Sep 7, 2010

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson

I fell deeply in love with Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn when I read The Final Empire over a year ago. Its post-apocalyptic fantasy world, brilliantly thought-out magic systems, engaging story and likable characters made for such a dynamic and gripping read, that an 8-hour overseas flight was all I needed to finish the book. However, for some reason it took a really long time for me to return to the world of the Final Empire. I guess part of that was the fact that the first part of the trilogy was so self-contained, I was maybe a little afraid that I'd lose this feeling of completeness if I found out what happens next. Well, I needn't have worried... too much.

The Well of Ascension starts about a year after the death of the Lord Ruler by the hand of the Mistborn Vin, and the end of his millenial Final Empire - an event now referred to as the Collapse. The noble Elend Venture rules the Central Dominance as king, and with Vin by his side has created a surprisingly stable society based on democratic and idealistic principles of equality and freedom, going so far as to create an Assembly that has control even over himself. But all is not well in Elend's new kingdom. After solidifying their rule, warlords from the other Dominances decide to make a bid for the Lord Ruler's atium supply - a supply that Elend has never managed to find - and soon Luthadel is besieged by three separate armies - one of those led by Straff Venture - Elend's cruel father. And as his own people start to lose confidence in him, the young king is forced to face the truths of leadership and either grow into them or surrender to despair.

Meanwhile Vin has problems of her own. She has difficulty accepting the new skaa religion which has made the dead Survivor - Kelsier - into a god, and has put her in the role of his living Heir. There is a possibility that a shape-shifting kandra spy has infiltrated the innermost circle of the government - Kelsier's crew. Her nightly patrols throughout Luthadel, hunting assassins sent to kill her lover, are haunted by ghostly figures in the mist, as well as an enigmatic Mistborn who threatens to put a wedge between her and Elend. What's more, she now constantly hears an Allomantic pulse with no discernable source - a lot like the one that the Hero of Ages felt as he neared the Well of Ascension a thousand years ago. And what is even more troubling, it seems that the mists are now coming even during the day... and they are killing people. In the end, Vin's searchings might turn out to be Luthadel's only hope for salvation as the threat of occupation becomes a promise of utter annihilation.

The Well of Ascension is a solid read that, unfortunately, suffers from the Middle Part syndrome. Too much time is spent standing in one place and moving in circles. The book is relatively long, and yet most of it is dedicated to just building up tension. However, there is a lot going on outside of the main story. The addition of Elend as a main character seems to be problematic for a lot of readers, but I liked him quite a lot. Unfortunately, Sanderson was a bit ham-handed while describing his growth, and in the beginning the young king is really annoying with his pointed uncertainty and lack of authority while his idealistic ideas never stop grating on the nerves. The same applies to Vin's own feelings of insecurity and fear of betrayal. She has grown a lot since the beginning of The Final Empire, but still spends most of the book unsure of what she is and where her place in the world is. And yet, both characters grow into their own, and both turn out very, very well. Unfortunately, this comes at a price - mostly all the others from Kelsier's crew remain so much in the background as to be just names and the sporadic line in a conversation. The one exception is the Terris Keeper Sazed, who is the third major PoV in the book, and turns out to be a really interesting - if not overly original - character.

What The Well of Ascension lacks in speed, it more than compensates in its many action sequences. At the very beginning of the book Vin is presented with a new Allomantic metal - Duralumin, the alloy of the metal-destroying Aluminum that she was introduced to in The Final Empire. When she finds out what it does, the ante is raised to an even higher level of awesome than it was with Kelsier's acrobatics in the first book. However, the true gem of The Well of Ascension is the extensive descriptions of this world's other magic - the Terris Keepers' art of Feruchemy. Through Sazed's PoV we get to understand a lot more about Feruchemists and their Metalminds, as well as see the many differences between the two systems.

Still, the book is a step back from the brilliance of The Final Empire. It doesn't have an engaging enough story of its own, as its main purpose is to get its characters not from point A to point B, but from condition A to condition B. And grow they do, there's no denying that. Plus, there are a lot of really great revelations concerning the Hero of Ages, the Terris prophesies, the nature of the Deepness, and the actual events that transpired in the Well of Ascension a thousand years ago, when the youth Rashek stole the power for himself, remade the world and became the dreaded Lord Ruler.

And yet, when the entire book is dedicated to ancient secrets and character development, with the actual plot taking up no more than the final three hundred or so pages, The Well of Ascension feels a bit like cheating. Don't get me wrong, it is a pretty good book, and well deserving the time it takes to read, but it could have been either a lot shorter, or a lot more dynamic. Still, considering the sudden shift in direction caused by the final plot-twist, I expect a lot from The Hero of Ages - the final installment of the trilogy. I am not entirely certain I liked that plot-development, but I am certain that Sanderson will pull it off and deliver the ending this series deserves.


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