This review will have spoilers for the first book in the series, The Final Empire.
With the death of the Lord Ruler, the overthrowing of the Final Empire, the Skaa people freed and a fundamentally good man sat on the throne in Elend Venture, you would be forgiven for thinking that the start of this book would find Vin and our heroes in a pretty good place. You would be mistaken.
The Well of Ascension, the second book in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson – you can find my review for the first book, The Final Empire, here – is set a year after the events of the first book and things have not gone hugely well for our gang of loveable rogues: civil war runs riot as nobility vie for power across the length and breadth of the Final Empire. Two of the most powerful – Straff Venture, Elend’s father, and Lord Cett – have converged on the city of Luthadel and placed it under siege. To make things worse, a mysterious figure stalks Vin through the increasingly unpredictable, and possible dangerous, mists.
From here, the bulk of the story splits into two plot arcs: the siege of Luthadel and Vin’s quest to uncover what is happening with the mists. Neither plot arc is quick, and so be prepared for a slow burn of a book. This isn’t a bad thing for some books – some of my favourite books are slow burns – but I just didn’t feel like that it was pulled off to well in this one. The siege plot involves a lot of political manoeuvring between Elend, Straff and Cett, while Vin’s studies into the mists move slowly forward due to all evidence of the truth being destroyed by the Lord Ruler and The Steel Inquisition over the last 1,000 years. In contrast, the last 100 pages of this book race along at breakneck pace.
Away from the plot, I found the writing of the characters in this book a mixed bag. In the last book, I absolutely loved Vin. She was one of my favourite characters and her character growth was top notch. In this book, I kind of missed that as she doesn’t do a whole load of developing as a character. On the other hand, Elend and Sazed go through huge character transformations. Sazed was one of my favourites from the last book, and I really enjoyed his character arc in this one. Plus, he gives us a more in-depth view into Terris culture, which is kind of important to the whole story! As for Elend, well he is very important to the story, but not my favourite character. We also get more character’s perspectives in this book than we did in the first book, and I liked it – especially the parts written from inside Breeze’s head. He is a far more complex character than he first appears: kind, considerate and actually quite selfless.
For me, the best thing about this book was a continuation of one of my favourite parts of the previous book: the worldbuilding. Although primarily focussed on the city of Luthadel, this book does manage to expand our knowledge of the world’s history and non-human races. We learn more about the rise the Lord Ruler (his methods were truly horrific, but he seems to have a twisted logic); we learn more about the Kandra and even get a whole new race: the Koloss. Brandon Sanderson clearly spent a lot of time on the worldbuilding of these novels and it really pays off. The attention to detail is incredible and I half wonder if he has his own little history book that allows him to keep everything straight!
Onto something I didn’t like. The main thing that this book really misses, in my opinion, is a good villain. Sure, there a plenty of them in this book, but none of them stand out. Initially, I had assumed that Straff Venture was the big baddie, and I think he is meant to be, but he just wasn’t that menacing. In the last book, and at the start of this one, he gave off some serious Tywin Lannister vibes: you do not want to mess with this guy. But, unfortunately, the more time I spent with him, the more this impression fell away. Compare him to the Steel Inquisitors: the Inquisitors absolutely drip malice every time they are on the page and I just want to know more about them. I really hope they make a bigger appearance in the next book, The Hero of Ages.
Overall, this is a book that I would recommend based on the fact that it promises a great story in the next book, but this one is kind of ‘meh’. It isn’t a bad book; it isn’t a great book either. However, I will accept that it appears to be vital to the story that Brandon Sanderson is telling, even if the real highlights will be the books either died of it. Maybe, having loved Skyward and The Final Empire, my expectations were too high for this one? We will see with the next book.