Brandon Sanderson – “The Well Of Ascension”

12 Nov

GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Tor 2008 (2007)

SERIES: “Mistborn” trilogy, part 2

WHY THIS NOVEL: I liked the first part in this trilogy a lot.

The back blurb:
“Evil has been defeated.
The was has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend, Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege thightens, 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.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.”

The Well of Ascension begins a few months after the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire. Like Mistborn, it’s divided into parts (six this time) and begins each chapter with an account-like paragraph of what have happened one thousand years before. This time, it’s not the hero himself who writes. This time, it’s the scholar who discovered him, the Hero of Ages prophesied for so long in their religion, and this scholar tells his side of the story in these sentences. He begins his account with the words: “I write these words in steel, for anything not set in metal cannot be trusted” (3).

The Well of Ascension is a look at what happens when the good guys win. Most of it deals with the threat of the three armies laying siege to Luthadel, the “capital” of the Final Empire. Elend Venture is the new king and the former thieves are his advisers. The main story line in this novel is Elend’s struggle with himself and the question of what makes a good leader.

Who was he? A man who had haphazardly ended up on the throne? A poor replacement for their brilliant leader? An idealist who hadn’t considered the dangers his philosophies would bring? A fool? A child? An imposter?

His idealism clashes with the reality of what it takes to lead people, especially since he faces the harsh reality in a besieged city. Elend has a lot to learn about leading. It’s only when another “Keeper,” a secret organization of scholars, arrives that he realizes that ideals and good intentions are maybe not enough.

There are two secondary story lines (in terms of page count) and then some even smaller ones. At the end of Mistborn, Vin had a tenuous understanding of herself and thought she could be both Mistborn (and assassin) and the woman Elend needs as king. In The Well of Ascension, this is threatened as she is revisited by her old fears: to be betrayed and to be left alone. Her insecurities about herself are made worse when she meets another Mistborn and starts to question her relationship with Elend. She can’t reconcile her love for Elend with being Elend’s knife at the throat of his enemies and her aversion to being used as an assassin and a means of threat by him. On top of that, she can no longer see the mist as her means to be free because the mist has changed. She sees a figure in it watching her and she can’t shake the feeling that it all has to do with the Lord Ruler’s death.

This is were the Sazed’s story line comes in. He’s a Keeper and at the start of the story, he’s out in the country to teach the people what he knows. He discovers the scholar’s account “set in steel” and also disturbing things about the mist and so decides to go back to Luthadel. Together with the other Keeper there, he tries to understand the account in light of what they know and to find the answer to the question of what the Well of Ascension is and what the Deepness, the thing the Lord Ruler defeated one thousand years before, was. There are discrepancies in books and the accounts, especially about the Hero of Ages, and then somehow it looks like history is repeating itself. The answer to all this makes for a powerful ending that changes a lot.

On the whole, The Well of Ascension seems less focused than Mistborn, probably because there are several POV characters and several plot lines to juggle. Some of the subplots sometimes appear to be dropped because it seems that several weeks passed by between each mention of it, like for example the spy subplot. Then there’s the character who vanishes early in the story without nobody wondering about it. There is also not much action in this story, something that gets particularly clear when you look back on what happened: the big battle for Luthadel and the realization about the Well of Ascension. Both things happen at the end. Most of the story reads like the quiet before the storm and concerns itself with the exploration of leadership. While I thought this interesting on a philosophical level, the writing there wasn’t tight and focused enough to gather it’s own momentum, making the first parts of the novel a somewhat slow read because the balance didn’t quite work. What kept me reading then was mostly Vin’s and Sazed’s story line.

The last parts of the novel made up for the slower first half/two thirds of the novel and overall, there is much to like in this novel, like Vin’s struggle with her identity, her insecurities and her fears. I also thought the exploration of themes of leadership and religion in this story interesting. And I liked the answer Sazed finds and the twist it puts on religion and prophecies, especially since it also offers a comment on the end of Mistborn and its question of heroism. But I’m not sure if it was such a good idea to read this book so soon after Mistborn. It probably made it suffer more in comparison than necessary.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes (not as a stand-alone).

Would I read this novel again? Yes.

Grade: 4 – / 5


2 Responses to “Brandon Sanderson – “The Well Of Ascension””

  1. Christine Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 5:35 am #

    That’s a bit disappointing that the second book wasn’t as great as the first. I find sometimes the second book in fantasy trilogies is used as a bridge of sorts between the first and last books which tend to be more dramatic and exciting. Hopefully book three will be another 5/5! 🙂

  2. Taja Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 10:40 am #

    You’re right with the bridge thing. You can’t just skip the aftermath of a rebellion and go on a few years later in such a series. I’m just not much into reading about siege/preparing for battle – even the Song of Ice and Fire series bored me there a little. 🙂

    I read on another blog that the pb edition of the third part is scheduled for April 09. That’s not so long. The hardcover was released this month. The comments so far seem rather promising!

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