vin from mistborn, in her mistborn cloak

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Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is a great leading lady to start off my year of leading ladies (one of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more books by and starring women).

Sanderson uses clothing to distinguish his characters and their emotional states–which is pretty much how clothing works in real life, too. I’ve drawn Vin before, when she was at a ball, but this Vin is in her Mistborn cloak and in her element.

Vin has used disguises her whole life to disappear into something less threatening so that people will overlook her. But her Mistborn cloak lets everyone know that she is special–and dangerous. She isn’t hiding her power anymore, she is embracing the part of herself. In her cloak, Vin is the Heir of the Survivor, possibly the Hero of Ages, and the Savior of Luthadel.

But, of course, that isn’t all she is. She also loves wearing dresses, and she is in love with Elend, and she cares for her friends. She is many things, and embracing one side of her doesn’t erase the rest of herself.

My drawing is ink and watercolor, and here’s a (very short!) slideshow of it coming to life.

My other posts on Mistborn are:

mistborn book two: vin’s biggest challenge may be dresses, not armies

At first glance, it look like a fairy tale. Vin has fallen in love with the young king of Luthadel, Elend Venture. She caught his eye at a ball, where she was hiding her poor upbringing. Her dresses were beautiful, and Vin danced with a grace few could master. And now Elend has proposed, so Vin could be a queen if she says yes.

But Elend only became king after Vin and her crew killed a terrible dictator and overthrew an oppressive government. Vin was graceful partly because she became a powerful Allomancer–a trained warrior and assassin with powers that draw from different kinds of metal.

And she doesn’t need a magic mirror to tell her she is the most dangerous person in the land.

Vin is a hero we don’t often see. She is small and beautiful, and she is also a powerful killer. Her role in her crew is essentially to provide the muscle. She can kill 10 men before another could get their sword out of its sheath. She is her boyfriend’s bodyguard. She also likes dancing and wearing ball gowns, and she wears perfume every day, often trying new scents.

But even the most powerful woman in all of the Final Empire struggles with what it means to be both feminine and powerful, both beautiful and strong. Especially when her boyfriend can’t do the things she can.

text from mistborn: the well of ascension

It kills me to think of how many women have thought this same thing–that by having talent or shining brightly they are offending a man around them. Just by being themselves, just by being a woman who happens to be good at something.

Vin has always struggled with her place in the world. As part of a thieving crew with an untrustworthy leader, she hid her strength and femininity to be unassuming and less threatening in a world full of men. When she joined Kelsier’s crew, and began to make real friends and discover her powers, it became helpful to them to play up her femaleness and use her to spy on nobility at balls. When she met Elend, Vin was pretending to be Valette, a clueless noblewoman in big dresses and jewelry. But none of those personas was the real Vin.

So after the Final Empire fell, Vin wasn’t sure what to be. She cared for Elend and became his bodyguard, and there was no one more powerful or vigilant. She gave up wearing dresses because she felt that a trained killer shouldn’t wear a gown–the dresses she wore were bulky, anyway, and didn’t let her move quickly. But being Elend’s love led her to play a role once more, and she accompanied him to a meeting with his father to discuss an alliance. To get ready to meet her boyfriend’s father, like many before her, Vin went shopping.

Tindwyl, a Terriswoman adviser to the king, and Allrianne, a noblewoman who makes no apologies for loving fancy things, are Vin’s shopping buddies. With their guidance, Vin finds a dress she loves that makes her feel beautiful. And with help from the tailor, adjustments to the dress allow her to move quickly and gracefully so she can still be the warrior she needs to be.

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Throughout the Well of Ascension, Vin struggles. She struggles with who she is and who she wants to be, and easy questions like what to wear become anything but simple. In the end, Vin has to decide on who she is. And if she can be someone who likes dresses and perfume, and someone who can control armies, and someone who is in love with a king, and someone who can kill an emperor god, and someone who gives hope to those around her.

Vin is all of these things, but embracing her complexities in a world that wants to see women as fitting only certain roles is perhaps her hardest challenge.
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the quiet power of sazed, from mistborn

sazed from mistborn

The Lord Ruler in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series ruled with a literal cloud of depression over his subjects. He tempered emotion through allomancy, a type of magic, and he hunted anything that would disrupt the status quo. In his eyes, all ska were the same, all noblemen served one purpose, and all rebellions were nothing but minor annoyances.

Vin and her crew tried to fight the Final Empire with armies and espionage. But a more subtle, and possibly more important, way of fighting the Lord Ruler was to celebrate uniqueness. To stand out, to aggressively be yourself in a place that hampered joy and hope, was a victory all its own.

Sazed, one of my favorites in Vin’s crew, contributed to the crew’s plan the best way he could–as a servant. Sazed is a Terrisman, the most valued servants in the Final Empire. He is calm and patient. He is smart and kind. And he knew himself well enough to know that when he wanted to fight the Lord Ruler, he could best contribute by using his unique strengths.

Crew leader Kelsier wanted to be the Hero with a capital H–the one in the forefront of the action, a visible leader. But Sazed was just as much a hero by being himself in a place that tried to squash his heritage, joy, and individuality. Kelsier fought the Lord Ruler in front of everyone in a town square; Sazed fought him by translating the text of something the Lord Ruler tried to keep hidden. Without Sazed’s quiet thoughtfulness, the crew would fail wether they had a great leader or not.

Sazed honored his people, and all people, by remembering for them, as a Keeper. The Keepers searched for memories of other cultures, languages, religions, and any knowledge they could find, and kept the memories stored away until the Final Empire fell and people would need them once again. Sazed was always willing to teach and share his knowledge, and he often tried to match religions to the people he knew, to find a religion that fit their personality.

Sazed knew the truth–he knew many truths. He knew that one religion does not fit all, and that by fighting for individuality, he was toppling the Final Empire one unique memory at a time.

I drew Sazed in his formal robes, which he would wear accompanying Vin to a ball. All Terrismen wear similar robes to indicate their status, and their colorful embroidery sounds like a delight amid the gray depression of the mist. My drawing is ink and watercolor in my sketchbook. I might go back in and add more color to it later, but I sort of like the idea of keeping it colorless except for his colorful Terrismen robes.

illustration of vin from mistborn, at a ball

vin from Mistborn

Vin is a survivor. She is resourceful and smart, overcoming beatings on the street to become a valued member of a thieving crew. Vin is a fighter, no matter if she’s stealing from the rich or dancing among them.

There were a lot of things I love, love, loved about Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first in the Mistborn trilogy, besides the main character, Vin. The storytelling is complex and layered, the world is detailed and interesting, and the characters are human and tragic.

Within the great story and characters, Sanderson used clothing to help build his world. A uniform helped unite an army, a cloak for the magical Mistborn helped them hide in plain sight, and a dress helped Vin spy on the nobility.

She didn’t need shadows or corners–she just needed a mask of sapphires, makeup, and blue fabric. — Mistborn: The Final Empire

With make up on her face instead of ash, and a shawl on her shoulders instead of her Mistborn cloak, Vin infiltrated the nobility by attending ball after ball. And instead of seeing a streetwise thief, the nobility was blinded by her dress and saw instead a nobleman’s daughter.

Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life – Bill Cunningham

In our world, clothing and fashion works much the same way. I don’t usually need to spy on nobility at fancy balls, but I do need to convince people I’m a professional at work. So like Vin, I dress the part and it helps fortify me for the role I need to play.

The more Vin acts like Valette, her noble persona, the more she realizes that this confident noblewoman is just another side of her. But becoming more comfortable among the people she means to eventually fight–and actually seeing them as human–causes trouble for Vin and her crew as they plan a heist bigger than any they’ve tried before.

I drew Vin going to her first ball, when she realized that the dress and makeup were just another disguise she could hide beneath. The drawing is pen and marker. I would have liked to make her dress a lighter, dreamier blue, but I wanted to work with the markers I already own. I can’t wait to take a look at some of the other uniforms and clothing in Mistborn, and delve into some of the great parts of this complex story.