The True Strength of Compounding in the Metallic Arts
Welcome to Part 12 of Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy
It’s here. It’s finally here.
This, my dedicated friend, is the last post in the Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy series. This is post number twelve and I’ve been waiting over a year to talk about this particular subject.
Magic users in Scadrial, with a few notable exceptions, are evenly matched. A Mistborn from House Hastings would have the approximate strength of a Mistborn from House Tekiel. If we ignore outliers like Vin, Elend, and the Lord Ruler, a fight between Mistborn is a matter of skill. Even when considering Feruchemy, contests between magic users are more a matter of preparation and skill rather than raw magical power. If you save more strength or speed than your opponent and wield it better, you are more likely to win.
Compounding breaks all of that, adding further complications and possibilities to an already complex and versatile set of systems. Normally this is where I’d comment or “joke” about demon summoning or some such, but the Templars are closing in and I need to keep a low profile.
Don’t worry, they can’t find me if I’m careful. Before long these “keepers of justice” will have moved onto another neighborhood and we’ll have discuss why I love compounding and what you can learn from it. But first, you need to understand what compounding is.
Compounding is a Combination of Feruchemy and Allomancy
Compounding is a special technique through which the power stored within a Feruchemist’s metalmind is enhanced tenfold.
Feruchemy is a fascinating magic system in which a user’s true power comes from their ability to store specific attributes for use at a later time. Ordinarily, Feruchemy follows its own version of the conservation of energy. The power available depends on how much power you have stored already; you can’t even touch the power stored in another Feruchemist’s metalmind.
There are no shortcuts with Feruchemy… unless you’re a Compounder.
It’s kind of like… Oh wait. No demon “jokes.” This is more difficult than I thought… Never mind then.
Compounding occurs when an individual possesses both Allomantic and Feruchemical abilities for the same metal. By storing an attribute in a metalmind and then burning it with Allomancy, an individual can release ten times more energy than they stored.
We learn about compounding near the end of The Final Empire. It turns out the Lord Ruler somehow became both a Feruchemist and an Allomancer. Through his ability to compound Feruchemical effects, he gained immortality and a god-like ability to heal from wounds.
That is the official definition of compounding, but there other places in The Mistborn Trilogy where we see the power systems build atop one another for greater power.
Combining Hemalurgy with Allomancy
That statement might seem a redundant at first, given that Hemalurgy can steal Allomantic ability, but let me explain. And fair warning, this will involve a lot of jargon.
In The Mistborn Trilogy, anyone with the proper heritage can be born with the ability to burn one Allomantic metal (Mistings) or all of them (Mistborn).Someone can use a Hemalurgical spike to steal one power from a victim and grant it to someone else.
This second form of compounding comes into play when the two overlap. If someone already possessing an Allomantic ability receives a Hemalurgical spike with the same ability, their Allomantic increases beyond the abilities of others.
Let’s Simplify with an Example
Two of the Allomantic metals are copper and bronze. By burning bronze a Seeker can hear/feel pulses of energy when someone uses Allomancy nearby. A Smoker burning copper creates a nullifying field, called a copper cloud, which hides Allomantic pulses from Seekers.
It’s an interesting point of balance in the system. One power serves no purpose without the other, and together they lead to a magical stalemate. This generates some very interesting bits of character development and worldbuilding I’ll leave as a surprise for you.
The point is, nobody can pierce a copper cloud and detect the pulses hidden within… not without Hemalurgical enhancement.
If a Seeker or Mistborn, who can already burn bronze, receives a Hemalurgical spike filled with another Seeker’s power, the enhanced individual gains enough Allomantic strength to do the impossible and pierce a copper cloud.
It might not sound like much, but this is a big deal.
We see this compounding occur in multiple places throughout the books, including a Steel Inquisitor’s ability to see with spikes driven through their eyes.
Now you know the official and unofficial definition of compounding. Why is that so cool? Well–
The Templars seem to have found me so we’ll get back to that in a moment. Please excuse me.
*Three minutes of shouting and screaming later*
Well, that could have gone better. Now I have to terminate my experiments and move all the trans-dimensional communication gear. I swear, those guys had no sense of curtesy.
Anyway, where were we? Oh, right.
Why Compounding is Cool
Well… isn’t it obvious? Even with just the couple of examples I gave you, it should be clear that Brandon Sanderson did some clever things with the concept. I suppose you want more, huh?
*Sigh* All right. Here we go.
It Only Occurs Where Systems Overlap
Allomancy by itself — creative and stunning
Feruchemy by itself — tactical and subtle
Hemalurgy by itself — powerful and disturbing
Each system has their own set of patterns and limitations, but compounding changes everything. It creates new patterns and relationships within the systems and the world.
This injects a delightful burst of extra flavor into the story. By pushing and exploring this more throughout The Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon retains the ability to show new aspects of the magic. There are so many options, he couldn’t explore them in a single series. Fortunately for us, we have the saga of Wax and Wayne and the promise of more series to come.
It Makes Me Think and Ask Questions
That’s one of Brandon’s many gifts. He crafts magic systems that pierce straight into my brain and refuse to dislodge. I can’t help but think and explore the system even after I’ve put down the book.
What would happen if a Steel Inquisitor burned a spike for power? Would it create an amplified burst similar to the loop with Feruchemy and Allomancy?
Does anything happen if you use Hemalurgy to give a Feruchemist additional Feruchemical power? Do their abilities stay the same, or can they now store a specific attribute at half the initial cost? Would this be a lesser version of the Feruchemy + Allomancy loop? Could they use the Hemalurgical spike itself as a metalmind, or is it already filled with power?
On and on these questions go. Power loops like this within your system can easily destroy the balance, but sometimes it’s worth it.
It Generates Some Incredible Plot Points
The Lord Ruler, for one. All his god-like abilities come from the Feruchemy + Allomancy power loop. Brandon took a broken part of his system and turned it into a feature. Like, a major feature. Key point of the entire novel, kind of feature.
And there’s more he does with this, so much more, but I want to leave at least some surprises for you in the series. For now, enjoy the concept and take yet another lesson from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy.
Explore Power Loops in Your System
Is there any way the magic can feed back on itself creating an infinite loop?
What will it break and how bad will it be?
Can you take the break and turn it to your advantage?
Remember how Brandon handled it. Throughout the series, he made sure the Protagonists never had full access to the power loops. Whenever they entered the story, they existed only to create additional problems and more daunting challenges for the main characters. There was a moment where the protagonists could have entered a power loop, but Brandon constructed the situation so they didn’t have the information or motivation to take advantage of the opportunity.
Be aware, playing with cracks in your system like this is dangerous. One misstep and you can break everything and make your readers frustrated rather than intrigued. I recommend cutting any breaks you find out of your system and fixing it all up nice and strong.
It’s safer this way.
That’s All for Now
There you have it. Series ended.
Oh… don’t… don’t cry. Please. Um, I wasn’t prepared for this…
Look, it’ll be okay. I’m not shutting down the blog or anything, there’s just other stuff to talk about. For example, I have another series going on right now about building a virus-based magic system. Several posts have gone up already, so why don’t you jump to the beginning and check those out?
Still not enough? Tell you what, why don’t you join the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List?
I send out newsletters every other week. This way we can still talk even when there isn’t a new post to put up. Plus, if you join the mailing list, you’ll have a vote on which magic system I rant about next. Not to mention you’ll get first crack at any of the products or specials I’m putting together.
I’m glad that worked, I mean, helped you feel better. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have bodies to dispose of and a laboratory to move… We’ll talk again soon, yeah?