Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Tor
How does the writer who so successfully played out a new twist in the fantasy genre follow-up a great sequence opening novel? Though the answer is simple (he writes a book called Mistborn: Well of Ascension), reading the intricate book is proof that it was the effort of a skilled practitioner of the words. In The Final Empire, Brandon showed how the revolution defeated the Dark Lord, the being many thought was Hero of the Ages transformed. Here, he tries to answer another very often unanswered question: What happens when the Dark Lord is overthrown? This question is the launching point for The Well of Ascension.
The novel starts one year after the events of The Final Empire with the Lord Ruler deposed and the Final Empire is thrown into chaos Elend Venture, Vin’s romantic interest from the previous volume, has assumed control the throne of Luthadel, capital city of the disheveled land. Not all agree with him being on the throne, in fact, many of his former peers see him as a very temporary and idealistic ruler. Not the least of which is his father, who left the city in the revolution at the close of the previous volume. By setting this story a year after the events of the previous volume, Sanderson is able to show a raised sense of tension in the city of Luthadel, especially through Vin and Venture’s eyes.
Into the chaos of a recovering nation come two armies knocking at the city gates, looking to takeover the seemingly very weak and vulnerable nation. As intimated earlier in this review, one of those armies is led by Elend’s father, Straff Venture. The other army is led by a power hungry lord from a neighboring land. As if the struggles at and within the gates of Luthadel weren’t enough, people are mysteriously and dying terrifyingly. The mysterious mists which fell periodically in the previous volume now hang with more frequency, taking the lives of innocent people.
On the character-scale, both Vin and Elend are dealing with many struggles of their own. Neither feels they are worthy of the other’s love; or rather neither know if they are comfortable with giving into the safety of one another. When Kelsier passed away in the previous novel, the loyalty of a contract-bound Kandra (a shape-shifting servant) was passed on to Vin by Kelsier. In order to assume the shape of another, the Kandra must consume the remains of a deceased person. What proved difficult for Vin was that this particular Kandra, OreSeur, assumed the shape of Kelsier to briefly instill a sense of purpose in the revolting people’s minds in the previous volume. In the early part of The Well of Ascension, OreSeur assumes a new, less comfortable shape, to say the least. As the inheritor of OreSeur’s contract, Vin has the Kandra as a companion and bodyguard.
Through Vin’s escapades into the Luthadel night; whether for scouting trips to ensure none are plotting too strongly against Elend or to keep an eye on the level of crime, a great deal of dialogue passes between her and OreSeur. This provides a welcome insight into Vin’s evolving character and her motivations. This is particularly interesting once Vin encounters Straff’s own Mistborn protector, Zane. Though Zane is charged with removing Vin from the equation, providing for an easier transition for Straff to rule, Zane finds what he thinks to be a companion in Vin. So, Vin is protecting Luthadel as the most powerful Mistborn, while conflicted by her feelings for Zane and Elend. In Zane she sees a Mistborn, perhaps the only Mistborn, of a nearly equal level of power.
Sanderson has ramped up his level of character development in The Well of Ascension, fortunately this is not to the detriment of the plot and fantastical elements. One of the more enjoyable aspects of The Final Empire was the play on the prophecy of Alendi, the Hero of Ages who “became” the Lord Ruler of the Final Empire. Like the previous volume, each chapter has the header of a quote from a long lost diary, which sets the tone for the chapter. Those prophecies come under even greater scrutiny in The Well of Ascension, both from Vin and Sazed. One of the main points here is how much the prophecies are laid out and events transpire versus how events occur and the prophecies are shaped by the events. This seems to be an inverse of the dictum that the winners are the ones who write the histories. I think Sanderson may be saying something about the genre as a whole, both about “prophecy-driven” stories as well as the overwhelming power of story through the ages.
Though Vin and Elend are the two characters with the most focus, many of the characters from the previous volume return and hold their places well. They haven’t changed too much, but what is interesting is to see how they continue on after the death of their leader one year (and one book) after the events of The Final Empire.
Sanderson is crafting an extremely well-thought out saga with Mistborn, one that looks to stand above the pack of his literary peers. The magic system is perfectly detailed, the world, though not completely revealed, has a great sense of natural logic to it, and the characters are a reflection of both. Reading both books so far has helped to remind me why I enjoy Fantasy, especially those stories told in a secondary world, so much.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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