Mistborn is a refreshing antidote to standard epic quest books. From the societal structures to the magical system, Sanderson breathes life and originality into the world he creates. A thousand years before the story starts, a great hero saved the world from a terrible fate...and then set himself up as the immortal Lord Ruler of the world. The Lord Ruler set up various inquisitorial ministries, including the monstrous and incredibly powerful Steel Inquisitors, to bend his cities to his will. Society lies stagnant, with the wealthy aristocrats preying off the labour of the lower classes and torn by constant low-level scheming for social status. The series focuses on the question: can an immortal god be overthrown, and even if that is managed, what would happen to the fabric of society and the very balance of the world if he falls?
The magic system is creative and original; rather than spells or incantations, the characters use "allomancy", internally burning various metals to perform all sorts of superhuman feats from "flying" to enhanced persuasive powers. The creatures in the world are quite limited in number, but totally original. What I loved most about the story--and the series--was its iconoclastic march through the standard fantasy tropes, burning and twisting each it comes across. From the standard "killing the dark lord leads to utopia" to "power should always be relinquished", Sanderson brilliantly plays to the reader's expectations and then instead takes a 180 to a completely different denouement. Basically, whatever happens in a standard quest book either has already gone wrong or will be tried by the characters and end catastrophically. Savour the irony!
We see the world through the eyes of Vin, a young girl and member of the skaa, the lowest social class. Vin, emotionally bruised by her life on the streets, is insecure, quiet, and distrustful, but clever and sympathetic. She falls into a crowd of thieves who are planning on the ultimate scam: stealing the empire from the hands of the despotic Lord Ruler. I didn't find the characters particularly engaging or multidimensional, but the action is fast-paced enough to distract from this issue. The same is true of the political system: I had a certain amount of difficulty swallowing its simplistic nature, but the overthrow of all the standard fantasy maxims more than made up for this. Overall, the magical system is creative, the world is well built, and the plot has plenty of twists and turns. A thoroughly enjoyable read, recommended for both epic fantasy fans and those looking for new twists on the genre.