What makes a great fantasy book? – The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson Review

I finished this book yesterday and all I can say is…wow.

Well actually, that’s not true as I am now going to write a whole blog post about it 😛

I am going to start by just briefly summarising what this book is about, although it seems like most people know a lot about it already. This book follows a character called Vin who was brought up by her brother Reen, who has always taught her never to trust anyone and that everyone will betray you in the end. They live in the Final Empire, a world which is full of Mist and where it rains ash, and where the Dark Lord has already won. But one day Vin gets the oppurtunity to fight for freedom, and is led to discover who she really is.

When I first picked up this book, I was hugely intimidated. There are bigger books out there but in all fairness, this one is over 600 pages long and it looks terrifying. However, before long I was entirely absorbed and turning the pages as fast as possible, whilst wondering how on earth is this so compelling.

The conclusion I came to is that it is all to do with the characters. Well, not entirely, but I am going to start by discussing them, as it is one of the most integral factors. A while ago I read the Hobbit. That book took me over a month to read. I think it is fair to say that definitely scared me off attempting the Lord of the Rings, or epic fantasy in general. I am in no way belittling the importance and greatness of Tolkein’s work, although I would like to use it to discuss the characters. In the hobbit there are a large number of characters which are followed throughout the novel, but there is very little definition between each character. For me, its an impossible challenge to name all the dwarves, and I felt no connection or empathy towards Bilbo either. In the Final Empire, there is also a fairly large team of characters that we follow, but I would have no trouble naming all of the main group as well as a number of side characters. They feel individual and real and I really really cared about what happened to them, especially Vin, out main character, and Kelsier.

For me, the roundedness of characters is the thing that keeps me hooked to a book, and without it I won’t even begin to feel involved in the complex fantasy world that is being created, because I just won’t care enough. The world will mean nothing to me unless I can relate to it through a character. Which brings me to talk about Harry Potter. The world that is created here is so entirely relatable to anyone. It is complex in a different way to the Lord of the Rings or the Final Empire because the Harry Potter universe is completely connected to our world. This is what keeps people coming back to those books time and time again, because it is completely linked to our world but offers a fantasy version to escape to. Plus the characters are well rounded and relatable.

One of the things that stands out the most about the Final Empire is the magic system. It is so complex but somehow also believable. It is brought in very subtly rather than just dumped all at once in a few pages, which is the downfall of many books because it always turns a fascinating idea into something the reader has to trudge through and will probably end up forgetting. So this brings us to two vital points about what makes a good fantasy book: A complex world/magic system, but also one which is brought in slowly and revealed to the reader, without any info dumping. When we talk about world building, a book series which will always come to mind is the Lord of the Rings/the Tolkien world in general. Tolkein’s books are a masterclass in world building, which in my view is what made them timeless, along with them being the first fantasy books ever. In my opinion, the Final Empire completely ticked the box of world building without info dumping, because not once did I feel overwhelmed with information, but at the same time I felt awed by the huge world and magic system that had been created in my head without me even realising it.

My last point I would like to make is about battles and action scenes. I find these extremely tedious a lot of the time for the simple reason that I don’t care enough about what is happening. I think in order to have a battle scene that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, they have to be really really invested in what is happening, the stakes have to be high, and the actual fighting has to be interesting for some reason. The Final Empire did all of these things. There were no unnecessary fighting scenes, each one was there for a reason. This means that on every one, the stakes were incredibly high and I just really wanted to know what was going to happen. Coming to the actual fighting, it was honestly fascinating to read. The magic was so clever that each time it was used, it seemed like an art in itself. Also, the plot was very unpredictable, and when I got to the end and thought back at what I had read, I realised that it was something that would have been impossible to foresee from the start. I think this is a very important factor to see in a fantasy book.

To give a mini review of the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, I would simply say it checked all the boxes of a great fantasy book. The characters were realistic and flawed, which made them perfection and people you really want to root for. The world building and magic system were stunning and completely fascinating to read about. This is a book that I couldn’t put down, had a perfect balance of different elements including a dash of humour. I would definitely say this is one of my favourite books of all time. I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy!

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I’d love to hear your fantasy recommendations in the comments, as well as your thoughts on what makes a great fantasy novel!

 

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4 thoughts on “What makes a great fantasy book? – The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson Review

  1. I quite agree with your vision of a great fantasy book – but for one thing, which is the overwhelming importance of the characters ^^ for me, the universe itself must be credible before the characters can be, because if the world is illogical, the character’s reactions become illogical too! In a lot of works, not only fantasy but also sci-fi or horror for instance, it’s lore important to introduce their world than the characters themselves: if you have ever read Lovecraft, well, the character’s are merely human sometimes, they are only meant to convey emotions. But I must admit Brandon Sanderson nailed it, his characters are logical in their own world, like Vin’s brother, who acts in the best way he can in such a messy world, that’s what make him relatable, and it’s the same for all the others, and plus, they evolve, and their evolution is subjected with a lot of subtlety. As for Tolkien, perhaps some characters are more relatable than others, and perhaps only a hobbit can understand another hobbit, but I really enjoyed Bilbo, the hesitant little pipe-smoker^^ the more difference a world, the more relatable it becomes to me, because everything becomes possible! well, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is way darker, I just read them, and the first book is quite boring and long, but once you get to the heart of the book, you start to notice the subtlety in their dialogues etc. I really advise you to read them, especially the last one, and to pay attention to the details (British authors are reputed for that)
    Well, thank you for your review, because it really covers the best of the book (which is one of my personal favorite)

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    • Thank you so much for such an in depth comment! Reconsidering, I agree that the world is definitely the first most important thing in a fantasy novel. For me personally, I find it incredibly difficult to read a book where the characters aren’t developed and realistic, however I see that the fantasy book would not be a great one at all if the world isn’t there first. Thanks again, you have opened my mind with your response! As for Lord of the Rings, it is interesting to see your viewpoint on the books, I haven’t really heard that about them before. I see that reading the trilogy would be a valuable experience to have, so I will aspire to do that in the future, once I have enough courage!

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      • Wow, I didn’t expect such a quick reply! Well off course you are right about the characters, that’s the main reason I rarely read a YA work where a woman is the main character, but here Vin is so realistic and deep. But, well, when the characters evolve in an illogical world, they cannot, or rarely, be relatable. I liked what you said about the fight scenes, and in the Lord of the Rings, the plot is completely entertwined in the fights, which make them very compelling. But the first book is beyond boring – a little bit like what you said about showing the world all at the same time, very heavy, but once you’re past this, the characters start to appear (the deepest of them is, to my mind, Sam). Plus we all know the main plot and a little bit of the world of Tolkien, so it’s easier to keep up with the rhythm. And you can focus on the details. And, to my mind, it contains the truest and most beautiful love story of all the books I have read so far (not talking about Aragorn and Arwen, they are cute but not very deep) It’s always hard to review such books, so I am sorry if it is a little bothering, but fantasy is so demanding and vast! I’m glad to see someone so open minded about it!

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