Mistborn: The Well of Ascension (2007) by Brandon Sanderson

Much of my thoughts on the original Mistborn trilogy can be found in my review for the first book, “Mistborn: The Final Empire”, so this review is going to be substantially shorter than that one as I outlined my broader thoughts on the series there.

Continuing my thoughts on these Mistborn books as postmodern deconstructions of the fantasy genre that simultaneously break down and subvert fantasy conventions while still constructing a very competent genre story in their own right, this second book has a large focus on the mutability of prophecies. In many ways, the book could even be read as an outright condemnation of them, and of that kind of vague religious soothsaying. It certainly demonstrates the dangers of putting so much faith into specific phrases, rather than general principles. I’d consider Kwaan as important a POV as Vin or Elend in this sense, as his story is perhaps the most immediately thematically relevant to the story.

The other fantasy convention that gets a large focus in this book is the question of what the “winners” do after they won. George R. R. Martin, in explaining some of the mindset behind his own “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, once said the following:

“Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”

I feel like this quote perfectly sums up the story of this novel. It is the question of what a band of rebels and outcasts do after ostensibly “winning”, defeating the apparently archetypal evil overlord. It’s certainly not easy, and there is no magic answer that will get it all right, as Vin and Elend learn (but perhaps not quickly enough).

Ultimately, while I enjoy this book greatly, I do find it weaker than the first, with the pacing even more uneven, the plot often repetitive, and some of the character arcs feeling somewhat underdeveloped. I do not consider it a weak entry in the series, but I do feel like it’s weaker than The Final Empire and the Hero of Ages.

I give it three vials of duralumin, and a set of bones.


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