Mistborn Era 1: Trope Subversion at Its Finest

As some of you know, I’ve become a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson in the past year. His Stormlight Archive series blew me away and I eagerly devoured more, this time the first Mistborn series. I plan on buying the rest of his Cosmere books with Christmas money and reading them this year. Why? Because no matter what your thoughts are on detailed magic systems, it’s undeniable that Sanderson is a master storyteller. Just from reading his books, I’ve learned so much as a writer. I discovered that, as a reader, I actually like high fantasy – and I also have the capacity to write it, both of which I didn’t know before reading his stuff.

I want to share some of what I’ve learned with you because there’s a lot to unpack in Sanderson’s books. I’ll only scratch the surface with this post, but hopefully, it will still give you some tips and tricks that you can use in your next story. If you’re planning on reading these books (which you should) then be assured that there are no spoilers.

Here we go!

Why Critique Stories?

My purpose in critiquing stories is not to say that the story or its creator is either awful or flawless. I’m not trying to say that I know everything there is to know about writing a story, or that I’m even right in my assessments/opinions. My motives are twofold: 

  1. To break apart stories so we can learn what makes them successful or unsuccessful and apply those elements to our own stories or know what to avoid
  2. To dispel the myths that popular stories are “perfect” and that creating a story as “good” as a well-known writer is an unattainable goal

It’s comforting to know that a good story is a good story. No one has any secret special knowledge that makes their story better. As long as you take the time to learn and practise the art of writing, you have the same potential as a famous writer to craft something that people will remember for years to come.

The Good Stuff

Trope Subversion

It’s in the title, so you knew it had to come up. The whole concept of Mistborn is subverting the “overthrowing the evil, all-powerful ruler” trope. As someone who loves turning tropes on their heads, this was instantly appealing to me. The point of the series is to ask the question: what happens next after the evil ruler is overthrown… and might it turn out not to be a good thing after all? Sanderson uses his audience’s expectations of certain tropes to pull off wonderful surprises all throughout the series and weave an incredible, unexpected story.

Lots of Tropes!

Yes, though the series is based on subverting tropes, Sanderson still offers many traditional tropes to make the books feel familiar. You’ve got the traditional mentor/mentee relationship. Love at first sight. A love triangle. A nobody teenage girl who ends up being the chosen one (sort of).

Even when the goal is to shock readers with new ways of looking at tropes, it’s important to include the familiar to draw them in. That’s why we have favourite genres, right? Because we enjoy their tropes.

Memorable Characters

Though the characters in this series don’t get as much “screen time” as those from the Stormlight Archive – given that this series is much, much shorter – they feel just as real, just as memorable, and they go on personal journeys that are just as incredible. Kelsier is the perfect example. The instant he walks into the room, you’re captivated. Though the series is 10+ years old, fans still don’t shut up about Kelsier because he’s just that good of a character. Even Vin, the main character, though she is a trope in many ways, still stands out as unique. Her journey and that of Elend, another main character, are interesting, complex, and surprising. Throw in the stellar cast of supporting characters and you have a memorable story already.

Many Different Relationships

I believe I made this same comment about the Stormlight Archive, but I’ll do it again here. Sanderson is wonderful at writing unique relationships, more than just “girl and boy who love each other” or “a run-of-the-mill friendship.” These are really my favourite kinds of relationships: the mentor/mentee, the two people who can’t stand each other but are forced to work together, the mutually encouraging friendship. Mistborn is full of these, and it’s part of what makes it so incredible.

Again, as with Stormlight, I could go on for a while, but I’ll stop here since there are so many things I enjoyed about the book like the magic system, the setting, and the ending (which I may make a separate post on).

Stuff I Didn’t Like

Change in Story Type

First of all, I love the whole Mistborn series…but the first book undoubtedly remained my favourite even while reading the second and third books. The Finale Empire had a very specific feel to it that was immediately abandoned in the second book (by the necessity of the story, but still). In fact, the second book was hard to get into for that very reason. Where the first book was filled with constant excitement and lots of different settings, the second book was all in one place and mainly filled with politics. I still ended up enjoying it, but completely changing the type of story by the second book was a risky move and probably lost Sanderson some readers. The overarching story was still wonderfully done, but I would have liked some more excitement at the beginning of the second book – something more reminiscent of the first – to really grab my attention and make me want to continue.

Loose Threads

The ending of the final book, The Hero of Ages, was massive, spectacular, and mind-blowing – I had to close the book and yell a few times before I was done.

But because there were so many things to tie together, some smaller details seemed to fall through the cracks. For the whole book, I had been looking forward to two characters reuniting, but they never got to. A relationship between another two characters was left hanging. Things like this brought questions to my mind even after the ending. While the story at large was resolved wonderfully, some smaller things left me wanting more. However, there is a novella that I think takes place after the final book, so maybe that will resolve some of my quibbles.

Another Favourite Series

Well, Sanderson did it again for me. This is certainly another masterpiece and one I’m sure I’ll reread again and again. In some ways, I enjoyed Mistborn more than Stormlight because it’s easier to read, more focused, and more similar to something I would write or read usually. Plus, Kelsier. I’d read just for him.

Keep your eyes peeled for more Sanderson reviews coming up this year. Until next time…

Happy writing!

-E.J.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll consider donating to the blog, reading my stories on Vocal, and/or taking a look at my RedBubble shop so I can continue to produce free content!


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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.

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