Review: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages

Brandon Sanderson

Tor, 2008


The Hero of Ages concludes Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.  While moving at a more sedate pace than either The Final Empire or The Well of Ascension, the concluding volume showcases Sanderson’s worldbuilding and reveals a flair for tight, thrilling action scenes.  Unfortunatley characterization takes a back-seat to both those elements.  Regardless fans of the first two books will likely enjoy the ride.  Read on for my full review…

The Hero of Ages picks up one year after the end of The Well of Ascension left off.  Elend Venture has secured his place as emperor and is now quelling rebellious cities while at the same time seeking the storage caches left behind by the dead Lord Ruler.  Meanwhile Spook attempts to overthrow a murderous dicatator while dealing with the effects of continuos use of his own allomantic powers.  Sazed still struggles with the death of Tindwyl and spends much of the novel attempted to use logic to find faith.  Elsewhere, the kandra TenSoon must deal with the reprecrussions of his action in the previous novels.  Throughout it all the creature known as Ruin exerts his influence both covertly and overtly, the deadly ashmounts continue to erupt and the world seems to be in its final death throes.

One of the greatest joys of Sanderson’s first volume The Final Empire was the diverse characters and the seeing how they acted and reacted with one another.  Unfortunatley, with each subsequent volume Sanderson’s reliance on the interaction between his characters and how the interact with one another and the world has atrophied.  The characters in The Hero of Ages feel stagnant, trapped in their mindsets and characterization.  They lack the vitality and dynamicism seen in the first volume and the final work suffers as a result.  It is a little sad but the lengthy internal monologues featured by all the major players dragged the novel down each narrative voice feeling like an island unto itself.  I can only hope that Sanderson’s work on A Memory of Light is more in line with The Final Empire or Elantris than The Hero of Ages.

While the characterization did leave a lot to be desired there were indeed glimpses of excellence amidst the general disappointment.  I found TenSoon’s chapter’s particularly enjoyable.  The kandra society seems to be fairly strict and I couldn’t help imagine TenSoon as some kind of revolutionary.  Glimpses of interesting tidbits about TenSoon and his people are left woefully unexplored I was particularly intrigued some of TenSoon’s juniors who saw his adoption of the wolfhound bone as a statement against human-kandra interaction and declaration of human inferiority.  Spook, especially in the early chapters, again provided for some interesting reading but his sudden shift into a messianic figure felt a bit too contrived and didn’t really refelct again kind of natural character growth.  It seems to me that the narrative net of The Hero of Ages was cast a bit too wide in order to do any of the characters real justice.

However, what Sanderson lacks in characterization here he makes up for in both worldbuilding and action.  The former in particular is what drew me on through the majority of the novel.  Sanderson has crafted a unique and fascinating world that he reveals to the reader at a very deliberate pace.  The central mysteries of Final Empire, how the world became what it is, the relationship between Ruin and Preservation, the society of the Kandra, the nature of the world’s three different metal based magics, all reveal an author with a singular vision of how his world should be.  

As in the previous volumes Sanderson opens chapters with snipets of italicized text but where in the first two novels the works were from fictional histories the openings in The Hero of Ages are from after the events in the novel have run their course.  While this could easily have veered into spoiler territory and thus ruined the tension created by events in the novel Sanderson handled things quite well revealing enough about events occuring in the novel, and the nature of the world itself, with out giving away any tidbits about what was going to happen.  While hinted at in previous books the concluding volume finally reveals how everything is connected: from the various creatures populating Sanderson world, to the the three competing forms of magic, to both Ruin and Preservation Sanderson final shines light on how everything works.

While not quite as novel as in either of the first two books Sanderson once again creates some stunning action sequences.  Sanderson excels at set-piece battles.  Elend’s fight against an army of Koloss, or Spooks battle in a burning building Sanderson has a flair for visual storytelling that is both a testement to his own ability to craft an action scene and a by-product of the wonderfully visual quality of allomantic magic.  In my opinion this reaches a peak in Vin’s battle with twelve inquistiors and Ruin/Marsh.  A one vs. thirteen battle in the rain and ash soaked ruins of Luthadel Sanderson manages to craft a standout clash that plays out in the mind eye with ease.  Think of the best asain, anime, or martial arts cinema and ramp things up to 11 and you’ll get somewhere close to visual flair that one scene has.  I would to see this series put to film or even an OVA.

The action of the final quarter of the novel segues into a startling and surprising pay-off that is nigh impossible to see coming.  While not as revolutionary or exciting as The Final Empire, The Hero of Ages manages a satisfying concludion to the series; though not as brilliantly as I would have hoped given the quality of the first and second volumes.  In the end I had a lot of fun reading the Mistborn series.  With fantasy market’s current infatuation with both dark and gritty Sanderson’s Mistborn series is a refreshing change. 

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