Hemalurgy and Entropy are Peas in a Scary Pod
Welcome to Part 4 of Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy
Yup, you read that title right. It’s time to talk about blood, metal, and spikes. Oh yeah!
Wait! No! I’m mean Hemalurgy, not my garage!
Sheesh. You try to welcome people into your life and all they do is run screaming.
I’ve mentioned before that Allomancy caught my attention with its flashy effects and inherent Newtonian physics. Feruchemy won my heart by adhering to the law of conservation of energy and appealing to my miserly tendencies.
Today’s talk is going to be a little different because… well, I don’t ever want to see Hemalurgy in real life!
That said, of the three systems in The Mistborn Trilogy, Hemalurgy feels most similar to a magic system I might create.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time studying and dissecting Feruchemy and Allomancy and how they might be imitated, but I’ve had a hard time replicating the feel of them. The longer I write, the more I find elemental horror oozing into my creations. And since Hemalurgy is horrific, terrifying, and delightful to read, it fits happily inside my head.
But What is Hemalurgy?
Hemalurgy is the third and final of the metallic arts displayed in The Mistborn Trilogy. It is also the least explored of the systems, even in the later books.
This “art” is performed by ramming metal spikes through a user of Allomancy or Feruchemy, frequently killing them in the process. The combination of metal and blood robs the victim of their power and stores it in the spike. These powers can then be transferred to another by driving the charged spike into specific points on the body.
Think of it like Extreme Acupuncture and you’ll have the right idea, though it does have other unfortunate and spoilerific side-effects I can’t discuss here.
Like I said, gruesome, bloody, and awesome… for the story at least. This might sound like a lot of pain and suffering for a bit of power, but it’s not. It’s a lot of pain and suffering for tremendous power. Feruchemists and Allomancers are rare, making them powerful individuals in the Final Empire. With enough spikes, blood, and victims, a normal person can be given powers to match the Lord Ruler himself.
One reason I like Hemalurgy so much is because of its rather parasitic, which isn’t something I see very often. I’ll talk about this more fully later in the series, but it’s worth mentioning. This post is going to focus on a different aspect of the system.
Hemalurgy is Thematically Linked to Entropy and Decay
Yes, I’m going to talk about another scientific principle. Shocker, I know.
Without getting into all the boring and confusing definitions, entropy is essentially a measure of the disorder or chaos in a system. The second law of thermodynamics states the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time and that in any spontaneous processes, the total entropy always increases. This means entropy accounts for the irreversibility of many natural processes.
Sorry about the engineer-word-vomit, but it’s important. Anytime a spontaneous conversion of energy occurs (boiling of water, burning of paper, etc), a portion of the energy will be lost to entropy.
Which is exactly what happens with Hemalurgy.
Power, be it feruchemical or allomantic, is lost when transferred from the original user to the new host. On top of that, if a charged spike remains out of a person for too long, the power stored within begins to weaken and decay.
In fact, in one book, Brandon Sanderson even describes special tables used by Steel Inquisitors to drive spikes directly through a victim and into the Inquisitor beneath to minimize the power lost between hosts.
This loss of power is why Hemalurgy is a perfect example of entropy in action.
Still with me? Good, because there’s more
The Entropic Nature of Hemalurgy is Highlighted by the Other Systems
If you’ve read the series as much as I have, you are probably jumping up and down in your room wishing I was there to receive your salvo of knives, explosives, and strong language.
Because Feruchemy blatantly breaks rules.
As we discussed previously, Feruchemy operates fully around the law of conservation of energy. And it does so perfectly. There is no loss of power as a Feruchemist taps or fills their metalminds. What they put in is what they can take out.
By setting Hemalurgy (an End-Negative magic) next to Allomancy (End-Positive magic) and Feruchemy (an End-Neutral magic), we are treated with a fascinating contrast. In fact, this is what led me to associate Hemalurgy and entropy in the first place.
If you’re looking for a lesson in all this, here’s what I learned from studying Hemalurgy.
Connections Between Magic and Science can be Subtle
The horror aspects of Hemalurgy fascinate me; it’s worth noting the tandem nature between the magic and entropy.
If you’ve identified a scientific principle or law you want to weave into your magic, take some time to think about it. Do you want it to be an obvious connection like with Allomancy, or do you want something more conceptual like with Feruchemy? If you really don’t want to taint your magic with science, see if you can work it in with more subtly like Sanderson did with Hemalurgy.
That’s all I’ve got for now. If you’re still talking to me after this bloody discussion, I’ll have to show you my garage sometime.