Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
The Mistborn Trilogy #2
Gollancz, 10 December 2009
800 Pages
Fantasy
5 Stars


Book Depository; Goodreads


The impossible has been accomplished. The Lord Ruler – the man who claimed to be god incarnate and brutally ruled the world for a thousand years – has been vanquished. But Kelsier, the hero who masterminded that triumph, is dead too, and now the awesome task of building a new world has been left to his young protégé, Vin, the former street urchin who is now the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and to the idealistic young nobleman she loves.


As Kelsier’s protégé and slayer of the Lord Ruler she is now venerated by a budding new religion, a distinction that makes her intensely uncomfortable. Even more worrying, the mists have begun behaving strangely since the Lord Ruler died, and seem to harbor a strange vaporous entity that haunts her.


Stopping assassins may keep Vin’s Mistborn skills sharp, but it’s the least of her problems. Luthadel, the largest city of the former empire, doesn’t run itself, and Vin and the other members of Kelsier’s crew, who lead the revolution, must learn a whole new set of practical and political skills to help. It certainly won’t get easier with three armies – one of them composed of ferocious giants – now vying to conquer the city, and no sign of the Lord Ruler’s hidden cache of atium, the rarest and most powerful allomantic metal.


As the siege of Luthadel tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.


The second book in a trilogy is most often difficult for the reader to review and for the author to write.  It serves as a bridge between the beginning and end and has to continue the story without giving too much away.  It's often in the second installments that the story lags.

However, this was not the case with The Well of Ascension.  In fact, I liked it even more than I did The Final Empire, a fact I am still amazed at given that my favorite character, Kelsier, is missing from its pages.

This is mostly because the plot is so fantastic.  I went into this book wondering how Sanderson was going to make the maintaining of a kingdom just as thrilling as the overthrow of an empire.  Yet, all my expectations were shattered because he managed to make it even more captivating.  The entire time, I was searching for answers to the many unknowns thrown my way.  Would Elend succeed as king?  Who is really on his side?  Who will win this war?  What is the Deepness?  Sanderson did an excellent job of answering just enough questions to satisfy me but leaving enough unanswered to force me to read the next book.

All of the mystery in the plot drove me forward, but I was also invested in the survival of the kingdom, a few of the characters personal quests, and the larger overall story concerning the Lord Ruler, the Hero of Ages, and the Well of Ascension.  I was totally caught off-guard by the twist towards the end and deeply impressed that he chose to take the story in the direction it went.  I have great respect for Sanderson's creativity and his refusal to take the safe route in his stories.

The pacing of the story was excellent, as well.  Whereas The Final Empire could lag in places, this one read like a steady job before sprinting off toward the end.

The first book in the trilogy took care of most of the world-building, but Sanderson did a great job of building the setting of a world thrown into uncertainty after the Lord Ruler's fall.  The growth of the Church of the Survivor, the inability of the Skaa to adapt, the attitude of the merchant class, as well as the changing mists, all created a feeling of instability and uncertainty that pervaded the entire book and lent itself to the plot and the struggles of the characters.

Almost the entire book revolves around Vin, but I still do not like her.  I don't dislike her, but she is definitely not my favorite character.  I appreciate how much of a warrior she is, but too much of her character is centered around Elend for my taste.  Before he showed up in The Final Empire, Kelsier was slowly guiding her, and her character progression seemed natural.  Once she met Elend, however, there were so many inconsistencies within her that I couldn't enjoy her anymore.

Continuing in this manner, all throughout The Well of Ascension, her motivation is Elend.  "Keep Elend safe."  "Keep Elend king."  "Try to be good enough for him."  The only interesting parts were the ones where she questioned if she really belonged with him or if she was just a tool in his hands and wondered if she shouldn't run off and let herself be Mistborn.  I wanted her to leave him just so that she could develop on her own.

The best love makes each person stronger.  Vin's love for Elend makes her weak.  Yes, she is a fighter, but she's made her existence reliant upon him.  The most frustrating passage was when she said that "if she lost him, she would lose herself."  This isn't a strong female character!  And even when she made the "moral choice" at the end of the book, she didn't do it because it was right and good.  She did it for him.  Perhaps I wouldn't have an issue with this if I felt that their love was real, but it still feels forced and undeveloped.  I just don't believe it, so everything driven by it is frustrating.

I also don't care for Elend.  I feel like he isn't full enough of a character for me to care about.  He is just too good, too moral.  His flaws are his self-doubt and stubborn idealism, which set him up to be the perfect hero, but I much prefer a character that has more complexity and ambiguity.  However, he grew a lot throughout the book, becoming much more confident and maybe even a little harsh toward the end.  I am hopeful that a little coldness will grow in him in the next book, so that he becomes better balanced between saint and sinner.

Because of my opinion about them, I was naturally predisposed to like Zane.  As soon as he appeared, before I even knew his name, I liked him because I knew he would provide a stumbling block to Vin.  I love his manic power and willingness to do what needs to be done to get what he wants.  But I was also moved by his background and the personal battles he fought.  I heavily sympathized with him and much prefer he and Vin together (as crazy as that sounds) to Vin and Elend.

My favorite character in this book was OreSeur, the kandra.  I really liked his snarky and hostile servitude.  Anyone whose life can be signed away to another by a contract should be harsh and cold, and I appreciated that veiled fight in him toward Vin.  As the book progressed, though, he also grew, and I loved the slow development of his relationship with Vin.  It was very natural, and those moments when she made him reevaluate her gave the reader glimpses into his character, his past, and how hurt he had been before.  Given his circumstances, I found him to be very brave.  It took courage for him to help her and even more to let himself love her.  I really hope that he'll be back in The Hero of Ages.

Finally, this book cannot be discussed without looking to Sazed, who plays an even more important role than in The Final Empire.  Some people just love him, and he is the favorite of many.  I like him, but I don't love him.  I honestly am not sure why, though.  Maybe he's just too restrained for me.  I do have great respect for him, though.

I was happy to understand more about him, especially in relation to his own people.  I never would have known that he's rebellious without his cultural context because he's so proper.  The glimpses into his mind also helped me to see that he isn't as confident as he seems, but often worries about his place and his choices.  All of this made him so much more real to me, and I hope it continues.

One other critique I have, though, is that I was not invested in the side characters at all.  Breeze, Dockson, Ham, Clubs, Spook, Tindwyl - I didn't care about what happened to them in the least bit because I didn't know them at all.  I wanted to because they are important to the plot, but they only felt like friends of friends.

Once again, I wasn't enthralled by Sanderson's writing style.  He isn't a bad writer, but he's not phenomenal.  He chose to write this trilogy in American English, which made it more accessible but didn't lend any grandeur.  That is fine, of course, but it left me with no real impression.

He did make me think, though.  Elend's fight to maintain his kingdom made me think about what makes a good leader and the balance between pragmatism and idealism.  Vin's relationship with Zane made me wonder whether love is about being trusted or if it's about being understood.  The political dealings brought questions of whether it's better to be stable under a tyrant or chaotic under a good man.  All great discussions.

To wrap this all up, I loved this book.  I was pulled in predominantly by the plot, but a few characters also drew me in, and it stuck with me because of how much it made me question.  I gave it 5 stars, and I will definitely be reading The Hero of Ages with the #YearofCosmere read-a-long in April.

Have you read The Well of Ascension?  What are your thoughts? Also, if you have any fantasy recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments below.


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Happy reading!