My rating: 5 of 5 stars: *****
I feel like I must review this trilogy as a whole, and not as individual books. The reason for this is that it was intricately laid out from the beginning. There are no points where something was thrown in last-minute, and the three books, Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages, are sewn together in so many places that you're really doing yourself a disservice if you only read the first one.
This is coming from someone who is notorious for not finishing the stories I begin, so you can be sure that I mean what I say. The books get a solid five stars, my first ever for a novel. I'll try not to spoil too much in this review--I know, I'll put them at the end, with a warning. I like to dissect books a bit into categories; I'd like to look at characters, description, dialogue, setting, and plot.
Characters: I loved them, of course. But what really made them great was their levels of complexity. Sazed, with the weight of the knowledge he carried; Vin, a beaten, but not broken girl who had to change from hidden to hero; Kelsier, whose ideas extended much further than anyone knew; Breeze, who talked up selfishness as he helped others in ways they never understood; Spook, who others dismissed when he had a strength no one else could see... each character goes through their own transformation, their own developmental arc as the story progresses.
Description: Mr. Sanderson has a great talent for words. While I did feel a little overkill on the part of the ashfalls, he never gets into the info-dumpy, repetitive area of world building. He created vivid images while leaving many of the details up to the reader. It was a bit gory sometimes (like when someone's cut completely in half) but the world is a dark place where horrible things happen. Creatures like the Inquisitors and koloss were simultaneously horrifying and fascinating.
He also did something very interesting. At the beginning of each chapter, pieces of a certain person's knowledge were revealed, depending on the book (it was different each time). There's always a mystery behind those words, too, and I found myself guessing who was speaking, or how that knowledge was useful, as I went along. I also found myself going back to those titles to connect the dots.
Dialogue: It was usually pretty clear who was speaking even without dialogue tags, which is a great sign for both characterization and dialogue. While the way the characters spoke was a bit strange compared to what we're used to, it fit into the world perfectly. The line that was employed several times throughout the books was, “There's always another secret,” but my favorite scenes were the conversations between Vin and the kandra.
Setting: The world is already dying when the story starts. We know, from the very beginning, that a hero came along to save the world and instead, ash falls from the sky, the people are oppressed, and the Lord Ruler has sat as their supposed deity for a thousand years. He's already stamped out anyone who opposed him, the common people, or 'skaa,' are broken, and the nobility live extravagantly while the others suffer. It also becomes clear, as time goes on, that the problems with the world extend far deeper than the Lord Ruler. We meet new creatures, like the kandra and koloss, and discover things the world hasn't known since before his reign.
The magic system has always been Sanderson's strong suit. This world employs three of them, all metal-based, and does so expertly. Allomancy, the magic of the Mistborn, is done by ingesting metals and then burning them. It retains the mysterious properties of magic (how can people 'burn' the metals inside themselves?) but also sets some clear limitations (if your metal runs out, no more Allomancy, and if there's anything left inside overnight, it makes you sick). Each metal does something specific, but is employed in creative ways.
Plot: I'll say it again. This trilogy was laid out intricately from the beginning. Things that appear to mean nothing in the first book come to fruition in the third one. Everything ties together. There were a lot of mysteries to be solved. I'm one of those people who tends to know how it ends five hundred pages before it does, but there were too many surprises to catch all of them. Some things were obvious to me, though it felt more like inevitability than anything else. What I really loved was when I was totally caught off-guard by something—it made me enjoy this book all the more. Plus... there was no fat in this book. Everything that was there needed to be there.
That's probably why, when the ending came, I cried. No, not just cried, I bawled. Everything culminated in a beautiful way. The loss of certain characters, although sad, felt right. I had such a strong emotional reaction because it made sense, showed the ultimate courage and defiance of the heroes, and restored the balance of the world as it ended. It was beautiful, heroic, and powerful.
The Mistborn trilogy represents the greatest work of fantasy fiction I've ever read. Go read it. Now.
The only thing that ever bothered me while reading about the characters was when Vin, as Valette, first met Elend. This girl who hated everyone, distrusted everyone, immediately trusts and connects to the spoiled rich kid. It didn't make sense at first—but after several encounters and learning to love Elend, I accepted it. I just wish it hadn't happened so quickly. She blubbers over him like a baby when he tries to leave her, too. The first book actually only got four stars from me for this very reason—though as I said, I later came to accept it as another side of Vin's character.
I've seen it argued many times over that the religious tones of the last book, with Sazed dissecting and finally understanding and holding the truth of the religions, is obvious pro-Mormon, pro-faith preaching. I don't see it. I just don't. Ruin and Preservation... the Hero of Ages, that stuff doesn't even slightly resemble the things I learned as a kid. Perhaps Sazed coming to realize that all of the religions he learned are illogical, flawed, or otherwise untrue resembles Joseph Smith saying “none of them were true”—but the only reason this is even being argued is because Sanderson himself is LDS. It's a work of fiction with a lot of pages to validate any theory—you could also argue, more justifiably, that the ending is pro-Atheist. He comes to understand Ruin and Preservation as a force, and sees the scientific value of all religions.