Not very many months ago, I started to listen to a podcast called "Writing Excuses," in which Brandon Sanderson and an assortment of like-minded writers, publishers, editors, and other denizens of the writing industry talk for 15 minutes about writing techniques and aspects of the writing industry that might be hard to see from the outside. Part of each episode is a book recommendation and homework, but I found that I had the most motivation to read a book by the people on the show, rather than the books they recommended.
With that in mind, I sought out the first Brandon Sanderson novel to come to my hands - Skyward. (Yes, I know that's not the book I'm reviewing. I'm getting to that.) I liked the book so much, that I kept my eyes open for other Sanderson novels that might be recommended to me. Someone mentioned the Mistborn series, and that led me to the first book of that trilogy - The Final Empire.
It's strange how our expectations for a book can alter our perception of it. And I don't mean that in an ironic way. I know this is the case and it's nothing terribly new, but it's a thing that really doesn't make sense when I think about it logically. The book is the same whether I'm reading it in a car or in the library, on a boat or on the couch, but if I'm expecting one thing from it and I get something else, then that difference can leave a sour taste in my metaphorical mouth, even if what I got is something I like.
Something like expecting a hotdog and biting into a sausage - it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the very fact that it wasn't what I was expecting can be startling enough to make me think "this is a bad hotdog."
So I started reading The Final Empire with the expectation of something like Skyward, which is a faster-paced narrative on a couple different levels, and is aimed at a different audience. The Final Empire isn't a coming-of-age story so much as it's an espionage story, which has an entirely different feel to it.
At times, the story seemed the drag, but I think that was more because I was expecting something faster than because of a flaw in the pacing. The worldbuilding was good, the characters were distinct, and the plot was really interesting. I was extremely satisfied to learn that the guess I'd made before the climax was correct, predicting the plot twist at the end, but it wasn't obvious, so that made me feel smart for seeing it coming. (Go, me!)
I'm going to give this story a pretty solid 4 out of 5, maybe even a 4.5 (am I allowed to give half-stars?) for excellent quality. I don't feel the need (or desire) to go back for the sequel, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will look back on it fondly.
The one thing I didn't like about it was that the beginning of the romance subplot seemed completely out of character for the female lead. And even better, she didn't seem terribly convinced by her own feelings. She just sort of... accepted them, and went through the motions? It wrapped up alright, but the beginning was just weird and utterly unconvincing.
If you like the David-and-Goliath underdog plot, and like spies and magic, this is probably a good bet for you. Avoid this book if you're sensitive to bloody scenes, though. It's not gorey, but there are a few scenes where the blood is very... visceral.