I’ve tried several times to write this review without spoiling anything from the first book in the trilogy, but I’m coming to realise it’s just not possible to discuss the plot of this without making reference to the ending of the first book. So, here’s your fair warning. After the cover art, there will be spoilers for The Final Empire. Spoilers for The Well of Ascension will be kept to a minimum however.
Date started: January 6th.
Date finished: January 11th
So, the story of The Well of Ascension picks up a year after Vin killed the Lord Ruler at the end of the first book (I did warn you). Elend Venture, Vin’s love interest from book one, now her fairly long term boyfriend is king of Luthadel and he has realised some of his political aspirations by giving the Skaa slave class more freedoms and by implementing a form of government for the king to be accountable to. But all is not well. No less than three armies are marching to take Luthadel, one of which is led by Straff Venture, father of the new king.
The thing that struck me most about the plot to The Well of Ascension was how it felt like an entirely different genre to The Final Empire. The first book was a fantasy flavoured heroic quest, whereas this slowed down and felt almost like a political thriller at times. Despite the slower pace though, I was never bored. Sanderson plays to his strengths again here, keeping the focus tight. The elevation of some secondary characters and introductions to new ones makes the cast slightly bigger than last time, but still far from Game of Thronesian proportions.
The surviving ensemble all return here in good form. I thought I would miss Kelsier’s Han Solo-esque stylings, but there was so much going on, I hardly noticed he wasn’t there. In addition to returning characters, there are some new ones who add something to the story. The warlord Cett and his daughter Allrianne were my favourites, playing well as foils to Elend and Vin/Breeze respectively.
The only addition I wasn’t a fan of was Zane. As another Mistborn, it was interesting to read his friendly, somewhat flirty fights with Vin, but his character never clicked for me. He kept turning up at a point in the novel where Vin was afraid she wasn’t good enough for Elend, because she doesn’t enjoy reading and politics, and Elend thought he wasn’t good enough for Vin because he’s not a Mistborn. As the reader, I was aware of both their thought processes, and their problems could have easily been worked out if they had been willing to talk through them with each other. It’s not enough to colour my opinion of the entire book, but it is a trope I find irritating at the best of times. Beyond the messy hints at a love triangle, Zane is a reasonably interesting character. It’s a shame he wasn’t used better.
With all the armies camped out, you just know it’s all building to a huge battle and when it comes, it delivers on all fronts. Sanderson’s action scenes really take a step up here, knowing when to give us the larger picture of what’s going on, and when to give us a particular character’s thoughts on the matter. Breeze and Sazed both shone in this epic sequence, though for entirely different reasons. It was big, brutal, and well worth the wait.
So, did I ultimately enjoy The Well of Ascension more than The Final Empire? No, not really. There’s not much in it, but the weird love triangle bits give me pause, and the world just isn’t as new this time around. Discovering Allomancy was a huge draw for me in the first book, and here the novelty has been lost a little. That said, the action scenes are better, and the twist at the end (that I won’t spoil here) is just as good as the twist concerning the Lord Ruler in book one.
Onwards, to book three, The Hero of Ages!