Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension by Brandon SandersonThe Well of Ascension

Brandon Sanderson

Tor Books, 2007

Wow.  If I truly felt that were sufficient I’d stop there.  The second book in Sanderson’ Mistborn series takes everything from the first book, The Final Empire, and improves on it; and then some.  This book is half-again as long as the first one (816 pages in mass-market vs. Final Empire’s 676) and it took me half as long to read it.  Where The Final Empire had issues with pacing the Well of Ascension managed to keep me gripped from start to finish.

This novel opens up where the last one finished, though a bit later.  With an army sitting outside the Walls of Luthadel and our heroes scrambling to deal with that threat while Vin remains haunted by the dead Lord Ruler’s final worlds.  Elsewhere Sazed uncovers secret’s about the mysterious Hero of Ages while investigating whether or not the mists that shroud the land at night are striking during the day.  The slick plotting of the politically sections of the novel is equally exciting as the mystery of the more epic magical elements and both are glued together by Sanderson’s skill at characterization.

The truth of it is, at least for me, is that the human elements drew me into the novel almost more so than the epic aspects of the plot.  Sure there are the requisite big things happening (war, major magical threat) but it’s the development of the character’s within that setting that is truly fascinating.  The way Vin and Elend struggle with their identities, while potentially overbearing, is handled with a subtlety and care by Mr. Sanderson that is truly remarkable.  Both character’s are introspective without veering into outright whininess and are plagued with conflicts, both external and internal, that manages to keep their self-examination both interesting and exciting.

Vin, in particular, is thrown into the spotlight by a new character Zane.  Zane is a very obvious foil for Vin but again is an interesting character in his own right.  He is what Vin might have become without the influence of her friends and left alone on the streets.  There is a lonliness to the Mistborn, a sense of being outside of things, that draws Vin to Zane and creates a complex emotional tension between the characters.  What makes it even more exciting is that we, the reader, know (whereas Vin doesn’t) the inner workings of Zane’s twisted mind.  It’s like watching two cars on a colision course with no way to intervene.

Sanderson throws you a curveball late in the novel in regards to Zane that makes the whole thing even more entertaining and amps up the mystery behind the character.  As before: RAFO.

Sazed stands out again in this book and is yet another character struggling to find his place in the world.  He is discontent with his role as Keeper, spreading knowledge to the freed skaa, and feels there is unresolved business at hand.  Like Vin he is contrasted with the introduction of Tindwyl another Keeper; who seems content in spreading her stored knowledge.   Their differences and interactions, a subtle pushing and pulling between their emotional attraction and mutual frustrations with one another, helps to better define each as a person.

Which in that end is what all the relationships in this novel reveal.  Whether it be the subtle tension of Vin’s attraction to Zane and her love for Elend, the complex emotional interplay between Sazed and Tindwyl, or the relationship of all of Kelsier’s crew to one another, it is their interactions and feelings toward one another that help define them as characters.  Reinforcing the weight of the emotional conflict in the novel we actually get some minor POV from Breeze, the allomancer who is in expert at Soothing emotions whose comments reinforce the importance of relationships and emotion to each of the characters in the novel.

All of which has nothing to do with the politiking and mystery of the novel; I’m not saying that it is somehow inferior to characterization only that the characters serve as the impetus of the novel.  Late revelations in the novel about the Hero of Ages makes for some truly compelling reading and really whets the appetite for the third book, approriatley enough, The Hero of Ages.  The fight scenes that use allomantic magic are still as exciting as ever with some startling twists that elevate them above and beyond what was seen in The Final Empire.  Combine this with Sanderson’s deft plotting, masterful pacing, and superior characterization and you get one hell of a ride.  Highly recommended for fantasy lovers of all stripes.

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