Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mistborn 102: The One Course You'll Never Want to Miss

It's rare that I praise a sequel over its predecessor, but what the heck? I'm going to go ahead

and break tradition. Why? Because, while I enjoyed the first book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy (The Final Empire - see my review here), I loved the second, The Well of Ascension. The best way I can describe it is thus: Reading the first book is a lot like taking a college 101 class. You learn the basics about Sanderson's fantasy empire - he describes its people, its history, its geography, its social structure, its economy, and the whole Allomancy thing (the process whereby some people get superhuman powers via swallowing certain metals). You get to know the setting, the characters, the conflicts and the themes. The introduction is necessary, of course, but it gets a bit tedious. Picking up the second book is like signing up for a 102 class - you've got the basics covered, so it's time to go wild and have fun applying what you've learned. Tedium no longer enters the picture. Maybe that doesn't make any sense, but what I'm trying to say is: The Well of Ascension rocks. Read it.

Okay, I'm going to say a little more than that, but before I go on, I should issue a little spoiler alert. While this review will reveal no secrets about The Well of Ascencion, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from The Final Empire. This book could be read as a standalone, but I think it would be really confusing. So, do yourself a favor and find a copy of The Final Empire before you grab its sequels. You've been warned.

The Well of Ascension begins one year after The Final Empire ends. The Lord Ruler has been defeated; Kelsier's dead (after a brief resurrection via kandra); Lord Elend Venture sits on Luthadel's throne; and despite his best efforts, the city around him deteriorates into chaos. Outside its walls, an army waits to take Luthadel. At its head stands Straff Venture, Elend's heartless father, who knows Elend's tenuous power can be his for the taking. Still, the young Lord Venture and his band of criminals-turned-civic leaders aren't about to give up without a fight. Letting down Kelsier, with his dreams of freedom from oppression, simply isn't an option. Though severely outnumbered, Elend believes triumph can be his through the use of his not-so-secret weapon, Vin. Her loyalty to Elend may just mean the difference between the city's destruction and its survival.

Vin, however, has pressing concerns of her own. First off, there's The Watcher. A powerful Mistborn, he flits in and out of the city, taunting her. He mocks her with the hard truth - a woman with her power does not belong with an ordinary man like Elend. Vin tries to ignore The Watcher, even as she feels herself drawing closer to him. Then, there's the Mists. Always a part of life in Luthadel, they "were thick and mysterious, even to Vin. More dense than a simple fog and more constant than any normal weather pattern, they churned and flowed ..." (19). While commoners fear the mists, Vin and her kind embrace it. Yet, now, she senses something ominous in it. As if it's grown aggressive, dangerous. Or maybe it's just Vin's growing confusion about who she is and whether or not there's a place for her murderous powers in a land ruled by Elend's stubborn idealism. With all of that on her plate, she's got one more assignment - to track down the traitor inside Keep Venture. This, above all, will shake her, as it means one of her friends has been eaten and replaced by a kandra spy. As much as Vin needs to focus, she can't ignore the pulsings she feels inside - there's something out there in the mists, calling her, pulling her, but what is it? And why does it want her so badly?

With enemies both known and unknown lurking around every corner, it's up to Elend and his crew to save the city they love. Along the way, they'll question themselves, their motives, their chances of survival. Is Elend even capable of leading the people? How much are they willing to risk so that he can keep his crown? Can they avoid all-out war? Who is The Watcher? What does he want with Vin? Is Vin strong enough to protect Luthadel and its uncertain king? And, most importantly, can she ever be the kind of woman he needs her to be?

If The Final Empire feels tedious at times, it pays off in The Well of Ascension, which blows right past the basics into the heart of the story. Sanderson created a rich, believable (well, okay, I know there's no such thing as superheroes, Allomantic pulses or not, but still ...) world in the first book - in the second, he digs even deeper, enhancing every aspect of his fantasy land. Characters gain depth; Luthadel's history expands; creatures of all kinds emerge; mystery and intrigue hide behind every cobblestone - the result is an absorbing, original masterpiece that flies as fast as a pewter-dragging Mistborn toward its breathtaking conclusion. It's exciting, it's addicting, it's amazing, and the best part is, there's still one more book in the trilogy. If you're a sci fi/fantasy nut, or if you're just looking for a blow-me-away kind of read, look no further: Brandon Sanderson's got you covered.

Grade: A

(P.S. Okay, I do have one complaint. I checked The Well of Ascension out of the library [after 2 weeks on the waiting list], and sped through it, only to find that my copy was missing 30 pages toward the end of the book [530 - 560, to be specific]. I wasn't about to put the book down, so I just kept reading, but I feel cheated. If I had purchased the book, I'd probably be angry, but since I didn't, I'm just perturbed. So, just a warning - you might want to check your copy to be sure it's complete!)

(Book image from Indie Bound)

7 comments:

  1. Missing 30 pages????????????? That is SO bizarre! Makes me want to run to the book store to see if it's a printing issue or if it's someone at your library being a dork!

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  2. I felt pretty much the same as you about the Mistborn books (though I didn't find the first book tedious even with all the repetition). Its no secret that I fell in love with the books and haven't wanted to look back since.

    Truth be told I loved Elantris too (which I read after the Mistborn trilogy) and can't wait for his new novel, Warbreaker in June.

    Ack its missing 30 pages? Are you going to go read the last 30 in a bookstore? I can honestly say it wouldn't be a good idea to not read them before going into Book 3....If nothing else Sanderson doesn't waste space with useless filler...

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  3. I don't think anyone ripped the pages out - I really think it was a publishing mistake since one section was included twice. Weird, huh? I'm not sure how I'm going to read the pages - I emailed Sanderson to see if he had any solutions :) LOL. I like the series, so maybe I'll just buy the whole thing. If they weren't so dang expensive ... Grrr.

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  4. Ah see I liked the mass market paperback edition artwork better then the hardcover, so it was easy enough to afford for myself.

    What did the library say? I mean you can't possibly be the first person to notice this!

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  5. I haven't turned the book in yet, even though it's several days overdue. Some greedy reader wants it, but I had to finish it first, library fines be darned! I am going to take it back tonight since I'm done and I have THE HERO OF AGES and ELANTRIS waiting for me at the library.

    Hmmm ... I hadn't even considered the paperbacks, since I love hardbacks, but maybe, just maybe ... Mother's Day is coming up after all :)

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  6. I'm so glad you like these! The third one was my least favorite (for other reasons), but it does contain several more moments where there's a hard left and everything you thought you knew about how Sanderson's world worked is turned on its ear, and little tiny insignificant things turn out to be extremely significant. I hope your copy of the next one has all its pages!

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