Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Well of Ascencion Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Mistborn Book Two
Pages: 797

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(Spoilers below for Mistborn: The Final Empire).

New writers have a tendency to fall into a sophomore slump, where the author has the beginning and ending figured out, but the plot that bridges the gap between the two is less certain.  With Mistborn being the first trilogy and/or the first fantasy series that was written by Brandon Sanderson; The Well of Ascension has a tendency to fall into the slump category.

After an excellent introduction with The Final Empire, the sequel largely struggles for the first three quarters of the book.  It isn’t until the final 100 pages that Sanderson feels like he’s in full stride with progressing his story.  The ending is strong enough to avert a potential disaster, and it is able to mostly make up for a lot of this installment’s deficits. Although The Well of Ascension is a solid book, it’s not as good as its predecessor.

Taking place a year after the concluding events of The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension finds the world in turmoil after the death of the Lord Ruler.  The various Dominances have split up and declared their own kings.

Elend Venture, who was named king of the Central Dominance, is struggling to maintain control of his kingdom.  Not helping matters is the fact that the various kings of the other Dominances believe that Elend has the Lord Ruler’s secret stash atium, which makes him a military target.  Unfortunately, for Elend, the stash of atium has yet to be found.

Vin is tasked with keeping Elend alive from assassins and a new mysterious mistborn, that is referred to as the Watcher.  As the remnants of Kelsier’s team struggle with war and politics, signs of a larger threat, only vaguely referred to as the Darkness by the Lord Ruler, threatens to destroy the world.

The Well of Ascension starts by addressing one of the bigger complaints about the previous book, which was the rise of Elend Venture as King of Luthadel.  Even with Vin backing Elend, it didn’t feel right that a team of skaa rebels would suddenly allow a nobleman to become king after fighting a political war to remove the nobility and the Lord Ruler from power.

Sanderson spends a significant amount of time in this book quelling and defending his decision to put Elend on top, and he largely handles the development of his character really well. Elend struggles to earn respect from his friends, and he is given no respect from his enemies.  He is in an extremely weakened position, which makes sense since he was put in power by a group of people that previously hated him for his social standing.  This situation allows for a lot of character growth for Elend, and Sanderson develops him into one of his stronger characters.

One of the strongest aspects about The Final Empire was whether or not Kelsier’s quest to destroy the Lord Ruler would make the world a better place.  The primary threat to the world becoming a worse place by destroying the Lord Ruler was Kelsier himself, since people were afraid that his ego would get out of hand and he would turn himself into another dictator.  This tension drove a lot of the conflict in the first book; it’s what kept the reader guessing about the outcome; and it’s what made the story a lot more morally and thematically complicated.

Unfortunately, no new story line is added to this sequel that adds that kind of tension, and that is one of bigger problems that really hampers this book from being as great as its predecessor.  Instead readers are treated to characters discussing their idealistic looking view for governing the world. The view points of Vin, Elend, and Kelsiers crew in this book are simply the right views, and opposing views such the kings of the other Dominances, are simply wrong.  This tends to make the protagonists of the story sound preachy, and it also reduces the complications of the morals and themes that made the previous book so great.

Sanderson does attempt to add a credible dissenting view to the protagonists via the character introduced as the Watcher.  For awhile it seems like he might be able to complicate the ideas of the story, but he ultimately never does.  Additionally, the Watcher suffers from being positioned as a unique character, but with a bland personality.  This clash of bland personality and unique philosophical position doesn’t work well, and his purpose which is ultimately to help Vin overcome her trust issues, feels forced. The end result is a plot thread in this story that feels like an added distraction.

Like the previous book, each chapter begins with text written 1,000 years ago.  This time the author of the text is Kwaan, instead of the Hero of Ages.  Although Kwaan yields some interesting points to the story, they aren’t enough to cover each beginning chapter head.  Sanderson compensates for this by repeating a lot of material, and by having a lot of very short chapter introductions.  Maintaining the structure is important, but Sanderson clearly struggles with this in regards to the chapter heads. He simply doesn’t have enough material, and when the importance of what’s being said in the chapter heads is finally revealed towards the end, its emotional significance is reduced by its redundancies.

The strongest point of this sequel is the larger story arc focusing on the Deepness, and the Well of Ascension.  Unfortunately this sequence, which ironically serves as the climax of the story, ends up feeling like a subplot.  This is due to the vast majority of the time in the book being spent on securing the rule in Luthadel for Elend and company.  By page count comparison, what should have been the major subplot (Elend working to gain control of Luthadel) ends up becoming the main plot, and its just not strong enough to be a main plot.

The Well of Ascension still has all of the other elements that made the first book great.  Epic battles with allomancy, dark worldly imagery, and the occasional plot twist, but it can’t make up for the dominate plot arc of securing Luthadel that encapsulates the majority of the story.  Although it’s a well written sequel, The Well of Ascension doesn’t entirely live up to the high standards established by The Final Empire.

Score: 7.9

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