Posted by: Andy | July 25, 2008

Book Review: The Well of Ascension

by: Brandon Sanderson

Interestingly, I couldn’t find an image of the cover I have (the paperback), this one is from the hardcover.

This is probably the best new fantasy book I’ve read in a while.  Not that that says much, because I don’t read much new fantasy.  It’s at least as good as George R.R. Martin’s stuff, but very different.

I love how he takes common fantasy cliches and tips them upside down (he’s pretty upfront about this being intentional too).  The first book’s thing was basically that evil had already won.  Sure, good “won” in the end, sort of, BUT there was this overwhelming sense of dread inherent in the win in that it didn’t actually make things “good”.  Also, to a lesser extent the hero/catalyst was actually killed, and there’s the fallout from that too – how do you live under his shadow?

So in this book we have a great, awesome continuance of this “upside down” effect that comes into play (hah mtg term…funny) only near the very end of the book but when it!  I think you’ll be very pleased, unless you just want to read the typical tropes.  In that case, steer clear.

Before the ending though, the upside-downness continues in the sense that this book is “after the good guys win, how the hell do they manage a kingdom?”. I haven’t seen that done before, at least in such a realistic and depressing way (depressing in a good way).  The one good thing (for the characters) that comes out of the final ending is so overshadowed by the continuing foreboding that it almost seems like an afterthought.  Vin gets the entirety of what she thought she wanted in a man, and Elend can finally feel less of an inferior, but neither of them even really gives it a moment’s thought…they can’t, because what’s coming will be even worse than what’s come before.

(I know, my writing is horrible today.  That’s ok though, I’m ok with it.)

I was left with a lot of things to think about as I went to sleep last night, lots of comments I wanted to make, but I can’t remember most of them.  I know I’m glad I waited for the paperback, as the final book is only right around the corner now (October?)!

Without giving any spoilers, I’m very curious about what was in the pill at the end…it seems like if it had pewter in it as well as whatever caused the “big” effect, it should have had many, if not all, of the other allomantic metals as well – potentially even the ones they haven’t rediscovered yet.  I was frustrated that he didn’t go into that at all, the final chapter was way too short.  I have no idea what’s coming in the final book …hell they could even “lose” for real.  I doubt it, but it seems possible.   The characters are left with almost zero clues about what’s actually going on.  The only lead I can see is the “helpful” mist spirit thing…other than that, all Sazed’s massive discovery does is remind them that they got royally fucked.

His character arc is also particularly interesting and unsuspected…it seems like he’s being set up to lead the Terrismen, but lead them to what?

Brandon has an excellent section on his website with notes on each and every chapter in the book.  I love how open he is about the writing process.  You can see that a) he really loves his work and b) he is very confident in his skills as a story teller.




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