Escape Velocity

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“You don’t understand what I did for mankind…You have doomed yourselves” was not what Vin expected the Lord Rulers final words to be, and they keep hanging ominously in the air as chaos spreads over the land in the wake of his passing. Elend tries to rule (and defend) Luthadel, putting his theories to practice, while Vin goes looking for the power in the Well of Ascension, hopefully to rid the land of the ash, mist and rampaging Koloss that plague it.

The Well of Ascension

Many of the things I wrote regarding The Final Empire still hold true for The Well of Ascension. The setting Sanderson has created is very original. His magic system is interesting. His prose is solid. His plot works, there are a number of interesting and well-foreshadowed twists. It is lacking somewhat in soul and feeling. However, where The Final Empire was carried by the force of its premise and a fascinating central conflict, The Well of Ascension just doesn’t have the same things going for it. 

There are two main things that go wrong. Firstly, with The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson wrote himself into a corner. For if the crew beats the arch-villain in your first installment, what happens next? The Well of Ascension could have been an amazing opportunity for Sanderson to show that he is a true trope-breaker. Instead, we get a book full of lacklustre administrative challenges and personal doubts, featuring the same characters that murdered a literal god in the previous book. It is unimaginably jarring reading about Vin listening to petty politics in a parliamentary assembly, or Elend worrying about the next speech he is about to give. There is some charm, of course, to asking the question – what do you do after toppling the evil emperor? Most stories don’t venture there. But the complete collapse of the scale of the series makes the whole thing seem banal. If Vin and the crew were out of the picture, heroes of legend to look up to, and The Well of Ascension was just about Elend, it might have worked. Then again, Elend… 

That neatly leads into the second problem. Vin and Elend. One of the core questions of the book is whether Vin can learn to trust Elend. The book is supposed to be about their relationship. But there just never seems to be a reason for Vin to actually like Elend. It feels like they should hardly be able to stand being in the same room. Instead, their love never really gets questioned (this is a theme that runs through to the next book as well). 

Overall, with the collapse of the story’s scope and the regrettable choice to focus on Vin and Elend’s poorly written relationship, The Well of Ascension ends up being quite a lot worse than The Final Empire was. I’m in the final chapters of part three of this trilogy as I’m writing this review. We’ll see if the ending to the whole thing makes it worth dragging yourself through the second installment… 

This book, just like the rest of the trilogy, had its ups and downs for me. The political plot is not particularly strong and (unfortunately for me) the story also contains an evil imposter mystery subplot. The plot twist at the end annoyed me at first, but gets more context in the final part of the trilogy.    

Once again, it is undeniable that Sanderson’s prose reads easily. Action scenes, dialogue, exposition, it is all smoothly written. In addition, the worldbuilding and most plot elements are well thought out.

The thematic focus in this book is on identity. Normally, I would cheer at this theme, but in this book it was poorly executed. Vin’s inner conflicts felt completely forced, a disservice to her character. In that respect, the identity crisis worked better in Elend’s story, but was not particularly inspiring. 

All in all  this sequel is a fine read, but not as good as The Final Empire

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