Vin!

There is a wide cast of characters used in the Mistborn books, not all of them are fully fleshed out in The Final Empire, although a number of them have amazing depth for so early in a trilogy. Fore amongst these are Kelsier and Vin. There is so much detail in their backgrounds. So much that you can tell Sanderson knows but isn't sharing. 

In comparison to his characters I would argue that the world developed in this book is weak. That's not to say that it's weak compared to wider works, just that his characters dwarf it. The world developed is intriguing, it has a lot of interesting ideas, a lot of fears that you wouldn't see in our world but which assist Sanderson nicely in driving the story, chief among these the Mist and the burning of metals. My problem with the world building was that it felt in some ways too much like a facade, like his characters the parts of the World we see are amazingly developed. Unlike his characters the world we don't see is a dim grey haze. We saw a very brief glimpse of the outskirts of the Empire in the prologue, beyond that we can barely glimpse what's outside Luthadel, we have no scope of the might of the Final Empire before it's overthrown. The later books do address that to some extent, but I would have liked to have seen more of the Empire in all its glory.

As this is an audio adaptation I have my mandatory comment on the narrator to make. This was my first interaction with Michael Kramer and initially he jarred on me and it was the only thing which made me question if the audio adaptation was a mistake. I think the main reason for this is twofold. Firstly I grew up in England and don't know any Americans while I watch American tv quite happily the audio narrator I grew up listening to was Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, Stephen Fry who couldn't get any more British if he tried. After Stephen Fry an American narrator didn't sit naturally in my ear. Secondly I found Michael Kramer's pacing took a little while to get used to. He tends to read some sections really fast and others at quite an even pace, again I'm going to compare it to the Harry Potter audio I grew up with, and say Stephen Fry worked his way through the books at a consistent pace and implied drama through inflection rather than pace. Neither method is wrong, but adjusting took me a little while. Once I got used to Michael Kramer reading I loved listening to him, his voice for me doesn't hold the same natural beauty of Stephen Fry's voice, but he is a master narrator and really brought the characters to life. 

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