‘The Well of Ascension’ is the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s original ‘Mistborn’ trilogy, picking up immediately where the first – ‘The Final Empire’ – left off. It avoids all the pitfalls of the middle book in a trilogy, telling a taut and compelling tale whilst introducing the reader to wider aspects of the Cosmere. It also introduces Sazed as a main POV character, adding an intriguing extra dynamic and perspective.
After the events of ‘The Final Empire’, Luthadel is in chaos – but Vin and Elend have no chance to rest. Having signed up to lead a simple heist, now Vin finds herself a pivotal figure in an emerging new religion, almost single-handedly responsible for the safety of the city, and the target of a mysterious new figure in the mists. Out of her depth, she leans on her trusted kandra companion, OreSeur – but one secret spirals into another, and her actions lead her into more and more conflict with her friends.
Meanwhile, Elend finds himself thrust into an unexpected position of leadership, and Sazed embarks on a quest for answers – a quest that takes him far from Luthadel and into the Eastern Dominance. The mists are behaving strangely, appearing during the day and even killing some of the skaa. There are no clear answers, and in a divided world everyone is keeping secrets. It’s impossible for anyone to know who to trust.
The complex dynamic between Vin and Elend is brilliantly written, even if not always comfortable to read. Relationships take work, and in many ways Vin and Elend are incredibly different people. Vin struggles to trust people, and remains a likeable but prickly – and sometimes naive – character. Similarly, Elend remains good-intentioned but remarkably innocent of the realities of human nature.
Sazed is a far more mature character – and, as a Terrisman, provides a fresh cultural perspective. His internal conflicts are subtler than the dramatics of Vin and Elend, but no less impactful.
It’s difficult to discuss the plot without giving spoilers for ‘The Final Empire’, but it moves from the traditional heist novel to more of a political fantasy, all about power struggles and backstabbing friends. There’s also the underlying threat of the mists and the Deepness – two mysterious, unknown threats hinted at in the prophecies but unclear in nature until it might be too late.
Overall, this is an excellent epic fantasy novel which takes the trilogy in a fresh direction without losing any of the brilliance of ‘The Final Empire. The characters remain complex and engaging, the plot fast-paced and twisty, and the magic system still has secrets. It also introduces the concepts of Ruin and Preservation – critical parts of the overall Cosmere lore – for the first time, laying the grounds for the involvement of a wider mythos. Highly recommended for all epic fantasy fans, especially fans of complex character dynamics and intricate fantasy lore.
Originally published in the US August 21st 2007
UK Publication December 10th 2009