I Love Mistborn’s Blending of
Worldbuilding and Magic
Welcome to Part 10 of Why I Love
The Mistborn Trilogy
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking to yourself, “Gods below, does this man ever shut up about The Mistborn Trilogy?” Your next thought was probably, “Good thing I love the series just as much as he does.”
Truth be told, that’s a great thing because no, I’m not done talking about the trilogy, though today’s topic differs from those we’ve had before. Until now, all the posts, including the ones about non-magical counters and physical disfigurement, were about the systems themselves and how they functioned.
Today, we will be taking a step back to see how the magic connected to the story on a much broader stage. We will talk about some ways, large and small, that Brandon Sanderson tied the magical metallic arts into the world around them.
When well crafted, the extraordinary elements of our stories (be it advanced technology or traditional magic) provide support to the story itself. Ideally, the elements in question support all the components of your story, but that isn’t always necessary.
So let’s look at how Brandon fused his magic with the surrounding setting to shape and support the world.
Now you’re probably thinking, “But where can we possibly start a conversation like that?”
Well, we’re starting with the big pieces and work our way down to the smaller ones.
Some things we are about to discuss contain to major reveals within the trilogy. I’m not planning to give away any of the specifics, so it shouldn’t ruin anything for you. But it’s only fair I give you a warning, because then you’d be thinking, “Ugh, C. R. Rowenson, you handsome, brilliant, insanely talented man, how could you betray me like this?!”
While you’d be accurate in your description, I don’t want you to feel betrayed. At least, not yet…
Let’s get to the juicy bits.
Connection #1: The Gods Themselves
Well… not really gods, but I’m not sure what else to call the Shards. They’re entities with cosmic powers capable of shaping and destroying worlds and are an integral part of any theology existing within Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere… Maybe “gods” is the best term after all.
Regardless, the powers of Feruchemy, Hemalurgy, and Allomancy are deeply connected with two such entities. The connection is so deep, one entity can physically and mentally control anyone who uses too many hemalurgical spikes. The other entity never gains the same level of control, but consuming some of its body (one of the God Metals) grants a person all the powers of Allomancy.
Given the powers at the command of these forces and the magical abilities they can grant to people, it makes sense that this next connection would follow.
Connection #2: Religions of Scadrial
Makes total sense this would happen, in fact, it almost seems obvious in retrospect. But the level to which Brandon took the connection is positively thrilling.
Religions, sects of religions, and even the structures of the “church” are all tied back to the three metallic arts. Building fascinating religions and connecting them to his magic systems is another of Brandon’s major strengths. It’s something he does in most of his books, and he does it well.
I love how deep he weaves the religions into the world. For example, the entire social structure of Luthadel centers around the Lord Ruler and is run by his priests called Obligators. There are various cantons responsible for managing virtually every aspect of daily life.
Unfortunately, this is an area I lack expertise, so it is difficult for me to explain how or why it works so well… I guess you’ll just have to read the trilogy and see for yourself.
Connection #3: Magical Stratification of Society
Over the years, as I paid more attention to the tropes and turns within fantasy novels, I realized this isn’t a new idea. It makes sense that the people who can hurl coins like bullets, move with superhuman speed, or heal in an instant would be the ones to rule a society. The thing is that’s not how it is in The Mistborn Trilogy. Not really.
Yes, all those things are true. And yes, the nobles and the Lord Ruler can squash Skaa rebellions with Allomancers, Steel Inquisitors, and Koloss on their side. But that’s not all there is to it. Things have been this way so long that the common Skaa hardly know about, let alone understand, how the magic works. The power granted by the metallic arts is a reason the nobles rule, but it’s just as much because of the aspects of society that have built over the years surrounding those powers.
All around, there’s some awesome worldbuilding in these books.
Connection #4: Economics of Allomancy
Economics, income, and the ability to build wealth always plays a large part in the shaping of society. But what I’m talking about here is the monetary value of Allomancy itself. Or, more specifically, the monetary value of the Allomantic metals.
The realm of the Lord Ruler follows several standard conventions with copper being the cheapest coin and gold being the most expensive. Thing is, gold is not the most valuable metal. That title belongs solely to Atium, one of the two “God Metals.” Any material can be a precious resource provided it hits the right combination of desirability, scarcity, and utility.
“Well, which is it here?” I hear you ask.
Well, my vocal friend, Atium hits the last two so hard, fragments of them can be found rocketing through space in neighboring solar systems.
Atium provides the most powerful effect of any all the metals, granting a Mistborn the ability to see moments into the future and react accordingly. While burning Atium, a Mistborn could slay dozens of men with their hands and not even break a sweat. On top of that, Atium exists in one place in the entire realm, is a real pain to get to (*heh* insider joke), and can only be harvested a few beads at a time.
Brandon saw this potential and pulled it into his story. This is such a superb piece of worldbuilding I can hardly stand it even after reading the series over a dozen times (and no, I’m not exaggerating).
Connection #5: Specialty Jobs
Just as the metals used to fuel the metallic arts have financial value, so do the people that can use the metallic arts.
Through most of the world, your birth determines your place in society. If you’re a Skaa, you will be property and live a hard life. Some improve their lives by becoming a skilled craftsman, but most have no choice but to suffer and die… Unless they happen to be a Misting.
If you can burn one of the Allomantic metals, you can turn your life around and make good coin no matter your heritage.
And I love this. Too often authors underestimate or oversimplify the value of magic users in their stories. It’s wonderful to see areas of grey between the “haves” and “have-nots” of the magical variety. By law, Misting Skaa hunted down and killed, but the powers are so useful that heritage is often overlooked. As such, many hired users of Allomancy are simply people using their unique skills to help them get by in life.
Connection #6: Shaping of Fashion
Of all the connections we’ve discussed today, this is by far my favorite.
Now, don’t go thinking, “Boy, I guess that means he loves fashion in real life.” Because I don’t. I don’t understand fashion and my poor brain aches whenever I try to understand and learn even the most simple stuff like the different cuts of pants, styles of shirts, color theory, matching of skin tone, and… Sorry, got distracted.
I love this connection between the magic and the worldbuilding because of its subtlety.
Because certain Allomancers can turn bits of metal into deadly projectiles, most nobles don’t wear metal. Doing so is dangerous and can provide the Mistborn or Coinshot of a rival house the weapon they need to end you.
Unless you don’t care or want to seem like you don’t care.
On one hand, there are the practical nobles that eschew metal to avoid the potential risk. On the other hand, you’ve got nobles that will wear metal as a show of courage and pride, as if to say they are so powerful they have nothing to fear. There are even those in the middle that will wear wooden jewelry painted or coated to look like metal.
It’s a fascinating concept to see at work and I only wish I could be so subtle with all of my ideas.
See What Connections You Can Make Between the World and the Magic
It’s relatively easy for me to build connections between plot and character. I mean, the magic isn’t any fun if nobody uses it, right? And if it doesn’t shape the plot somehow why is it even in the book?
Worldbuilding. Well, worldbuilding is an art and science in its own right and deserves its own connections to your magic.
Brandon took the metallic arts and stabbed them deep into the beating heart of his world. Take your time, see if you can forge something new you never considered before.
You know the importance of using your magic to support your story, but not every aspect has to be a load-bearing wall, so to speak. Hunt for connections and repercussions that don’t affect your story directly. See if you can find small, less obvious ways your magic can influence the world around it.
Done right, those may become my favorite part of your system.
I Know What You’re Saying
Right about now you’re saying, “I thought this would be a boring addition to the Why I Love Mistborn Series, but he’s just such incredibly talented as a writer, how could I not read one of his posts. If there was only some way I could give back and help him out.”
Good news! There absolutely is!
And it’s easy to. All you need to do is take this post, this series, or even the entire website and share it with a friend. If they stubbornly refuse to read The Mistborn Trilogy, force them to read a few of these posts and see if they change their mind.
That’s all I have for you today. Next time we come back to this series, we will discuss Hemalurgy and how its parasitic nature both terrifies and intrigues me. I’m seriously going now so if you keep talking you’ll only be talking to yourself. I mean, you do you, but you’ll seem a little weird.
Anyway, we’ll talk again soon. Rowenson, out.