The Metallic Fuel of Allomancy is Just Awesome
Welcome to Part 6 of Why I Love the Mistborn Trilogy
There are lots of things I love about the magic of The Mistborn Trilogy. I guess that’s pretty obvious given the length of this series and how I start pretty much every post with that statement… but you get the idea.
We’ve discussed a lot of things so far including the Newtonian Nature of Allomancy, why Feruchemy tugs at my miserly instincts, the Horrifying aspects of Hemalurgy, and the wonderful addition of non-magical counters in the world. Looks like we’re back to talking about Allomancy.
I’d like to apologize, but I’m not really sorry about this.
In my opinion, the single most influential piece of the system is its dependence on metals as a fuel source. Today, we’re going to unpack this aspect of the system a bit and explore why this is so stinking cool. So without any more fanfare or dramatic recitations of Shakespeare, let’s jump right in and explore how it influences things.
It adds Flavor, Texture, and Sensation to the System
And I mean that literally.
Allomancers and Mistborn access their powers by swallowing specific types of metals. These metal reserves are then “burned” for a variety of magical effects and generating sensations of warmth and energy through their body. This visceral connection between an Allomancer and their power, we the readers get to experience that power alongside them. We get to feel the spreading warmth and power of a metal reserve burning in our guts and the sudden emptiness when that metal runs out.
I can’t speak for everyone. But Brandon Sanderson did a terrific job turning the traditionally ephemeral topic of magic into concrete feelings for me to experience. Then again, that warm sensation in my stomach might be the result of vanquishing my enemies… hard to say.
It Creates Additional Points of Balance
By using physical material as a literal fuel for the magic, Brandon introduced additional balancing factors within the system itself. The more powerful a metal’s effect, the faster it burns. He even created additional factors through worldbuilding by making certain metals rarer and economically valuable than others.
Take Atium. When burning this metal, an Allomancer can see a fraction of a second into the future and respond accordingly, which them all but unstoppable on the battlefield. It would take a fortune to purchase even a small piece of Atium, and even then it would only burn for maybe thirty seconds.
Which leads me to my next point.
It Adds a Tactical Element to the Magic
Since each metal provides different abilities and burns at different rates, this adds a fascinating level of tactical analysis and risk to the life of a Mistborn. Becuase the more useful metals burn faster, extra vials must be carried along. A Mistborn’s abilities grant them tremendous power, but at any moment, the vials could be ripped away, so one must take care not to burn through their metal reserves too swiftly.
The game changes substantially when your power reserves don’t refill overnight.
This creates a delightful sense of balance and judgment a Mistborn or Misting must employ when utilizing their power. The last thing you want as a Mistborn is to run out of metals while soaring over a hundred feet in the air.
It Also Means the Power can be Taken Away
When your characters are wielding earth-shattering power, it makes it hard to keep a sense of tension in your story. By making Allomancy dependent on a fuel source, Brandon adroitly side-stepped that issue.
It’s possible to trick, trap, and kill even the most powerful of characters. Once they run out of metal, a Mistborn is just like anyone else. True, getting them to that point is extremely difficult and dangerous, but the potential still exists. Brandon even gave certain metals the ability to strip the reserves from an Allomancer’s stomach, though nobody knew of these in the Mistborn Trilogy.
As a writer, having extra ways to control and limit your characters is enormously helpful. I run into this problem a lot with my magic and have to take extra steps to limit the characters. It’s so much harder to contain and threaten a character when their power can’t be turned off.
That’s the brilliance here. No metal, no Allomancy. Simple as that.
The Fuel is Potentially Finite
I’m no longer just talking on the User level. When an Allomancer burns a metal, matter is converted into energy. But Brandon never told us if the process can be reversed for the common metals. That means Allomancers and Mistborn could drain a planet of its metal reserves a vial at a time.
Ultimately, this makes the metals a limited resource in the world, which has all sorts of crazy awesome implications. For one, this provides an endless source of potential conflict. Humans have fought over metal deposits throughout history; with Allomancers in the mix, the conflict over certain materials would only get worse.
Brandon already does a fair bit with trade and how the flow of certain metals shapes the economics and structure of the nation, but I want a whole post to dig into that topic.
What I can’t wait to see, is Allomancy in a futuristic Science Fiction like Firefly.
Think about it. There they are, traveling through space, hunting for resources, and simply trying to stay alive. Every time they discover some precious metals they have to decide whether they should sell it, save it for their resident Allomancer, or melt it down and use it for vital components in their ship.
By the way, Brandon has confirmed he will eventually take the Mistborn powers into space, but the Firefly mashup is, to date, strictly self-indulgent fan-fiction on my part.
It Taught Me New Things About Magic
Before reading The Mistborn Trilogy, I never considered how much the source of the magic could influence the story. Sure, I knew it was important to identify where it came from, but I never considered it on so many levels.
Because of that, I now consider the Fuel/Source to be one of the most important variables for your magic system [link stage 3]. It doesn’t matter if you’re focusing on the User, System, or Global level, it can have a massive impact on your story if you want it to.
Before you go, I want you to try something.
Pull up the notes on your most recent magic system whether you’re building it now or just finished. Now, search for ways you can make it more fuel dependent.
Does it help your story or hurt it? Does it give you some new story ideas altogether?
You don’t have to use anything that comes out of this exercise, but it’s too cool not to at least try it.
That’s All for Today
I hope you’re enjoying reading this mini-series as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you had fun with this one, please post it online or share it with a friend. Every extra visitor to this site moves me toward my goals of becoming a full-time writer, not to mention it means more people will be introduced to the incredible series that is Mistborn.
Well, I’m off to imagine a movie with the Firefly crew as Mistborn. We’ll talk again soon.