One of the things that’s impressed me most about Brandon Sanderson since I started reading his work is his ability to tell so many different kinds of stories. While it takes place in a high-fantasy setting, The Final Empire is fundamentally a heist story. The main character, Vin, has been recruited into a crew of thieves seeking to raid the treasury of their nation’s Lord Ruler. The crew’s leader, Kelsier, has an even bigger plan: to use the heist as a way of destabilizing the brutal Lord Ruler’s government so that it can be overthrown.
Sanderson is well-known for his creation of “hard” magic systems with well-defined rules that are generally understood by both the characters and the reader. One common criticism of such systems is that they don’t leave a lot of room for mystery—in essence, that they take the magic out of magic. Sanderson manages to strike a delicate balance by implying that the characters don’t, in fact, have a full understanding of how the magic of their world works. There may even be entirely separate magic systems existing in parallel. The reader will generally have a good idea of what the magic-using characters can do, but there’s also the possibility for surprises if a character accesses a form of magic that’s mostly unknown (perhaps even to the person using it). As Kelsier says, “There’s always another secret.”
I liked the characters in this book, and particularly the way Sanderson differentiates between them. Ham, Breeze, Clubs, Lestibournes, and so on aren’t different just because they use different aspects of Allomancy. And the interactions between them made them feel like part of a crew that’s worked together for a while and gotten to know each others’ quirks and habits.
As with the Stormlight Archive books, I developed a number of theories as I was reading, and as with the Stormlight books, most of them turned out to be completely wrong. The various twists and revelations were surprising—in some cases, downright shocking—but still felt consistent with the hints we’d been given. The book brings its individual plot to a satisfying resolution, but sets up enough questions and implications to make me want to keep reading the series. Speaking of which, I’m going to put two final theories below.
Vin notes that the Lord Ruler speaks of his service to humanity in the present tense, as if it’s an ongoing matter, while most people speak of his defeat of the Deepness as a singular event in the distant past. I think that the Deepness did exist, and the Lord Ruler did defeat it—but he didn’t destroy it. It’s the Sealed Evil In A Can, and he was the lid of the can. My theory is that killing him released the Deepness, and that the rest of the first trilogy will be about Vin, Sazed, et al. trying to destroy it for realsies this time.
I’m also 99% certain there’s a twelfth metal.