‘The Lord Ruler was dead. Even a year later, Vin sometimes found that concept difficult to grasp. The Lord Ruler had been…everything. King and god, lawmaker and ultimate authority. He had been eternal and absolute, and now he was dead.’
A few weeks ago I reviewed the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy, The Final Empire, and I’ve finally got round to reading the second book in the series, The Well of Ascension.
Following on from the events of The Final Empire, the kingdom is adjusting to life without the tyrannical rule of the Lord Ruler. Elend Venture rules as king in the capital city of Luthadel, and strives to create an equal society of skaa (peasants) and noblemen. However, rival kings are springing up everywhere and they have different ideas, marching huge armies against the city in an attempt to take up the Lord Ruler’s tyrannical mantle. As their situation becomes more desperate, Elend, Vin and the remainder of Kelsier’s thieving crew must scramble to save the city and discover the secret about the fabled ‘Deepness’ which threatens them all, friend or foe.
The Mistborn trilogy is unusual in that it killed off its principal villain at the end of the first book, so I was pretty curious to see how the series would progress following Vin’s vanquishing of the Lord Ruler. In this way The Well of Ascension is really interesting as it shows what happens after the classic fantasy Dark Lord is defeated (which usually spells the end of the book/series), and it certainly isn’t all rosy!
Even before the arrival of three different armies who want to defeat Luthadel Elend and his friends are struggling to retain rulership of the city and implement their new, idealistic society where everyone is equal. Elend’s elected ‘Assembly’, (which is basically the city’s government, and is made up from an equal number of noblemen, merchants and skaa) cannot agree on anything which means nothing ever gets decided, and the previously enslaved skaa have no idea what to do with their new found freedom, and almost seem to long for their harder, but simpler lives under the Lord Ruler’s tyranny.
Whilst The Final Empire started off slow, and was in my opinion a little boring at the start, The Well of Ascension was more of a slow burner throughout, maintaining a steady pace and gradually raising the stakes for our principal characters. From the outset of the book it is pretty obvious that things aren’t going too well, but things gradually worsen until the situation is dire near the end, and I think I preferred this pacing to that of The Final Empire.
Vin was again a very likeable heroine, and I liked the atypical dynamic of her relationship with Elend. Whereas commonly the male character is the protector of the female character (especially in fantasy, as they are more often than not set in a patriarchal society) Vin spends a lot of The Well of Ascension fighting and killing off assassins who are trying to murder Elend. His own ineptitude at fighting and preference for books and theorizing only help to reinforce this role-reversal.
However, on the whole I didn’t really find the Vin – Elend romance very convincing. In this second book the two are supposedly now in an established relationship, yet there is very little to suggest this seen as they spend very little time together, and when they do I didn’t see that there was much chemistry. She seemed to be more like his bodyguard really. But maybe that’s just me!
It could also partly be because whilst I love Vin’s character, I’m still not sold on Elend. He’s moral to the point of absurdity, and just seems like too much of a good guy, to the point where he’s not really believable as a character and seems more like a cardboard cut-out. His excessive morality also leads him to make some pretty grave errors which endanger the entire kingdom, namely writing into his own laws a way for the corrupt Assembly to overthrow him as king. I know he did it in the name of equality, but it still seemed pretty stupid to me, and resulted in much of the focus of the middle of the novel being on who should be king, as opposed to ‘what should we do about the three huge armies on our doorstep?’
I actually found myself quite liking Vin’s other love interest in this book – Zane, a fellow Mistborn. His uncertain motives kept me wondering about whose side he was on, and the fact that he is clearly insane and knows it, and can be perfectly reasonable, made him a pretty interesting character.
I also liked the character of OreSeur, Vin’s kandra servant (kandra are creatures that can take another’s form by eating their corpse – yep, it’s pretty grim!), and the way their relationship progresses throughout the book. Whilst at first Vin despises him because of the part he played in her mentor Kelsier’s death in the first book (plus the fact he ate his body!), the two slowly grow to like each other, and even trust each other, and it was interesting to learn more about the kandra through OreSeur’s conversations with Vin.
Whilst Kelsier himself left a huge gap in the character line-up in this book, it was nice to see the rest of the crew back, and learn more about them. I particularly liked that you got more insight into Breeze in this book, and what lies beneath his haughty façade, and I liked the unlikely friendship that evolved between him and Clubs.
The world of the book remains unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered in fantasy, with it’s dystopian atmosphere and crazy metal magic system, which I was glad to see expanded on in this second book with the addition of some new metals and their properties. Vin’s frequent run-ins with assassin’s and sparring with Zane also meant we got to see a lot of Allomancy in action, and there were some pretty exciting fights!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book (aside from disliking Elend), and will definitely be reading the final book in this series at some point. It’s really hard to say whether I liked The Well of Ascension or The Final Empire best, so I’ve given them an equal rating, but I’m hoping I will love the final book even more. The explosive ending of this book has certainly left me with high hopes!