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The Final Empire: Mistborn Book One: 1
The Final Empire: Mistborn Book One: 1
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

27 of 46 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Strong shepherds, weak sheep., 12 Sept. 2011
To begin, I'd like to comment on the supposed premise of this book. 'What if the Dark Lord won?", reads the tagline on the cover. The answer, seemingly; the same thing which happens in every other generic Fantasy romp. The goodies try to overthrow the bad guy who - in spite of the potential for some interesting subversive writing, is simply thus: Bad. It's the sort of moral essentialism which I was hoping this novel would do away with - perhaps by giving us an insight into the sort of state a dictator of the fantastic might create, it does not - at least not in any original sense.

What I found most confounding about this book - to the extent that it was almost offensive - is the apparent negligence with which the writer dealt with the central themes of this novel: ideas of class struggle and oppression.

The plot of the book concerns the attempts of a gifted few individuals who, by employing both the magic of Allomancy, and general skulduggery, attempt to foster rebellion and thereby overthrow the Dark Lord who so mercilessly rules their world. Considering this, I found jarring the repeatedly negative manner in which the characters with whom we are to identify refer to the poor masses (known as Skaa) which they are allegedly attempting to liberate.

You see, in the Dark Lord's brave new world, 90% of the populace (Skaa) exist in a state of serfdom: as a captive labour force which work on plantations or in other menial roles. The other 10% are noblemen who, through virtue of their ancestral loyalty to the Dark Lord, are able to lead an aristocratic life at the expense of the aforementioned poor Skaa. With such a stark difference in number amongst these polarized social demographics, one might well wonder why the great numbers of oppressed Skaa need any help from 8 thieving wizards at all. Well, the reasons for this - the ineptitude of the poor, and importantly how this is conveyed to the reader, is where I find fault with this novel.

Allomancy.

Allomancy is the system of magic present in the Last Empire. It should be mentioned that the mechanics involved in this discipline are inventive and often a joy to read about. Indeed, the skill of the writer in describing the systematic manner in which one wields Allomantic powers often transforms an otherwise generic action sequence into a delightful show of mastery of this art of metals. However, the criticism I must make here concerns the qualifying features of how one comes to be an Allomancer, and the consequent negative interpretations of this which I felt compelled to make.

Originally, the author tells, only noblemen were able to use Allomancy. However, due to the penchant of many plantation-owning noblemen to rape their slaves, there have been instances whereby a Skaa-born individual may wield Allomancy due to his/hers mixed parentage. My issue here is that noble blood literally constitutes power(s). The poor do not get a look-in unless their mother was unfortunate enough to be sexually assaulted. One might well regard this as symbolizing some biological superiority of the rich over the poor - their blue blood is literally just better. What makes this worse is that all but one of the protagonists of the story - whilst being half-bloods, dress and carry on like noblemen. One might suggest this can be forgiven in that presumably they do so in the interests of self-preservation - sheep's in wolves clothing so to speak. However, at least one of the characters, known as Breeze, has about him the truly dislikeable air of the bourgeoisie: saying as he does, "The entire point of life is to find ways to get others to do your work for you" (p.114). Well, isn't that exactly what the Dark Lord is doing? Odd.

None of this would matter at all if the poor - destitute and lost to magic though they are, were portrayed as being at all competent in their own right. I have no problem with the books own internal logic and reasoning which holds that the Dark Lord would gift only those who remained loyal to him with Allomantic powers - that makes sense. However, even then one would think the Skaa would perhaps be able to unite and overcome their biological deficiency by working together. They are, after all, 'the masses': if nothing else, they have numbers on their side. However, there are numerous instances in which the Skaa are referred to as simply not being up to the task of rebellion without the commanding influence of our quasi-noble Allomantic wielding heroes. Indeed, as the leader of this band, the enigmatic Keslier, informs: "we'll succeed because we have vision, that's something the rebellion has always lacked" (p.73). So, the multitudes of oppressed people - the ones with the real incentive to stage a revolution, don't have any vision? Perhaps "vision", like Allomancy, is hereditary.

It is as though the poor, in spite of overwhelming numbers, cannot succeed without these few magical quasi-aristocrats. One might well interpret this as implying that without the educated, the masses will come to nothing. It is grim to imagine that even in this underclass there has surfaced an aristocratic oligarchy of magic wielding elitists. This in itself is not a bad theme, the difficulty is I don't think it is a conscious one on the part of the author and as thus it lingers in the shadows making one feel as though there is just something not quite right about this whole 'people's rebellion'.

Yeden.

Relatively early on in the book we are introduced to the one Allomancer who dresses like, and indeed works alongside, the Skaa labourers. His name is Yeden. Yeden is important because for vast portions of the book it is Yeden who speaks for, and indeed represents, the common Skaa to the reader. Upon contesting the notion that the Skaa just 'arent up to it' without guidance, he is told: "your kind has no idea how to develop and execute a proper plan" (p.74). 'Your kind', really? Eminently apparent is the message that the masses of brainless sheep need good strong shepherds in order to see them through the right gates. It is a frighteningly right wing message for a book which deals with Marxist themes.
There are numerous examples of this as Yeden is repeatedly told he is wrong and/or stupid. For instance, he is told, "you should try not to talk so much, you'd sound far less stupid that way" (p.81). Classy. Or, "dont look at me", says Yeden upon hearing he may be called upon for a dangerous mission. "Trust Me. Nobody was" (p.125), is the reply.

Yeden - that is to say, the representative of the Skaa working class, is stupid, unhelpful, and a coward. This is exacerbated because the Skaa increasingly begin to appear to the reader as a silent, useless party. We see them sitting in gutters and tending fields, but always they exist as a sort of vacant peripheral body. They are central to the plot and yet hauntingly absent in a real world sense. They are background.

Even when the Skaa are imperative, when the plot could not possibly continue without them, the author seemingly finds a way to both acknowledge their importance whilst simultaneously devaluing them. When debating how to launch this attack on the state, it is decided that the best way in which to mobilize the troops; the best way to rally the masses of oppressed is...

Magic Brainwashing...

Yes, they force them.

"We won't need the general population to support us", "Im counting on [you] to force up a nice section of recruits" (p.119), Kelsier tells Breeze.
Breeze's reply: "Ten thousand men", Breeze said with a smile, "gathered from a resistant population in less than a year" (p.119). He is employing his Allomantic capabilities in order to psychologically assert himself upon the Skaa to the end of making them rebel. You can lead the poor to salvation but you cant make them free - unless you use mind control, of course.

These are the good guys?! By way of apparently empowering these people to the end of gaining freedom, they have further de-powered them by robbing them of free will.

I truly wonder, is the irony here intended?

Aside from the incredible moral implications of this, it again heavily implies a pro-right wing stance which borders on oligarchic propaganda: strong shepherds, weak sheep.

Ultimately, the lack of agency in this book is astonishing: one's blood determines their mystical abilities, and those of higher natural ability will, with seeming endorsement of the author, use their abilities in order to control people.

I'm going to leave it there, I hope I haven't offended any one with this. I'm not suggesting that to have enjoyed this book is to in any way endorse a negative opinion of the lower classes. I was, however, repeatedly incensed by this book which, as other's have pointed out, is inhabited by cringe worthy prose, generic characterization, and, as I have noted, astonishingly negative generalizations of an under class.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2014 3:03 AM BST


Forever Free: Forever War Book 3
Forever Free: Forever War Book 3
by Joe Haldeman
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It is really not that bad..., 16 Jan. 2011
Forever Free is a continuation and development of many of the elements present in its predecessor - The Forever War. For instance, the nature of combat, specifically it's affect on the psyche - on man as a being, whilst highly important in the first book, now gives way to analysis of a life without combat for one who has lived so close to it. Ultimately Haldeman moves into increasingly existentialist territory. Having established a character whose life is combat (as far as the reader is concerned) he then utterly transposes the character into a somewhat mundane setting. By creating such a setting Haldeman can ask: what if it were possible to place you life in hiatus, at least as far as your relation to contemporary society is concerned? This novel deals with escape, past anachronism, a failure to adapt, a failure to change. And yes, religion, or at the very least the concept of a power beyond man's imagining. As many have commented, the ending is odd. I should say however that rather than "coming out of nowhere", its a theme which perhaps Haldeman wished to deal with earlier, and possibly felt he did. I will say that the idea of an intellectual, or academic, conception of fate, or as is said in the book, "a truth behind appearance" is fascinating. Haldeman does what one should do in science fiction, he allows us to view our own world, our own lives, and race from a different perspective. I actually highly enjoyed this book, just as I did the forever war. I think there is some trick to identifying the themes which Haldeman is dealing with, but upon doing so, I found the book hugely thought provoking and ultimately rewarding.


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