By now, I have both read a few fantasy stories and spent a few hours perusing the multitude of subjects involved in writing them. The original Mistborn trilogy, being one of the earlier works of Brandon Sanderson, published between 2006 and 2008, doesn’t particularly feel innovative – if it did, I would worry we weren’t learning from those that came before. It is, based on what I have read so far, a well-executed story.
I mentioned before how interesting the magic systems in the world were. Well, another interesting element is the role of belief has throughout the story.
After the crew has been formed, the Big Plan is laid out: they will overthrow the Lord Ruler which will involve forming and training an army, destabilizing the noble class, and doing a manner of tactical and strategic tricks in order to overcome a much more stronger force.
People need to believe they can make a difference (or even have faith) if they are to become rebels and risk their lives. Without it, they are merely sentencing themselves to a swift death and worse conditions for the family. Hence why the crew manipulates their emotions: they were trying to convince them to believe in their project, and there are some emotions that are not particularly conducive to people joining a rebellion.
This belief needs to be maintained, however, or people will simply leave. The training, the visits, the decent accommodations all play a role in ensure that morale remains high. The crew, however, performed their job too well. Much like the lack of confidence in yourself and your comrades kills in the battlefield, so does overconfidence. Most of the army, overconfident and certain that Kelsier’s powers would protect them, heads on a raid. It, ultimately, results in their death.
Yet, their work – and this is where Kelsier had more foresight than the others – does much more than producing an army that believed they could. The city forces were moved away from their post to deal (even if, in the end, unnecessarily) with the rebel force. And, while they were slaughtered, it proves that, given enough people, they are capable of doing. Kelsier fuels that spark, that hope by turning himself into an idol. His presence, and what he and his antics represent, inspire the Skaa to pretend they aren’t as beaten as they are.
His death, while a gamble he lost, further serves this purpose. He risked his life to free people who were going to be executed in public, fought against the Inquisitors and managed to kill one… he proved that the institutions supporting the Lord Ruler could bleed. And if they bleed, they can be beaten. By dying at the hands of the Lord Ruler, Kelsier became a martyr and elevated the Church of the Survivor from a cult to a religion, which one of the strongest forms of belief there are.
While it ultimately does not lead to the Lord Ruler’s death – that particular feat belongs to Vin’s murderous rage, it did give the opportunity for the crew to steer the resulting chaos into their original purpose, completing the project.
During the second book, the belief in Kelsier’s legacy serves the remaining crew members as a source of political power. Furthermore, it allows them to keep some influence within the city even when they lose their positions of authority. On the other hand, fear – the lack of belief in the ability of their leaders, and even the system – is what drives the conflict of this installment in both plot and interpersonal struggles. The first one is resolved by accepting that belief cannot be forced, regardless of how much it can be fueled, while the second is solved by the characters understanding that, at the very least, they need to believe in themselves (that is, self-confidence).
I will admit I wasn’t particularly pleased with the way Vin and Elend decided to not talk to each other, despite clearly having issues they should have discussed calmly. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a difference – people still act impulsively without having the weight of a city at their backs. The justification for the events, however, are not enough and makes that section feel as if it was an idiot plot (TVTropes link warning).
Then we come to the less noble side of using beliefs as tools. During the first book, the crew spreads misinformation through the noble class as part of their efforts to destabilize it and bring a civil war. Through lies and document forgery, they made the houses distrustful enough to be unable to function properly. They amplified their well-placed belief that the other houses can’t be trusted. Not even their allies. And thus, war broke out as the stronger houses preyed on the weaker ones.
Perhaps much more relevant, and, sadly, limited by what I have read so far, is the end of the second book. Vin, through her limited studies, comes to believe that she is the one foretold by The Prophecies (or, at least somebody who can perform the same role). Propelled forward by the texts and her own unmatched abilities, she seeks the Well of Ascension so that she can rid the world of its now-worsening condition. Sazed, the Terrisman scholar, taught her the prophecies and provided her with the knowledge to find it. This entity, however, concealed from them a very critical piece of information by way of altering the text they kept on paper: the Well of Ascension keeps them trapped within, and the unaltered prophecy texts warn against freeing them. Not knowing this, Vin does exactly just that, realizing too late that what she believed to be true and right was the very thing she shouldn’t have done.
It is because of this that belief in the Mistborn series is interesting, and one of the reasons I didn’t dismiss it as yet another fantasy series. It is wielded by both good and evil. People gamble out of faith, say goodbye out of fear of certain demise, and otherwise make poor choices because of it. I wonder how Sazed is going to handle not having a belief that brings meaning to his life, considering the losses he suffered. In the meantime, though, I am quite pleased with the series.