Review: ‘The Well of Ascension’ by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension

The impossible has been accomplished. The Lord Ruler – the man who claimed to be god incarnate and brutally ruled the world for a thousand years – has been vanquished. But Kelsier, the hero who masterminded that triumph, is dead too, and now the awesome task of building a new world has been left to his young protégé, Vin, the former street urchin who is now the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and to the idealistic young nobleman she loves.

As Kelsier’s protégé and slayer of the Lord Ruler she is now venerated by a budding new religion, a distinction that makes her intensely uncomfortable. Even more worrying, the mists have begun behaving strangely since the Lord Ruler died, and seem to harbor a strange vaporous entity that haunts her.

Stopping assassins may keep Vin’s Mistborn skills sharp, but it’s the least of her problems. Luthadel, the largest city of the former empire, doesn’t run itself, and Vin and the other members of Kelsier’s crew, who lead the revolution, must learn a whole new set of practical and political skills to help. It certainly won’t get easier with three armies – one of them composed of ferocious giants – now vying to conquer the city, and no sign of the Lord Ruler’s hidden cache of atium, the rarest and most powerful allomantic metal.

As the siege of Luthadel tightens, 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.

The Well of Ascension is book two in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, and I would strongly suggest not trying to read it as a stand-alone novel. I reviewed the first book here if you want to decide whether this series is for you. That review also largely holds true for book two. I’ve given this book 4.5 stars as well, though my niggles are different this time around. (I considered a 4-star rating instead for this one, but the plot twists deserved that extra half star!)

Still, let’s recap.

Things I loved

A little slice of a big  world. Despite the fact that almost the entire story is set in or immediately around Luthadel, there is a sense of a much bigger world out there, one that has an impact on Luthadel and the fate of the former empire. Still, I liked the narrower focus — sometimes, fantasy novels that involve army-scale warfare start to read like a book on military tactics. That is never the case here, which is — to me — a good thing.

A cast of characters who aren’t black and white. We gained a sense in the first book that even the Lord Ruler, the tyrant demigod who ruled for 1000 years, might not be 100% evil (maybe 90%? 85%?). On the other side of the coin, Kelsier, the supposed hero of the piece, had grand ideals but was just as brutal in his own way. That trend continues in the second book. Elend is sweet but idealistic to the point of foolishness, while Vin is highly competent but torn and indecisive. We get to see snippets from a much broader range of characters in The Well of Ascension, giving us a greater sense of what motivates them, why they think they are the good guy. My most unexpected favourite is Breeze, the lazy and manipulative soother who somehow turns out to be very sweet, in his own way.

The plot twists and turns (like a twisty turny thing). I thought I had a pretty good idea of where the second book might go, and in some ways I was right, but in others … yeah, there were some massive reveals in The Well of Ascension that I did not see coming. I love it when that happens! 😀

The ending struck a balance between completion and dun-dun-DUN. Writing a series with a meta-plot over three books can be tricky. But there is enough of a resolution in The Well of Ascension to make me happy, while there is also enough left unresolved (and we’re talking big ticket items here) to keep me reading. I expect I’d be less sanguine if I’d found this series back when it was first released, though. Knowing I have the third book sitting here, ready to go, really helps.

Things I was less fond of

I wanted to shake some of the characters. One plot device that sets my teeth on edge is when there’s a disconnect between characters that could easily be resolved if the two of them would just say what they are thinking. I know people aren’t always 100% honest in real life, and I can see how the misunderstandings came about in the book … but at the same time, gah! I wanted to shake both Vin and Elend until their teeth rattled. (But mainly Vin. Though she’d kill me in a messy fashion if I tried.)

I wanted to give some of the characters advice. There were times when I could see potential solutions to problems that the characters didn’t even seem to consider. For example, early on in the book, Vin and Elend discover there’s a potential shape-changing infiltrator in the palace, leaking information to one of their enemies. Vin discovers that said shape-changer is immune to emotional allomancy (magic); she also knows due to circumstance that Breeze, the best emotional allomancer in the city and probably in the world, absolutely cannot be the imposter. Why not tell Breeze about the issue, set him to testing people’s reactions? Even if it wouldn’t have helped in the end, it would have made the characters seem slightly less ineffectual at times. (Of course, maybe the goal was for them to seem ineffectual, in which case, good job, Sanderson!)

Final comments

The fight scenes are truly brutal, but if this were a romance you’d describe the heat level as “sweet”. I gather that could be said of all of Sanderson’s books, so if that’s what you look for in a fantasy novel — as well as an intricate world that focuses on people rather than large-scale politics — then you should definitely read this series.

Four-and-a-half stars

2 Comments on “Review: ‘The Well of Ascension’ by Brandon Sanderson”

  1. Emily Witt says:

    I have never read a Brandon Sanderson novel, though I have many friends who love his books. It’s not that I don’t think I would enjoy them. My biggest issue is their lengths are usually rather intimidating. Mistborn is the one I’ve thought I’d most likely enjoy, though.

    • I feel exactly the same way. The only reason I got back into epic fantasy reads was that I got an Audible account and started listening to audiobooks on my commutes, while doing chores etc. It is still quite time-consuming — this book was around 20 hours, I think? — but it is something I can do when I couldn’t read a paperback. Also, when you’re tired and want to lie in bed and close your eyes, but not so tired that you’re ready for sleep, it’s really nice to have someone else read you a story. 🙂

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