The Well of Ascension is the sequel to The Final Empire, which was
itself good but non-traditional epic fantasy. Unfortunately, The Well of Ascension
does not quite live quite up to its predecessor. The focuses of the books are also quite different. While The Final Empire focused on a tight-knit group of friends and professional thieves who were out to bring down the Empire, in The Well of Ascension, the survivors of that group are doing their best to rule the remnants of the thousand-year-old empire. Also, while The Final Empire had two point-of-view characters, which made the book quite tight, The Well of Ascension has several POV characters and so feels more sprawling.
The world is quite bleak: the sun is red and the plant life can only barely sustain the people. During the night, mysterious mists
feared by most rise. Even though the God-King Lord Ruler was killed in The Final Empire, most keep to the rigid lines between the nobles and the working class, the skaa. Petty warlords
fight each other for power; people are looking for almost anything or anyone for some stability and safety
- even to their previous oppressors.
King Elend Venture is a scholarly nobleman with high ideals but no real
leadership experience who has ended up as the king of the new city-state, the former capitol, Luthadel. He is trying his best to write good laws and be a just ruler. He
has even created the Assembly, a collection of twenty-three men who should act as the checks-and-balances for the ruler. Unfortunately, the Assembly men are not used to having power and are all trying to benefit themselves or their class. In addition, two
separate armies have camped just outside the city, their commanders both demanding
that the city to surrender to them. One of the commanders is King Straff Venture, Elend's father and a tyrant by nature. To add to the confusion, Elend finds out that his
own inner circle might hide a traitor.
Vin is a powerful Mistborn, this world's magic user, and Elend's self-appointed bodyguard. She is also in love with Elend but insecure about their relationship.
A former street urchin, she is not interested in books or politics, while Elend is a high-born bookworm who has spent his whole life among the capitol's politics. She has also
discovere that mysterious figures are being seen in the night among the mists and that they could be a threat. Another Mistborn is stalking
either Elend or Vin herself during the night; this Mistborn turns out to be somewhat talkative,
reminding Vin of how different she is from everyone else and how the people in power will always try to use her.
He feeds her insecurity.
Zane Venture is the other Mistborn, Elend's half-brother who serves their father grudgingly. Zane thinks that he is insane; a loud voice in his head demands him to kill everyone he meets except for Vin
- he calls the voice God. He also resents his position as his father's powerful tool. He
is convinced that Vin can save him, if only he can lure her away from Luthadel and Elend.
Sazed is a scholar and a teacher trying to teach a village full of skaa to read and write and to reclaim their lost history. However, he ends up examining an abandoned stronghold of the Lord Ruler's priests and finds writing which he believes to be the God-King's journal before his ascension to godhood. He rushes to Luthadel to bring the information to the king, but he stumbles upon another army,
one far more violent that the two besieging the city.
Straff Venture is also one of the point-of-view characters albeit briefly. He is made
out to be quite despicable, using and discarding girls at his whim. He is also a very pragmatic and cold-blooded leader.
Later in the book there are even more point-of-view characters; they do at least fulfill the need to tell the reader some things which the other characters do not know.
The Well of Ascension has far more traditional elements than The Final Empire: angst from the youngest members of the cast, political plotting by characters who all want to do what is best for them
(and sometimes for other people, too), besieging a city, prophecy and a prophesied hero to save the world, and an
ancient threat rising again. Most of the time, Sanderson manages to twist them on their ear while still
hewing to the mold of epic fantasy. This book has also much more character interaction and development than
its predecessor, even to the point that it feels slower, although Sanderson does not descend to the level of describing clothes or foods. Indeed,
both are rarely mentioned at all.
Vin continues to be a fascinating character. She is the strongest Allomancer, or magic-user, known to the
other characters. She performs inhuman feats routinely and is a superior fighter, yet she is also a nineteen-year-old girl who
enjoyed balls and gowns only a year ago. For a street urchin, she has learned to trust strongly and feels
devastatingly betrayed when she finds out that one of her closest friends is likely to be a traitor.
Also, she starts to develop a friendship with her servant kandra. Kandra are creatures who can take on the appearance of another, human or animal, by digesting their flesh and bones. Not surprisingly, the kandra are feared and loathed by most people. Vin's OreSeour is alienated from humans and surprised that Vin has any interest in him as a friend.
This time we get to see inside the minds of quite a few characters, all of them well-rounded. The pace is slower than in the
first book but quite addictive. The world is fascinating and the characters interesting. The twists at the end are surprising,
and I am looking forward to the continuation of this series.
While The Final Empire can be read as a stand alone, The Well of Ascension cannot. I strongly suggest reading the previous book before this one, and the tale remains unfinished, although not in a cliffhanger.