Sanderson’s Exploration of the Metallic Arts
And Why I Love It
Welcome to Part 9 of Why I Love The Mistborn Trilogy
We’ve already discussed the simple elegance of the Metallic Arts from The Mistborn Trilogy, their deliberate combination with Newtonian physics, why Hemalurgy makes me both scared and happy, and more besides.
By this point, I’m sure you know what I’m about to say: “Blah, blah… I Love Mistborn!… this is really my favorite part… prepare for the coming of *piercing warbling vaguely resembling a name*…” You know, the usual.
I’m sure it’s obvious that the metallic arts are dear to me. This is, in no small way, related to the fact they are hard and rational magic systems. I enjoy all kinds of extraordinary elements in stories (tech, monsters, magic, etc.); the elements with logic and patterns behind them are the easiest for me to comprehend.
In The Mistborn Trilogy, it’s about more than just the system. It’s about how hard Brandon Sanderson worked to explore and extrapolate the potential capabilities of the magic and its users. That kind of rigorous thinking does not come easily without training, and the level of effort required is something I very much appreciate… and I freaking love the stuff he came up with.
Let me show you what I mean.
**Spoiler Warning: I am revealing parts of the system that appear in crucial moments of the story. I warned you.**
The Creativity of Power Applications
This first one I’ve talked about before in Part 5 of Why I Love Mistborn. This is, of course, Vin’s arrowhead trick.
Certain Allomancers can burn steel and activate their Allomantic power (check out this post, if you’re uncertain what that means) to see blue lines pointing from themselves to metal objects nearby. With a little extra focus, the Allomancer can exert magical force upon those objects forcing them to move, sometimes at deadly speed.
Because Steel-Pushers can sense and push on metal, like that found on most arrows, the best way for ordinary folk to kill a Steel-Pusher or Mistborn is to hit them with a stone-headed arrow. The Mistborn can’t see it coming and can’t deflect it. But if you miss, they’ll either run or just kill you.
But Brandon developed another devious solution.
At one point, Vin took several stone-headed arrows and placed metal rings just behind the arrowhead, allowing her to push on the rings and launch the arrows forward. But, should you be the target, pushing would only send the rings flying away, leaving the arrowheads to pierce into your flesh unhindered.
And that’s not all. At one point, Vin uses a dozen horseshoes to create her own personal Spike-Way. She drops a shoe in the mud, pushes herself forward in the air, pulls on the shoe behind her, drops a second shoe, pushes the first further ahead, and then pushes herself after it. Simply put, she pushes and pulls a bunch of horseshoes to create a kind of hamster wheel allowing her to cover dozens of miles in a matter of hours.
And you want to talk creative use of powers? Just look towards the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire at the fight between Kelsier and the Steel Inquisitor.
Using Allomancy, Kelsier throws soldiers by their armor into their comrades and used others as anchors to leap into the air. He sends fallen bars twirling through to intercept a barrage of arrows. And at one point, the Steel Inquisitor uses an entire prison cart, previously full of prisoners, as a giant missile to crush Kelsier.
The mad brilliance of Brandon’s mind becomes even more clear within the Wax and Wayne saga, which is why I love them even more than the original trilogy… yup. You heard right. But we can’t talk about Wax and Wayne yet. Not until we finish this series.
But there are other ways we reap the fruit of Brandon’s creativity and exploration.
Special Counters and Drawbacks
Obviously, there are the non-magical counters Brandon developed so standard folk could do something against Allomancers. But I talked about that already, also in Part 5 of the series, so let’s move past that.
Instead of simply focusing on the strengths of the magic, Brandon took the time to explore, identify, and exploit potential weaknesses.
Look at Thugs. They are Allomancers that burn pewter for enhanced physical strength, endurance, speed, and agility. While burning pewter, a Thug can shrug off an otherwise mortal blow and keep fighting… for a time.
Pewter doesn’t change how the body works and can do little to minimize the severity of certain injuries. Cuts, for example. A Thug might burn pewter and keep fighting, ignoring the deep gash that would have felled another man, but they’re fighting on borrowed time. They can still bleed to death, especially once they stop burning their metal. Push too hard, and a Thug can kill themselves with their magic.
Here’s another example.
A Tineye uses tin to enhance the senses of their body… all the senses… at the same time!
This has serious advantages for tracking and sneaking around at night but also carries some obvious problems. It’s easy to become overstimulated. And if the enemy brings noise generators, like the slapper sticks in The Well of Ascension, a Mistborn’s greatest asset in the night could leave them stunned and unable to act.
You see what I mean?
Brandon pushed past the obvious to find these interesting and exciting nuggets buried within his system. You can see his efforts to explore all sides of the magic in one place in particular.
Using All Aspects of Feruchemy
With Feruchemy, you use metals to store certain attributes so you can draw on the well of power later. A Feruchemist, for example, can spend a day at half strength to fill their pewter metalmind so they can operate at 150% strength the next day. They can even draw out all the power in a single rush, if they so choose, becoming far more powerful for an exponentially diminished amount of time.
The storage of an attribute for later use is rather obvious since that’s the whole point of this system. What isn’t apparent, but still explored by Brandon, was the benefits one can gain while they are actively storing an attribute. At one point in The Well of Ascension, Sazed stores his weight to drift down a chasm like a leaf on the wind… only with fewer Reavers involved.
Not long after that, he uses his tin metalmind to store his sense of smell, thus numbing him to the stench of death and decay surrounding him. Certain Feruchemists even store age and strength to alter their appearance to look older and less imposing than they are.
When developing and utilizing a system, some parts are easier or feel more natural for us to use. I love it when an author explores multiple facets of the powers they’ve created. Not only did Brandon stay consistent with his exploration, he even developed his own law of magic centered on the idea.
In case you’re wondering, it’s Sanderson’s 3rd Law of Magic and states
Expand what you already have before you add something new.
Make Sure You Follow the 3rd Law!
It’s easy to overdevelop areas of our stories and worlds while skimping on the details. Make sure you don’t fall into the same trap.
Take extra time with your current magic system or advanced technology and explore what you’ve already got a little deeper. Look hard for those hidden corners, holes, and cracks you overlooked the first time around.
And remember that building engaging magic is about more than just the magic itself. Dredge up any weaknesses you can that apply to the magic or its users.
Remember Sanderson’s third law to amaze me and all your other readers with your creativity and depth of exploration.
Next time we talk about The Mistborn Trilogy, I plan to gush over the incredible worldbuilding it contains. More specifically, I plan to gush over the worldbuilding as it relates to the magic system itself because it’s really cool stuff.
If you know someone that hasn’t read Mistborn (don’t laugh, I know a few of these weirdos), send ‘em this post and see if you can set that literary hook. Heck, send them the whole series if that’s what it takes. Together, we will assimilate them all so we no longer have to feel awkward when we go off on rants like this one.
That’s all I’ve got for now. But if you need backup forcing — I mean, convincing anyone to read Mistborn, I’ve got your back.