I read this book after receiving a free copy from Tor’s program giving out an e-book a week. Sanderson has gained quite a bit of attention recently after being named the author that would finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I never got into the Wheel of Time books, so I wasn’t so hot to find out about the writing of the person who would be completing the saga, but I was interested a little more, knowing that Sanderson’s work was going to be even that much more under the watchful eye of a large set of committed fans.
The setting is interesting. The world is run by an Emperor who is also the God of the people. He is immortal and rules with tight control over everyone and everything. The population are split into two basic groups, Nobility and Skaa. The nobility live relatively well and consider the skaa to be a separate and sub-human species. The skaa are slaves, treated with less respect and care than animals.
Some nobility have special abilities and can exercise what is called Allomancy. They can consume and then ‘burn’ various types of metals to give themselves various powers. The protagonist, Kelse, is a skaa who is also an allomancer. The Emperor has tried to have him killed but he survived and now he plots to overthrow the nobility and the rule of the emperor.
The world itself has a medieval technology level, and is dominated by volcanic activity that almost constantly rains ash on everything. At night, mists cover the world and bring fear to the inhabitants. The land and snippets of its history are very well drawn out. Sanderson very nicely intersperses glimpses into the past while current events move forward.
In the beginning I thought that this would be a very typical story with a team of plotters setting up a somewhat daring and intricate plan to take out the empire. Then with some danger and action along the way, they would see it all come together. Something like “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” or a larger scale of many films set in World War II where a small group sneaks into enemy territory and does great damage to the bad guys.
I was pleasantly surprised as the story took unexpected turns and held a few surprises. This isn’t too easy to do any more. So much has already been said and done. The story is the first in a trilogy but stands alone very well. I think many readers will continue, not because they’ve been left with a cliff hanger but because they look forward to returning to this world and its characters. There are some questions left unanswered but nothing key to the immediate plot of the book. Though while I read the book itself I had a rough time putting it down. Sanderson did an excellent job of setting up more than one thread that slowly unwound for me. It was fun and kept pushing me deeper into the book to see how things would work out.
The magical abilities of the allomancers are interesting and unique. They are not overwhelming. They are not insanely powerful, leaving the reader to wonder why characters didn’t just use their powers in a more intelligent fashion to get things done. They fit well into the ‘real’ world and make the story much more interesting, while not taking it beyond that to farcical or boring. The most detailed action scenes are between allomancers and either other allomancers or regular humans. These conflicts are done very well. Their is quite a bit of violence and killing. The world is also home to a number of creepy and at times unsettling inhabitants.
I think Jordan fans should be encouraged that a solid author with good skills will be finishing up the material that Jordan left behind. Any other fan of fantasy should very much enjoy this book. It is a stand out in a genre that at times can feel limited or full of people doing a lot of the same thing. Admittedly fantasy is not my favorite, I’m more of a Sci-Fi guy, so maybe my view of the state of fantasy is biased, but either way I think this book stands out and do not hesitate to recommend it.
My only negatives were that a couple items were foreshadowed a little too well. Sometimes it was a touch frustrating waiting for characters to figure out something that was a bit obvious. This is a small thing though as it did not happen too often. Those small moments were quite outweighed by the good. I have seen some complain that character development was good for a few main characters but not others that were a part of the team working to overthrow the empire. I didn’t really see this as a drawback. They added good color to the story but if each had their story told at length the book would have been huge. It was long enough already.
The move by Tor to distribute this for free will be paying off, as I have enjoyed this enough that I’ll be buying the other two books in the series.
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Fantasy