Friday, 28 November 2008

‘The Well of Ascension’ – Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)

I ran a quick poll last week to see what you all thought should be the series that I aimed to finish next. It was a close run thing but Brandon Sanderson’s final two ‘Mistborn’ books won the vote and I decided to get started straight away. After not being all that impressed with ‘Elantris’, ‘Mistborn’ turned out to be a book that, although longwinded, had me looking forward to seeing what happened next. This week has seen me working my way through ‘The Well of Ascension’ and things are certainly on the up. ‘The Well of Ascension’ doesn’t totally escape the problems that I felt were in its predecessor but there is plenty to show that it’s making big steps in the right direction.

The Lord Ruler is dead, and his people free, but an event that normally comes right at the end of a fantasy series is only the start of things to come in this book. What should be the start of a new dawn swiftly becomes a standoff involving three armies outside the capital city of Luthadel. Vin and Elend Venture must play all sides against each other whilst searching out the elusive truth behind a prophecy that could offer a glimmer of hope. Where is the Well of Ascension though and what kind of power does it bestow? Should they even be looking for it at all...?

‘The Well of Ascension’ takes a good long look at the aftermath of the toppling of an evil overlord and asks the questions, ‘would everyone have been better off if he had stayed in power?’ and ‘is freedom worth the price that has to be paid?’ The actions of Sanderson’s characters leave the reader in no doubt as to where the author stands on these questions but he throws plenty of things into various conversations and events that also leave the reader with plenty to think about. Sometimes the answer really is as simple as it looks but there’s often a lot more to it before you get to that answer.

The returning characters are as flawed as ever and this makes the journeys they must all take that bit more interesting as it’s not just a case of seeing something and then going for it; everyone has an issue that they must deal with before they can achieve their aims. Vin and Elend take centre stage in this regard as their insecurities must be overcome before they can help save their city but it’s also interesting to see some of the lesser characters face their own demons. Breeze in particular, spends most of the book fighting a battle between what is right and what is right for him. Only at the end does he realise that the two things may be more closely linked than he realised.
The threat is mostly all too human and we get to see returning foes in a lot more detail. It’s the introduction of new foes though that is of more interest however, one of these characters in particular is very interesting but is cut short with that potential only part realised. I hope we haven’t heard the last of him...

The world that they must fight and die in is as beautifully realised as it was in the preceding book. I say ‘beautifully’... the world of the Final Empire is dark and full of mist and shadows, not a nice place to be! Despite this, Sanderson’s descriptive passages really bring it home to the reader what it is like to live in these times and, at the same time, the contrast between crushing despair and the little pockets of happiness and laughter really hooked me and gave me hope that things could work out for characters that I had come to know very well.

My chief complaint with ‘Mistborn’ was that it was very longwinded where I felt that perhaps it didn’t need to be. ‘The Well of Ascension’ suffers from the same problem but this time things come across as being more evenly paced. Whereas ‘Mistborn’ was all about plans being laid and then hatched, ‘The Well of Ascension’ is all about the aftermath and what happens as a result of these plans. It may be described in a little too much detail but there is plenty going on, whether it’s full on siege warfare or the intrigue and plotting that takes place as allies try to get the upper hand amongst one another. One mystery is great fun to follow and its resolution a real surprise.
I also had a real sense of ‘what the...’ as all the pieces fitted into place (regarding the main plot strand) and a whole new set of possibilities arose around a real cliff-hanger of an ending. It won’t be long, at all, before I pick up ‘The Hero of Ages’ to find out how this all ends!

‘The Well of Ascension’ improves upon what is set out in ‘Mistborn’ and promises good things to come from ‘The Hero of Ages’, a series that is so far proving to be well worth picking up.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


Colinhead said...

Your review leaves me reasonably confident that Mr. Sanderson will be able to handle 'A Dream of Light.' To be honest, I am rather scared to read him for fear of being disappointed.

SQT said...

Tor recently sent me 'The Hero Of Ages' so I need to read this one. I like Sanderson though, so it should be easy to do.