Sep 24, 2010

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson

Mist is suffocating the Final Empire, killing plants by obscuring the sun, and killing people by unknown means. The ash is falling faster and faster, covering the land in blackness, and earthquakes are becoming more and more common. Ruin is touching the world, set free by Vin's mistake when she gave up the power at the Well of Ascension. Now the godlike being is controlling the Inquisitors and Koloss to do his bidding in bringing the final days of the planet he once helped Preservation create. But the Lord Ruler has left secret caches of supplies and messages for his followers, and Emperor Elend Venture is on his way to the city of Fadrex, hiding the last of those, where he hopes to find the atium stash. Meanwhile Spook has been sent to scout in the northern city of Urteau, where a skaa rebel called Quellion has turned the place into a nightmare of persecution and fear. Sazed has lost his faith with the death of his beloved Tyndwil, and he is desperately searching through the religions he has collected, hoping to find one that offers Truth. And the kandra TenSoon returns to his Homeland to bring word of the end of days, dreading that it may fall on deaf ears. But the kandra First Contract is the most important thing the Lord Ruler ever did, and it might hold the salvation of the world... if Vin learns about it in time.

The Hero of Ages is the conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy, and it is a truly apocalyptic novel. The world is ending so badly, that it is a miracle that anyone survives at all. Elend and Vin's battles seem more and more inconsequential when the sky itself is black with ash, and the mists leave only a few hours of unobscured light. It is a book of revelations and ancient secrets resurfacing through Ruin's lies and the Lord Ruler's misdirections. An interesting detail in that regard is that for a time the reader knows more than the characters about the forces of the world, due to the little snippets of information at the beginning of each chapter. In The Final Empire those were excerpts from the journal of Alendi - the original Hero of Ages whom Rashek killed to become the Lord Ruler. In The Well of Ascension they were parts of the final letter written by the Worldbringer Kwaan - the one to initially discover Alendi only to later realize that the prophecies have been manipulated. Here though the excerpts are omniscient. They are written from cosmic perspective and deal with the changes Rashek made with his godlike power, as well as the nature of Ruin, Preservation, Allomancy, Pheruchemy and the new third metal art - Ruin's own Hemalurgy which steals powers and transfers them to another host through the application of carefully places spikes.

The Hero of Ages suffers from the same flaw that The Well of Ascension had - it is too long, and not dense enough plot-wise. Just like the second part, it plays the stalling game, by dealing with two major story-lines and a few minor ones, and switching between those fast enough that not much progression can happen in any one chapter. Of course, the book's redeeming quality is that it is chock-full of revelations, and although those are often highly implausible leaps of logic, they are still very cool - the nature of the mists, the truth about Vin's ability to pierce copperclouds, Ruin's machinations, what Rashek did to the world, and more, and more besides. In truth, the ending of the series is epic in the purest sense of the word, and I was flying through the las fifty pages with the speed of true ecstasy.

In terms of style, Sanderson doesn't always deliver with even quality. There are moments of brilliance, but there are also places where the emotional impact just isn't happening, and unfortunately the final battle is one of those. It works, because it's cool and awesome, but the sacrifices and losses somehow don't connect the way they should. Still, characterization is vastly improved. Vin and Elend are no longer the insecure creatures of The Well of Ascension, while Spook is given a lot more personality than he ever possessed in the series. He effectively becomes an almost main character in The Hero of Ages, and the result is surprisingly good. Unfortunately, the insecurity and constant whining have not been removed, but only transfered, like hemalurgic spikes, and implanted into Sazed. The Terrisman has become annoyingly faithless and apathetic, but at the same time obsessed with telling us how faithless and apathetic he has become. And there is way too much of him in the book to be healthy.

In the end, I would still say that the Mistborn trilogy is a great series. True, it is flawed in some ways, and doesn't always deliver in terms of characterization, emotion or plot structure. But at the times that it does, it does it brilliantly, and in terms of worldbuilding, magic and plot-twists, it is among the very best in the genre. I still think that both the second and third book could have benefited from being tighter and shorter, and it is a bit sad that the trilogy never recaptured the quality of The Final Empire, but when looked in its entirety, it is a great success, and a proof of how promising an author Brandon Sanderson is. I can only hope he develops that promise to become the writer that he obviously has the potential to be.


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