The Well of Ascension
Author – Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 817 pages
Release Date: June 3rd, 2008
In my review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire, the first volume in his Mistborn trilogy, I lauded it as a novel that returned me to my roots as a reader of Fantasy. It brought back memories of first getting into the genre and reading the likes of Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist and R.A. Salvatore.
Furthering its success was Sanderson’s ability to take the cliches of the genre, which the aforementioned authors were chock full of, and flip them on their head, pulling the rug out from under readers, so comfortable with genre tropes, just as they began to feel like they had a grip on the story. The Final Empire was a story of likeable characters, imaginative world-building and genuinely shocking twists. Unfortunately, The Well of Ascension takes most of these strengths… and tosses them out the window in favour of a hard-to-swallow love story and a drawn-out siege with the heroes caught between two armies. Luckily we still have one hell of a twist to end the novel off.
With the Lord Ruler seemingly defeated, Sanderson was set to explore territory not often touched upon in the Fantasy genre: how a world reacts when the evil lord has fallen and freedom is within grasp. Sanderson presents a world on the edge of chaos, one that has to transition from a society ground under the oppressive rules of the Lord Ruler to one that has to manage itself, to figure out how to right the wrongs set by a thousand-year-old regime, and why it might not be so easy to rule with kindness, compassion and democracy. Where The Final Empire was a successful character-driven caper novel, The Well of Ascension is a political stalemate led by a naive youngster.
The Well of Ascension is defined less by what it has, and more by what it’s missing. Kelsier, the dashing lead of The Final Empire is gone, and with him goes most of the charisma and fun that defined the first novel. In his place is Elend Venture, the aforementioned naive youngster, who made a strong impression when he was first introduced in The Final Empire, but utterly fails to live up to it in The Well of Ascension. Gone is the confident, aloof individual that helps bring down a tyrant, and in his place is a nervous, self-righteous boy who has little idea how to handle his newfound power. Of course Sanderson sets up The Well of Ascension as a novel about growing into oneself, and making sacrifices for the greater good, which gives Elend (and Vin) room to grow. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the extended siege (which takes up the majority of the novel) was an excuse to halt the more interesting aspects of the story (what exactly the Lord Ruler was warning against at the end of The Final Empire; where Kelsier discovered the fabled Eleventh Metal; Marsh and his infiltration of the the Steel Inquisitors), allowing Sanderson to self-indulgently explore his philosophies on leadership and bog down the story with boring politics that just don’t hold up against other novels in the genre.