Monday, November 26, 2012

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.10 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.29 / 5.00

I read this book as part of a very enjoyable Read Along hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This is the second book in the Mistborn Series: I previously reviewed the first one, Mistborn here. If you have not read that title, then I suggest that you avoid this review as it inevitably has many SPOILERS for how the first book ends.

We return to the world of the Final Empire, but things are very different from when we left it.

The Lord Ruler is dead and his Empire is in ruins as various factions rush to fill the power vacuum. Vin has grown from a starving petty thief into one of the most powerful of the Mistborn and she is now both loved and feared as the Lord Ruler’s killer. Kelsier is also dead, although his legend lives on and his followers are creating a new religion based upon his martyrdom. Elend Venture has stepped out of his father’s shadow and become the idealistic new Emperor, trying to create a fair society for all of his people.

A year after the fall of the Lord Ruler, Luthadel is still a city in turmoil. This situation is made much worse when armies led by power-hungry Nobles begin to arrive outside the gates. As they lay siege to the city, Elend, Vin and the rest of Kel’s gang must try to make the right choice for the survival of their fledgling society. The power offered by the Well of Ascension might be the very help that they need.

After being swept away by the first title in this series, I was very happy to see how the city was adapting to its new freedom. At the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire, we had the standard ‘happy ending’, with the bad guy dead, the girl getting her guy and all the oppressed being giving their freedom. I really appreciate the way that Mr Sanderson took this ‘fairy tale’ ending and moved on into a much more realistic political situation. A year after the exhilaration and joy of the Lord Ruler’s death we find a society that is not at all comfortable with the way that the new Emperor wants to run things. The old Noble houses are very unhappy about their loss of status and the skaa find it difficult to be assertive and make decisions for themselves. Elend has created an Assembly that represents all aspects of society, but the various factions cannot overcome the centuries of programming that they have had in distrusting each other, and so there is constant deadlock and little progress. This is very frustrating for Elend, who has a firm vision of a democratic society built upon equality and freedom.

The political sphere is not the only one where we see a less-than-perfect outcome to the revolution. Vin is struggling to come to terms with her new powers and her public persona as Kelsier’s heir and the killer of the Lord Ruler. She has always been a very private person, so she finds all this public attention very uncomfortable, but is also distressed by her new status as a vicious killing machine. All of her self-doubt and discomfort is translated into a cooling of her relationship with Elend as she tries to work out who and what she has become. We see the result of the pressures upon them and how her innately secretive nature could drive a wedge between them.

Sazed is also suffering from a huge dose of disillusionment as he tries to educate the skaa about some of the religions that he has saved in his metal minds. They are much more interested in finding food and living their lives, which makes him wonder if the Keepers’ work has all been a waste of time. However, he soon returns to Luthadel and is reunited with one of the other Keepers, Tindwyl, who has been sent to help Elend become a more successful ruler. They have a very interesting relationship, which develops into a love story that is very sweet and unexpected, especially as we know that he is a eunuch. However, it shows that sex is not the only requirement for love, which is quite nice in a world where sex is possibly over-emphasized in relationships.

As well as taking our favorite characters in new directions, Mr Sanderson does not simply give us another story for the same crew. We get to explore much more of the world and meet some interesting new characters. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is Zane, one of Straff Venture’s illegitimate children. He is a powerful Mistborn and becomes obsessed with Vin, shadowing her around the city and offering her an alternative view on how to use her powers. In many ways he is like the Emperor in the Star Wars universe, offering to show Vin the ‘Dark’ side of their powers. We also spend a great deal of time with OreSeur, the kandra, and learn much more about them and their society. They are a very interesting creation and display a totally different morality from the humans that we meet. As with Zane, he has a great influence on Vin, and her growing relationship with him has very significant consequences. Even more inhuman are the koloss, who are the world’s best and worst army: totally crazed berserker killers that are almost impossible to control. They arrive as an army outside Luthadel and prove to be the most vital factor in how the siege will end.

However, it is not just the evolving characters and vivid imagination that make this a great read. Mr Sanderson continues the exploration of religion and its place in society that he began in book one, and takes it in some interesting directions. He also gives us a very real portrait of what happens to an ancient society when change is attempted. I really appreciate the decisions that he made to take our characters along a much harder route than the ones that we normally see in fantasy. This is a world totally devoid of fluffy, sparkly convenience, but full of gritty consequences and highly unpleasant ways to live and die.

Please note: this book does not have a nice neat ‘stand-alone’ ending like the first title, so I would highly recommend having book three ready to go!

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