80134, CO, United States | Member Since 2011
This is true military fiction that is hybridized with a very original fantasy setting. The characters feel like real soldiers, forced by honor, duty, and loyalty to one another into fighting on despite a nightmare situation. The style is simple and declarative; you won't have any trouble following The Black Company. But the characters and story are rich, despite the fairly bare bones nature of the text itself.
The skeleton of the story is this: The Black Company, a mercenary company over five hundred years old, is taken into the service of the archvillain, a sorceress referred to only as the Lady, a title spoken as if she were a god. But there is no black and white in the world of the Black Company. The characters are tough, hard-boiled soldiers, most of them with nothing else to live for beyond the curious brotherhood the Company offers. They are relentlessly competent, devious, and unburdened by the kind of pride that so-often causes terrible downfalls.
Some people will be turned off by the style. As I said, it is a bare bones sort of narrative, that skips long stretches of time (the narrative device is that these are the Annals of the deeds of the Black Company, recorded by the Annalist, Croaker. He only records things that he thinks are worth the telling) and often lands us in media res. There is no flowery Wheel of Time or Song of Ice and Fire scripting here, and no grand world building. We learn the setting, as much as the characters, places, and events, as we go. Still, this work is satisfying, and that's a fine thing.
Having read all of the Black Company series years ago, and wanting to enjoy them as a time-passer while commuting and working, I have to say... Marc Vietor did a commendable job to me of capturing the voice of the central character, Croaker. He's spared a multitude of female voices to deal with in this particular text, but does a good job of differentiating the other characters from one another, and does an exceptional job capturing the unsettling and varying voice of Soulcatcher.
Actually, I thought the audio version was very distracting compared to the print version. When reading the book in print, I didn't notice how Sanderson hilariously overuses certain verbs and adverbs (count how many times the characters in this book 'eye' each other, or look 'flatly'), but the phrases came to be grating to my nerves when I heard them repeated endlessly by poor Michael Kramer. That said, I may just be a weirdo, you may not even notice this.
Final Empire is an excellent novel. Brandon Sanderson really shows off his talent for world building here; we are treated to a truly unique fantasy setting, one that is almost altogether unlike the world that we live in. The sun is red. Ash clogs the atmosphere and falls from the sky like rain. Plants that are green are something that is almost unthinkable. Only a few animals would even be recognizable to us from our own world (dogs being the singular example I can recall).
In addition, the magic system is truly innovative, based around physical laws that make it easy to visualize. Sanderson's descriptive voice when writing action scenes within his own system make it clear that he's just as excited about it as the reader. The book seems to skip along at a very healthy pace, though it's worth noting that Sanderson's style lends itself to a frenzied buildup and release at the end of the novel; many of your questions will be left almost un-addressed until the climax is upon you.
The simple version of the story is this: a thousand years ago, the Dark Lord won, and became so powerful that he could not be challenged. He proceeded to conquer the entire world, bit by bit, until in the present day all is under his dominion. The allies who helped him early on won the right to be nobility, and everyone else are slaves. Worse, actually, than slaves, because killing them does not even represent a significant financial hardship for the lords that work them in the fields or mills or forges. In this bleak world, a cunning and brash thief named Kelsier gains incredible magical powers, and sets about assembling a team to change the world.
The characters that make up Kelsier's team, really, are the highlight of this novel. Most of them are excellent characters, and it's fun to listen to them narrated by Michael Kramer, who does a commendable job of differentiating a myriad of different voices, making it easy to identify who is speaking.
There are some flaws here, though, and I would be remiss not to point out that some of the characters are definitely better than others. The central characters, Kelsier and Vin, are both much weaker than the supporting characters that prop them up. Vin in particular is hard to suspend disbelief for, as her motivations and character seem both inconsistent and unlikely. Kelsier, meanwhile, we are told over and over again certain things about, while he shows us something very different. The result is a kind of disconnect, where it's impossible to reconcile what the other characters in the narrative are thinking with what we are observing of the man. I'll admit, most of this is fairly nitpicky, but I do feel like the central characters of this novel have real issues that prevent it from being truly great.
It's also worth noting that this first installment is overwhelmingly the strongest of the trilogy; both The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages have other problems of their own.
If I had the option, I'd have given this 3.5 instead of 4.
Report Inappropriate Content