The best book I have ever read. That is no exaggeration. The book is a polished, intense masterpiece of epic fantasy.
The characters are fantastic. The plot is intricate. The world is suitably epic.
The premise of the book is simple: 'What if the Dark Lord won?' From that Sanderson has crafted a unique, engaging story full of intrigue, treachery, deception, and politics.
This book is my first in the Epic Fantasy genre. I have read a lot of fantasy but none in the Epic sub-genre. If you can't tell already, I am thrilled to have entered the sub-genre with this book.
Sanderson is perhaps best known for is complex magic systems with rules that determine how the whole thing works. The magic system used is known as Allomancy; users burn metals, and their alloys, to produce different affects.
For example burning Iron allows one to Pull on nearby metals. Burning Steel, an alloy of Iron, allows one to Push on nearby metals. The affect of this pushing and pulling allows them to send metal flying around the room making for the best fight sequence I have ever seen. I say 'seen' intentionally - the fight sequences are so well written it feels like you have just watched it live with the addition of feeling the emotion of the character.
Every metal either pushes or pulls on something and is either internal or external. A pure metal (Iron, Tin, Zinc, or Copper) Pulls and the metal's alloy Pushes. An internal metal affects the user and an external metal affects something outside of the user. In the example above Iron Pulls, Steel pushes and they are both external metals.
However, not everyone can burn metals. Those that can are called Mistings or Mistborns. A Misting can burn one metal only. They may be able to burn Tin (which enhances senses), in which case they are known as a Tineye. If the Misting burns another metal they will be sick and the magic won't happen. For the record a Misting who can burn Tin's alloy, Pewter, is known as either a Thug or Pewterarm and has enhanced strength.
Mistborn's are people who can burn all the metals making them very powerful indeed. They seem to be more common in the nobility than the skaa (people enslaved by nobility). Without giving too much away you encounter a few Mistborns in the novel, but many more Mistings.
The characterisation of the skaa as a group of people is excellent. They are run-down and pessimistic - not willing to believe they can overcome the centuries (or thousands - can't remember) of oppression. They dare not hope for a time where the trees had green leaves and they weren't a down-trodden lower class of slaves.
The protagonist is 'skaa street urchin', Vin. She is paranoid and constantly worries of betrayal and back-stabbing. Some say this aspect of her character is over done, but I thought it was well done. Vin does grow throughout the course of the book. Starting off as mere skaa she becomes at one with her faux-nobility façade and generally becomes more trusting of others. Sanderson shows this cleverly: changing her internal thoughts; changing the clothes she wears; altering the way she speaks, as she becomes a better reader, her dialogue becomes sharper. I'm not giving spoilers even though it may seem I'm going too deep into her character, so don't worry!
The other main character is Kelsier. Now his character is hard to explain without giving too much away so I'll be brief here. Kelsier is a fun guy who probably should take things a bit more seriously. Over the book he does mature significantly but one of his actions near the end seems out of character for a while. I don't want to ruin it, but don't worry, Sanderson is not letting the character slip.
There are a number of interesting relationships in the book. Most I cannot say without giving the game away so I'll stick with the relationship between the two main characters. At first Vin doesn't trust Kelsier (not surprising considering his entrance), but sticks with him as he holds information about Allomancy that she wants to learn.
In my opinion the Vin-Kelsier relationship is by far the most interesting as it unlocks Vin's character and subdues Kelsier's. It feels like a weird Father-Daughter relationship but with more friend like dialogue between the two. It is hard to explain without spoiling it.
The plot is very engaging. Although I would love to explain it, I am afraid you'll have to read the book to find out what it's about as I won't be able to do it justice. Suffice to say the beginning is strong, the middle is astounding, and the end is surprising.
You may read reviews saying the book sags in the middle. I found the middle the best bit. I never found myself bored whilst reading it which is a good thing. It says something that I stopped a different book half-way to read The Final Empire and now I'm finished I can't get back into this other book.
The only disappointment with the book was I had to read the big ending twice as I didn't quite understand why it was so big and amazing. The first read through made me think 'well any Mistborn could've done that', only on the second reading did I realise what made it so special. I don't think it was my reading of it that was the problem. The pacing in that end sequence was too fast for the information to sink in. Whilst reading you have to think back to other bits of information you learn throughout the book, but there just isn't enough time to do this sufficiently.
Overall I would rate this book 5 stars out of 5 for sheer amazing-ness. I will be ordering The Well of Ascension (Mistborn book 2) very soon.