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Book Review: The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

If The Final Empire was essentially Middle Earth if Sauron won, then The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson’s second entry in the Mistborn series, is Middle Earth if Sauron was defeated… and things still sucked.

Cover of The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson.

Or, in some ways, got worse: ash continues to fall from the sky, and strange mists keep descending at night, but now the mists are killing people. And with the Lord Ruler—Sanderson’s Sauron—dead, his once cohesive empire has splintered into factions warring to carve out new kingdoms.

In Luthadel, the Lord Ruler’s former capital, Vin and the other surviving characters of the first book struggle to keep the city from falling to the three armies converging on it. Much of The Well of Ascension deals with the resulting politicking and fighting. This part of the story didn’t blow me away. Vin remained a somewhat thin character, and Sanderson’s prose, while almost always clear, is rarely inspiring. But there’s plenty of action, and everything worked well enough that I enjoyed myself.

More interesting was what The Well of Ascension does with one of the tiredest tropes in fantasy: prophecy. The Final Empire hinted at how the foretellings of old had been betrayed two thousand years earlier by the Lord Ruler when he killed the Hero of Ages and usurped the legendary figure’s rightful power. In the second book, Sazed, one of Vin’s companions, investigates the prophecies and discovers how they’ve been altered to suit various purposes. It’s a nice repackaging of the “Chosen One” motif: we’re not sure what’s already been fulfilled, what’s still to come, and what’s even real.

So, while The Well of Ascension isn’t Tolkien (and what is?), it—and the rest of the Mistborn series—stands as a creative fantasy in its own right. Worth a look.

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