Title:The Well of Ascension
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor (US) / Gollancz (UK)
Publishing Date: June 2008 / December 2009
Mass Market Paperback: 816 pages / 800 pages
Stand alone or series: Second book in the Mistborn trilogy
Why did we read the book: Because we loved Mistborn.
How did we get the book: We both bought our copies.
Summary: The impossible has happened. The Lord Ruler has been vanquished. But so too is Kelsier the man who masterminded the triumph. The awesome task of rebuilding the world has been left to his protege Vin; a one-time street urchin, now the most powerful Mistborn in the land. Worryingly for her Vin has become the focus of a new religion, a development that leaves her intensely uneasy. More worryingly still the mists have become unpredictable since the Lord Ruler died and a strage vaprous entity is stalking Vin. As the siege of Luthadel intensifies the ancient legend of the Well of Ascension offers the only glimmer of hope. But no-one knows where it is or what it can do .
Ana: Having loved the first book in the series as much as I did, it was no-brainer that I would be reading the entire trilogy and I started The Well of Ascension with a great amount of excitment. And I was not disappointed. Although not as awesome as the first in the series, this book was still gripping, interesting and with quite a few plot twists that made me all giddy inside. This series is GOOD.
Thea: I too loved The Final Empire, and had high hopes for this second book. But I gotta level with you here, dear readers – I frankly was disappointed with The Well of Ascension. It’s still a very good book, and I am as impressed as ever with Mr. Sanderson’s worldbuilding skillz as well as his eye for drama and action…but this book felt like a let-down on many levels. The constant repetition and caricaturish characters in particular were constant annoyances. That said, the scale of action in this book and the war/politicking storylines were fantastic, and though I did guess a few of the plot twists, there was more than enough mystery to keep me entertained with this novel. Certainly enough to warrant continued reading of the series!
On the plot:
It’s been one year since Vin and her friends killed the supposedly immortal tyrant, the Lord Ruler, and freed Luthadel. But freedom doesn’t come without consequences. The city is surrounded by two invading armies who think Elend should not be King. Inside the citadel, political intrigue blooms and both Elend and Vin struggle to accept their place in the new world order. Meanwhile, the mists are coming now during daytime and Vin starts to realise that maybe the Lord Ruler was more than a tyrant : what if he was keeping the Deepness at bay? Then another manuscript is found that may shed light in the Prophecy about the Hero of Ages and his (or her) role in saving the world from something worse than they ever thought.
Ana: I have to admit I did not expect that one year would have passed since the end of the first book but that certainly allows for the interesting place where the characters find themselves: being under siege by two distinct forces, trying to find a new balance between lords and Skaa, trying above all to find their voice after the loss of their leader Kelsier, the man who planned everything they accomplished. Elend, the new king, finds himself in a complicated position trying to hear all the different sides and to remain a good person. Vin, who is now his bodyguard is becoming a stronger Mistborn by the minute and the more power she has, the more the Kingdom and the King have to rely on her for protection and survival (how refreshing to see the female character in such a powerful position). Just then she starts to see things in the Mist and to hear a thudding sound in the background which might point that she is in fact the prophesised Hero of Ages who will save them all. A LOT happens in this book and the scope that the story has, is simply amazing but that doesn’t come without its share of problems.
Starting with pacing: the story kept shifting from the overall story arc (The Deepness and the siege of Luthadel) to focus on the characters. I never thought I would ever say this in my reading life, but I wished that the author had progressed with the plot instead of focusing so much on character development.
Thea. Hold me, I think I will be sick.
This instalment reads a lot like a coming of age story for both Vin and Elend in which both go through a series of hard-learnt lessons about sacrifice and the greater good and both emerge stronger in the end. To be fair, this was absolutely necessary and I wouldn’t change it for the world but I am sure their arcs could have been shortened without detriment to the development of their characters. Most of their inner monologue and identity issues was repeated ad nauseam. Vin would go on and on about trust issues, about who she is – is she a lady? Is she a killer? Similarly with Elend who suffered of lack of self-confidence: is he a good king, is he a scholar? Lather, repeat, rinse. It got boring and tiresome pretty soon.
It might sound as though I didn’t like the book which is not the case, at all. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t read fast enough. All of the above are me being completely objective but the truth is this: even though the book is far from being perfect, even though there were pacing issues and I had problems with the repetitions, these were only minor quibbles because the overall plot is fantastic. It is clear that the author knows what he is doing and where his story is going. From political intrigue between the several lords with interest in the citadel and its hidden Atium, to the mythology surrounding the Kandra for example noting seems to be random and eventually it all falls into place during the climax. The amazing, mind-blowing climax who had everything I love about Fantasy: great fighting sequences, lose threads that become part of the whole, and a twist, OMG the twist. I finished the book with my jaw dropping to the floor.
It is also worth to mention that this is a second book in the trilogy, and as with all amazing middle books, this one ends with a sad note of loss and despair. The stakes are higher from now on and it should not be different. I really want to see what the frak happens next.
Thea: I have to echo Ana’s thoughts – while The Well of Ascension has a truly wonderful, multilayered plot, there were some serious pacing issues. First, the good: this book covers an impressive amount of detail and is awe-inspiring in its scope. In particular, the political aspect of the novel, with the marching armies besieging Luthadel and the actions of the Assembly in their votes against Elend’s rule as King are fabulously imagined and feel very real. There’s also the problem of the ominous mists choking the land, appearing across the Empire earlier in the afternoon and staying past dawn – to the point where people are mysteriously being killed in the mists themselves. The overarching mystery of what the Lord Ruler’s last words truly meant, about the nature of “the Deepness” reverberate ominously throughout this book and come to a somewhat shocking conclusion. Well, sort of.
The biggest problem with The Well of Ascension is how repetitive it is. I have to agree whole-heartedly with Ana – there was SO MUCH time devoted to characters and their insecurities, I found myself impatient to get back to the action and plot. When the plot moved forward, it was phenomenal – but the great plotting was unfortunately dwarfed by the character repetition, and this really hampered my reading experience. In contrast to Ana, by the time the twists came along and the dramatic conclusion, I was more than a little weary of the whole book. As for the twists themselves, they are so obviously alluded to throughout the story with heavy-handed foreshadowing (seriously, the little excerpts at the beginning of each chapter from the same. damn. document over and over again get very tiresome) that by the time all the cards are on the table at the conclusion of the novel, it was a bit ruined for me.
That’s not to say that The Well of Ascension is a bad book – rather, it’s testament to Mr. Sanderson’s writing that in spite of these qualms I still found myself engrossed in the story and finished it all in a few scant days. But there was no need for this book to be so long as it was. Two hundred or so pages could easily have been trimmed from the novel, making it more suspenseful and efficient. But that’s just my opinion.
On the characters:
Ana: Thea will probably tell you that the characters are too good. I agree but I have actually am not really bothered by that. I usually am all for shades of gray but I think in this instance it not only worked (why not? Why can’t people be genuinely good?) but it actually added extra angst because good does not always triumph in the end. It was a great exercise to see a group of good, honourable men taking charge of a city after the fall of the tyrant and realising little by little that sometimes being good and honourable is not enough. It is HORRIBLE to realise as you go along, that if you were a bit more flexible in your beliefs you could be a better leader but also a sell-out. I liked reading this and the repercussions of their actions.
I did resent though, being told over and over again that they were good. It was completely unnecessary because I could see that – I was shown that they were good. And this is one of the crazy things about Brandon Sanderson’s writing of his characters: it is bipolar, shifting between telling and showing. For example, a character would do something cool, like say Breeze, would soothe people’s emotions. Then there would be paragraph after paragraph examining the action and telling me that it was because he was a good person. But I already know that – I can see for myself. It is as though the author doesn’t trust the reader to understand what he is doing.
That doesn’t mean that he can’t write these characters: he can. And I love every single one of them. All the members of their motley crew of thieves turned citizens who belong and who have a role to play in the decision-making process. Sazed is another one whom I adored since the first book and this time we are granted his PoV as well. His arc is another one that is gripping especially when he comes to realise how his position of Keeper is one that prevents him for taking a side. I even like the villains and I was MOST intrigued with Zane, the Mistborn who fell for Vin. Finally, of course there is Vin, my favourite character and she totally kick-ass in this book. Boy, can the woman fight.
There is one character though that I do not like as much as the others and that would be Elend Venture. Elend is uptight, self-sacrificing and self-righteous and he can go round and round immersed in his ideology and insecurities instead of DOING something. Elend is in other words, a douchebag. But he is not a complete douchebag. Every time I was about to quit on him and wish for his demise, he would do something cool that would make me appreciate him and to be completely forthright, I sort of like his romantic relationship with Vin even though at the times I wished that she would have been paired off with someone stronger.
You know what? I spent most of the book thinking that what he really needed was to have a good night of sex. You know, to let the tension out? But also because it is hard for me to believe in a love story between Elend and Vin, which is central to this trilogy, when something as essential as PASSION was missing. They would snuggle and kiss but nothing else and they have known each other for two years and have been together as a couple for one. Elend kept BLUSHING every time Vin would show him some skin for Christ’s sake. It is hard for me to believe in a couple when passion and sex is missing . Note, I am not asking for sex SCENES, I can have them or leave them. What I am trying to say is that sex is important for a relationship to work and it was unrealistic that they didn’t even think about it.
Despite Elend douchebaginess, the main group of character are strong and sympathetic. Kudos to Brandon Sanderson for making me care so much to what happens to them.
Thea: Ok, Ana guessed it – I have a small problem with all the main characters in Mistborn. They are all so, damned GOOD. They are all honorable thieves with hearts of gold, who would NEVER turn their backs on Kelsier’s liberated empire even when it means their deaths. Blah, blah, blah, kumbaya. In of itself, this isn’t a huge deal – but there’s this overarching obsession with “good men” that it made me want to tear out my hair, or at least drive one or two of those Inquisitor spikes into my own eyes. Again, this goes back to the repetition thing. Over and over again we hear about how Vin fears Elend won’t love her because she cannot be a lady and Mistborn at the same time. Again and again we hear about how Elend isn’t Kelsier and how inadequate he feels about being a leader. Every other page, we hear that “Elend is a good man!” “But good men cannot be kings!” “Yes they can!” “No they can’t!”
I feel like a huge grouch, but this bothered me immensely whilst reading. Besides the repetition, the other annoying thing with the characters was how caricaturish they all seemed. In fact, I can sum them all up in a few sentences:
Breeze: I’m so silly and no one can take me seriously, but I soothe emotions unconsciously! No one can love me because I’m a soother! *fights with Ham*
Ham: What is God? What is life? I ask supposedly deep questions, but never answer them! *fights with Breeze*
Zane: I’m CRAZY! Kill them! No don’t kill them! Vin, we can leave together! MIST!
Elend: Wah, wah, wah, does Vin love me? I’m not as cool as Kelsier! But I do dress in nice uniforms and stand up straight. PHILOSOPHY! BOOKS!
Vin: Elend can never love me anymore, I am not a lady, I am an outsider. MIST! Pewter, copper cloud pierce! Pewter! DURALUMIN-PEWTER!!!!! *ninja vanish*
That probably doesn’t make sense if you haven’t read the book. But if you have, you know exactly what I mean.
That all said, when Vin isn’t drowning in a weird sea of insecurity, she’s a badass heroine, and her action scenes are ridiculously good fun. Elend is a complete wanker, and I’m super annoyed with the ending of this book in particular as it pertains to him. I completely agree with Ana with her dissatisfaction with the character. And yet, despite my annoyance with the insecurities and repetition in the novel and especially so far as Vin and Elend are concerned, their dysfunctional personalities work together, somehow. Though I will also agree that there’s something weirdly PG about the whole relationship. They’ve been together for over a year now, and sleep in separate rooms, and their relationship consists mostly of “cuddling” and chaste kisses. It’s weird. And a little creepy.
While the supposed “hero” characters were grating, there were some standout others that more than compensated for the deficit. In particular, the character of Zane was a favorite of mine. Heck, even the villainous Lord Straff Venture, Elend’s father, was a welcome breath of fresh air in a sea of one-note characters. Also, OreSeur, the Kandra bound to Vin from Kelsier’s contract, was probably my favorite character in the entire novel. We learn a lot more about the Deepness, about the mist and the Kandra in this novel, and it’s all wonderful good fun. I only wish this was more of a focus in the novel.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating
Ana: Overall, The Well of Ascension is not as good as Mistborn, but parts of it are. The fighting sequences, the political intrigue, the mythology surrounding all the different races, Vin and the last bombastic 100 pages were completely awesome. When Brandon Sanderson shines, he shines with a force of a supernova. Here is wishing that the last instalment will be made entirely of good parts.
Thea: While I’m not as convinced as Ana, I did enjoy The Well of Ascension, despite its sizable, glaring missteps. Mr. Sanderson has a knack for writing action, so when it does (finally) come around, it’s enough to keep even the most reluctant readers engaged. And, to be fair, the high points of the book were ridiculously good. I’m just hoping that Hero of Ages has more of the high points, and less mind-numbing repetition.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From Chapter 1:
The army crept like a dark stain across the horizon.
King Elend Venture stood motionless upon the Luthadel city wall, looking out at the enemy troops. Around him, ash fell from the sky in fat, lazy flakes. It wasn’t the burnt white ash that one saw in dead coals; this was a deeper, harsher black ash. The Ashmounts had been particularly active lately.
Elend felt the ash dust his face and clothing, but he ignored it. In the distance, the bloody red sun was close to setting. It backlit the army that had come to take Elend’s kingdom from him.
“How many?” Elend asked quietly.
“Fifty thousand, we think,” Ham said, leaning against the parapet, beefy arms folded on the stone. Like everything in the city, the wall had been stained black by countless years of ashfalls.
“Fifty thousand soldiers . . .” Elend said, trailing off. Despite heavy recruitment, Elend barely had twenty thousand men under his command—and they were peasants with less than a year of training. Maintaining even that small number was straining his resources. If they’d been able to find the Lord Ruler’s atium, perhaps things would be different. As it was, Elend’s rule was in serious danger of economic disaster.
“What do you think?” Elend asked.
“I don’t know, El,” Ham said quietly. “Kelsier was always the one with the vision.”
“But you helped him plan,” Elend said. “You and the others, you were his crew. You were the ones who came up with a strategy for overthrowing the empire, then made it happen.”
Ham fell silent, and Elend felt as if he knew what the man was thinking. Kelsier was central to it all. He was the one who organized, the one who took all of the wild brainstorming and turned it into a viable operation. He was the leader. The genius.
And he’d died a year before, on the very same day that the people—as part of his secret plan—had risen up in fury to overthrow their god emperor. Elend had taken the throne in the ensuing chaos. Now it was looking more and more like he would lose everything that Kelsier and his crew had worked so hard to accomplish.
Lose it to a tyrant who might be even worse than the Lord Ruler. A petty, devious bully in “noble” form. The man who had marched his army on Luthadel.
Elend’s own father, Straff Venture.
You can read the full chapter, as well as chapters 2 and 3 online HERE.
Brandon Sanderson, as you may have heard, has also written the completion of Robert Jordan’s beloved Wheel of Time series – with the long awaited twelfth novel, The Gathering Storm out in stores on October 25th. You can find out more about Brandon Sanderson and The Gathering Storm online in an interview with editor Harriet McDougal and the author HERE.
What’s even cooler is, Tor is providing us with a sweet “Fantasy Firsts” giveaway of both The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time book 1) and Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn book 1)!
We are giving away THREE prize packs for three lucky readers, each containing a copy of The Eye of the World and Mistborn: The Final Empire. The contest is open to residents of the US, Canada, and UK, and will run until October 24th at 11:59 PM (PST). In order to enter, simply leave a comment here, letting us know what your favorite first book in a fantasy series is! Good luck!
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Thea: 7 – Very Good
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