Kelsier: The Survivor of Hathsin

*Spoilers for the first Mistborn book ahead!*

I was originally planning to avoid talking about Mistborn again until we saw something from the movie (oh yeah, that’s a thing that’s happening, apparently). But I’m not a patient man. If you guys didn’t know that at this point, I’d be pretty shocked.

The mentor character is a beloved archetype in the realms of sci-fi and fantasy. You need someone to teach your protagonist how to kick all the ass, after all. If done well, you can get an incredibly memorable and beloved character.

The list of iconic fictional mentors is extensive. Obi-Wan, Master Roshi, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Professor X, Mr. Miyagi, so on and so forth. These characters all share similar traits. Usually, they’re old, wise, and kind.

Then there’s Mistborn with Kelsier. Who is only kind of those things.

Kelsier is arguably the most important character in Mistborn. He’s basically a walking inciting incident. Whenever there’s a dramatic turn in the story, he’s often found at the center of it. Whether he’s there or not.

Especially if he’s not there, in fact.

The Wound: The Pits of Hathsin

Before the events of the first book, Kelsier was at the top of the underworld. There was no one he couldn’t rob. Together with his wife and crew, there was no one he couldn’t rob.

No one, that is, except for God.

Yeah, so, Kelsier got a little cocky. He thought “Hey, I’m a badass, my crew is badass, and my wife is a badass! We can totally rob the Lord Ruler! We’ve got this awesome plan and everything! This’ll go great! Nothing could go wrong!”

It didn’t go great. Everything went wrong.

Kelsier and his wife got caught real quickly. Upon getting caught, they were sent to the Pits of Hathsin. Y’know. The skaa equivalent of a super concentration camp. It’s basically the slowest and most painful death sentence of all time. If you were sent there, congratulations! You were fucked.

While in this hell, Kelsier was served a big helping of humble pie. A serving that only got worse when his wife sacrificed herself so that he wouldn’t get murdered. Poor bastard lost everything.

But he did gain cool metal-bending powers, so that’s cool.

The Want: To Tear Down God

Naturally, Kelsier’s time in the Pits changed him. Suddenly, he stopped thieving for the thrill and for the reward. His aims became more noble in nature. It stopped being about sticking it to the man and became about saving the oppressed.

Thus, Kelsier’s new goal became clear: put an end to the Lord Ruler. To tear down the Final Empire, tear down the nobility, and end the skaa oppression. A noble goal.

Unfortunately, he took it a little too far.

The Lie: They Deserve It

Kelsier’s methods were a little… extreme. Calling him ruthless wouldn’t do it justice.

The dude didn’t just manipulate the nobility against each other. He didn’t just lie and steal from them. The dude didn’t just murder them. He fucking slaughtered them. Brutally. Painfully. Then he left their corpses in each other’s front yards. The dude was merciless.

This was quite worrisome for the other members of Kelsier’s crew, especially Vin. Yes, his actions were ultimately going to be for the greater good. But nevertheless, it was extreme. The nobles were a bunch of corrupt assholes, yes. But was exterminating all of them really the answer?

And the answer was, of course: no.

The Need: She Loves Him

Let’s take a moment to talk about Kelsier’s plan.

Kelsier knew that no skaa rebellion would last very long. None ever had. Not when they were fighting what was basically God incarnate. Unless the skaa had some kind of figurehead, a god of their own to follow, they would never be able to do it.

So, long story short, he sacrificed himself to make the world think him a god. In dying, he spawned an entire religion centered around him. The Church of the Survivor. With this, the skaa would never lose the will to fight again. They’d keep going until they were either destroyed or they were no longer oppressed.

But there was one problem with that: the skaa had no idea what they were doing. Like… none. At all. Once they took control, it was only a matter of time until everything fell apart. How could a people who had spent the last thousand years being oppressed know how to rule?

The solution was something Kelsier would never consider: put a nobleman in charge. Someone who knew how to rule but wouldn’t oppress the skaa. Someone that Kelsier didn’t think could exist.

Enter Elend Venture.

During Kelsier’s final battle against an Inquisitor, Elend gets caught in the cross fire. The Inquisitor threatens to murder the young noble, uncaring of whether he was innocent or not. Kelsier didn’t care. It was just another nobleman, after all. If the monster didn’t do it, Kelsier himself probably would.

But then he remembered one simple fact. Vin, his student and surrogate daughter, loved that man.

So, against his instincts, Kelsier saved Elend. He protected the boy out of love for Vin, risking his entire plan to do it. He only saw it as an annoyance, a distraction from the greater problems that he was currently being literally attacked by.

He never lived to see Elend become the king the skaa needed. Kelsier never got to see him preserve the world he gave his life to protect. He didn’t know it would happen. Never even considered it. On a whim, he saved a single nobleman.

And in return, that nobleman fulfilled Kelsier’s desires.


For a character who only lasted one book out of three, it’s amazing just how impactful Kelsier is to the original Mistborn trilogy. Despite not being present in The Well of Ascension or The Hero of Ages, you can always feel the impact he had on this world and the other characters. It always feels like he’s there, putting his hands in things.

For all I know, he was. Maybe being perceived as a god makes you an actual god in the Cosmere? That, or he was screwing with people in the afterlife. That sounds more like him.

I’m excited to see how Kelsier’s handled in movie form. Granted, Sanderson himself is supposedly writing the screenplay, so maybe he won’t change much. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how the Survivor makes the shift onto the big screen.

Or if the movie is actually gonna happen. That’d be nice.

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