Mistborn: The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson
For some annoying reason, Amazon decided to send me the crappy US paperback edition of this one, which meant flimsy pages, ink that comes off on your fingers, a ridiculous picture* on the front and a massive spoiler on the back. Luckily, the story and the setting were of much higher quality. This is a classic tale of rebellion against an evil Empire, with undertones of the corrupting effect of power, and a nice mystery at its core. For a thousand years, the Lord Ruler has held sway over the Final Empire; the nobles oppress the downtrodden commoners (known as skaa) but are themselves policed by the Obligators and the very nasty Steel Inquisitors. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey; ash is constantly belched from volcanoes, which fills the air and covers the ground. The skaa are also held in check by their superstitious fear of the mists, which rise every evening; only magic-users dare to go out in it, gaining them the titles of Mistings and Mistborn. Vin is a half-skaa street-urchin who finds she has Misborn powers, and this is mainly her story as she joins the rebellion to overthrow the Lord Ruler and bring freedom to her fellow skaa.
One of the things you'll see in nearly every review of Mistborn is praise for the logical and original magic system, and this praise is well deserved - just as well, too, as this is definitely at the higher end of the fantasy spectrum, with magic sitting firmly in the centre of the plot. Vin is taken under the wing of the rebellion's leader, Kelsier, who is also a Mistborn and spends much of the book teaching her to use her new powers. The main magic system is Allomancy, where different metals are consumed by the magic-user to produce specific effects - it's an interesting idea and well played out, giving strong support to the central rebellion storyline. There is also a good backstory about the Lord Ruler's origins and the emergence of this grey, ash-filled world; while Mistborn is a self-contained book with a proper ending, this sets up a load of questions and possible directions for the sequel.
The writing wasn't as good as it could have been, and was often rather clunky, but the story more than made up for it. It was refeshing to see a magic-based story in a city setting; the strong worldbuilding was a huge positive point; and Sanderson very cleverly led the plot off in an unexpected direction at the end. Vin's slightly cheesy love story was something of a let-down, but in general this was a very good read, and I'll certainly be picking up the sequel.
*can I just say again how much I hate that cover art? It may be accurate, but it's appalling!