by Samantha Taylor
Let’s start by saying you should be amazed by the ending of the first book of the “Mistborn” series. I mean, it’s not uncommon in a fantasy series for the good guys to win. It’s not unusual for them to overcome overwhelming odds. It’s not even that unusual for them to lose half their army, their leader, and most of their hope along the way.
But it is unusual for the author to continue the story, and to tell the what comes after defeating the greatest evil the world has ever known. If nothing else, this is why you should read “The Well of Ascension”; the book is like a long-awaited sequel to a classic cliche of the fantasy genre.
Going into this book, I must admit, I had no idea where Sanderson would take the plot. Heck, I had no idea where he could take the plot. The Lord Ruler was dead. There were no other antagonists left. Or, were there?
Such a huge part of what makes Sanderson’s world so real is how human his characters are. And, what do humans do when their one and only God is murdered? Well, they go to war. They fall apart. Cities are torn apart but violent riots. Supply lines, plantations, canals, public services all collapse. Essentially, by killing the Lord Ruler, Vin let everything fall into anarchy. Though the city of Luthadel (the capital city, where most of the first book is set) has been freed from the tyranny of the Lord Ruler, they are now left to the mercy of the three armies that are determined to capture the city for its atium (you know, that mysteriously scarce metal that lets Mistborn see the future). To make matter worse, Luthadel must survive an upcoming winter, low food stores and a society that is crumbling. To make matters worse, Elend (Straff Venture’s son, the nerdy nobleman Vin fell in love with) is a poor excuse for a king, unable to set up a government that is able to function under the pressure of war and a rewritten social structure. Leaderless, surrounded and starving, Luthadel seems to have no chance of survival.
While most reviewers would classify the Mistborn trilogy as an action-fantasy series, so much of it is Sanderson’s commentary on things like hope, trust, relationships and faith. Vin started off as an urchin living amongst thieving crews; she mistrusted everyone, including her own brother. In “Mistborn,” she learns to trust the people she grows to love. People like Sazed, Kelsier and Elend. However, throughout the course of “The Well of Ascension,” Vin’s trust is once again shaken as news of a traitor disguised as one of the crew is revealed. Her struggles force her to come to a new realization, that in order to trust anyone else, Vin must first trust herself. It sounds corny, to be sure–but Sanderson has a way of making even the most cheesy moments subtle and, of course, human.
The traitor is revealed to Vin’s kandra, TenSoon, who is in fact the kandra of Straff’s insane Mistborn. I mean, how brilliant is that? Sanderson has you second-guessing everyone right along with Vin, including people like Sazed and Dockson. When you finally do discover who the traitor is, Sanderson hits you with all the evidence he managed to sneak into twenty chapters. Every time you re-read it, you catch something new, something that seems so obvious and yet so hidden. This is true both of discovering who the traitor is and in figuring out who the mysterious Mist Spirit and the nameless Deepness are. In the final few climactic chapters of “The Well of Ascension,” Sanderson ties the second book together with another stroke of brilliance that matches the death of the Lord Ruler himself. All that Vin has come to trust—herself, Sazed’s research of the Hero of Ages, one thousand years of mythology about the return of the blue skies if one gives up the power from the Well of Ascension—all of it, everything Sanderson has been hinting at for two whole books is revealed as a lie. A clever, brilliant, downright ingenious lie organized by the now revealed true enemy of the Final Empire. His name remains a secret tied with the loss of the Terris religion, and that secret is now the fate of the world. Vin set it free. She trusted herself enough to lose Elend, her husband, her lover, so she could set the Power in the Well free. But Sanderson masterfully designed the lies and the deceptions hidden within a thousand years of history—when Vin destroyed the Lord Ruler, she doomed the world.
“The Well of Ascension” ends on a note of such despair so real I found myself peering outside my own window to reassure myself the earth was not being consumed by ash and fire. If you haven’t read it, go read it. It is brilliant. It will keep you turning pages and guessing at secrets right up through the last few chapters.