The Well of Ascension review

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Well of Ascension is Brandon Sanderson second novel in the Mistborn trilogy. It was originally released in August 2007 and was Sanderson first sequel in one of his Fantasy worlds, the third 'non-YA' novel he wrote.  Sadly, it's now his best work.

The Lord Ruler is no more. The city of Luthadel and the central dominance are now in the hands of the newly crowned King Elend Venture. With the help of the crew and under the protection of the now named Lady Heir, the mistborn Vin, the young charismatic noble who dreamed of a utopian society is trying to create a kingdom with fair laws for everyone. However, for the nobles in the other dominances, this new regime is not to their taste. Upon the rumors of the cache of atium, the ultimate allomantic metal, residing under the city, it's not long before Elend and his people find themselves surrounded by enemies. As the stalemate between the armies and the besieged begins, Vin is now hearing a thrumming sound more and more loudly. Could it be the power of the Well of Ascension coming back after the departure of the Lord Ruler?

If you haven't read the first Mistborn novel before plunging into Well of Ascension, you won't remain lost for too long since in many occurrences, Vin thoughts are directed at the past (mostly hers but other protagonists do it too).  This 'slow-going' recap of the first book was slightly annoying.  Maybe it could come as a plus if you had read it a long time ago but if that's not the case that's just unnecessary filling.

Speaking of thoughts… I don't remember being aware of that aspect of Sanderson's writing in the first volume but there's quite a lot of introspection done by the protagonists. They actually have long reflections about every bit of information or events happening around them and it even affects the discussions they have. This creates a crushingly slow pace with barely a trace of action for several consecutive pages or even chapters. And in action, I'm not simply implying battle sequence but actual progress in the plot. At least, the main arc of the Mistborn trilogy remains original and captivating.

Also, I think that this is even worse when you realize that these writing "defects" are applied to the story itself.  You see, Well of Ascension storyline is concentrated on the military stalemate going on between two or eventually three armies and the city of Luthadel where our heroes from the first volume are currently struggling with power.  This whole situation could be seen as an interesting puzzle but for me it not only created a deadlock in term of warfare but also in term of narrative.  The events are dragging.

Enough negative elements, let's counterbalance this with what I actually enjoyed while reading the book, because from what I've said it may look as if this middle book is borderline with a catastrophe but it's not. Vin, mostly so since she's an allomancer/mistborn, is a very compelling character with great potential and some flaws to make her appear more human. With her former companion/mentor out of the way, someone else with the same kind of "power" ought to step up to the plate, some balance is needed.  That individual is Zane, another mistborn and the son of a high noble. His madness and skills and the relationship he develops with Vin bring a refreshing breath to the lethargic tale.  However, I could ask myself if it's normal to cheer for a relationship that you know is wrong or at least you think it is when taking into account all the info and feelings the author injected into it….

Another shining star in this covered sky is Sazed and the epigraphs telling the story of the world builder Kwaan, who followed the first supposed Hero of Ages. The recounting itself and the way Sazed is looking into it add an extra layer to the whole mystery at the heart of the second book who was indeed in need of more (for at least a good portion of the tale). Moreover, since Sazed is now the only ferruchemist using his skills in original ways, he hopefully got enough page time.  The last character that I would compliment is Oreseur, the kandra.  Again, he's revolving around Vin and creating with an entertaining set of exchanges.

The ending can be seen as redeeming for some of the more negative sides of the book. It's not transforming a decent book into a splendid one but at least it creates a more interesting setting for the final book of the trilogy. I still enjoyed enough parts of the ride to eventually pick up the last novel and not simply because I started it or want to witness the resolution but because many elements are in place to produce something great.

As such, the one thing I truly remember from the first novel was its originality in its magic system, plot and world-building. While in a bridging novel some of these aspects can fade out a bit, as it does in this instance with the story, it still remains strong enough in Well of Ascension to help in making me continue to read Sanderson's work in this universe.  The upcoming book set in the same world centuries later, The Allow of Law could be the icing on an uneven cake but a good cake nonetheless.

Technically, the Tor books covers are not amazing (the first one posted is the one for the mass market paperback edition and the second one for the hardcover) but the UK art as its charms. The map is still present as is the glossary with the allomantic metals.  The hardcover edition of the novel stands at 592 pages.  As for the audiobook edition I listened to, it was read by the always agreeable Michael Kramer, who I enjoyed several times in the past in the Wheel of Time and Acacia series audiobooks.  The duration of the narration is 29 hours and 1 minute.

The Well of Ascension review score :

Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 9 / 10
Story.............................. 6.5 / 10
Writing........................... 7 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7 / 10


Mistborn review
Brandon Sanderson page


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Sanderson's only famous because he hopped on the Jordan train after said bad writer kicked the bucket during a fantasy series that he was milking for profit and drawing out to infinity for book sales. Now he's got a license to print whatever he wants by Tor because of it. I've seen unpublished stuff by people with no degrees that is as original as his but theirs will not ever see the light of day.

Bets Davies said...

Ouch, Michael. But I don't know if it is true. I kept far away from the Jordan train, personally.

I'm wondering if I will ever move through this book. I have a certain boredom with war and politics. I love character and dialogue. But after a childhood of introspection and musings and all that with my own characters I decided that I really get sick of it. If it can't be spoken or acted on, slipped into sly, three sentence paragraphs, you've got a problem. Sigh.

So it is probably sounding like this isn't for me, huh?

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